Thursday, December 27, 2012

Simplicity Versus Anti-Music


One student that took piano lessons from me was self-taught.  He could play by ear with some coordination and rhythm but couldn’t identify the chords.  He had no idea what he was doing.  He’d been playing for years but had stagnated in his own limited box of knowledge.

“Play something.”  I asked

“Let me play you something I wrote.”  he said.

I gave him the nod and off he went.  The first thing that hit me was a shock wave of volume that nearly blew me over.  The sheer madness of no timbre pierced the back of my eyeball as he beat up my piano with the first movement of his symphony.

He started in C and must have modulated to every key by the time he was done, with undisciplined resolution and dissonance.  There were 20 different chords, a dozen or more rhythms and endless measures of nomadic wanderings (of the unwhistling variety).

I was astonished that one could string together so many meaningless notes and chords to create what might almost be defined as anti-music.  If there is such a thing, this truly came close to it.

“What do you think?” he asked, eagerly awaiting my reaction.

I could see he was proud of his work and I didn’t want to deflate his spirit for his obvious love of music.  I told him that it was obvious he had raw talent and desire.  I commended his inquisitive nature to have taught himself what he knew so far.  His proficiency skills were touted as well above average.  But I had to tell him the truth.

“You misunderstand what music is” I began, trying to figure out a delicate way to deliver the message.  “Think of some of the greatest songs in the world; Home On The Range, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, The Star Spangled Banner and any catchy top-40 hit.  What do they all have in common?”

Simplicity.  Good music in 3 minutes is not like a 5 course meal.  Good music (form-wise) has a nice melody, a few good rhythms and a strong foundation in 1-4-5.  A song has a beginning, middle and end and conveys an idea or emotion within a limited, well-thought-out, time frame. The subject is endless but on a foundational level, I think those things at least define the form.

Music is not something that is all over the place.  Most songs have 4 or 5 chords and 3 basic rhythms.  Don’t think too hard.  Stick to the art form and keep it simple.


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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Oh Shenendoah and Nat King Cole


There's much to be said for simplicity when playing piano by ear.  We like to overthink what we are doing.  Concentrate on the essentials and you too can sound like a million bucks with the right direction.


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 

© 2012 Keyed Up Inc

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

View From the Master's Scope


To learn to play by ear quickly, how do you get smart ahead of your time?  You learn the insights of the master that points out important concepts that are easy to miss on your own.  You won't get around to thinking about the things I discuss here for another 35 years on your own, if ever.

Yet, I think you can perceive a certain truth to my observations as it comes to teaching yourself to become a more enlightened musician on your own.

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 © 2012 Keyed Up Inc

Thursday, November 29, 2012

One Missing Piece To Go


If you've played the piano for a long time without being able to play by ear, there's good news.  You are just one small missing puzzle piece away from putting it all together.


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 

© 2012 Keyed Up Inc

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Everything You Need To Know To Play By Ear


Everything?  That’s the plan.  I am in a unique position to teach you.  Maybe you're just like I was.  You feel like you don't really know anything, lost in learning and everywhere you look they want to teach you “Für Elise.”  Where to go?  Right here's a good place for you. 

Maybe you took lessons as far as you could and got discouraged.  You’ve got skills but now what?  Maybe you thought you just don’t have it -whatever that is!!!- to see the light.  But if you could play by ear that would be different.  But again, where to go?  Here.

Maybe you’ve taken lessons far and and are the fastest, most accurate gun in Dodge.  You’ve got twitchy fingers and your advanced knowledge of musicology is acknowledged.  When it comes to dedication and years of practice and pedagogy, scales and knuckle-rappin’, I respectfully bow to your degree.  You know your music, no doubt.  You're up there.  I am but a humble servant. 

I ask you.  “Do you really know your chords?”  The basic 12 major and minor chords and all their inversions?

I’m not asking if you can figure them out, the question is comfort.  Do you know them like the back of your hand?  Do you know them like you know your scales?  Are you in command of the piano this way?

If you say “Yes,” then I say “You know what I know (and probably more)."  We’re going to have a good time here.  Please check in from time to time.

But if you honestly answer “No,” then no matter how good you are (in the way you are good), you’re still lacking in this one area and you need to learn something new.  By following me you’re going to get there fast because it is oh so clear that . . . you’re the fastest gun. 

I never aspired to classical greatness.  I wanted to be a rock star, that’s all.  I didn’t study music in college.  I learned music theory on my own and that kind of ignorance-to-enlightenment experience brought about some unique insights that most people have never thought about before.

I never took a class but one.  My 6th grade teacher Miss Edwards (who was quite old) taught the concept of scales and notation and I paid attention.  Like a lot of good music teachers out there, rest her soul, she’d be pleased to know that she made such an impact.


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, November 23, 2012

My True Story

My name is Joseph Pingel and like many of you, I quit taking lessons after two years.  I found myself at that familiar crossroads of either quitting entirely or teaching myself how to play piano.  I was motivated and made up my mind to do it.

Using my guitar-playing knowledge, I sat at the piano and transferred guitar chords to the keyboard.  After learning 3 chords in 5 minutes, I pounded out a basic rhythm and Voila!   Louie Louie.  That’s when the lights turned on!  My two years of piano lessons were left in the dust and I never looked back.

I was young and had no advanced musical education.  Yet there was something special about what I had learned on my own so quickly.  I knew very little about theory at the time but understood quite clearly that it all began by learning those basic chords.

It seemed so simple, I had to share this information. So at age 16, I wrote a book that focused on how to learn all the basic chords in a month.  It contained very defined exercises specific to fast progress and impressive results.  In my naive approach there was magic.  There was discovery.  Today, I call this level of basic ability "COMMAND." 

What is to follow on this blog is what I hope you will find your road to freedom on the piano.  This is a different kind of site and you will learn things here you have never seen or heard of before.


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 

© 2012 Keyed Up Inc

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hilarious 4th of July

On the 4th of July many years ago (when I was 11), I nearly blew up my mother with an M-80.  Like many kids that age I was obsessed with figuring out how to get some firecrackers.  I would scour the ground with anxious hopes of finding a once-lit (yet unexploded) firecracker.  All my friends were like me with the same alert eyes.

We made a pact that year to combine all the firecrackers we found to make the mother of all explosives.  We figured we could take the gun powder and make our own bomb.  Eeek!

Now that’s not something I knew 
my mother would approve of, 

but that’s exactly what my three pre-teen friends and I were doing.  We intended to make an M-80.  However, we were selfish firebugs and couldn’t resist blowing up firecrackers as fast as we found them.  Our method was to break the firecracker in half, light the powder and then stomp on it. Ka Boom!  Worked every time.

But that particular year it rained all night and dampened our explosive spirits.  Still with hope, early the next morning we searched and searched only to find wet duds.  Then, my search paid off and the object of my illegal desire appeared before me.  I just couldn't believe the blind luck of my situation.

An unexploded M-80 was laying
on the ground at my feet.

It was in a paper wrapping that had been water-soaked but it still looked good.  Everyone was EXCITED and our young hoodlum eyes were shifty with mischief as we ran to my house to explode it.

Since I'd found it, it was only fitting that I should be the one to light it.  I laid it down in the middle of our driveway that ran alongside the house.  Everybody was huddled around and -with my heart beating out my chest- I lit the wick and we all RAN!  We hid behind rocks and trees to shelter us from the blast. . . but it didn’t come.

Slowly, we we walked back up to it 
and realized the wick went out. 

There was still plenty of wick left and we just chalked it off to the rain factor.  Again, I lit the wick and we scattered like roaches only to peer out again Deja vu, nothing!  Gingerly, we returned to discover a much shorter wick (but still long enough to try it again).  

I was a little scared as I lit the last match.  I bent down, lit the wick for the last time and dallied for a moment just to be sure it was going.  As I started to run away, I saw my mother come around the back corner of the house.

She was heading straight for it! 

I stopped and turned, waving my arms and yelling for her to "Get back!"  My friends were yelling too.  It was going to be bad because Mom didn’t understand what was going on.  As she neared the upcoming blast, she stopped directly above it and looked down.  I don’t think she could have been more surprised or puzzled as she bent down and PICKED IT UP. 

“What are you boys doing with this tampon?” she asked and walking away, nonchalantly tossed it in the trash can.


That’s a true story and I enjoy the opportunity to tell it to you on Independence Day.  Have a fun and safe holiday!

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Playing By Ear on My iPhone

I’ve been playing my iPhone by ear listening to songs as I exercise.  The playlist consists mostly of old 45s that say it all in 2 minutes and 56 seconds (to satisfy a 3 minute rule to get radio-play back in the 60s).  Every hit was a slick story -start to finish- with stations playing ear-twisting top 40 news, weather and sports. 

Kids spilled their guts to the world like Facebook.  The plights of being a teenager poured forth an ocean of emotions; always hopeful for love and anguishing the pangs of heartbreak; fitting in and rebelling.  Hormones fueled the rawest of declarations and vulnerabilities ever recorded. 


The Hidden Universe

It’s overwhelming, the uniqueness factor for each recording.  A record is like a mini time-capsule that can evoke a certain emotion over and over again.  Each has its own lyrical story, sincereness of vocal delivery and instrumental production.  This is where the Hidden Universe appears again.

Most demo songs are nothing special in arrangement; maybe just the composer singing it with a guitar.  Then somebody hears it and thinks they can make it sparkle with the right voices and production.  They take “nothing special” and crank it up a notch.  That opens the world to changing the music in an infinite number of ways.

• Who’s to sing it; the heartthrob or jilted girlfriend? 
• What instruments; guitar, piano, violins, bells, banjo???

Both of these decisions change the music again.  The producer becomes Beethoven and rolls over their orchestration of the theme to construct a symphony under three minutes long.  The infinity of choices to be made between the first and last sound of the record is far more than people realize. 

Consider how somebody else might have produced it.  Would it still have been a hit?  Who knows but consider different artists covering the same song and make your own judgement.  Compare those versions to the sparkling hit.  It’s infinity; the number of ways a song may be expressed.

Just like an artist’s painting, everything comes together on one inclusive canvas of time.  Your ears as your eyes, stand back and appreciate the brush strokes of instruments and delivery.  Subtle nuances are missed only to be realized with each new listening.  The balance is not too little and not too much (overproduction).  The production taps into a broad line of infinity. 

All songs can be written, played and sung a million different ways in any keys and any time signatures.  In the hidden universe, all music is equal only to be interpreted good or bad in it’s expression of the emotion.  As such, any melody has the potential to be a hit in the right hands. 

Makes you wonder.
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 © 2012 Keyed Up Inc

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hindustan By Harold Weeks

Hindustan By Oliver Wallace and Harold Weeks - 1918
Played By Joseph Pingel

I love to play old piano-blues classics by ear with stuff like this.  Having never heard it before, I counted and played the melody line over a few times until I got a feel for the song.  The tune is catchy but the arrangement is cumbersome and hard to read.  At that point, I THROW AWAY THE MUSIC and just play it.  If you know the chords and melody, that's all you need.  CF and G.  Keep practicing.
P.S. Comment below and tell me how you like this. Thanks!


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 

© 2013 Keyed Up Inc