How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain

This video has been around for a while, but I just recently discovered it and wanted to share it with as many people as I could, so here you go!

What I found really interesting is the difference that actually PLAYING an instrument makes, above and beyond just LISTENING to music:

  • Better memory
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • Increased communication between brain hemispheres
  • Improved planning skills and attention to detail

These benefits seem to be unique to playing and learning music and are not associated with any other type of activity – for example, sports or even other artistic activities.

So, watch this video, then get back to the piano! 🙂

 

How To Connect Your Piano To Your Computer To Help You Practice, Write and Orchestrate Your Own Music (VIDEO)

OLD MIDI Setup From Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels

OK, so this photo is of a pretty OLD MIDI setup, but I’m a sucker for nostalgia!

In this post, I’ll show you how to hook up your electronic piano or keyboard to your computer and begin taking advantage of the fabulous technology known as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface).

There will actually be very little video about the actual hookup, since that part is very simple. In fact, here’s what you need:

  • A MIDI-enabled piano or keyboard (look for the MIDI In, Out and Thru connections on the back)
  • A computer with an available USB port
  • A USB-MIDI interface, like the E-Mu Xmidi 1X1 V3 USB MIDI Interface found at Amazon (about $25)

And here’s what to do:

  • Plug the interface into your computer and let your computer automatically install the drivers. If it does NOT, you may need to use the CD included with your MIDI interface, or simply download the latest drivers from the manufacturer’s website
  • Using a MIDI cable (available online or from your local music store), or simply using the interface itself (like the E-Mu), connect the MIDI OUT port from your keyboard to the MIDI IN port on the interface
  • Using another MIDI cable, or the interface itself, connect the MIDI IN port from your keyboard to the MIDI OUT port on the interface

That’s it!

This video goes a little more detail on all this:

Now comes the REALLY fun part!

You can now use your keyboard to enter music into notation programs like Finale NotePad, AND you can record performances – NOT the audio, but the actual performance as MIDI events (also known as sequencing) using a free tool like Anvil Studio.

Check out this video for all the details:

I hope this blog post and these videos gave you just enough information to be dangerous with your computer and electronic piano or keyboard! Once you get the hang of MIDI and begin using these software tools, you’ll find a whole new world of musical creativity and fun, literally at your fingertips.

So, jump in, play around, and explore the amazing, musical world of MIDI!

AND…

Please leave a comment if you enjoyed this post, have any questions, or might like me to put together a more formal course on the subject. Thanks!

New Age Piano

For some reason, “New Age” piano is one of the few piano styles that REALLY calms my nerves and flushes out nearly all traces of stress for me.

I start thinking about snow and cold, moonlit nights, and sitting around a darkened house late at night after the kids are in bed, playing or listening to piano music. There’s something that’s very peaceful and meditative to me about new age piano, I associate it with some very special times in my life, including a few wonderful holidays..

Although we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the US for a few more months, if there is an actual “Thanksgiving Song,” to me it would be “We Gather Together.” I probably have some elementary school anchor to that song somewhere deep in my consciousness… I don’t know.

It’s also just a very peaceful, soothing song to me, and one that lends itself very well to New Age piano stylings.

That’s why I originally decided to put together my video piano lesson, New Age Piano… FAST!, where I show you just how simple it is to create your own New Age piano sounds for just about any song you like (but it does work better and is much easier for simple, traditional melodies, like this one:

And for the next few days, I’m offering this brand new course for a very special price. But that’s only until this Monday, June 27th at Midnight, so…

Click Here Now To Claim Your Discount Copy,
While There’s Still Time

And you’ll be enjoying the smooth, peaceful sounds of New Age Piano – from your OWN piano – in just a couple of hours!

Simple – But Effective – Left Hand Piano Techniques

I get quite a few questions about what to play in the left hand on the piano, and I realized that a lot of what I play – especially in dueling piano shows, where my job is to get people to dance or sing along – is just ridiculously simple.

So, I put together this video to show you how you can create a quick left hand piano accompaniment for just about any song.

I hope you like it.

Just watch, then play! And have fun 🙂

(If you have trouble viewing this video on my website, try viewing it on YouTube by Clicking Here.

Piano Accompaniment Tips

Here’s a quick video with a few tips on how to accompany yourself or another singer or instrumentalist on the piano.

I cannot overstate this – BE CONSISTENT in your rhythmic and harmonic patterns. Some variation is OK, but it’s your job to provide a solid foundation for the singer WITHOUT distracting the listener from their performance.

Don’t worry, you’ll have your turn in the spotlight 🙂

Click Here To Grab A Discounted Copy Of Piano Accompaniment… FAST! Before Midnight, Wednesday, January 6th at Midnight!

Yellow Submarine On The Piano

As a “Thank You” to Lee Clarke, one of my students who introduced me to a fantastic website and Apple app for learning songs, I put together a quick video lesson to show you how to play The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” on the piano.

The website is wikifonia.org, where you can get a bunch of lead sheets absolutely free!

The app is called Capo and will allow you to slow down or speed up mp3 files to help you learn new songs. I haven’t tried it myself (I’m an Android guy at the moment), but I do plan on checking it out as soon as I get a chance.

Anyway, Lee had requested I put together a quick lesson on several songs. While I don’t normally take many requests (unless I get a lot of the same request), I decided to put this one together for Lee – and for you 🙂

This is a super-easy song to learn (even though it’s in the key of Gb), so check it out and get it into your repertoire today!

I hope you like it.

 

C Blues Piano Scale

Here’s a quick lesson on playing the C blues scale on the piano. It’s a simple little scale and, combined with the nifty chords I teach you in this quick lesson, you’ll be making some pretty cool, bluesy sounds on the piano in no time!

 

It helps me to think of the C blues piano scale in two groups of notes:

Group 1 is C-Eb-F-Gb

Group 2 is G-Bb (and C, if you’re going to be descending after playing the top C note).

This helps me not only remember the scale, but helps with my fingering also. I play Group 1 with fingers 1-2-3-4 and Group 2 with fingers 1-2. I can then cross my thumb under my 2nd finger to start all over again, or simply play the top C with my middle (3rd) finger if I’ll be descending.

Here’s a color-coded image of the grouping – I like to think of this as the “shape” of the scale:

C Piano Blues Scale

 

Now, just spend a few minutes each day playing around with the C blues scale and you’ll have it in your brain and fingers before you know it!

C Major and F Major Piano Scales

Here’s a quick video about how to learn scales super-fast by visualizing and feeling the “shape” of the scale on the piano keyboard.

 

To reinforce this pattern concept, here’s a color-coded image of the C Major Piano Scale. The red keys represent the first grouping of 3 keys – played by your thumb (finger 1), index finger (2) and middle finger (3). The green keys represent the second grouping of 4 keys – played by your thumb, index finger, middle finger and ring finger (1,2,3,4). The yellow key (C) means that you can start the 3-note pattern over again with your thumb, or simply play the yellow key with your pinky finger (5), if you’re going to be coming back down the keyboard.

C Major Piano Scale

And here’s a color-coded image of the F Major Piano Scale:

F Major Piano Scale

Scales may seem like one of the boring parts of learning to play piano, but, believe me, learning how to learn them fast – AND learning which chords to play them with – can dramatically improve your piano playing.

In fact, I’ve just put together a video piano course that shows you exactly how to do just that.

So, if you really want to take your piano playing to the next level by learning 19 unique scale structures (NOT just major and minor) in all 12 keys, check out my video piano course, Piano Scales… FAST! And right now, you can get it for almost 50% off the regular price, but only until Saturday, April 9th at midnight!

Click Here For Details

How To Play Piano Chords That Sound Good

You may have learned how to play piano chords from a piano teacher, a music book you picked up, or even a YouTube video, but you probably learned the simple mechanics of playing chords – basic fingering, which notes go to which chords, and so on.

how to play piano chords

Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones, but I’m guessing that no one ever took the time to show you exactly how to play piano chords in a way that makes them sound REALLY GOOD.

If that’s the case, keep reading, because I’ve got some simple rules that will help you, along with a brand new chord resource I just finished putting together.

So, how to play piano chords so they sound “good”…

Although “beauty” in music – as in other art forms – is highly subjective, I believe there are some things you can do to make the piano chord you play sound really good, meaning better than the way most people usually play them.

Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments – I think there’s no right or wrong answer, but check out these suggestions and see if they don’t help your piano chord playing, at least a little bit.

1. Whenever possible, when playing “close position” chords – meaning the chord tones are consecutive and not spread widely apart, like they are in open chord voicings – try to play the chords as close to middle C as possible. Once you start getting too much higher, the chords start to “thin out” in their sound. They still work for certain songs, but they just don’t have the depth that most often sounds good. If you got too much lower than middle C, the chords really start to sound muddy and thick. Which brings us to suggestion #2…

2. As you play chords lower and lower on the piano, it’s best to move one or more of the chord tones apart from the others. For example, if you play a C major tried one – or even two – octaves below middle C, it really sounds kind of awful. But, if you play a very low C in the bass, and play just the C and E an octave or two above that, it sounds pretty good. You can also play an open C major voicing on the C (root), then G (fifth), then the E above the G (the 10th, technically). This open voicing sounds really good in the left hand, and helps to “un-muddy” a plain old major triad.

3. Create open voicings for chords, where you move the chord tones apart from each other – maybe an octave or less. You might even use two hands to help pull the chord tones apart from each other and allow the chord overtones to react in such a way as to create “virtual” sounds between the notes. Wow, that’s kind of heavy stuff.

4. Here’s a chord rhythm suggestion for you – DON’T OVERDO THE CHORD RHYTHMS! Sometimes just a simple bass pattern with the occasional chord interjected is just fine – less is more. Don’t feel like you need to play the entire chord on every beat of the song, or even every time the chords change. Take it easy. Leave some space. Enjoy the silence between the notes.

5. Try a different inversion, even for basic piano chord triads. Sometimes the 1st or 2nd inversion sounds much better than the other inversions, and darned if I could tell you why. Remember, an inversion is when you play the chord with something other than the chord root on the bottom.

These are just a few quick pointers to help you improve the sound of your piano chords – try them out and let me know what you thing.

And, if you REALLY want to get your hands on what might be the last chord guide you’ll ever need, be sure to check out my super chord reference, Piano Chord Voicings… FAST!

I’m having a very special sale, but only until this Monday, February 1st at Midnight.

Click Here For All The Details About My Latest PDF + Video piano course, Piano Chord Voicings… FAST!

Keep making beautiful music – preferably on the piano!

Famous Piano Players: Oscar Peterson

 

OK, first of all, I have to thank James for his comment on my earlier post – he got me to go check out Oscar Peterson playing with Andre Previn on YouTube, and it is phenomenal. Check out the duet, starting at about 2:45 into the video:

 

Andre Previn is definitely the topic of another post, but this one is about Oscar Peterson – at least just a little bit.

I had one chance to see Oscar play in Cincinnati, years ago. I had tickets for the concert, but he was unable to play that night, due to an illness.

I was crushed.

Especially since I never made an effort to go see him again.

Oscar Peterson is a soft-spoken, intelligent, super-disciplined piano genius. Although he was friends with and idolized the great Art Tatum, he made it a point never to copy him, but rather to chart his own course with his playing. His technical skills were just unbelievable.

But don’t think the music just flowed out of his fingers effortlessly. He practiced like you wouldn’t believe.

From an interview with Les Tomkins in 1962, courtesy of JazzProfessional.com (http://www.jazzprofessional.com/interviews/Oscar%20Peterson_Points.htm), here’s what Oscar had to say about practicing:

When I’m home, or even on a location job with the Trio, I practice on average two to four hours every day if I can. If not, every second day.

When he’s playing with a group:

That usually takes place at the end of each nightly performance, and in a night club we play until about 2 in the morning. Then we’ll probably rehearse from 2 until about 7 a.m.

Yes, it all seems so effortless when you see the end result, but no one pays much attention to the amount of dedication, discipline and work someone like Oscar pours into his profession.

And not many other people are willing to put in that level of work themselves, which is what put Oscar at the top of his field.

You can read all about Oscar’s life at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Peterson) or other sources, but I really wanted to just draw your attention to this amazing television interview with Andre Previn (not sure about the year, but it was maybe 30-40 years ago, I’m guessing).

Oscar is so articulate and pleasant to listen to, and his playing is just phenomenal.

Here’s a link to the YouTube search results, which should list all 6 parts for you:

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=oscar+peterson+interview+with+andre+previn

I can’t recommend these videos more highly.

I also recommend you listen to all the Oscar Peterson – solo or with a group – you can get your hands on.

Amazing.