George Winston and New Age Piano Playing

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The first time I heard George Winston play back in the early 1980's I was blown away. I didn't know why I liked this music. All I knew was that it made me feel good and that was enough. I didn't even play piano back then but something about this music seeped into me almost haunting me. The way he let the notes ring out and wasn't concerned with pop flavorings. A new sound for the time.

When I began to play piano, I wanted to know how he did it. How did he create this music? I read somewhere that his method was to create the chords first, then improvise a melody over them. Great, but what chords and how do you know where and when to play them?

I then realized that George wasn't really doing anything radically different than most classical composers who think in sections. Composing is all about using the techniques of repetition and contrast. Now in most of Winston's music, there is a lot of repetition going on with the contrast coming from the melody. The chords are repeated in certain patterns, the melody played on top, but there still is a framework operating here.

For example, if we take 8 measures of music and call it a (A) section, we have composed. We have taken chords, put them into some kind of order (no matter how tightly or loosely) and have composed. It takes a certain skill to keep the music fresh after a certain number of repetitions. This skill has to be practiced. It can not be taught. This is a doing operation. You can listen to music, but to learn improvisation and composition, you must do it.

Now the secret is this: You may repeat a section as many times as your interest remains with the music. As soon as you become bored in your improvising, so will the listener. For most, having one section isn't enough therefore we bring in the (B) section. This could be anything from 4 to 8 bars of new material. This new material is also repeated and eventually we return to the (A) section. When you start to think in sections, you can unlock the mystery of most music.

Edward Weiss is a pianist/composer and webmaster of Quiescence Music's online piano lessons. He has been helping students learn how to play piano in the New Age style for over 14 years and works with students in private, in groups, and now over the internet. Stop by now at for a FREE piano lesson!

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