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Robert Laughlin

Robert Laughlin

Robert Laughlin, the creator of the Laughlin Seminar System, might be the country’s leading authority on adult group piano lessons. Yet he himself can barely read music notation. Despite several years of early childhood lessons, five music teachers, and endless encouragement, threats, begging, bribing and yelling from his parents, Robert adamantly refused to learn how to read.

“That’s nothing to be proud of,” he insists. “Someday I really want to learn to read. In the meantime I can still have fun playing the piano and teaching others how to do it without resorting to note reading.”

Laughlin was born in San Francisco to show business parents, mother a big band singer and father a stage magician. He grew up in Oakland and earned a degree in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley (class of 1969). Finding little demand for anthropologists in the job market, he tried his hand at piano lessons again. He began studying with legendary western swing pianist Floyd Domino at the age of 23. (Domino was just 19 and playing with an up and coming band called Asleep at the Wheel). And that’s when Laughlin discovered you don’t have to be a note reader to have fun playing piano. Or even to make your living doing it.

Another thing Laughlin learned from Domino is that it’s feasible (and usually necessary) to bring your own piano to gigs. Within a few years he was doing his own gigs at night and worked in a music store by day where he learned to move pianos correctly. Armed with a piano dolly and an Econoline van, he too was soon dragging his Baldwin Acrosonic from gig to gig. Today Laughlin uses an electronic piano when he plays in public, but he still takes his Acrosonic on camping trips (really).

In the late 70’s he devised and taught an eight week piano course for California State University in Chico. Soon thereafter he attended an evening seminar at the same university and got the idea for making his course a one day seminar. What made it feasible was that he provides each student a special prerecorded CD or cassette tape for on-going practicing.

One seminar in one college eventually grew to three seminars in 80 different locations and a very hectic traveling schedule. Meanwhile he was learning as much as he could about pop piano playing and traveling even greater distances to take lessons. His first love is New Orleans flavored rhythm and blues piano as performed by the likes of Professor Longhair, James Booker, and Dr. John. Laughlin has traveled to New Orleans extensively to study the art and has had direct coaching from Dr. John and noted singer/songwriter Allen Toussaint among others.

Among his many performing credits include performances either with or for Sawyer Brown and Sylvia (country); the Ventures, Fabian, Wolfman Jack (rock); and Bobby McFerrin (jazz).

Today Laughlin lives with his wife in Chico, California. With numerous other Seminar Leaders giving his workshops nationwide, Laughlin limits his own teaching to just a few seminars per year now. His outside interests include snow skiing and scuba diving. Wife Pam (a musician in her own right) and daughter Emily are certified divers as well.

Laughlin started studying karate in 1993 and now holds the rank of black belt.

Click here to view Robert’s Seminar Schedule.

Click here to view a list of Robert’s books and recordings.


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