What do we gain by learning Jazz Standards by ear?
1. We acquire an intuitive understanding of jazz rhythm.
2. We learn jazz feel and articulation, something that can't be notated.
3. By playing along with records we learn to stay in place.
4. We learn how to solo by acquiring ideas (licks) that we can use in other pieces.
5. We learn how to play our instrument idiomatically by hearing it played in context.
6. We begin to appreciate the depth and scope of jazz history. The more we know about the history of your instrument, and the players, the more knowledge we will bring to our playing.
7. We learn how to mess with a melody. "Learn the melody, mess with the melody, then mess with the mess" Louis Armstrong on how to solo. First step to solo with finesse.
If I can help you on your journey, call me.
1. Get out your Bebop shell or Rootless chord sheets. You can download them below.
2. Search "exercises" in the song list of iReal Pro. Voilà a couple of dozen exercises show up in the results. Look for the exercises below.
3. Practice along with the app. Go as slow as you need to. Practice daily until it is automatic.
Have fun. If I can help, call me.
Rootless voicings click here.
Bebop Shells as taught to me by Sonny Stitt click here.
Do I have enough time to take piano lessons?
Given the demands of our over scheduled lives, most adults will have to give up something to make room for something else.
Search this "how many hours does the average adult spend surfing on their phones?"
Cutting that in half will free up enough time to learn anything.
Call me when you are ready.
Why do we practice slow to go fast?
We all play like we practice. So, if we practice carefully, thoughtfully, and methodically our odds of playing expressively, confidently, at a steady tempo go up significantly. Alas the opposite is true too.
Let's consider one aspect of this: Slow practice.
1. Starting slowly allows us to consider our motions at the piano.
2. Slow allows us to play steadier while learning. Remember playing quickly and stumbling about may make our stumbling get embedded in our playing.
3. Speed up bit by bit as your skill with the scale, chord, arpeggio, etude, phrase, or piece increases.
4. To play fast, you will have to practice fast. It is good practice to have your moves together before sprinting through the music.
This will help you learn the diatonic chords of E major. Watch the crossover with the left hand and the change of clef in measure 11. The fingering is 531 in the LH and 135 in the RH.
This is what Rick is working on.
Rick’s memorized list
Short answer is no. The first exception is writing the note name over a particular note you have incorrectly played numerous times. I can't think of other exceptions.
What to do?
1. Practice naming the notes aloud before you play and then as you play.
2. Play super slow.
3. Practice in small chunks.
4. Study musical rudiments, also known as music theory.
5. Practice sight reading using the Four-star sightreading books from RCM.
6. Learn to clap rhythm and count aloud.
That should do it.
I'm always trying innovative ideas with students to keep it fresh. This warm-up assumes you know the correct fingerings for each position. (The right scale at the 10th starts with 31234 etc. The broken chords and arpeggios in the right start with finger 1.) This exercise should be transposed into a different key at each practice session. Tempo markings are only suggestions.
If I can help you, call me.
Playing the piano is much easier when the scales and chords have become automatic in our hands. Below is the fingering chart for all 3 note chords like C major and G minor. I've cropped this image from a student's notes.
If I can help you, call me.
How to play fast comes up in lessons frequently. Let's get the basics out of the way first.
Now some often-overlooked facets of quick playing.
If I can help you, call me.
Some days and some weeks are going to be difficult. Here are some suggestions that immediately come to mind you might consider to dampen down the practice room blues. These comments are aimed at beginners.
If I can help you, call me.
One of my adult students was asking tonight for some help planning his practice time. He is preparing for his Grade 8 piano exam. He is an engineer, a spreadsheet kind of guy. I'm sympathetic. Here is what we discussed.
Warmup with sight reading. Use a metronome! Get into the zone.
Now start practicing
Technique with a 2-minute timer. Switch activities every 2 minutes = 15 minutes
Practice one short section to perfection =15 minutes
Theory =10 minutes
Ear Training = 10 minutes
Review completed piece or pieces 10 minutes
BOOM! one hour of accomplishment
This may work for you.
Practice Tip: The power of exploration
Students who practice, diligently practice the “notes,” struggle with rhythm and continuity trying to get it “right.” This is all important. But I’d like to add a new idea.
A short story in which I’m the hero. I’m learning to play the jazz xylophone. I started at Christmas; I practice every day. I’ve got a 100-year-old textbook, a stack of tunes I want to learn, video recorder and oodles of desire. Here is the process I usually follow.
The video below is an unedited version. Notice it took just a brief period of time to accomplish something because I didn’t try to do everything at once.
Another day, another diverse set of pieces. Someone stated that an average piano teacher teaches 600+ titles a year. I believe it.
Up next: Music rehearsal with my friends, the pianist Jim Finlayson and bassist Rory Slater. I'll be drumming. We've been meeting every 2 weeks for years. It is always a highlight of my week playing tunes from the "Great American Songbook". Lots of Porter, Corea, Hancock, and Ellington.
Back to class
7. Prelude in Db by Glière
8. Fantasia in D minor K397 by Mozart
9. Pumpkin boogie by Faber
10. Sonatina in C by Faber
11. Drum rudimental warmups
12. Never Going To Give You Up by Rick Ashley
13. Theory class RCM 8 and Band Lab DAW
Now to the drummers
14. Video game music
15. 3/4 Scottish snare drum solo
16. Free Fallin' by Tom Petty
17. Rollin' in the deep by Adele
18. Superstition by Stevie Wonder
Another day of teaching piano and drum set comes to an end. Here is today’s student repertoire.
Marching by Kabalevsky
Skating Waltz by Berlin
Love Me Tender by Elvis
Claire de Lune by Debussy
Les Baricades Misterieuses by Couperin
Chitlin’s Con Carne by Burrell
Etudes by Scriabin
Prelude and Fugue in Bb by Bach
Clementi Etude in E by Clementi
Serenade by Haberbier
Cancion by Mompou
Cottontail by Ellington
Kamado Tanjiro no Uta by Shiina and Ufotable
Watermelon Man by Hancock
Haunted mouse by Faber and Faber
Forest Drums by Faber and Faber
Dinah by Fats Waller
Never Going to Give you up by Ashley
Street of Dreams by Ella
Scottish ¾ March
It’s Only A Paper Moon by Nat King Cole
Meditation by Jobim
Night train by Forrest
Time for a beer.
Summertime in 5 Keys
Playing in different keys is an invaluable skill. Try playing just the melody in the following keys with the recordings. Modify your note and rhythm choices to fit in the best you can.
The assignment is to play and mimic the melody with the recordings. You will learn jazz rhythm, jazz articulations and phrasing. And how to manipulate a melody.
Level 1: Fun is guaranteed. Just show up and play. Playing in a community concert band or playing at the family Christmas party would be in this camp. On the lesson front, level 1, is leisurely and steady. Ten thousand hours spread over decades.
Level 2: You are going to perspire. Lessons are intense. You audition to play in community groups. You may be preparing for an exam. Standards are assessed and maybe enforced. Lessons need an hour a day or more of preparation. Think of it as a marathon level of commitment.
Level 3 is going to hurt, tears will be shed. But you are all in. Your daily focus is piano. You dream of Carnegie Hall. You have multiple lines of attack. You put yourself out there. You are preparing to be an Olympian. Many dream, few make it. But this doesn't deter you. Large amount of time and money will be spent.
Weekend athletic parallels
1. Weekend running group
2. Marathon preparation
3. You might die.
Let me know where you stand.
In the summer 2001 I spent the summer in Santa Pola, Alicante overlooking the Mediterranean. I fondly remember the sun, heat, paella, wine, the flowers, and the nightly walk amongst the townsfolks. And the moon, I remember the moon. Every night after dark I’d watch the little fishing boats leaving the harbour. The sea was always calm. The lights of the boats bobbed into the night while the moon rose through its phases. I experienced two full moon cycles that summer. Wow !
I had had big plans to drag my piano from Toronto. The piano, in the large box I had built for its flight was promptly returned from the airport when the airline won’t let me check it as baggage. Something about being oversized and overweight. Luck would have it; I had a relative in Elche, Alicante with an unused Casio keyboard of sixty-five keys, one pedal, and a stand. Not exactly an eighty-eight key Steinway, but oh did we make music on that thing. Playing jazz on sixty-five keys was discouraging; so off I went to Alicante on a hot sunny day in search of a music store. Bach WTC 1 and a book of easy Chopin returned with me.
Every siesta that summer I played and played and played. I fell in love. Apparently so did my new neighbors who heard me practicing, but that’s another story.
Back in Canada I started asking about for a “Classical” piano teacher. Our first meeting didn’t go well. I banged through scales, thumped out some Bach. Leon was so kind. He said, “you are of course going to do your ARCT?” “I am?” So begun a four-year, 5000-hour odyssey. It changed my life.
Maybe such a journey would change yours. If so, call me.
Preparing to succeed is the first step. Here are some things you can do to prepare.
1. Understanding how to use Zoom. Setting up the camera so that I can see your hands and you can see me as well. Most students set up the laptop on a table to the left side of the piano.
2. You need to create a realistic schedule for practicing. This may take longer than you realise. But with realistic thinking it is possible.
3. Organize and dedicate a practice space for productive work.
4. Fully understand the costs involved.
5. Tell all your significant others of your plans so that they can support you.
6. You will need to lean on your strengths when the going gets tough and life gets in the way. I'm a learner too, you can ask me how I organize my learning.
Here's to learning.
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 percussionist and drum teacher.