I teach many retired professionals. Some are lapsed musicians; others are just starting out their piano journey. All of them are keen. To help out, I've taken notes of some of the characteristics of my successful students.
If I can help you with your dream of playing the piano, call me.
I wish this had been available when I started playing piano as I was not a gifted ear player. In fact, I struggled. On top of this my teachers didn't stress aural development either. They were all readers first. So, my development was glacial. Thankfully, things have changed for piano students.
How did I develop my sight reading and aural skills? In college I was given proper ear training. Later, I took up the drums, learned countless tunes by ear, and wrote them down. For the last decade I've been teaching online where I don't always see students' hands clearly. My ear learned to hear individual notes out of place. My sightreading developed early because I was a lazy student. It was more fun to read tunes than to practice them. Consequently, I became a professional sight-reader. I still am.
If I can help you, call me.
What an exciting time of learning. I was able to experience live coding, VR sound, Ai developments in musical education and more under the direction of young and exciting researchers. It was just what an old goat needed, some fresh ideas.
One thing that did strike me was how dated the synthesizer music was. The young musicians were in the thrall of the 1990s. That took me by surprise.
The walk from downtown to Napier University was lovely and peaceful.
I've been attending concerts for over half a century. That's a lot of concerts. Many have been completely forgotten, a few others can be recalled with some sort of prompt, and a small number remained seared in my mind. I counted seven concerts that changed me in some significant way. Here's the story of those concerts.
"I have been a student with David for the past couple of years. While my primary instrument is Trumpet, I decided to take piano to broaden my knowledge. I have never had music theory, either in school or private lessons. David is taking me there through the piano. He assured me that all the skills I would learn through theory and practice on the piano were transferable to other instruments. David has a way of simplifying theory concepts, making them easier to understand.
I had an opportunity to play Trumpet at a private service recently. Playing completely solo - no other musicians. One piece happened to be the one David and I were working on. Everything we had done came into “play” and those skills I have learned completely transferred to my Trumpet and I played the best I have ever played.
When you ask yourself, “Do I really need to know this?” I can honestly say, Yes! and it pays off in performance quality."
Thank you, Barb.
A New Student's Profile
The new student is a young professional with a keen interest in learning to play jazz piano. They took piano and trumpet lessons in high school. They have a basic understanding of music theory. Aural skills are excellent.
Their program will include the following components:
I'm finishing my first year with the Toronto Concert Band and what a thrill it has been. From drum set to piano, xylophone to tympani it has been a journey of intense rehearsal, thrilling concerts, private practice, and fellowship.
At the upcoming concert I will be playing:
Come join us and say hi after the concert.
When: June 10, 2023 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Where: Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front Street West
Tickets: 2023 Spring Concert - Toronto Concert Band
Angela Hewitt shares her tactics, strategies, and stories on how she keeps her musical memory strong. It is interesting to note that musical conservatories, like the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, have developed curriculums that prepare the ground for developing and maintaining musical memory.
Link to the article: ‘Like sex and religion, we don’t like to talk about memory’: pianist Angela Hewitt on how she keeps hers in shape | Classical music | The Guardian
The teacher practices Jazz
Last weekend I went to my first jazz jam with my Vibraphone aka my Malletkat GS Grand. We were a quartet of Tenor Sax/Flute, Vibes, Bass, and Drums. I survived with my dignity intact, but I’ve a few discoveries and confessions to share.
On the plus side, I knew all the tunes from years of playing and teaching jazz piano plus my jazz time and feel is strong.
Here is the practice regime I began to follow to improve my jazz experience.
Tune: Satin Doll by Ellington/Strayhorn
If I can help you with your jazz piano journey, call me.
BTW: In the era of Ai content generation, a human wrote this blog.
This week an adult student came to class in a state of agitation. They were frustrated that they didn't have time this week to practice, and they felt embarrassed.
Five things to consider.
I said, "John, think of this hour as an oasis without responsibilities". That worked, he had a fun lesson. He even sent a thank you email after class.
From whiteboard notes and exercises I sent to students this week.
Super video demonstration but...
Let's consider the assumptions he is making about you the student/listener.
What is my job?
I prepare students to understand and execute what he is talking about. The first thing we will do is assess your situation and then we'll draw up a logical plan.
BTW: in 2017, I studied with Peter Martin in Rome Italy. He's a great guy and a very skilled musician. When I grow up, I want to play piano like him. FYI. I was in Rome studying jazz drumming with Greg Hutchinson. Greg played in Ray Brown’s last group.
Tonight, in concert band we will sightreading 8 to 10 new pieces of music that arrived last night and this morning. I am following this protocol to be ready.
1. I immediately printed the music.
2. I created a new YouTube playlist of the pieces.
3. I studied the scores while listening to the musical recordings. I made note of the tricky bits. I did not necessarily listen all the way through, just enough to get a sense of the part.
4. I put aside all the music I can easily sightread. It will be read for the first time tonight.
5. I have made note of the tricky bits in the three remaining pieces: one measure in one piece, one section in another, and then put the third on the music rack for immediate attention later this morning.
6. I wrote in the stickings on the two easier pieces in the trickly passages.
7. I am preparing to practice the one tricky piece with my pencil, eraser, recording, drumkit, music ready at hand.
I will let you know how it turns out tonight.
I started part-time teaching in 1982 and in 2007 I went full-time. That is a few generations of students that have passed through my studio. What have I learned?
If I can help you get started, call me.
Another day in the teaching studio and 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
Revised August 2022
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.
Revised August 2022
I spent the summer of 2001 making music on the Mediterranean near Santa Pola, Spain in a small apartment overlooking the sea. I fondly remember the sun, the heat, the paella, the wine, the flowers, and the nightly walks along the seaside promenade.
Now to the story.
I had had big plans of dragging my portable piano to Spain. At the check-in counter in Toronto the agent promptly rejected the piano in the lovely crate I had built. The airline won’t let me check it as baggage because they said it was as big and heavy as a coffin. Dejected I sent it home in an in-law’s car trunk. As luck would have it, I had another in-law in Spain with an old unused Casio keyboard of sixty-five keys, one pedal, a stand, and books of Bach and Chopin.
I set up that keyboard in a window with the ocean view. Then I started playing during the long afternoon siestas. Bach, Chopin, and I quickly fell in love. Apparently so did my new neighbors who, unbeknownst to me, heard me practicing hours on end through that open window.
Back in Canada I started asking about for a “Classical” piano teacher. A professor from McMaster University recommended Leon Karan. I set up a lesson. It didn’t go well. I banged through some scales and thumped out my Bach. Though I was embarrased and humiliated, Leon was kind. After I recovered, he said, “you are of course going to do your ARCT?” “I am?” Five thousand hours later I earned an ARCT diploma in piano pedagogy and won a national scholarship. Thank you, Leon, for your patience. You changed my life.
Revised August 2022
I've fond memories of listening to New Orleans Jazz as a kid at home. Al Hirt, Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain, the lot. Music that gives joy when you play it. and joy when you listen to it.
"Sugar" was released in 1926 by Ethel Waters, you can listen below. Over the Christmas break, I've been learning to play jazz on the xylophone. Who knew it was so much fun? This is my version on xylophone with piano accompaniment.
If you would like to have as much fun as this on the piano, call me.
Revised August 2022
Yesterday fourteen piano students got together in a jazz club and jammed with a bassist and drummer. What a blast!
Here is some feedback from students:
Next up February, Covid willing.
If you'd like to join us, call me.
Revised September 2022
Number 3 is the saddest. “I tried teaching myself “. Trying to teach yourself from YouTube or some half-baked app is like trying to teach yourself to drive a car from YouTube. Let that sink in for a moment. A teacher will make you a plan, sequence the material for you, respond to your concerns, and inspire you.
Number 1 and 4? " I have no talent; I have no rhythm." I take ballroom dance classes with my wife. She is a natural and trained dancer. I’ve no talent or rhythm. But I’m having fun every week. Nobody cares, not even my wife. We are having way too much fun dancing to worry about my lack rhythm or talent.
If I can help you overcome the resistance, call me.
Revised September 2022
I practice piano and drums daily, except Sundays when I rest. Recently my student Barb asked me, "how do you practice?" Here is my answer.
Revised October 2022
This guy did the work and then fearlessly put himself out there.
Revised October 2022
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
"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!"
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.