The Art of Becoming a Musician: Listening Beyond Your Comfort Zone

“If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week.” – Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–82

While I imagine Darwin would have had a hard time finding music to listen to on the Galapagos Islands, you have access to more music than anytime ever in the entire history of man via the internet. If you are going to be a musician, you must start consciously seeking out music that is unfamiliar to you and give it focus and attention with your ears, mind and soul. Reach beyond your comfort zone and start to dig in to the wonderful world of music that’s just waiting for your discovery. Become an appreciator of as many styles and artists as you can and open yourself to music without prejudice as much as possible. Your future favorite bands lie in wait. Perhaps your future influences recorded their masterpiece forty years ago. There are songs out there that will come to define entire eras of your life and you haven’t even heard them yet! We must be autodidactic and educate ourselves by more than just “digging in the crates” as DJ’s would say.

So how do we go about developing a musical acquisitiveness? What steps can we take to open our minds? Here’s a few:

Seek out people who listen to a lot of music- especially from different generations- and ask them to turn you on to some stuff. They are usually thrilled to. Listen to other radio stations, playlists and genres. Dive in to genres you’ve ignored. Never listened to jazz? Look up a list of the top 100 jazz albums of all time and listen to at least half of them on YouTube or Spotify. That goes for any genre out there. Explore your roots. Study albums and songs, chord patterns and songwriters. Read lyrics and liner notes and learn about those producers, engineers and sidemen. Read interviews and reviews, dig deep, follow threads, follow musicians across albums. Go see shows!!! And always bring your earplugs 🙂

Point is, most musicians themselves are fanatics about music and remain true fans for life. Not everyone had cool parents with a great record collection to indoctrinate them. And even if you did, there is a world of new melodies, rhythms, harmonies, grooves and beats percolating in every corner of the globe right now. The sooner you become an explorer in the world of music, the sooner you’ll come to finding your own voice within. And that is perhaps the greatest exploration we undertake. As always, The Key of One is here to help move you forward on the path to exploring the music in you. What are you waiting for?

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The Latest Key of One video at Keyboard Magazine

Keyboard Magazine has graciously hosted my latest Key of One educational video “Five Things You Need To Know Before You Take Piano Lessons” ~ if you or anyone you know is thinking about taking piano lessons (or has already started) check this video first to make sure you’re on the right track and know what to expect! As always, The Key of One is here to help give you a solid foundation for a lifetime of musical enjoyment.

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On Not Reading Sheet Music

Below I’ve linked a great article that supports notation-free musicianship and education on a variety of levels. Learning to develop your own voice and vision is primary to your musical evolution. Sight-reading is not as paramount as an intrinsic ability to think and hear musically. Sight-reading gets rusty if you don’t do it often but a solid basic understanding of music never diminishes. In fact, when you understand what you are really listening for, it’s virtually impossible not to hear it anymore. As the chord matrix illuminates, it’s finality, stability and well-worn paths become more and more self-evident. As you become more and more familiar with the layout, you’ll see how little there really is at the foundation of all music. There is no better time to start your journey than right now!

Studies are finally starting to confirm that <music> may compliment the way the brain naturally encodes and internalizes music far better than traditional methods.

But it isn’t just about learning new music — it’s about creativity, too. Research out of Johns Hopkins on jazz musicians and musical creativity only confirmed the importance of aural learning. Scientists discovered that the more fluid and spontaneous the process of conceiving and executing a musical idea, the more creative and unique that idea can be. When jazz musicians improvise on their instruments in MRI machines, they show far more activity in the medial prefrontal cortex — an area of the brain linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality — and far less activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is an inhibitory area involved in self-censoring and judgement. So musicians who work from the ear and keep their composition style more spontaneous are actually giving themselves more space to come up with unique personal expressions than artists who rely on pen, paper and hard theory.

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Einstein on Being a Musician

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein

How do you see your life in terms of music? Do you want to grab the bull by the horns and become a true player or do you just want to poke around? It doesn’t matter what level of seriousness you want to apply and it doesn’t matter how famous you become. What matters is how you understand music so that all of it is available to you in case you want to take it farther than you ever thought. In case you wind up more excited and engaged, having a solid foundation is what is going to give you a platform to build on. Luckily, that foundation is easy to understand and easy to put to use! And it doesn’t involve sheet music a.k.a. notation.

Sheet music is a way to record and phonetically repeat music but it has no information as to what, why and how the language of music really is. That context is extremely important if, like many people, you don’t care to use sheet music to play. And if you do choose to learn to read notation, you’ll do it with a greater context to everything you do, transforming you from being merely a record needle for the script.

The Key of One will give you the basic information that music is built on and get you playing. It’s one thing to reproduce a song off a page but quite another level to understand why that song works the way it does, why its chords build the way they do, why they sound the way they do and how to hear them through the production and chord augmentations. Plus, when you’re aware of what to listen for, every song you hear gives up its secrets, its structure, its riffs and its melodies.

Isn’t it time you understood music as a language so you can play what you want and achieve all of your musical dreams? It still takes dedication, time and hard work but with The Key of One, everything is possible! Find out about lessons and more HERE.

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The Necessary Pointlessness of Art

“Art is so wonderfully irrational, exuberantly pointless, but necessary all the same. Pointless and yet necessary, that’s hard for a puritan to understand.” ― Gunther Grass From a New Statesman and Society interview, 1990

Ah, pointlessness. So underrated and so very necessary. In music, as in all art, expression reaches into every corner of the human soul, casting shadows and light from pain and happiness. Arts education is sometimes seen as something that helps prepare the brain for other tasks, while unto itself it’s not given the respect it deserves. Regardless of whether one can make a comfortable living in the arts, the learning of music and other creative arts is important to the development and function of the brain. As part of a school curriculum, music and the arts add a depth and richness, while not being subjects that easily conform to testing, which seems to be all the rage. But there is no test because success in the arts is objective and contextual and there is too many factors to quantify. Which brings us back to pointlessness.

Sometimes the point of something comes to us in hindsight or remains in question, depending on how vague or misleading the point may be. Sometimes there is no point and that’s the point. But the idea of creating art for its own sake should always be on the table, especially the “wonderfully irrational, exuberantly pointless” kind. Here at The Key of One, our goal is to give you the skills to make the most of your musical endeavors, pointless or otherwise. Ready to make your dreams come true? Let’s begin!

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Game of Thrones theme piano improvisation

Since I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and watched every episode, the theme had been haunting me~ I just had to play around with it on the piano and take a little trip to Westeros. If you’re a fan of the show, may this serve to bring you a little joy as you wait for Season 6 (and Winter) to arrive….

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Five Things to Know Before You Take Piano Lessons

Hi there! If you are thinking about taking piano lessons or are already underway, here are a few important thoughts to make sure you are on a straight course to success. With a proper foundation and understanding, you can achieve your musical dreams- no sheet music required!

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The Ten Commandments of Jam

Sage advice from Derek Trucks, a modern master of his craft. Do you want to be able to improvise and create music? Once you understand music simply as a language (and without the burden of notation) you can apply yourself by putting that understanding into action. It’s not about being able to read it off a page any more than your daily conversations in life involve using a script. The Key of One will give you a solid foundation for all your musical aspirations. Plus, on the included DVD there are downloadable music tracks to practice improvising to and a bunch of licks you can learn as well. There is no better time than the present to make the decision to better yourself as a musician.  Isn’t it time you awoke the artist within? Now time is always the best time for action!


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Music Education is not Just for Making your Brain Function Better

Just came across this article on music education and wanted to comment. This writer rightly rejects the idea of music education being sold only for it’s merits of helping you in other subjects rather than its true benefit of learning music and becoming a player. While music education has been shown to help students in a variety of other subjects and capacities, the understanding of music as a language is a wonderful pursuit in and of itself. The side benefit- not the main one- is that your brain works better for other things as well. But the magic of creating music and all the catharsis, expression, creativity and fun is a life-enriching experience that everyone should have access to. It is my goal that The Key of One’s notation-free approach helps open that door for ANY student interested in music~ not just the ones that “get” sheet music. After all, musical giants like Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley didn’t need notation to create and perform their incredible music. They would have never gotten into a traditional music school. Does that mean they are somehow lesser musicians? Not at all! I’ll end with a great quote from the author of this piece:

“With all that music can do just for us as listeners, why would we not want to unlock the secrets of expressing ourselves through it? We human beings are driven to make music as surely as we are driven to speak, to touch, to come closer to other humans. Why would we not want to give students the chance to learn how to express themselves in this manner?

Do you want to learn how to express yourself musically and understand the simple formula behind every song? The Key of One can help! Private instruction available in person in Los Angeles or by Skype worldwide.

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The Making of “A Day in the Life”


Great piece on the making of “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles. Here’s a telling quote on the limits of sheet music, even among some of the highest caliber players (from the Royal Philharmonic & the London Symphony orchestras):

George Martin still looked dubious. “The problem,” he explained, “Is that you can’t ask classical musicians of that caliber to improvise and not follow a score- they’ll simply have no idea what to do.”

No idea what to do! Imagine that. The Key of One can help any musician learn how to improvise and use music as a true language, not just regurgitate notes off a page. After all, you wouldn’t use a script for every conversation you have, right? Get an understanding of music that will never get rusty. Check out for more details and order a copy today! DVD included inside.


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