Thursday, April 14, 2011

The "Civil" War Between Old and New

Playing By Ear and Standard Piano Lessons are in a “Civil” War. Standard Lessons dominate the world but there’s a revolution brewing between traditional lessons and neo-piano methods based on learning chords.

Standard Piano Lessons start with reading music, note recognition and progressive sightreading.  Later, lessons turn to advanced pedagogy, interpretation and fingering of difficult pieces. The method follows hundreds of years of proven, entrenched standards and disciplines.  Classical music is taught with near-exclusivity.  Standard lessons are great if you want to learn classical music but they don’t teach you how to play by ear.


The piano-teaching industry is an unstoppable force made up of publishers, organized teachers, and schools worldwide.  It’s rooted in 16th century theory and has grown for hundreds of years to become the Titan it is today.  It’s extremely good but would be better if it incorporated some of the 21st century chord technologies that neo-piano methods use to get faster results.  Because the institution is so big, change is slow, especially because there is no central authority that leads the industry.  The easiest path is to not change at all . . .but change is inevitable.


Playing By Ear begins by learning command of the basic chords and focusing on specific concepts.  From there, you add your experiences over a lifetime.  You stumble upon a useful pattern or discover a concept-in-theory out of need.  You know what you are doing.  You don’t need written music to play (but often appreciate having a lead sheet of some sort to follow).

Neo-piano students are learning to command the piano quickly through some of the online, chord-based, neo-piano methods that are leading the charge.  But not all neo-piano methods are equal.  Some supposed “neo” methods are just standard piano lessons in a box.  There’s nothing new there.  You have to sort through 99.8% of rubbish online to find useful information.  If you don’t know what to look for, you might easily miss it.

Where Is the Best Place to Get
Information On Playing the Piano?

Right here.  That’s my goal.  Between this blog and a developing website, you’ll get the best compiled information made available to you in one place.  This will include the Best of Youtube, Best of Classical, Best Blogs, Free Music, Free Lessons and links to the best sites online.  There will be interviews, guest blogs,   Podcasts, giveaways and special promotions.  All is going to take a little while to build but it’s coming and I’m very excited about it.


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc

Friday, April 8, 2011

History of the Guitar - The Beatles

Playing by ear on the piano is the same as playing the guitar.  Both require you to play chords as a condition of mediocrity.  Both can be learned with about the same amount of effort.  Yet, the piano is not viewed or taught that way.

There’s no reason it shouldn’t be the #1 instrument, but the piano takes a back seat to the guitar which dominates music as the modern-day-sensation instrument of choice.  It wasn’t always like that.

The Guitar Did Not Come to the Forefront
of Our Attention Until 1964. 

 In 1964 the Beatles took America by storm with an intensity that only a few artists per century ever reach.  In the 1930s it was Sinatra.  In 1956 it was Elvis.  In 1964 it was the Beatles.  These overpowering music forces were met with stiff resistence.  The kids loved it and the parents wanted to ban it.  It was the start of the boomer rebellion. 

Let me synopsize the Beatle experience:
1.    They were the first “stadium” band
2.    They were cute, white and respectful young men
3.    They were from mysterious England
4.    Their wore their hair long (actually tame today)
5.    Girls would not stop screaming.
6.    They wrote, sang and played their own stuff
7.    Their music was like nothing we had ever heard

We couldn’t get enough of them.  In 1964, the Beatles had six #1 hits and rocked our culture to the core.  They recreated the music business practically overnight.  Before the Beatles came along, there were only a handful bands that wrote, sang and played their own music.  Almost overnight, anyone with a guitar could become a star.

The Beatles Got Our Attention

The Beatles single-handedly caused an entire, industry-wide,  music-scene explosion.  From 1964 forward, guitar bands came out of the woodwork from England and the United States  playing folk, rock and blues.  Everywhere you looked, somebody was playing a guitar protesting the “man,” the war, civil rights and exercising civil disobedience.

 The Girls Will Tear You Apart

In 1967, a group called The Byrds had a song called “So You Want To Be a Rock and Roll Star” that typified the current music scene.

Part of the lyric went:

“just get an electric guitar and
 take some time and learn how to play.
 Then in a week or two if you make the charts
  the girls will tear you apart”

That made it sound easy.  It wasn’t long before everyone was learning three chords and playing the guitar quickly.  They didn’t have to become stars.  A lot of guys were motivated by the idea that if you could play, you could get the girls.

The guitar was linked to simplicity, quick results and sex. That was the perfect recipe for motivation.  That’s how the guitar became the modern-day-sensation instrument of our time.

The Time Machine - The Rise of the Piano 

If we reeled back 300-plus years to the dawn of classical music we’d find that the piano was the modern-day-sensation instrument of that time.  Back then, like the guitar today, the piano’s rise to popularity was driven by the current music scene that we call “classical” today.

However, in the classical era you really had to work hard to become a “Rock Star.” It wasn’t perceived as an overnight thing because to be a good follower required lots of practice.  I’m sure the motivation to get the girl was probably still there. We haven’t changed much in that regard.

Back To The Future 

Fresh back to the future we find ourselves confronting the fact that classical isn’t the driving force it once was.  Popular music today is based on improvisational styles which cannot be taught using the classical approach.

It’s a dilemma, entrenched in a 300-year old tradition, that views deviations from the status quo with great resistance.  The classical approach won’t teach you how to jam and there’s no indication that anything is going to change that fact.

Today our focus is on becoming modern-day rock stars and play like Elton John.  We want to jam with friends and write our own songs.  We want to play by ear.

The piano must be reinvented to become the NEW MODERN DAY SENSATION instrument based on today’s standard of popular music and teaching technologies.  To do that, you must apply the same mind set you would to learn the guitar.

It’s as simple as that.  Take a lesson from the guitar and drop all the baggage you think is associated with the piano.  It’s a chord instrument and that’s where you should eat, sleep and breath if you want to get good.


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc