I grew up dancing to my parents' Dixieland and Big Band Jazz records, and to the intoxicating beats of the conga drummers on the Venice Beach boardwalk. By the time I was 4, my school music teacher, (appropriately named Mrs. Love) discovered that I could play by ear, and thus began decades of piano lessons - some amazing, and some not-so-great. My first lessons were frustrating because while I enjoyed playing pieces by fine classical composers, I also wanted to learn how to play my beloved jazz tunes and Beatles songs- the music that I heard around me all the time. I wrote in my 6th grade diary that I would someday become a piano teacher who would teach her students to play whatever music they desired. And I have been loving living that dream for over 30 years!
My most influential mentors were concert pianist Mildred Portney Chase (author of Just Being At The Piano) and LA Bebop legend, Charlie Shoemake, the former vibraphonist with The George Shearing Quintet. From them I learned all about chords and how to connect emotionally with my music.
I started teaching piano to children while attending UCLA, and became interested in the field of music cognition in 2002 when I obtained my first student over 90 years old! Realizing that my pedagogical methods would not work for my elderly student, I dove into a passionate study into how the brain best learns and retains musical information. Along the way I also discovered that taking music lessons increases neuroplasticity (the brain’s capacity to generate new brain cells and connections) and improves memory in both the young and old, which further inspired me to make piano lessons accessible to everyone.
Armed with the proven results of numerous large-scale scientific studies, I wrote a series of piano instruction books called, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. In Upper Hands Piano books I use the principles of cognitive musicology and learning science to help older adults play the piano more quickly and easily with deeper learning and a spirit of fun and emotional support.
Since then I have also written four books of beginning to intermediate arrangements of popular songs and classical pieces for each season, called Upper Hands Piano: Songs of the Seasons, for Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. I also offer an Upper Hands Piano music Manuscript Book with wider staves to encourage creative composition or to use as a music lesson assignment book.
I like the idea of giving back to the piano community, so I write an Upper Hands Piano Blog called Aging With Grace Notes featuring free piano sheet music, essential practice tips and information on music and the brain, every month.
In addition to teaching piano, researching and writing, I have also composed music for film and television, and I play jazz piano professionally in the Los Angeles area. I've been married to singer/songwriter Michael Monagan for 28 years and we have two lovely daughters who live in New York City.
TO THE BEGINNER...
If you're a beginner and not sure if you want to embark on this piano playing journey because you're afraid you are too old, lack talent, are not smart enough, are not committed enough, don't have the money for lessons, don't have the time, or have another issue blocking you from trying it, I would gently suggest that you just begin. Acknowledge those fears and misgivings, without believing them, then bid them on their way, and just begin. Start with 5-10 minutes of piano study at a time, approaching it with a sense of wonder, excitement, and openness.
If you have played in the past and have felt frustrated and discouraged, I would ask you too, to try again. If you are reading this, the piano is tugging on your heart strings, and why not open to that longing? Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
While learning to play the piano is challenging, it also provides a deep well for creativity, brain power, and relaxation. You have nothing to lose; light a candle and start with small steps, then keep taking small steps. One day you will realize that you are playing the piano, and making beautiful music!