Archive for the ‘Teach Me Today’ Category

I know many people don’t like year-end letters but I couldn’t resist.

2016 was a wild year for many reasons.  I am very happy to be working in the music biz.  This is what I love to do and I’m looking forward to 2017.

Last year I had fun playing gigs with 11 different bands/artists.

I enjoyed working in my studio as a player, engineer, producer with 9 different clients.  Additionally, I wrote numerous songs, TV/Film cues, arrangements, charts and transcriptions.

A CD I worked on was released in 2016 – Chico 45th Anniversary ~ CHICO [latin, variety] (Bill Keis, mastering engineer, keyboards).  I’m looking forward to three more CDs being released in 2017.

As a teacher, my niche is teaching adults.  I cover many things including accompaniment skills, composing and how to play in a band.

Super cool news:  a student wrote and recorded a song for his wife for their anniversary, several students played casuals and sat in at nightclubs, one student (who was failing) got an “A” in her College music class.  In 2016 I reached a milestone…all 10 of my music books are now available on Amazon Kindle!

Wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous 2017.  Let’s get together and make some noise!


(818) 246-6858

Piano technique refers to how one plays the piano, or the physical motions of piano playing. There are numerous theories and approaches to this, and even players taught in the same method end up with their own unique style.

The following data is a summary of technique basics that I have learned in more than 40 years of studying, playing and teaching piano.


The following is a description of what could be called “optimum playing position”. Sometimes this is not possible, for example if you are playing multiple keyboards. I usually try to get as close to this as I can. Much of this can be applied if you are standing up playing a keyboard as well.

When playing the piano, it is better to sit on a piano bench rather than a chair or stool. Sit about halfway back.

The height of the keys should be even with your belly button. Some players find it more comfortable to have the height of the keys a little higher than their belly button. Having the keys lower is not recommended because it can lead to wrist pain, etc.

Move the bench to a place so that you’re not too close or too far away from the keys. If you are too close, your arms will be too bent. If you are too far, your arms will be too straight.

Your forearms should be parallel to the floor, wrist flat and fingers curved.

It is most common to sit a little to the left of the middle C. However, depending on what you’re playing, you might want to sit to the right. Basically, center yourself around what you are playing.

Approximately 90% of the time, you should have all your fingers touching the keys, even fingers that are not being used at a particular moment.

Mechanics of the Piano

It is helpful to know a little about how the piano works. I recommend looking inside the piano while you play some notes. Notice what happens when you push down a key, when you push down each pedal, etc.

Also, see what happens when you try to play a note when its key is already half down. (Usually it won’t make any sound)

The main thing to realize is that the piano keyboard is velocity sensitive. This means that the faster you depress a key, the louder the note will be. This is true of most electric keyboards as well.

It is not how hard you push a key or how much pressure or weight you apply that increases the volume.

So, the correct way to play is to push down a key quickly if you want a loud note, slowly if you want a soft note.

When you hold a key (or several keys) down, it is best to do it lightly. Someone should be able to easily lift your hand off the keyboard. As soon as you play a note, you should relax! If you play too heavy, you will be wasting energy and will probably get tired more quickly.

Overall, you should be relaxed when playing the piano. You can play so much better when you are relaxed. There are times when you will want to tense up, but only for a moment.

Always release any tension quickly.

Part Two of this article will explain more details about piano/keyboard technique.


The Blues

Blues in an extremely important style of music because it has influenced nearly all music since its beginning, circa 1890 A.D. Certainly this rich heritage deserves much study.

This article is by no means meant to cover even a fraction of the blues. The purpose here is simple. Define a few key elements of the blues that every 21st century musician should know.  This will get you started.

The Blues Chord Progression

The most basic version of Blues has a very simple chord progression that consists of only three chords: the I, IV and V chords of whatever key the song is in. These chords follow a specific sequence over 12 bars.

I  IV  I  I

IV  IV  I  I

V  IV  I  I  (or V when repeating)

Since countless songs have been written to this chord progression it is something that really should be memorized.

Additionally, most musicians know this progression and you probably wouldn’t be taken seriously if you don’t know it.


Although the blues is rather simple compared to many styles that followed it, playing blues is no easy task for a beginner. Even someone well-trained in Classical music might find playing the blues quite challenging.

The reason for this is that blues music has lots of improvisation. If that is new to you, now is the time to practice and get it down.

There are 3 Blues Scales.  They are:

Major Blues Scale 1 2 –3 3 5 6 8

example:  C  D  E flat  E  G  A  C

Minor Blues Scale 1–3 4 +4 (–5 )5 –7 8

example:  C  E flat  F  G flat G  B flat  C

Jazz Blues Scale    1 2 –3 3 4 +4 (–5) 5 6 –7 8

example:  C D E flat E F G flat G A B flat C

If you haven’t already done this, practice improvising in 4/4 with triplet feel up to at least 80 BPM in a few different keys.

Pick a key and then practice the 12 bar blues progression with a metronome until you can easily play it several times without losing the beat.

Then, begin to practice improvising over the blues progression using the data below.

Practice #1 until you’ve got it, then go on to #2, etc.

  1. Major Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in major blues)
  2. Minor Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in minor blues)
  3. Minor Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in major blues)
  4. Blues scale of the chord you are on
  5. Jazz Blues Scale of the key for all chords (in major blues)


Have fun and do lots of improvisation and soon you’ll find you are well on you way to playing the blues.


The metronome is a valuable tool for learning and playing music and should be part of every musician’s equipment.

Metronomes are useful for helping to develop good time,  If one has “good time” it means they have the ability to create a steady, even tempo, to play “in the pocket” to “groove”.  This is arguably the most important skill a musician can possess.

It is a good idea to separate the various parts of music (melody, harmony, rhythm) and practice them to a good level before you combine them. So, working on your rhythmic skills without playing your instrument is highly recommended.

The most important thing to know is you should play with the metronome, not follow it.  One way to develop that skill is to clap beats precisely in time with the metronome.  If you are accurate (clapping at the same speed as the metronome) the sound of the metronome disappears!  This will “tell” you if you’re right on it or not.

This phenomenon doesn’t occur when you are playing a note your instrument unless you play with a percussive sound e.g. drums, or keyboard set to a drum sound, also muted electric guitar and bass will work.

So, part of your daily practice routine should include this simple yet challenging drill; clap beats along with your metronome until you achieve a stable ability to keep time. That is the most fundamental rhythmic skill.

This procedure works best if you practice medium speeds before tackling faster and slower tempos.  Make sure your metronome has a clicking sound rather than a beep. If you clap to a beeping or chirping sound, it will be difficult to make the sound disappear. And the absence of the metronome sound is an important indicator of your accuracy.


In addition to being a learning tool, metronomes are useful for determining the correct tempo for a song. The numbers on metronomes, such as 126, represent how many beats per minute. If you set it at 60, the tempo is equal to one beat per second. What do you think 120 would be? You’re right; it is two beats per second.

In the past, before the invention of the metronome, numerous terms were used to describe different tempos: Largo, Andante, Allegro, and Presto are four such examples. You will find these words written on your metronome. They indicate various ranges of speed. For example, Largo is from 40 to 60 BPM (beats per minute). Andante is from 76 to 108 BPM, Allegro is from 120 to 168, Presto is from 168 to 200 BPM.

As you can see, there is quite a large span or wide difference of speed for each term. The old system is workable; it’s just not as precise as the modern system which uses BPM. If the stated tempo of a particular song is 120 BPM, you can set your metronome to 120 and know exactly how fast it should be played.

Additionally, BPM numbers are helpful if you want to figure out how long a song is without having to play the whole song. You can simply add up the total number of beats in the song and then divide that number by the metronome marking (the number of BPM) and you will have the length of time for the song.

Quartz Metronome

Many modern day metronomes are quartz metronomes. Some people don’t understand what quartz means so I will briefly define it. Quartz is a crystalline mineral found in rocks of all types, usually colorless and transparent.

Similar to a fine watch or clock, a quartz metronome’s time keeping mechanism is controlled by a quartz crystal that vibrates at a fixed rate. This tiny crystal has been cut into the shape of a tuning fork (a small, metal object with a thin handle and two prongs that vibrate at a specific rate when struck thus giving a certain pitch which is used as a reference pitch when tuning a piano or other instrument).

The quartz crystal in a metronome is set into motion by the electric current from a battery. This technology provides an extremely accurate pulse.  Wind up type metronomes do not keep a steady time.

More than a Click

Some metronomes just give you a click, which is fine. Other more elaborate models will also indicate the first beat of the measure by the use of a different sound. The subdivisions of the beat can also be indicated.

So, you can have three things going simultaneously. You could have the first beat of the measure, which is called a downbeat, all of the main beats of the bar, and the sub-beats.

The Seiko metronome is a really good brand. The Doctor Beat, which is made by Boss, a subsidiary of Roland, also has all the stuff on it.  The Frozen Ape Tempo app on the iPhone is an excellent metronome.

Used correctly, metronomes are invaluable.  Try it, you’ll be glad you did.

Rhythm – the temporal (having to do with time) element of music relating to how sounds are made into patterns from Latin rhythmos from Greek rhythmos related to rhein meaning to flow (move in a steady unbroken manner)

Rhythm is quite a fascinating subject. At first glance, it can seem a bit elusive, similar to the subject of time. It is, however, quite manageable with a lot of practice.

First of all, I don’t think that some people have rhythm and some people don’t. I think good rhythmic skills can be learned by just about anyone, given enough practice of the right things.

A good place to start is to define some of the fundamental terms.  How to practice them is covered in my books.

Rhythm – when, and for how long, sounds are played based on various agreed upon units of measurement (beats, bars, subbeats)

Beat – the basic pulse of music that used as a stable point of reference and should be co-created by all the musicians

Time – a flow of beats

Tempo – the speed of the beats, often stated in B.P.M. (beats per minute)

Free time – Rubato, not in a steady tempo, speeding up and slowing down on purpose, often used for introductions and ending, however, a whole song could be played this way

Bar, Measure – a group of beats, the most common is 4 beats in a bar

Meter – the number of beats in a bar. When you say a song is in a triple meter for example, that means all the bars in that song will have 3 beats

Time Signature – the number of beats in a bar (meter) and which kind of note will represent 1 beat in the song

Downbeat – the first beat in a bar (also, the third beat is sometimes called a downbeat in quadruple meter – four beats per bar )

Upbeats, Offbeats – beats 2 & 4 (in a bar of 4 beats), beats 2 & 3 (in a bar of 3 beats)

Backbeat – beats 2 & 4 are often called backbeats, especially when they are accented (played loud, with extra stress)

Subbeat – a portion of a beat; beats are often divided into smaller beats, the most common divisions are 2, 3, 4 per beat – commonly referred to by their notational names: eighth notes, triplets, sixteenth notes

Rhythmic feel – the ‘feel’ of a song is caused by how the beats are divided; this is not the style of music, but how the song feels


Developing a high degree of rhythmic ability is essential to any musician and well worth the effort!

The Secrets of Improvisation – Part Two

Rhythmic Improvisation

Certainly if you want to play Jazz or Rock, or pretty much any style of music developed since 1900, you should be able to improvise rhythms.

However, even if you just want to play Classical music, practicing improvisation will still be helpful because it develops basic skills to a higher level than just reading notes does.

If we draw a comparison to talking, certainly you wouldn’t think of only speaking from a prepared script. So as a musician, why only play what is written on the page?

You will reach a higher level of command over rhythm, if you practice improvising rhythms.

Do the following drills by clapping, counting out loud and tapping your foot. Then play on your instrument, at first just one note or a chord.  After you are proficient, improvise with scales, etc.

  1. 4/4 (no sub-beats) only quarter,half,dotted half, whole notes & rests
  2. 3/4 (no sub-beats) only quarter,half,dotted half,whole notes & rests
  3. 4/4 in eighth note feel
  4. 3/4 in eighth note feel
  5. 4/4 in triplet feel
  6. 3/4 in triplet feel
  7. 4/4 in sixteenth note feel
  8. 3/4 in sixteenth note feel

Practice with a metronome.  The speed depends on your level: beginner, intermediate or advanced.  Here are some guidelines.

#1 & #2 from 120 – 240 BPM

#3 & #4 from 90 – 208 BPM

#5 & #6 from 60 – 140 BPM

#7 & #8 from 46 – 104 BPM

Work up to a point where you can freely improvise in each format including all the basic rhythmic figures and variations in dynamics.

To become a great improviser requires lots of knowledge about scales and chords and many other things.  An understanding of various styles of music and what those styles are composed of rhythmically, is very important.

See below for a list of styles and their rhythmic feels. This is a partial list. Some styles cross feels.

Eighth Note Feel

Pop ballads, Bossa Nova, Cha-cha, Rock, Pop Rock, Waltz, Tango

Triplet (Swing) Feel

Shuffle, Blues, 50’s, Dixieland, Swing, Bebop, Straight Ahead (Jazz), Jazz waltz, Country waltz, Show tunes, Reggae, Standards, Gospel

Sixteenth note feel

(Sometimes written as eighth notes in cut time)

Funk, R&B, Disco, Jazz Rock, Samba, Salsa, Calypso, Caribbean, Pop ballads, Fusion, Funk/Rock, Cumbia

Sixteenth note triplets ~ “swing sixteenths” feel

Hip – Hop, Funky Shuffle, Smooth Jazz, Modern Rock, R&B styles

If you play in the rhythm section: keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, it is also a good idea to practice improvising grooves.

A groove is a repeating rhythmic pattern, usually one or two bars long, that is played by one of the rhythm section instruments. Each player could be playing a different groove and they all work together or several players could be playing the same groove.

A groove ‘lays down the bed’ for the melody instruments to play on. Grooves will most commonly repeat for a section of a tune and then change to a new pattern for a new section. Fills would be played at the end of melodic phrases (commonly every 4 or 8 bars).

Rhythmic Improvisation is a very important secret of improvisation.

Improvise: to produce without preparation; to make up and perform with little or no preparation; to compose and perform at the same time.

In music, this usually refers to making up a melody over a chord progression1. This is a very easy and fun thing to do, if you know how. So how do you learn? The first thing is to realize that even though improvisation is done without preparation, there is a lot of things you can study and practice to improve this skill and make it more fun. Learn all your scales and chords inside and out. Experiment. Listen to a lot of different players.

Improvising music is very much like talking. Most people improvise conversation everyday. How long did it take to learn to do this? How did you learn to talk? Well, just like when you were growing up, start simple. Practice making up melodies without chords by using only a few notes or one scale at a time.

Chick Corea2 once said, “Play only what you hear. If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything.” What does that mean? Well, it means to play only what you create in your mind, what you “hear” in your mind. And that is the goal: PLAY ONLY WHAT YOUR HEAR. And how can you get to that point?

Again, let’s compare improvising music to talking. When you tell a friend about a cool movie you saw last week, you get an idea and then say words to communicate your thoughts. The same thing should happen when you improvise. Get an idea of some sounds and then play those sounds. In other words, PLAY ONLY WHAT YOU HEAR.

My advice is to start simple. First learn to play over one chord, then two chords, then the 12 Bar Blues1, etc. Continue working up to improvising over a whole tune, but even then start with easier tunes like Pop or Country. After that you’ll be able to move on to Jazz.

Keep in mind the goal is to ‘play what you hear’ (play what you are creating in your mind). To develop that skill, you should often sing “la” or “da” when you practice improvisation.

Music is made up of melody, harmony, and rhythm. To become a great improviser, you have to learn a lot about all three of these subjects.

Above all, have fun!

1 Chord Progression: a sequence of chords played in a song.

2 Chick Corea: American jazz pianist and composer; b. Massachusetts June 12, 1941.

Perfect pitch means the ability to hear a sound and instantly recognize what the note is. In other words you can hear a sound and say, “that’s a G” or whatever the note is.

It is a fallacy that some people are born with it and that you can either do it or you can’t. This is a skill that can be acquired. I would say that it does seem to be less common that people learn late in life rather than earlier in life.

I realized that I had this skill when I was about six years old. My mother actually discovered it. She was playing the piano and I told her what note she was playing from the other room and she started testing me and she discovered that I had perfect pitch.

So what does that mean? Some people think that someone with perfect pitch can tell if something is out of tune better than someone who doesn’t have perfect pitch. That is not true, not necessarily. Something out of tune doesn’t bother me more than it bothers anyone else.

But basically it’s like this; perfect pitch is a kind of perception of the sound quality of a note. It is a fine perception of minute differences of quality. It’s not a question of the highness or lowness of the sound particularly. It’s more like the difference between orange and red, or the different shades of green, such as, bright green, pale green, pea green.

Someone working in art or say the subject of interior decorating or something like that would have a lot of experience with say being able to recognize colors. They may say something like, this color is sea green or this is lime green. Perfect pitch is similar to that, it’s a perception.

On a bigger scale it would be like being able to tell the difference between a piano verses a guitar. If you were playing the exact same note, same volume with your eyes closed it would be very obvious.

It’s the same thing with perfect pitch. There are 12 notes and you just have to memorize or learn to perceive that each one of them has something about it that gives it a certain quality that is different than the other notes.

“F” to me has a buzzing kind of quality. You could think of the shape of your mouth creating a zzz…, or ahh… whereas a “B flat” is a much more rounded sound, like an oohhh… It’s almost like the difference between the vowel sounds, a, e, i, o, u, or the different ways that you can make your voice sound. An E just has a certain sound – almost like the letter “E….” as opposed to “A”. C is a flat sound, not meaning low in pitch. Sort of “bland” is a better word to describe “C”, it is a more mundane sound.

Perfect pitch is what it is called, but a better name for it would be pitch recall or Absolute Pitch Recall. What that means is that you can remember what the A sounds like. Right now I could play an ”A” and have you sing the “A” and 10 seconds later I can ask you to sing an “A” and you could do it. That is because you remember what it sounds like.

But, what about 20 minutes from now, or an hour from now? What about tomorrow? You might not be able to do it. The point is if you have a very short- term memory with pitch, you probably don’t have perfect pitch.

So, if you could practice singing an “A” and then going back to the piano 5 minutes later and sing it again, and then 10 minutes later go back to the piano and sing it again, and then by gradually increasing the time you will begin to increase your certainty on what does an “A” actually sounds like. Then you’ll remember it. Then you could begin to start to develop perfect pitch.

The two main aspects are; 1) quality of the sound; trying to recognize the difference between pitches and 2) just increasing the time that you can actually remember one sound.

Perfect pitch is a very useful skill however it is not mandatory to becoming a successful musician. In fact, only about 10% of musicians I know have this skill.

Relative pitch, the ability to recognize notes after hearing a starting note, is more valuable and is easier to develop.

First of all, there is no such thing as a condition of being tone deaf. What I mean is that really anyone can learn to hear tones and sing in tune, unless of course you are actually deaf. It’s like anything else; if you can practice it you can get good at it.

Increasing one’s ability to sing in tune starts with practicing singing unisons. Unison means two notes at the same pitch. You can actually practice this with your voice by taking your keyboard and purposely singing out of tune and then go in tune or purposely start in tune and then go out high and then back to it or purposely go out low and then back to it. And just keep doing this over and over again and again.

In other words you are actually doing what violin players, or what guitar players or cello players do, they sit down and tune their instrument (nowadays they may bypass this step, because they buy an electric tuner, and it does it for them, and then they do not develop their ear, which is a bad thing). In actual fact violinists, guitar players, bass players and cello players do this everyday. They have to physically turn the knob and tune their instrument.

Play a note on the keyboard and then slide your voice up and down (aahaahaah). Purposely start a few notes out of tune and then gradually slide your voice to the correct note. You can come up to the correct note or down to it.

You could also do this for example, sing an “A” and sustain it and then purposely play another note like a “Bb”, then go back to the “A.” Then you could play a note and sing it and then play another one and then sing it, etc.

If you have never done this, never practiced tuning your voice you might not be good at it. But, as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.

Another thing to talk about is beats. Not beats like beats on a drum. Piano tuners use this word to describe the sound caused by two notes played at the same time that are out of tune. If you have one note sounding, that note is going to be vibrating at a certain speed, such as note that is vibrating 440 times per second. (This would be “A” just above middle C)

Let’s say you come along and you sing just a note a little bit below that. In other words, you’re a little flat. The note you are singing is vibrating at maybe 437. The reason you’re not singing in tune is because the note is not vibrating at 440.

It’s impossible for you to count these numbers of vibrations, but what you can count is the sound created by the two notes sounding at the same time and the difference between them. The difference between 440 and 437 is 3 beats per seconds and you can hear 3 beats per second.

If you have an A440 and also a note that is a 437 that is trying to be an A, the difference is going to be 3 per second and you’re going to be able to hear that. If you play the 2 notes together you will hear a sound that sounds like a vibrato, a wowu, wowu, kind of sound and those are called beats. That’s what piano tuners call them.

The notes are beating, they are out of sync. What you need to do is try to develop your ability to hear those. They are somewhat subtle, but they are there. You can listen for that and then gradually move your voice a little up or down, whichever makes the beats slower. As you get more in tune, the beats will slow down. It’s going to be a sound like this, wowu, wowu, etc. until that vibrato eventually stops and that means you’re in tune.

Tone deafness can be cured!

Triads are three note chords. Even though they are the most basic chords, they are very important to learn because there are many songs that use only triads. Other more complex chords would be inappropriate. Additionally, triads are the building blocks of larger more complex chords.

There are six different triads; major, minor, augmented and diminished, suspended 4 and suspended 2.  Examples in C:

major C E G

minor C E flat G

augmented C E G sharp

diminished C E flat G flat

suspended 4  C F G

suspended 2 C D G


The “home tone” of a chord is called the root. For example, in a C major triad, C is the root, in an F minor triad, F is the root, etc. This is similar to the first note of a scale which is called the tonic. The tonic is the “home tone” of a scale.

So, triads are made up of a root and two other notes which determine the type of chord (major, minor, etc)

The root of a chord is probably the most important note. It is most often played by bass players, in the left hand by piano players, as well as other applications.

Of course, the root is often played in the right hand on a piano, with the other two notes of the triad.

Practice Procedure

Beginner piano players should practice all the triad exercises on a piano or keyboard with right hand chords and left hand roots (one note). Advanced piano players should also practice with both hands playing chords.

Of course, these chords should be practiced from each of the 12 roots (in other words – all keys).

For more information see my eBook “The Basics of Harmony”