An Unconventional Education
I have no musical degrees or diplomas, no “credentials” in the conventional sense. My conviction and credibility stem from the diversity and authenticity of my unique smorgasbord of musical and life experiences. My “claim to fame” is that I profoundly understand your frustrations as a student because I have struggled with (and overcome) the very same challenges myself. And I still remember how [unnecessarily] difficult everything seemed at the time.
That said, Piano-ology is infused with this lifetime of experiences… and I will allow the content to speak for itself…. born of love and struggle and perseverance and my unrelenting commitment to understand music, the piano, and life in general. It is the fruit of countless cycles of frustration and joy, repeated bouts with self-doubt, thousands of hours and thousands of dollars spent over the course of two decades on books, recordings, videos, magazines, private lessons, independent research, college classes, and a huge amount of plain old hard work… fussing over things until they made sense… separating the bogus from the authentic… in search of a path that is both true and useful. In a phrase, Piano-ology is frustration transformed into joy.
My Musical Resumé
- As long as I can remember, I have always loved music. It took me decades to appreciate that LOVE, not talent, is the real gift.
- My earliest musical memory: Age five in the cellar of my buddy Scott’s cellar, an entire day playing his dad’s monster stack of 45 rpm fifties records. We danced around like crazy. Simple exposure to new and exciting experiences is priceless.
- My first experience creating music: First grade, flutophones. I learned how play a few simple tunes and was given the honor of directing the flutophone orchestra, wearing a red blazer with baton in hand. I learned that is so much more satisfying to participate, rather than just watch.
- Sadly, the rest of my grammar school years were a musical black hole. Perhaps nobody noticed my love of music. Perhaps they all sincerely believed that there were more important things to do.
- Fortunately, my parents had a spinet piano in the house. I never took lessons, but I would dabble over the years, picking out a few simple tunes by ear. Only now do I see the profound importance of even this small opportunity.
- During my high school years, I taught myself how to read music (badly) and played a few easy songs by ear (actually by trial and error), but I was horribly frustrated because I really couldn’t play much of anything.
- Still, my fascination with music continued. And in college, I decided to study music theory and history for my liberal arts electives while getting an engineering degree. Still, I knew almost nothing about the piano and so little about what really makes music tick.
- After graduation, I immediately jumped into an engineering career… and my sporadic musical life went back into hibernation, until…
- At the age of twenty-eight, I got invited to a jam session by some friends from work who had a band. I was amazed that a bunch of people who never met each other before could show up and start playing together without sheet music. I was bitten by the music bug once again and committed then and there to learn what this music thing was really all about. I no longer wanted to just listen to music. I wanted to participate in the world of music, just like I had in first grade, so…
- I bought a very cheesy electric piano (it did not even have full sized keys) and started showing up to the jam sessions and learned something new every week. After about a year, I could play some simple blues and rock ideas in a handful of keys. After two years, I eventually got good enough that they invited me to join the band. I was shocked and honored and scared to death. I played my first gig the week before my thirtieth birthday. I did not eat or sleep for days beforehand. I was absolutely nauseous and terrified, but I somehow survived. It’s all part of the process. My life, musically and otherwise, has been expanding ever since.
- In the ensuing years, I have simply followed my musical heart and walked through each musical door as it opened along the way.
- Through an inexplicable series of semi-miraculous coincidences, I took my first piano lesson at the age of thirty-two.
- I have had several teachers since and I consider myself fortunate to have been exposed to each of their unique influences. I got just what I needed from each one of them, then moved on to learn other things.
- Over the years, I’ve bought and read dozens and dozens of books and watched as many videos on theory, technique, styles, ear training, and improvisation. Some were wonderful, most not so wonderful. I learned that the ability to market and sell something does not make something valuable.
- I have studied anatomy, somatics, and the Alexander Technique by doing independent research, so I deeply understand how your piano-playing body works.
- On the jazz front, I bought and studied dozens of improvisation book/recording packages (Aebersold, etc.), where I learned the basics of the jazz language, but always hit the same brick wall. The problem was always the same: Almost total emphasis on left-brain constructs and almost no emphasis on right-brain experiences.
- I bought some of the Dick Grove “School without Walls” CDs, which introduced me to a different way of thinking about ear training. There I learned the notion and importance of having “flexible” ears.
- I bought “the” perfect pitch course and gave it an honest hearing. It did not work for me. My perfect pitch experiences are discussed at length on our aural comprehension pages.
- I took two ear-training classes and a blues/rock improv class at Berklee music school on-line. If I had the time and money, I would go to music school full-time, but alas, I do not have the time and money. Anyway, I learned two huge lessons at Berklee: 1) the importance of singing out loud when doing ear training and 2) the priority of rhythmic groove over flash when improvising. Berklee confirmed that my approach to ear training (using Solfege) was already on the right track.
- I really know how your brain works, because I have studied educational psychology extensively at the university level (I am currently 3 classes shy of a Psychology degree, but stopped when I learned what I needed to learn and realized that my goal was not to build a resume). I have also done extensive independent study on this fascinating subject.
- During this process, no musical skills came naturally to me. I have struggled with every aspect of musicianship: technique, rhythm, theory, reading, memorization, performance, interpretation, and ear training. In the torturous process of overcoming these obstacles, I have discovered a priceless lesson that goes way beyond playing the piano: “You either have it or you don’t!” is a poisonous myth that tragically prevents people from reaching their full potential. I do not merely believe this. I know this. The real gift is not “talent”; the real gift is LOVE.
- I started teaching music at the age of forty and have loved it ever since. Teaching has made me a much better player, because it forces me to understand things deeply enough to be able to explain them to others in a way that they can understand.
- I retired from my engineering career on my fiftieth birthday in order to pursue my authentic dreams. Piano-ology is one of those dreams. Piano-ology is not perfect, but it is honest.
- My goal is to cultivate MY uniqueness as a musician and human being: teaching in a way that only I can teach and making music that only I can make.
- At present, I am doing some serious woodshedding to expand my jazz vocabulary and improvisation skills.
- Finally, I do lots of educational cross-training, which grants me a unique vantage point to understand the world, finding the truth in the common denominators that cut across all disciplines. I am extremely well-read, enjoy world-wide adventure travel, and participate in a variety of volunteer efforts… all activities where music has opened many wonderful doors.