Category Archives: musical comedian

How Does A Piano Player Learn So Many New Songs?

Learning new songs is part and parcel of our daily existence as a piano player who plays live music regularly. The challenge is sifting through all the new music and finding what works and what doesn’t work.

In my opinion most of the Pop and Country music these days has become homogenized. For those of you that didn’t grow up in the 60s ‘homogenized’ is not a sexual connotation. It means that everything is made the same. Some might say made to the same standard of quality. But I think what has happened is that most of the popular songs have the same chord changes and a drought of tasty melodies. I know there are some great and talented songwriters out there. But by the time their tune gets to the producer and to the recording process, there are changes that get made to make the song palatable. Axis of Awesome did this comedy music bit that has become a perfect example of what I’m taking about  

That’s okay by me. I don’t mind. I just know, as a writer, there are so many possibilities harmonically and melodically speaking, that there is no excuse for this. Even if a song were to have one ‘mystery chord’ in there somewhere, it would go a long way. It could be laziness. It could be ignorance.

But I think what has happened is when people like something, the creators replicate it because they know it’s a winning formula. This is true in every successful business. The music business is no different.

I think Adele has had some good success with adding tasty chords into her songs. Bruno Mars is copying many of the greats that came before him. They are both quite open about the fact that they are standing the shoulders of the giants who came before them.

My job is a piano player is to interpret what is out there and make it my own. For example, I don’t use massive amounts of music production techniques at our performances. I know some players use backing tracks and drum machines, even at dueling pianos shows. That’s cool. I never found it all that inspiring. As a piano player who works a lot I find I get inspiration from the people who are listening. I like that kind of energy rather than a technical energy.

The idea is that then the piano player turns the song into something of his own. Since we are all standing on the shoulders of the great ones who came before us, the only thing left for us to do is to personalize it.

That’s one of the things I learned early on as I was an aspiring musician learning to become a professional piano player. I used to think “Who is the best piano player?”. But then I realized it’s all one magic trick. Once you learn that one trick everything else after that is about adding the personality you were born with or that you are willing to let shine through.

So when I learn a new One Direction song or something from Jason Aldean, it doesn’t matter to me that all the same chords sequences are being used over and over again. I try to find the essence of the tune and make it my own. Sometimes I get it right, other times I need to keep learning.

How You (and Your Team) Can Be More Creative

The last couple of weeks I have been writing about how I remain creative on demand; whenever I need to be, No matter how close the deadline. These are ideas you can put in place with your team and your staff too …. or I can come and show you and your team in concert.

Sure I spent ten years at The Second City mastering the art of improvisation with the best of the best in the entertainment industry today. Yes, I continue to write and record and perform on stage on a regular basis. But there are multiple ways to teach creativity. Cultivate it if you will. And you don’t have to be a professional entertainer who plays multiple instruments to be able to do this too.

But people always ask me how do you make up so many funny parodies to popular songs?

Basically, it’s my job. I spend hours and hours writing new bits and memorizing current pop hits (so I can roast those songs to the joy of everyone). This is what I do.

But there are techniques that anyone can use to become more creative. It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in. We are all creative to a certain degree.

The seminal book written by Julia Cameron helps maintain my Muse in the manner to which she has become accustomed. There is journaling which we talked about last week. Writing about three pages longhand in a spiral notebook every morning is a fantastic way to ‘clean the pipes’ of all the debris that clogs up the creative water lines.

The other side of that same coin is to go on what Ms. Cameron calls an Artist’s Date.

This is time spent by myself in an activity that allows me to play. To do whatever I want. I turn off the phone. I go by myself. I am alone. I may be around people like if I want to go to a candy store or a movie. I am essentially taking myself out on a date.

It was very unnerving at first. I thought I was dating a little kid. That was what it felt like cuz that was what I was doing.

We all have a playful side to our personalities that gets ignored as we get older and have more responsibilities. As creative human beings it is important to remember what that part of us wants.

At first, I was at a loss to think about what to do or where to go on my Artist Date. So I started simple.

I took myself to a toy store. I looked around at all the toys and asked myself which one would I like to play with the most? I picked out a paper airplane kit complete with instructions on elaborate flying forms to make out of the included cardboard. It wasn’t until I had made one of them, that I realized as much as I thought I wanted to play with paper airplanes, my playful self didn’t like following directions.

So the next time I went to an art supply store. I bought some crayons and a coloring book. Again, I realized I don’t like coloring inside the lines. So I took some paper out of the printer and started coloring.

I have since collected numerous crayons, markers and paints. I have a sketchbook and I bought a book about different patterns I can use as inspiration to get me started.

I love having my crayons with me when I go on the road … when I’m in between gigs in my hotel room … or I’m waiting for my flight at the airport. It relaxes me and it keeps me in tune with that ‘still small quiet voice’ that we all need to listen to more often. (And now I’m finding I don’t mind coloring inside the lines — sometimes)

I do other Artist’s Dates. Now that I have gotten into the rhythm of it. I make a date with myself at least once a week. Every other month I go off by myself for a whole day. Sometimes even an overnight. It still shocks me the amount of chatter I hear in my head. The criticism. The negativity. And I’m a positive person. I become a grown up fighting with the little child. “You can’t do that.” “That costs too much.” “That looks dangerous.” “People will laugh at you in that helmet.”

But I do things anyway. Because that is the essence of creativity. Doing things that no one else would do. Doing things even if you don’t do them right or …. you’re gonna make a mistake or … because it might …. look silly … be stupid ….. sound weird … fail … succeed … and on and on and on

So take a look at this book. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It has opened up multiple avenues of creativity for me. You don’t have to be a professional entertainer or music producer. You can use this in all walks of life, business, family, with the kids, without the kids …. just get the book and try out the exercises within the pages. Or better yet … call me up and I’ll come over and run through some Fear Erasing, Brain expanding, Playful Games that will help you and your team become more productive. Team Building Sessions for grown ups who like to play.

You will be glad you did.

Oh … BTW … this is an affiliate link. When you get your book through this link, I do get a small percentage. It won’t cost you anything extra. And since it is through Amazon, you can donate a portion of your sale price to go to a charity of your choice. Pretty cool if you ask me.

TheArtist’sWayByJuliaCameron

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To learn more about how I can provide unique and memorable music and comedy at your event, call Amber at (773) 527-7417.
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All the best,

Dan Gillogly