Are music lessons all about achieving specific goals, or is the journey itself the reward? Well, this much is certain: success comes in many shapes and forms.
On this page, you can meet some of my students, past and present. Some of their music is linked to below. To hear the performances and original music of other students, click here.
If you'd like to see what some of these people have to say about me, click here.
A classical pianist expands his world.
Christophe is passionate about classical music. He had been playing and studying it for a couple of years before coming to me for lessons.
But Christophe also wanted to move in new directions, so when we weren't exploring the works of Mozart, Chopin, Schumann, and the like, I introduced him to other styles of music, other ways of being at the piano.
We talked about chords, inversions, bass lines, and rhythmic grooves. Using these basics, Christophe learned to accompany himself as he sang (with his charming French accent) a variety of pop and rock tunes.
Improvisation followed naturally, and soon, Christophe began to develop his ideas further and turn them into compositions. It was wonderful to see how quickly he went from being a non-composer, to the author of some truly lovely pieces.
At one point over the five years he studied with me, I asked Christophe if he was interested in teaching music, and, despite some initial surprise and self-doubt, he found the idea exciting.
So our lessons took on a new dimension. We discussed teaching strategies, repertoire for beginners—I even helped him to advertise. Soon, I was coaching him as he began teaching his first students.
Well, that was about six years ago (as I write this in 2010), and Christophe has been teaching ever since. He lives on Maui now, teaches piano at The Maui Music Conservatory, plays concerts from time to time, and (as you can see from the picture) has recently become a proud dad.
(Christophe talks about me here.)
Sophia came to me as a beginner at the age of eight, and studied with me until she was thirteen. Over the years, as she learned to play the piano, improvise, and accompany her own singing, her beautiful voice and creative flair were hard to ignore.
So the obvious next step was to help Sophia begin to write her own songs, the very first of which you can hear her play and sing on my old student performance page.
At a certain point, I referred Sophia's family to Rob Mullins, jazz musician and teacher, who took over from there. Under his guidance, she continued to develop her songwriting and learned to play bass guitar.
Sophia then made us all proud by being selected for KSM, the all-girl band that Wikipedia describes as "a joint project between The Walt Disney Company and former chart-topping girl band The Go-Go's."
I understand that Sophia had a great four-year run with the band (including releasing an album), but recently left the group to begin college. From her Twitter page, you can see that her musical passion and journey continue.
Her parents' kind words about me are here.
A composer upgrades his keyboard skills.
When Chris first got in touch with me several years ago, he had already written many feature films and TV episodes. He took lessons from me for about six months, and, in this age of MIDI, his story is a familiar one.
Chris needed help with his keyboard playing. (His primary instrument is guitar.) The keyboard is the master controller in his studio, and he wanted to be able to use it more efficiently.
So we focused on technique. We adjusted the position of his wrist and hand, discussed fingering, and later, fine-tuned his use of the sustain pedal.
As I do with all my students, I showed Chris how to use the weight of his arm to play. By letting gravity do the work, he was able to relax, and immediately, his relationship to the instrument changed dramatically.
As his playing continued to improve, Chris told me that besides feeling more comfortable at the keyboard, he was spending less time sequencing. Since he was able to control dynamics better as a player, he no longer had to make so many adjustments after the fact.
Chris had some fun, too—I taught him to play Beatles and Elton John tunes, and, as I recall, the theme to Forrest Gump. So he built his chops largely by playing music he enjoys.
Ali, who just turned eight, came to me as a beginner about eight months ago. Check out this video of her playing and singing.
The heart of this story is what a great learning team Ali and her mom are. Sue is deeply involved at lessons, constantly taking notes so she can better guide Ali's practice at home. (I'll often create a video to demonstrate a tricky move or learning sequence, and that helps too.)
What's more, I've been teaching Sue to play the beginning pieces that Ali's learning. Not only does this make Sue a truly capable coach, it provides a welcome opportunity for her to do some playing and learning herself. It also means that Ali gets a chance to take an occasional break during lessons while Mom becomes the student.
Sue has unhappy memories of her own childhood piano lessons, by the way. The silver lining, though, is that insights she's gained from that unpleasant experience are helping her to get things right, this time around.
(Sue talks a bit about Ali's lessons here.)
A jazz player becomes a sight-reader.
Richard is a professional jazz pianist with his own trio. He came to me for lessons because he was frustrated by his inability to sight-read (to read music fluently at first sight), as his work often requres him to do.
So we developed a simple game plan: Richard would bring to his lessons the sheet music for some of his favorite songs, and we used those piano scores to work on his reading.
At his first lesson, I showed him how to use a software application to strengthen his note-recognition. To improve his grasp of the rhythmic aspects, I taught him to practice with a metronome, counting out loud.
We delved into technique, too, exploring fingering strategies, voicing (the ability to bring out the most important note of a chord), and fine-tuning his hand placement on the keys.
But our main focus was reading, and, thanks to his consistent and focused practice, Richard got wonderful results. I remember the day he arrived at a lesson boasting of a recent session with friends, in which he was thrilled to discover that his sight-reading, once a weak point, was gradually becoming a strength.
A student becomes a songwriter and teacher.
Greg came to me as a beginner when he was ten, and I taught him for about three years. I'll never forget his enthusiasm for learning to play and sing pop and rock tunes, and in particular, his passion for the satirical music of Weird Al Yankovic.
Greg went on to study at the Hamilton High School Music Academy, and then returned to me briefly for further help with notation and harmony. Along the way, he produced at least two albums of his own songs (funny ones, not surprisingly), and performed in clubs.
My former student delighted me once again by becoming a music teacher himself about four years ago. Here's an article describing Greg in action as he helps his own students to write, perform, and record.
2012 update: I just ran into Greg's mother, Cheryl, at the Apple Store, and she tells me that one of Greg's current students is--get this--Weird Al's daughter! Cheryl says that Greg's younger brother Jeff, who is equally gifted and whom I also taught, has remained as passionate about music as Greg, and that the two play gigs together.
A writer improvises and grows.
You know, I had piano lessons when I was ten or eleven. The usual stuffa song book, an exercise book. I liked it. But when I look back, I realize that the music always came from the book, the composer.
Piano was not a big part of my life, you understand. But I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to improvise. Later, I even bought some books on the subject, but it all seemed like calculus to me. So I figured that improvising was something other people do. People who have a special talent.
Reading The Artist's Way encouraged Isabel to revisit some old dreams. And piano lessons seemed like a perfect opportunity to take a creative risk or two. I don't think of myself as a musician, so it doesn't matter how 'well' I do at it. It's not like writing, where my ego comes into play. I feel safer to experiment with music, to try new things.
As I do with most of my students, I gave Isabel just a few notes and asked her to start improvising with them. With each passing week, her music became fuller and more alive. From the simplest improv, it was mine. It feels like magic. I still can't believe the music is coming from me.
And you know, its changed my outlook in more ways than one. Im more spontaneous as a writer and as a person. I feel more at home with the irrational. More at home with my feelings.
Here's an older page that includes student recordings.