My Musical Journey

When I was a kid growing up in Indiana, I heard Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and was so enthralled by it that it motivated me to learn piano. I took private lessons from Mrs. Stancil for a couple years and eventually memorized the entire “Maple Leaf Rag”. However, by the time I started high school, my motivation was lost and my interests shifted to Greek, Hebrew and computer programming.

Late in my collegiate studies (classical Greek / computer science double major) at the University of Texas, I bought a cheap (but pretty cool looking) shiny black guitar from a pawn shop and started learning some basic chords and strumming. Within a couple years, I upgraded to a Seagull guitar and eventually became interested in fingerstyle.  When I finished my master’s degree in computer science at the University of Florida, I gave myself a nice Takamine classical guitar as a graduation gift.  While I had learned some from a classical method book, I had no formal instruction and was stuck at an elementary level of playing.

I moved to the San Francisco Bay area for my first professional job in computer network consulting. There I played rhythm guitar for the singles group at my church. Then, in a small town music store, I stumbled upon Bill Edward’s “Fretboard Logic” book. This book exploded my understanding of guitar and resulted in a dramatic increase in my guitar skills.

For my 34th birthday, I bought myself a used Alesis QS8.1 digital piano from Guitar Center.  I took it home, unboxed it, played it once and then let it sit idle for a couple years as I traveled extensively for work.  It wasn’t until I moved to Austin that I started spending any significant time re-learning piano.

The worship band at our church in south Austin had several guitar players but no one to play keyboard, so I volunteered.  Those first months of playing keys were a major struggle since I only knew how to play from sheet music, but we only had lead sheets. So, I muddled my way through playing little more than basic triads.

I was really frustrated with how difficult it was for me to prepare the songs (which I usually got with only a day or two of lead time). I realized I needed to learn how to improvise. So, I bought Yoke Wong’s “Definitive Piano Improvisation” course. After working through about half of the lessons, I had acquired enough skill that my frustration level diminished to a tolerable level and playing keys at church was much more enjoyable.

We moved to Dripping Springs and started attending a small church there.  Again, I volunteered to play keys. I had started assembling a modest home studio including Studio One (Digital Audio Workstation) and a Novation Impulse MIDI controller. So, I packed up my laptop and folding table, audio interface and MIDI controller every Sunday and used them at church.  It was great to have a richer variety of sounds from the DAW, but hauling all that equipment around was quite a pain.

Soon after relocating to Orlando, my Novation Impulse died a premature death and my Alesis was starting to fail.  I volunteered again to play keys at our new church and initially used their aging synthesizer. So, I bought a Casio PX-560 digital piano to replace my two dead keyboards. It’s a fantastic instrument and easily portable (only about 26 lbs), so this is what I now use at home and church.