Friday, September 28, 2007

The simple secrets to harmonization

Have you ever wondered how in the world the really top piano players knew which chords to use in a song -- when there was no music in front of them. They would play song after song effortlessly without ever looking at a piece of sheet music.
I remember a man in Hollywood named Dave who was known as "THE piano teacher". Big names -- recording artists -- took lessons from him. Students and others sitting around the room in his studio on Cahuenga Blvd. (between Sunset Blvd. and Hollywood Blvd.) would call out songs and Dave would play them one after another. If he didn't know the song, he would ask them to sing or hum a few bars. Before long he was playing the song with both hands -- not just the tune, but harmonizing each melody note with a beautiful chord. I loved it, but I had no idea how he did it.

I finally got up the courage to ask him if he would teach me how to do that too. Read the rest of the story here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jazz piano videos

Here are some short videos of a jazz pianist teaching some of his techniques including some jazz chords. Good stuff! Jazz piano Click on the link at the top of the page that says "Video Clips"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Piano PDFs & Piano Ebooks

There is a growing trend for more and more music publishers to come out with piano PDFs and other forms of piano ebooks. I think it is a good development, because it does away with the delay between wanting to learn some aspect of piano playing and the fulfillment of that desire. With a physical piano course there is often a time gap of a week or more before the course reaches the individual buying it because of shipping time. But with a downloadable piano course a person can decide they need to learn that particular thing, and 60 seconds or so later actually be learning it!

Of course downloadable piano courses are much shorter in length than DVD piano courses and cannot by their very nature show full-motion video. But even that will change someday not too far off.

Here are a few PDF piano courses a person could download and start learning immediately:

"Become a Musical Mindreader"

"Power Piano Chords"

"Instant Chord Finder Software"

"Piano Tabs & Guitar Tabs"

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What in the world are "piano tabs"?

Do you know what piano tabs are?

If you don't, please don't feel bad. I didn't either.

I've used chords in my piano playing all my life, but when the phrase "piano tabs" or "chord tabs" started coming up in various places, I started asking my musician friends what they were. Most didn't know -- like me.

So I asked a teen-aged guitarist if he knew what they were, and he said "I know what guitar tabs are, but I'm not sure what piano tabs are"

So I hired a writer I know to write an ebook on piano tabs. The more she got into the research needed to write the ebook, the more she saw that guitar tabs and piano tabs are very similar, so asked me if she could include guitar tabs in the ebook.

I said "Sure -- why not?"

She just finished it, and it opened my eyes, so I thought there are plenty of other piano players who, like me, would like an overview of piano and guitar tabs and how they work.

My name may be on the ebook, but as I said, I didn't write it. (It cost quite a bit to have it written and then have all the illustrations put into an ebook).

So if you are curious about piano tabs as I was, you can pick it up at
"Piano Tabs & Guitar Tabs".

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Winchester House of Mystery

Have you ever been to the Winchester House of Mystery? It's a house built by the widow of Winchester (of Winchester rifle fame) around San Jose California. It has about 160 rooms and cost over $5 million to build -- from 1884 to 1922 (38 continuous years!) I remember as a kid going there with my folks and being quite excited about staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open into brick walls, etc. etc. If you want to check it out, go to

The reason I bring this up on a blog devoted to music and piano playing is because our site,, resembles that house. It has a zillion rooms with hallways that lead nowhere, and is like a maze a person can easily get lost in (I sometimes get lost myself).

That's because I'm not a technical guy at all -- just a musician who loves to share what he's learned with others -- and so it has been built over the last 10 years by a variety of people, some of whom didn't really know what they were doing, with no master plan in view.

But I'm happy to say that those days are almost over. The entire site is being redesigned by a wonderful talented guy named Pat Pelzel who really knows what he's doing, including building a brand-new shopping cart that is easy to understand. It won't be done for a couple more months, but you can look at it in progress at

It will make it much easier for everyone to find what they need!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What We Learn When We Learn Music (Besides Music)

Professor makes case for musical mind

Don’t forget to thank mom and dad for those piano lessons when you were a kid. Chances are, whether you liked it or not, the hours spent practicing scales and sonatinas probably made you a little bit smarter, Mesa State College biology professor Gary McCallister says.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Piano man can lower blood pressure

Here's some exciting evidence that music is good for you. We've known it all along, but it's nice to have in confirmed from time to time.

Read about this guy who plays in a hospital and lowers the blood pressure and stress levels of people coming into the hospital.

Piano man can lower blood pressure and reduce stree levels

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Chord substitutions using "Silent Night" as an example

You can create your own chord substitutions to freshen up any song just by using a couple simple principles:

Teach Yourself Piano?

Back when I was a kid it was unheard of to learn to play the piano without a teacher. Oh sure -- lots of people picked out tunes by ear, played pleasant sounds and patterns, or learned a few chords from friends. But virtually no one became a competent pianist by teaching themselves.

I took lessons from Mrs. Graham, a nice little old lady who lived by the college I later attended, from the time I was 6 until about 8, when an opening finally occured in the teaching schedule of Luzetta -- the most famous of the local teachers in my home town. I took lessons from her for about 4 years and learned all the scales and drills and hundreds of little songs until I could finally play some easy classics.

But it wasn't until I was 14 that I really took off in my piano learning, and from then on it was a matter of teaching myself and taking a series of 'crash' lessons from professional pianists, most all of whom were recording artists of some sort.

What got me motivated to teach myself? I'm out of time, so I'll tell that story tomorrow.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Did you take piano lessons when you were a kid?

I'm looking for several people who took piano lessons as children to share anecdotes about their experiences in an article I'm putting together.

If you have had a funny experience at piano lessons -- such as making up an excuse for why you didn't practice like "the dog ate my piano book", or a negative experience -- such as the teacher slapping your wrists, or making you play scales endlessly, drop me an email telling me about it and giving me your permission to use it in an article.

If I choose to use your story, I'll send you a small thank-you gift, so please include your mailing address. Send your email to: and put "kidslessons" in the subject line so I don't miss it.

I will look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Playing piano from chord symbols in a "fake book"

Most professional musicians play from a book called a "Fake Book". I bought my first fake book containing only about 200 songs when I was a teenager -- they were illegal then, but most musicians owned them -- for $50. That would be equal to $500. or more now. But fortunately, they have since become legal, so you can buy a real good one with 1000 songs now for $50. or less. A fake book contains just the melody (tune) and the chord symbols of a song, so you have to know chords to use one. But when you do, your playing comes alive -- you're only reading a few notes, but playing lots of notes.
Most people learn to play the piano by playing just the written music. Playing by written music is exactly what the phrase says it is -- playing the exact notation on a piece of sheet music. But playing by chord symbol is very different. Instead of following the harmony note by note, you follow the chord symbols (i.e. C7 or F) written above the harmonies, filling in the gaps with...well, whatever you want as long as it sticks to those chords. Of course, you'll still read the melody (it is, after all, often what makes the song recognizable) but even that is completely open to interpretation. Playing by chord symbol allows you a freedom that playing by written music simply doesn't. The freedom to create. The freedom to invent. The freedom to arrange chord patterns in the way you want.

Does that mean playing by written music is less important than playing by chord symbol? No. The ability to play by written music is an extremely valuable skill, one that even some of the most famous musicians don't possess. And while you don't necessarily need to know the skill backwards and forwards to create great arrangements, it's a great help.

For lots more info on this subject, please go to "How To PLAY More Notes Without READING More Notes"

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Music education: What is Music, Anyway?

We all know that music is recognized as the "universal language" -- doesn't matter what the language is, we all sing, we all hum, we all whistle, and many of us play some kind of instrument -- from primitive drums that make just one basic sound (although any drum can be made to create various pitches depending upon the tension of the membrane being used) to sophisticated synthesizers which can create anything from orchestral scores to sound effects and everything in between. (If you could pull back the curtain and look in, you would see that most of the musical backgrounds you hear on TV shows are not created by orchestras, but by one guy at his synthesizer!)

But what are the elements music is created from? There are really only 4:




Tone Color

If you want to add "words" to the list above, be my guest, but words are not part of ALL music, so I'll leave it out, and just focus on the big 4:

Melody is the tune of a piece of music or a song -- the part you whistle or hum or sing or play as a solo.

Harmony is the tonal environment which supports the melody and gives it context. Harmony involves either intervals (the distance between the melody and the supporting tone) or chords (3 or more supporting tones).

Rhythm is the pulse, or beat -- the mathematical pattern that sends music down the road from here to there.

Tone color is the sound you hear -- either the sound of a human voice, or a sax, or a piano, or a drum, or a guitar, or any instrument or combination of instruments -- usually many all mixed together forming a "musical meal" called a song or a piece or a composition or an improvisation or all of the above.

In future editions we will take up each one of these elements separately, then later see how they all blend together.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What is an arpeggio? Is it the same thing as arpeggiation?

When you play individual notes of a chord one at a time instead of as a unit, it is called "arpeggiation". So an arpeggio is simply a broken chord -- a chord broken up into it's respective individual notes.

You often hear beginners play simple arpeggios, such as the C chord repeated over and over up the keyboard or back down. But arpeggios can also be complex; for example, you can arpeggiate any extended chord such as a 9th or 11th or 13th or any alteration. And you don't have to go straight up the keyboard -- you can hesitate in any octave, then continue, or head back down and then up, or change chords in mid-stream -- there are lots of variations.

For an example of arpeggiation, you might want to take a look at the short video on tremelo-fired runs. It is an example of one type of arpeggio, yet beginning with a tremolo.
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