Who are your greatest influences?
In terms of Rock keyboardists: Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Patrick Moraz. As for bands: Gentle Giant, YES, Genesis, Pink Floyd, ELP, King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, Autechre, and Aphex Twin.
My background is in classical piano and composition so really everything I do stems from this foundation.
|What are your all time favorite albums?
Electric Ladyland – Hendrix
Free Hand – Gentle Giant
Dark Side of the Moon- Pink Floyd
Tarkus – ELP
Close to the Edge – YES
Trick of the Tail – Genesis
Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson
Favorite recorded keyboard solo played by Patrick Moraz with the group Refugee. The cut is entitled “Someday”.
How do you make so much sound with one keyboard?
The way I change sounds is with a single pedal. In Dream Theater on the last tour I used the Korg Oasys 88 note keyboard. Every time I step on my pedal (which is assigned to data increment) with my left foot, it changes the keyboard layout and sounds completely. I use the “COMBI” mode of the Oasys. One-second I might have strings in the R. H. trombones mixed with timpani in the L. H. and when I hit the pedal I’ve got Voices, Piano and Chimes in the RH and a huge sound effect in the LH. Also each pedal step brings me sequentially through our performance.
What music are you listening to these days?
When I am preparing for a tour, the only music I have time to listen to is Dream Theater. But, these days my favorite music picks are: Sigur Ros, Super Furry Animals, Autechre, Radio Head, Porcupine Tree. Of course, I always revisit my old friends: Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, ELP, Hendrix
How long do you practice every day?
It varies depending upon my work schedule. I’ve developed some tabletop finger exercises that I practice for a few hours every day to keep my fingers in shape. I can do those exercises no matter what else is going on (travelling, movies, conversations, restaurants etc.)
What do you practice?
If I have the time to sit down at my Steinway, I like to spend at least one hour doing technical exercises. These include basic things like scales and arpeggios but extend to my own exercises that develop the technique I require. See my online conservatory to check out some ideas for technique building. One of my favorite things to do is to open up a really challenging classical piece of music and go directly to the hardest part and work on it. Some pieces I’ve worked on recently are the Chopin Etudes.
How did you get into playing piano?
When I was in 2nd grade, there was a piano in my classroom. My teacher called my mother to tell her that I was accompanying the children in their school songs really beautifully. My mother was very surprised, because as far as she knew I had never touched a piano, since I don’t come from a musical family and there were no instruments in my house!
My mother enjoys the arts and was excited to support my interest in music. So, my parents bought a small white Estey baby grand piano and found a local piano teacher. The first lesson I was taught the basic stuff….. middle C, D, E, quarter notes…… When the teacher came back for the 2nd lesson, I had created a theme and variation on my first lesson in musical hieroglyphics. He offered to teach me for free. My teacher decided to pay little attention to the basics of reading music and instead taught me how to play chords and read guitar style charts. That did not last long. When my mother realized I had a real talent, she quickly found me a very serious teacher!
Within a year, I was being prepared for my Juilliard audition by my new Hungarian teacher. She had a strong temper and would kick me if I played the wrong note. But, I got into the Juilliard School’s pre-college division and began an incredible training period.
How did you get into playing synthesizers and rock music?
When I was 17 and still at the Juilliard School of Music pre-college division, high school friends began to turn me on to progressive rock like Yes and Gentle Giant. Specifically, when I heard Tarkus by ELP, it confirmed to me the power that a rock keyboardist could present. I realized that the style of music I had been composing since elementary school had elements of progressive rock. I knew then that rock and synthesizers were a natural direction for my musical future.
|© Darko Boehringer|
Words of wizdom for musicians just starting out?
Expose yourself to many kinds of different music forms. Playing an instrument is like a physical sport in that you have to train your muscles to accomplish the music you have in your head. Unless you are only using a computer to make music, this is a serious commitment. It’s going to take a daily focus and discipline. Like an athlete who has to been in top form. Before I go on tour, I go into serious training – practicing with metronome, making sure my skill is at its highest level. WARNING: Be careful when you are working hard on an instrument to give your hands time to relax and free any tension that has accumulated. I will often practice with one hand until it becomes tired or slightly tense and then shake it out and switch hands.
How did you learn to improvise? Is it important to learn to improvise?
My first piano teacher decided to teach me basic chords so that I could look at a guitar book and be able to play any song just from the chords. I learned all of the inversions of every major and minor chord and of course, over the years have become comfortable getting to any chord in any inversion quickly. This was a foundation for being able to improvise. Improvisation has a lot to do with being able to play what is in your head. The more patterns and riffs you can get to fluently, the more possible it will be to improvise. Realize that one can improvise using only a few notes. One of the exercises I recommend is to just take 3 notes like E, D above it and the octave E above the D and within 4 beats create a pattern and repeat it exactly in the next 4 beats. Then without stopping, in the next measure, create something new. And repeat. Is it important to learn to improvise; I think that it is what music is all about. If you can’t improvise, it’s time to starting learning how. I taught my daughters how to improvise on the piano before they learned how to read notes.
What’s a normal day like for you?
A perfect JR day is:
– Wake up
– Take a walk
– Practice the piano for a couple of hours
– Get online and check in with Dani Koesterich, my webmaster, and make sure our Internet world is safe and sound.
– Answer 50 some odd business emails.
– Enter the studio and work on DT, solo projects, etc.
– Spend some quality time with the family
– At the end of the day, when everyone is asleep, crawl back to the studio and work until I can’t anymore.
– Climb into bed and engage in my favorite team sport (in odd meters, of course)
Do you like living the life of a professional musican?
Yes, it’s a great life. If there were 48 hours in the day, instead of 24, it would be even better because I would be able to better balance my family and my musical lives.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Sitting in a room manipulating sound and light from a super holographic keyboard controller. This would include air depth and field manipulation as well as neuron density and cerebral spatial control.