I practice piano and drums daily, except Sundays when I rest. This summer I'm practicing bass. My student Barb asked me, "how do you practice?" This is what I said.
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.
"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.
Setting out to create your own music has many satisfactions.
But first a story.
I'm 13 years old, a self taught guitarist. Full of confidence I head off to music camp in Kirkland Lake Ontario in the summer of 1972. Oh boy! The instructor Harry Forbes, was kind and tolerant. Good thing, I sucked.
One day I spotted a strange looking keyboard in the corner of the room. I asked, "what is that Harry?"
"It's a ARP2600 Synthesizer".
"What does it do?"
"It does this"
"Holy *D*D(#KD+!" I was hooked. I've never looked back.
So why create your own music?
1. Personal expression.
2. Participate in the sound of our time.
3. Keep the "play" in playing music alive.
4. Creative exploration and discovery.
5. Learn some new instruments.
6. Join an online community of music makers.
7. Become a rich and famous DJ
Electronic music has some of it's own terms.
DAW Score paper
How to get started.
The cheapest way is to explore apps on your phone like garage band. This can be expanded with the addition of a specialized keyboard attached to your phone. $100+
Next up, purchasing a USB keyboard and a Digital Audio Workstation and pair of audio speakers. $500+
All in, purchasing a USB interface, USB keyboard and a Digital Audio Workstation, microphones, yards of audio cables, a pair of audio speakers, a specialized desk, and a room to put it all in. $5,000++
I can help you get started, call me.
I'm excited to share new ideas with my students going forward.
Over the duration of the classes, I've upgraded and tweaked my technology, lesson plans, and much much more.
I'm 15 or so, I've been playing a year or two. I "practice" in quotes all the time. She is cute, she sings, she needs an accompanist for the church strawberry social. I step up. I'm waaaaaay over my head. But keen to impress.
We practice, I survive. But I am about to learn the difference between the practice room and the stage. In hindsight I imagine it is like the difference between basic training and real combat.
It's a beautiful day, they haul a small piano outside on the grass. The back of the piano faces the singer and the audience. We step up. I am soooo nervous, so underprepared that my right leg starts to bounce uncontrollably, audibly, banging the underside of the piano. People are looking around for the source of the noise. I'm deadpan behind the piano.
It mercifully ends.
1. "Superbia et ante ruinam" Pride goes before the fall. But the show must go on.
2. Never underestimate the power of shameless audacity in a show biz career.
3. It's harder than it looks. The magic of the performing arts is the illusion it is easy.
Poland is a long way to travel to learn with American Jazz Masters Dena DeRose, Miguel Zenon, Aaron Goldberg, Mike Moreno, Ali Jackson, and Luques Curtis.
It was worth every penny for such a transformational experience. Bonus, a beautiful country and people too.
Aaron Goldberg, pianist, was our ensemble leader for the week.
About seven years ago I first attended the Jamie Aebersold Jazz Workshop in Louisville Kentucky as a drummer. I was green but pumped. I was pulled out of the workshop on day one and sent to a room where two instructors waited. Bassist Bob Sinicrope started drilling me with questions. Who are you? Why are you here? Very direct.
I explained I was a piano teacher and musician from Toronto who now played the drums. I had attended Berklee College of Music back in the day… He cut me off. “Who did you study with?”
Ah, Ray Santisi.
“Ray Santisi, I’m his bass player!” We were instant friends.
Which brings me back to Poland and Aaron Goldberg.
After hearing us all play we were put into groups and assigned rooms to report to. A bunch of us showed up, nervously eying each other. Language was an issue. There were 5 Poles, 2 Russian teenager wunderkinds, 1 Chinese Rock Star, and 1 Canadian old guy. We all noticed the room was devoid of music stands.
Aaron walks in. He was a student of Bob Sinicrope! He calls the first tune: Body and Soul. No music. We sing as a group the bass line of the song after much discussion and negotiation. We get it. Then the singer, in halting English, explains it’s in the wrong key. Aaron gives us a new tonic note and low and behold we sing the bass line in a new key. He counts us in. Away we go. I’m glad I’m a drummer that day.
At the concerts during the week, we are the only group playing without music. We play with intensity and conviction born from pure terror. We nail it.
Aaron buys us a bottle of Bison Vodka at weeks end and salutes us all.
Thank you Aaron for valuable insights and the vodka.
If you are feeling stale, try the following exercises.
If I can help you, let's chat.
Meeting in person students you've only met online is always a thrill.
Today I had coffee with a student from Northern BC who was passing through town. We recognized each other immediately, even in masks.
We chatted about his hometown and the music making possibilities therein. For a town of 6 thousand there was a myriad of opportunities:
Four out of five of those present music making possibilities. For many students piano is a solitary activity enjoyed with a cup of tea or class of wine. Others? It's a party. More the merrier. I help students achieve both ambitions.
I've made mine. There are below.
Time for yours. Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Have fun, lower the intensity. Except if you are a professional or preparing for post secondary music education. Time to ramp it up!
2. Now back to recreational players. Normally I would recommend some concert attendance, but alas, this is not currently possible. Maybe attend some online live events. The Village Vanguard in NYC is presenting some of New York's finest.
3. If you can visit a music store with a large print section and ask the clerk for some recommendations on what is new and exciting for players at your level.
4. Revisit and reflect on your goals for the fall.
My plans. As I'm a professional, I'm ramping up the intensity until Labour Day in September.
90-day summer music plan 2020
Before Covid 19 1/3 of my students were already online. Now it is everyone. How are folks dealing with it? Generally fine. One young man, 4 years old, had to take a breather. But another 4-year-old is thriving. Kids are still learning, maybe even better because of the extra practice time available. Several parents have taken up the piano again to assist their kids during lessons.
Parental involvement has been a revelation. What fun they are having! Duets are ringing out, lots of laughter and perspiration.
Older adults have really taken to the whole project. Many of them are not going back schlepping through the snow to the studio, they are staying online. Safe and sound in warm and familiar surroundings.
How is the teacher doing? I miss the travel and environmental novelty of travelling. When social distancing passes, I will enjoy the personal interaction I had before. But, I'm pleased as punch that we are all settling into the new normal.
Call me now for the fall. Spots are filling up.
How does the teacher practice?
Good question. So, here goes.
I do the following things on a regular basis:
How do I practice in my studio?
If I can help you, feel free to call me.
What are the take aways for students?
I'm off to Louisville. I'm quite excited about the trip. I expect it will be a great learning experience and hang.
I'm rooming with my former Berklee College of Music professor and adviser Andy Jaffe. I expect to meet lots of folks from my musical past there including Ed Soph, Bobby Shew, and lots of Berklee folks.
I will be posting details of the workshops and concerts here over the next couple of days. Drum workshops will be posted on my drum blog. Have a look here: Drum blog
Piano inspiration of the week is found here: Pianist magazine.
Ninety six instructional videos on the fine art of classical and jazz piano.
I have new recordings of myself playing drums in the Toronto band "Jakes not here" on the hear me button. Jazz and Blues fun, found at the bottom of the page.
This past month I've had the privilege to adjudicate 2 festivals in Ontario. Here are some tips for preparing your children for competition.
On Sunday January 18 we had a lovely student recital at Port Nelson United Church. The kids played well, the piano was in tune, and the concert lasted just the right amount of time. A success.
Our next concert will be the annual duet concert. A heap of family fun. Parents and kids performing together!
I was reflecting on the joy that was on display. The students who played wanted to play; they were a happy group of keeners.
A good part of their success is a result of their preparations. They had practiced, they were ready, and they knew it.
I was told, "piano is fun if you practice, drudgery if you don't?' So protect your practice time, it is the source of your musical joy.
"Do I have enough years left to reach my goals?" This is a good question coming from a retirement age student. I said, “Maybe”.
I practice the drums about 6+ hours a week. Studies say it takes 10,000 hours to reach mastery. I have already put in about 1200 hours, give or take. So, I‘ll be 82 years old. Will I make it? Maybe. If I do, I will be the swinging hard and grinning ear to ear. If I do not make it, at least I will die in the saddle somewhere along the trail to my dreams.
You will notice some real progress about every 300 hours of practice. You can do your own math on the mastery bit.
Here is to practice.
Now go saddle up.
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.