Feature/Interview (PP)

Tim Richards and MusicGurus – ‘Beginning Jazz Piano’ (interactive course of lessons)

Pianist and composer Tim Richards has been performing and composing for bands on the British jazz scene for well over 30 years. Parallel to the journey as a working musician has been a flourishing profile as an educator and author of a series of books for budding pianists, published by Schott Music. More recently he has collaborated with MusicGurus, the online music education platform, who partner with leading artists to produce interactive lessons. After two successful blues piano course with Tim, one is available called Beginning Jazz Piano. Interview by Mike Collins

Photo by Sally England

Tim Richards‘ book Beginning Jazz Piano was written with the MusicGurus partnership in mind. Reflecting on his experience over the last couple of decades, Tim suggests that ‘Most books get too complex too quickly. I could see also from my own teaching, that something with a gentler learning curve was needed’. As a result, he worked on the new course designing an entry level experience to jazz piano. It’s intended to be ‘everything you need to get started’, although Tim makes clear that you need a bit of piano technique and at least some basic ability to read music to get going: it’s not a piano from scratch programme.
Beginning Jazz Piano

What do you need to get started? 20 years or so after his first books were published, Tim has some clear ideas about how to get going, but right from the start he talks about learning to improvise. ‘Improvisation is at the heart of jazz. It’s about playing ideas you hear, rather than reading them from notated music’. Right from the beginning of the course there are activities involving listening, singing and playing over a bass line. It’s important to remember that it don’t mean a thing without the swing.

The online course has videos of Tim explaining and demonstrating, but the jewel in the crown is MusicGurus’ ‘Interactive Sheet Music’ player. It displays and moves through the music in time, with a recorded bass line and drums backing, the possibility of controlling the speed if your technique needs a breather, and looping for repeated practice.

Alongside the improvising is the theory: starting with the blues is Tim’s approach, but starting simple. The course begins by working on one chord, then two, and then three, building up to the basic blues form with pieces to play, all with those play-along tracks, and suggested practice exercises.

There’s never a dull moment, even on one chord. One of the highlights of the course is the listening recommendations (it’s all about what you hear!). Tim has had some fun with this and there is a long list of classic tunes to listen to that are one chord vamps; A Love Supreme and In A Silent Way are our favourite recommendations. By the time we get to two chords, the list extends over a page and half; So What of course, but Bill Evans’ Peace Piece and a long section from Jarrett’s Part 1, Koln Concert are great entries on the list, on which Richards bases tunes included in the book.

If the new course is about getting started, the next part of the learning curve moves the learner on, with a MusicGurus course planned based on Tim’s second Beginning Jazz Piano book.

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Interactive sheet music for Beginning Jazz Piano is available on the MusicGurus website.

You can catch Tim playing solo at The Sands Films Music Room in Rotherhithe on 16 September. It’s also being streamed.

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