I learned piano in a rather haphazard way as a teenager. Berklee College piano teachers never talked about “playing” the piano only what to play. In my professional work as a commercial musician the playing demands were not too strenuous.
In my early 40’s I spent a summer with a small keyboard and a book of Bach WTC book 1 and Chopin Waltzes, in a Spanish condo on the Mediterranean. Santa Pola to be exact. Every afternoon after lunch while the world took a siesta, I would explore the music on this tiny 60 note plastic keyboard. It was magic.
Returning home, I started asking around for a piano teacher. Leon Karan’s name came up a few times, so I called him. He answered with his warm Russian accent. Yes, I will see you. An appointment was made.
“Mr. Story, please play for me a c major scale.”
Gritting my teeth and tensing my body as hard as I could I dug in and roared up the piano. He looked at me sympathetically.
“Please play your piece for me.”
I’ve no idea what the piece was now but his reaction was one of concern.
“You are of course going to do your ARCT?”
“ARCT, you are a piano teacher. You have a duty to your students.”
In short, I got my you know what kicked and challenged at the same time.
Four years and 5000 hours of practice later, I graduated age 47. It was the most difficult and rewarding thing I’ve ever done as a musician. Truly a marathon. I felt like superman.
At some point you will have to practice fast to play fast. Will it be pretty? No. But, it will get better.
Try this. After mastering the piece at a slow tempo, isolate a single phrase or section and start speeding it up. Phase between repetitions to catch your breath and repeat.
The faster I played the D major scale, the lighter my touch became. Tension is the enemy of speed.
As Jamey Aebersold pleaded one day to his campers. "Don't practice everything slow!"
"Spending winters in the sunshine, reading, playing golf and socializing seemed a wonderful way to spend retirement. With both of us being music lovers, our sound system is always on all day with great music ranging from Classical, Jazz and some pop. But I felt something was missing and it wasn’t snow. My wife encouraged me for years to take music lessons. I was not too keen because my memory of lessons was the Nuns whacking my fingers with a ruler insisting, I keep my lazy fingers off the keys; that ended in 1958 when I got my Grade 8 piano. But the seed was planted. I decided to look on the net for a music teacher near Burlington and came across David’s website. This really looked interesting. During our cocktail hour that night, I said – when we get back to Burlington, I am going to take Jazz lessons from this David Story guy. On April 23, 2013 my life changed.
Of course, I thought I would be rattling off Jazz tunes within weeks; grief! As time progressed, I realized how complex Jazz really is, especially soloing; how do they do that? Practice, practice, practice every day and soon I started to see the tunnel – no light yet! After a few years of toil and trouble, something that sounded akin to music emerged; I encouraged my cousin to take lessons from David. Then, 4 years ago, David encouraged us to attend the Jamey Aebersold Summer workshop in Louisville. There we were for 6 days: 2 old guys, jamimg in groups, attending classes and intense listening, from 7am to 10 PM. Hardly time for a Scotch closer at night! At last, all those lessons from David were clicking into place like a Rubik’s cube. We went back the next summer and did it again. Then, David encouraged me to try and get a group together to Jam. The pressure was on; my 2 songs would not cut the mustard. More practice. An advert in Kijiji did the trick; we ended up with an exceptional drummer, bass, guitar – and me. We met every week for 3 hours until covid.
My lessons continue. The Jam will continue after we all get our shots. I am still amazed at what some practice along with amazing guidance and encouragement from David has done for my life and continues to do so. Not bad for an 80 year old!"
Tomorrow Part 2. Learn more about Gary's jazz journey.
This is a sample from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Title, composer, level.
Hey Jude Beatles
Prelude in C JS Bach RCM 5
Sonata in C 1767 Haydn RCM 5
Atacama Wynn-Anne Rossi RCM 2
Take the A Train Strayhorn
Sonatina in G Clementi RCM 4
Quiet Lagoon Jon George RCM 2
Mexican Jumping Beans
Serenade Franz Schubert
Saving the best for last Air Supply
Sonata in F Mozart RCM 9
March Dmitry Kabalevsky RCM A
1st Gymnopedie Eric Satie RCM 8
We Are The Champions Freddie Mercury and Queen
Dundas Blues Boogie Woogie David Story
Menuet en Rondeau Rameau RCM 2
Sneaky Sam Melody Bobar RCM B
Sonatina in G Thomas Attwood RCM 3
Charlotte's Daydream Pieter de Graaf
Intermezzo in A minor Brahms RCM 9
Cathryn goes to Hollywood David Story
Bouree in F Telemann RCM 7
Etude in D minor Czerny RCM 3
St. James Infirmary Trad Jazz
Sonatina in A minor Bender RCM 3
Study in D major Swinstead RCM 8
One interpretation among many possibilities. I marked the right hand legato and the left hand quarter notes staccato. These would be 'wet' staccato, or "portato". Slightly detached, but marked to give the music some forward momentum.
James Maddox present another lovely rendition closely resembling the edit above. He places less emphasis on the broken chords in measures 9 and 16 though.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted student and teacher of the drums.