Breakfast Piano Minute
I learned piano haphazardly as a teenager. When I attended Berklee College of music the piano teachers never talked about “playing” the piano, only what to play. Later in my professional work as a commercial musician the playing demands were not too strenuous.
In my early forty's I spent a summer in Santa Pola Spain with a small keyboard and a book of Bach WTC book 1 and Chopin Waltzes. Every afternoon after lunch while the world took a siesta, I would explore the music on this tiny sixty note plastic keyboard. It was a magical experience. Upon 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 recollection of which piece I played but I do remember his concerned reaction. I was humbled.
“You are of course going to do your ARCT?”
“ARCT, you are a piano teacher. You have a duty to your students.”
Four years and five thousand hours of practice later, I graduated age 47. It was the most difficult and rewarding thing I’ve ever done as a musician. It was truly a marathon, but to mangle my metaphors, I felt like superman.
If you'd like to feel like superman/woman, call me.
Revised October 2022
Tension is the enemy of speed.
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, pausing between repetitions to catch your breath.
I've demonstrated this in the video below. The faster I played the D major scale, the lighter my touch became because tension is the enemy of speed.
As Jamey Aebersold pleaded one day to his jazz campers. "Don't practice everything slow!"
revised October 2022
Gary's Jazz Journey
"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!"
Gary's First Jazz Lesson 2013
Update October 2022: Gary is still at it. He's been playing jazz, in multiple bands, each week now, for years. Go Gary!
Revised October 2022
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
This is one interpretation among many possibilities.
I have marked the right hand legato and the left-hand quarter notes staccato. These staccato notes would be a 'wet' staccato, or "portato". Slightly detached but marked to give the music some forward momentum.
James Maddox presents a lovely rendition that closely resembles the edit above. He does place less emphasis on the broken chords of measures 9 and 16 though.
Revised October 2022
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.