Billy Joel Taught Me Rock n Roll Piano…(How I Went From Bach To Rock)

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It was 1991, I was in my first year of university in eastern Canada. Up to that point my piano studies had all pertained to classical music. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and lots of scales.

One night I was sitting in the music building lounge with my friend, Cherie, who was a singer. “I just want to be in a band,” I had said to her. “I’d like to be one of those guys who can just sit down and play any ole song, play all that Billy Joel stuff. I don’t know how to do that.”

How did the pros do it? They didn’t need sheet music. It was all just in their head, in their bones so to speak. It still seemed like a mystery to me at that time. I recall, Cherie replying, “well I’m sure the people who can do that sort of thing have put the time in to figure out what’s going on in the music and they get good at playing in that style.”

Over the next few years I was engrossed in several styles of music. I listened to a lot of Billy Joel recordings, especially his live recordings. I loved the energy of it all. And unlike much of rock & roll you could actually hear the piano! His ballad, “Honesty” always floored me. The lyrics are amazing and the chords within the song move in a unique, clever way.

Most of how I became a working musician was just by being thrown into the fire. I learned as I went from gig to gig and discovered that each scenario required different skills.

Playing Billy Joel Songs For A Living

Call it serendipity, but by 1999 I was working 4 or 5 nights a week in the USA performing in high energy piano bar atmospheres. Entertaining, playing and singing songs by Billy Joel, Elton John, and taking requests nightly became the norm for many years that followed.

I’m not implying that it was brain surgery, after all it’s just playing music. But at 18 years old I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Looking back I’d tell that 18 year old kid to relax, give it some time and things will fall into place. I guess I should thank Cherie too, for reminding me that we all have our unique talents and what we bring to the table will put our own stamp on the music we play.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Then again, would our younger self listen? 🙂

As a THANK YOU for being one of my subscribers I want to give you my cover of Billy Joel’s “Honesty” for free. My version, stripped down to just piano and vocal, is a bit of a departure from the original.

Download my version of “Honesty” here.

If you like the track would you consider listening to my latest album, “Another Lucky Day?”  On it, you’ll hear me singing, playing piano, organ, and keyboards in a full band setting.

P.S. In the photo above from 2011, I’m entertaining a young crowd at University of Denver, in Colorado. I imagine I played a Billy Joel song on that gig. By the way, I mentioned I started off on classical piano, as it turns out Billy has a background in classical music and cites it as influential in his songwriting.

Talk soon,





  • Nancy Roberts says:

    I believe most pianists start out learning classical music. I started taking piano lessons in the 2nd grade and continued up until my college years. My instructor in college was straight from Germany and spoke with a thick accent. She was very strict and wouldn’t let me play anything but classical music. She soured my interest in playing and I quit. My daughter, Hailey, took keyboard lessons from Dave Caruso when she was in grade school for a short time. He made her nervous! LOL! Anyway,I attempted to play a few Beatle songs back then but my “knowledge”seemed to be lost over the years. I more or less stumbled through them. I don’t know if it is like riding a bike or if I could ever play again…kind sad…isn’t it?

    • Well, that’s unfortunate about your teacher at the time. Although, she probably thought she was doing what was best for you. However, I believe learning music should be fun. A balance can be struck between learning proper technique and classical teachings, with learning songs a student wants to play. That can go a long way in keeping up their interest. It’s never too late to get some joy out of playing or learning. Thanks for sharing, Nancy.

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