Friday, January 09, 2009

Our Workshops Promise a Lot

But Can They Deliver?

Dear Friend of the Piano:

As you may know, what makes us different from other
piano teaching businesses and web sites is that we base
our teaching system on a three and a half hour
mini-seminar or workshop. That makes us more than
different. It makes us unique.

When I first launched the workshops in January, 1983, I
was told by nearly everyone that learning to play piano
in half a day couldn't be done. (Hey, I just did the
math. That means we're starting our 27th year.)

Now, some 200,000 students later, we're still going
strong. I personally have taught the classes at over 50
colleges in nine states. And I have trained quite a few
piano teachers to present the workshops in most of the
rest of the states.

What do you learn in the Instant Piano Workshop?
This is what I tell my students at the beginning of

"By the time we are done this evening you will be able
to take the sheet music to any song, in any style, and
in any key, and play it with both hands."

Even beginners? Even beginners.

Of course NOBODY believes it. But by the time we're
done, that evening, they become believers.

Perhaps, there's a workshop to be given near you, and
you can see for yourself. You can look at my schedule
by going here.

And you can look at other workshop leaders schedules by
going here. Click on your area of the country.

And if you are a complete beginner, download a little
prep pamphlet by going here. It should only take you
about half an hour to learn these basics, if you don't
know them already.

Basic facts about the workshops.

Cost: Set by the colleges or agency that sponsors them.
About 50 bucks.

Materials: Another $25 for basic book and CD ($5 off
retail price).

Length: 3 1/2 hours

Audience: Adults 16 and over. Average age, about 50.

Fun Level: Extremely high

Payoff: Any song, any style, any key with both hands.

Income potential of professional piano player: About

Hope to see you.


P.S. If you've already taken the Instant Piano
workshop, consider enrolling in How to Play Piano by

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Our Gala Christmas Issue

Holiday Greetings:

Looks like I won't be going into the office today.

Last night Pam informed me that we have to go to Costco
today to finish our Christmas shopping.

"And start it," she added.

Not looking forward to that. I love the giving part.
It's getting to that point that I don't care for all
that much. I never took too kindly to shopping.

But I'm looking forward to later in the day when I get
to give without having to go through the crowds and
lines. Pam and I will bring our instruments to the Work
Training Center to play Christmas songs for the
clients. I love being able to do that.

I often think about what is the psychology behind what
motivates a person to learn to play an instrument. The
way most people go about it it's never an easy process.
They find it to be difficult, demanding on the body as
well as the mind, tedious, lonely. And there is no way
to count all the hours that go into it. So why do they
do it?

For the money? Hah. Sometimes there's some money
involved for some people, but it's usually barely
enough to pay for gas. No, I think there is an inherant
joy in both giving and receiving, and playing music for
people lets you give and receive at the same time. I
can't think of anything else in life that works exactly
in this way.

Pam and I have actually played out about a half dozen
times in the past two weeks. Fundraisers, private
parties, a Christmas tree farm. All just for fun. And
we feel blessed to be able to do it.

The Work Training Center is a place that does a lot of
the assembly work for our product line. The
employees/clients are all mentally handicapped to
various degrees. We've played for them before. And just
the little bit we did for them brought tears to their
eyes. And of course that brought the tears to our eyes

And maybe that's the payoff. That's the compensation
for all those lonely hours practicing scales and
exercises and being frustrated that some songs just
don't learn themselves.

I'd like to wish you a very Merry Christmas or whatever
you choose to celebrate at this time of year. And if
you don't celebrate anything, bah humbug to you. Go out
and learn an instrument, and brighten up your life.

Feel like commenting on this or any other of our
issues? Please do so at our blog site.

Now it's time to play.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Portable Piano Buying Guide

Dear Fellow Friend of the Piano:

I recently received a few questions about what kind of
portable piano I use and recommend today. So I'd like
to address that. Please keep in mind that

1) I do not represent myself as any kind of an expert
when it comes to "gear." So what you get here is just
my humble opinion based on very little first hand
knowledge. And

2) I'm not getting paid to endorse anything, nor am I
an affiliate of a piano company, nor will I get
commissions, kick-backs, spiffs or anything like that.
So here you get my total unbiased ignorance. It's a
buying guide. Just in time for Christmas.

With that in mind, with regard to portable pianos,
people generally are looking for one or more of the
following features.

number of keys
portability (light weight)

Keep in mind you will not get all these features in any
piano, so we have to make some sacrifices.

Here are the things that are important to me.

number of keys - it's got to be 88 for me. I'm spoiled.
I won't play on anything less. If you feel you want to
compromise and save a little money, fine. Get a 73.
That's six octaves. Avoid the 63 jobs unless you share
a bedroom with Harry Potter or you really need the 10
bucks you're going to save by buying it over the 73.

weighted keys - it's got to feel like a piano to me,
not like an organ. The piano is a percussion
instrument, and the keys are weighted and things like
the velocity and force of striking a key are important.
There is no portable piano (save the Yamaha Grand if
they still make that, and it takes two people to carry
it so it isn't really portable anyway) that has truly
weighted keys. But some do a good job of mimicking the
weighted keys. If that's important to you too, insist
on weighted keys. Units with weighted keys start around
$600 and go up. Way up. And only 88 key pianos have a
chance of being weighted.

durability - I need a portable piano for gigs. Not that
I play a lot of them anymore, but when I do, I need
something that's going to withstand the rigors of
hauling around. Otherwise I just stay home and play my
Kawaii grand piano which is my preference anyway.
Really durable road worthy portables start costing
$1500 and up.

portability - I want to be able to put
everything--piano, amp, stands, electronics--in the
back of my sports sedan. Most full size, weighted
pianos are about the same size, so size is rarely an
issue. Some weigh more than others. Put my portable
keyboard into a road case, and it takes two people to
carry it.

price - I am basically cheap. Really cheap. But I
learned long ago not to cheap out on musical
instruments. The good news is that the piano industry
is very competitive and it's electronic technology,
which means prices tend to reflect value, and they tend
to keep coming down. Think of what a plasma TV cost 10
years ago, vs. now. If you're a pro and are always
lugging your gear around, pay more for the quality.
Otherwise, if you're looking for a keyboard to put in
your apartment for occasional use, you can economize.

features - This is the least important thing to me. I
am a piano player. So I want my portable to sound like
a piano. I don't need the sound of a trumpet, flute,
violin, the Vienna Boys Choir, outer space aliens,
submerged lemmings, arpeggios (I'll make my own,
thanks), transposers (I confess I use them sometimes,
but rarely), keyboard splitters (ditto, especially if
there is a need for a bass player), recorders, demo
players, celery choppers, capuccino makers, game
controllers, etc. on my piano. I do use electronic
piano and organ sounds occasionally, however. But I
could live without them.

OK. So what portables have what? Again, I'm limited to
what I know. And that isn't very much.

Weighted keys. Got to go with 88. You can get a Casio
Privia starting at $600. Lots of features, relatively
light weight, but not too durable. I've had problems
when pushing it to its limits. Otherwise, it's a good
little unit.

Durability is a good thing. Unfortunately it also comes
with weight and price. My Fatar keyboard has lasted 15
years already. But it's heavy, and on top of that, it
doesn't have an amp (another 50 lbs), or even
electronics. I have to have another plug in unit just
to have any sounds. That's the price you pay.

portability - there again if you want it to be light
you have to put up with flimsy.

price - you get what you pay for

features - most units have most of the gadgets. The
reason these pianos have them is that it allows sales
people in music stores who have limited piano playing
skills to impress unwary customers with a snazzy demo.
But what you are buying is a musical instrument that is
there for you to play and learn to play. After
mastering your third Hanon exercise, the snazzy demos
are long forgotten.

One other item that you might find useful if you're
really into the computer thing. I have a 60 key MIDI
keyboard that attaches to my computer via a USB cable.
If you use music software, such as Garage Band, you may
want such a unit even though it's not really a
performance oriented instrument. But its applications
are virtually limitless. The only limits are on your

Holiday Cheers,


P.S. Is Instant Piano Courseware on your Christmas shopping
list? If so, there's still time to order. All orders received
go out the same or the following business day.

Here's a convenient Product Finder to help guide you.


Ray - Fats - Jerry Lee Together

Here is that treat I promised in the last issue. Click on this. related=1"

I don't know the origin of this clip, but it truly is of historical importance. Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino all playing piano and singing on stage at the same time. The band includes Ron Wood of the Stones, Carl Perkins of Blue Suede Shoes fame, and the producer is Paul Shaffer from the David Letterman show.

Just listen. They do two songs. Maybe in a future issue we'll talk about what you're about to hear. What a treat this is. Just enjoy.

Mystery Piano in Massachusetts

I couldn't help but notice a very small item on the
news last week. Seems the police in rural Massachusetts
could not figure out who put a fully functioning, tuned
piano at the end of a dirt road in the middle of the
forest. It was discovered by a hiker.

Who would do such a thing?

Today I did an Internet search today to see if the
authorities had solved the case or at least had any
leads. They did not. But when I saw a photo of the
piano, I immediately determined a prime suspect.


But I didn't do it. Honest. So why would I be a prime
suspect? Let me explain.

First, I was in rural Massachusetts last month. Second,
I own the exact same model of piano. A Baldwin
Acrosonic. Third, I frequently take my piano into the

This should be an open and shut case.

You may be wondering how and why I take my piano to the
woods. Fair question. Back in the late 1970's I
acquired my dream piano. A Baldwin Acrosonic, just like
the one they found in Massachusetts. I wanted this
piano for one reason. It was the best portable piano
money could buy.

Portable piano?

Sort of. I was working as a professional piano player
in those days, just getting started. Unlike today,
piano players had it rougher than most. They either had
to play the house piano (if there was one available),
or they had two choices for an "electric" piano: either
a Fender Rhodes (piece o'crap) or a Wurlitzer Electric
(even crappier).

My part time job then was as a piano mover. I learned
that with the right equipment, a piano could be
successfully moved by one person and a van. Thus I
solved my piano problem by taking my Baldwin Acrosonic
Spinet to all my gigs. It was quite a conversation
piece. But best of all I got to play my very own 100%
genuine real piano at all my gigs. Heaven.

Once my band, The Bop A Dips, was playing in Wyoming,
and we had a couple days off in between gigs, so we
stopped at Yellowstone Park for a little diversion. One
night around the campfire, some folks took out guitars,
harmonicas, whatever, and started playing some songs.

"Mind if I join you?" I asked.

"Not at all."

So I went to the van and whipped out my Baldwin. Right
there at Yellowstone. I wheeled it right over to the
campfire. You should have seen their expressions.

I don't gig with that piano anymore. Thankfully,
portables have gotten good enough to be heard in
public. But I still take my Baldwin to music festivals
like Strawberry and music camps like Lark in the
Morning. I love it. Beats the high falutin' digitals
any day.

As for the piano in Massachusetts. I didn't do it. I
swear. But I'd like to meet the person who did.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Fun with Scales??????

Quick, what's the best business to be in in January? My
guess would be diet books, and exercise programs. But
piano workshops are pretty popular this time of year

Hopefully a piano workshop will be more FUN than a diet
or an hour a day at the gym. But piano can have its
more challenging moments. I recently got a letter from
one of our subscribers asking about scales and
exercises. He asks, "What other types of exercises can
you recommend that will help? I'm looking for exercises
that will help with harmonization."

Here was my reply to him.

Harmonization is more of a cerebral issue, while
practicing scales and exercises is more physical. What
is really challenging, helpful, and fun is to make up
exercises that address both issues. Here is what I
would recommend.

1. Keep learning the major scales with both hands.
Learn one per week. Should take you 12 weeks. Make sure
your brain is engaged with this exercise, not just your
fingers. You should know exactly what notes belong in
each major scale. Good news: no need to practice minor
scales for now.

2. Review Hanon exercises 1 - 20.

3. Now for the challenge. Learn the Hanon exercises in
all 12 keys. Start with Hanon #1 in F. Then G. Then
gradually add the more challenging keys. Do the same
for all 20 exercises. Fingering might be awkward with
some of these combinations, but this is a mental
exercise as well as a physical one. See what we're
doing here? We are combining the physically oriented
Hanon exercises with the more cerebral idea of scales
and harmony. It's a real physical/mental challenge.

So there you have 240 new exercises to master.

Sounds like a lot of work. Realistically I have haven't
yet done all 240 of the combinations myself, but I have
worked on many of them. I highly recommend this
exercise for intermediate to advanced players.
Beginners, you can relax for the time being.

For "Hanon," pick it up at a music store. It's real
name is "The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises." And the
author is C.L. Hanon. It's cheap. Get the authentic
version, not any of the dozens of reworkings.

As for piano workshops, here's where you can find a
schedule. There might be one in your neighborhood.

Keep playing.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

While Watching TV

Just a thought.

Perhaps you caught 60 Minutes on TV Sunday night when
they did a feature on the classical pianist Gabriela
Montero. It's always interesting to me when a part of
mainstream media does a piece on a more esoteric part
of the culture. I sit back and ask myself, "what part
of this phenomenon are they going to try to sell me?"

Didn't have to wait very long. The thing that stuck
with me with the piece was they were portraying her as
someone "controversial." Why? Because she
(occasionally) improvises on the piano. Oh, the horror.

But that reflects on the culture too, doesn't it? The
enforcers of what is proper in classical music have
established the edict demonizing improvisation. Even
though Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven improvised, modern
day pianists are prohibited from it.

So what does this mean? In order for a modern day
classical musician to be deemed worthy, they are
prohibited from being creative? Do we live in an insane
world or not?

I come face to face with this mindset all the time,
from the upper echelon music critics to the common
everyday piano teacher. But you know what's cool? It
isn't universal. In fact, I don't even think they are a
majority anymore.

So let's give praise to Gabriela Montero and to all
piano teachers who feel that success at the piano is
more than just playing with overwhelming precision what
someone else has written a few hundred years earlier.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Audio file for Silent Night substitutions

In the last entry I wrote about making chord substitutions for Silent Night.
But wouldn't it be better if you could hear it?
Click on the title above for a 10 minute mini lesson.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Chord Substitutions for Christmas

One of the things a veteran piano player does is make
chord substitutions. Chord theory can be quite complex,
and you could probably build a four year graduate
degree around it. But here are a couple of real basic
ideas that you can try on Christmas Carols, or any
other type of non-classical song.

Two great substitutions for major chords are 1) the
major sixth and 2) the major seventh. I'll spell out
the C6 and the Cmaj7 for you and leave it up to you to
extrapolate the formulas to the other major chords.

C6 = C E G A

Cmaj7 = C E G B (natural)

So time to get creative. Next time you play a song, any
song, make one of those substitutions for any plain old
major chord. If you are playing Silent Night, for
example, that song has the following chords. C, F, and
G7. Instead try C6, F6, and G7. That will modernize the
sound of the song.

Want it to sound even more modern? OK. Try Cmaj7,
Fmaj7, and G7, respectively.

Will that make the song sound better? That, my friends,
is a matter of opinion. Only you will know if that
makes it sound better to your ear. So try it. You might
like it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Oscar Peterson in Person

Oscar Peterson. What is left to say about such an icon?

Would it be fair to give a critical review about an 81
year old man who could barely cross the stage to get to
the piano? No, he is beyond critiquing. All appearance
of frailty aside, by the time his fingers hit the keys,
you would never know he was 81.

His set was about what I would have expected--equal
parts blues, standards and ballads. Perhaps he did lean
a little heavily toward the ballads (mostly originals)
but by the time he got to Sweet Georgia Brown (about
two hours after he started) he just shredded the solos.
Truly amazing for someone at any age.

He had a very adept band rounding out the quartet,
including a guitar player who sounded eerily like the
late Joe Pass, a staple Peterson collaborator.

The familiar standards included Satin Doll (very modern
reharmonization of the chords), Neal Hefti's Cute, and
a gorgeous Here's That Rainy Day. The audience was
mesmerized of course, and almost everyone in the
audience I talked to was either a piano player, guitar
player, or drummer.

So what can we learn from attending such a performance?
I personally was able to watch his hands and for the
first time, connect what his playing sounds like to
what it looks like. Maybe, just maybe, some of that
playing will rub off on me.

I wanted to drive home right a way after the concert
and try some things out. But for me, it was a three
hour drive that got me home at 1:30 am and too tired to
do any practicing. But first thing the next morning I
was at the piano.

Of course Oscar at 81 isn't the same as hearing him
when he was 41. Certainly he has lost a few miles per
hour off his fastball. But he's made up for it by
becoming more of a finesse player. He consistently gets
his curve balls over, and has a devastating change-up.

He was everything a legend should be.