My Story

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 the 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 deeply enjoy giving away free sheet music and sharing my research on learning science and good practice techniques on this blog or my website each 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.

Thanks so much for visiting my blog! Please post your comments, questions and observations in our comments section so that our whole community can benefit, and connect with me on my website or contact me at

With love and music, Gaili

13 Replies to “My Story”

  1. Hello Antti

    Thank you so much for your comment. I watched your videos and thought that the hand movements and massage were a great idea and very effective. If you make any more videos, I’d suggest making the piano music MUCH softer and simpler. It was difficult for me to hear your voice with that style and volume of music. Otherwise they were great! How exciting to connect with someone from Finland! Best Wishes, Gaili

  2. Hello Gaili : Thank you so much for your feed-back ! I appreciate it a lot.
    The music in my videos is from my composition which I play: Part Two from Poem for Piano. Yes, I try to make it sound more silent so that my speaking can be heard.

    I have a music site I have written a link to your blog from my blog there.

    Best regards from Turku, Finland !


  3. Hello, Gaili. I would like to subscribe to your blogs. I play the piano *somewhat*, but I am always looking for ways to improve, especially now that I am 67 years old. By the way, how do you pronounce your first and last names? Best to you and thanks for posting the link to the Irish music channel. Great stuff! – Paul, Laguna Niguel, CA

    1. Hello Paul! I pronounce my name GAY-LEE SHONE- thanks for asking 🙂
      I’m glad you are enjoying the Thistle and Shamrock show! Hope you had a great St Patrick’s Day. We are playing at yet another St Pat’s party tonight ( I play accordion!) – the fun keeps on coming!
      To receive my blog posts, click on a post such as this one:
      Scroll down and look for the green SIGNUP box

      Write in your name and your email and click the green SIGNUP box. It will send you a confirmation email. You have to click on the link in the email to be subscribed. I never share your email address with anyone and indeed can not actually even see you email address, so you are 100% safe.

      I will soon be posting a blog about the best way for older adults (myself included) to practice using what we know about the latest brain research on memory. Please feel free to comment! I love hearing from you. Best, Gaili

  4. HI Gaili: I saw a post on AARP regarding your work. I signed up for the blog and even played the simple version of Fascination on the piano. I am 70 year old female. I took piano
    Lessons for 12 years, mostly from Catholic nuns. Later, a real talented former performer from Chicago, Ill. Haven’t played for years. Please give your best advice for music. Thank you so very much.

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