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
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 UpperHandsPiano@gmail.com.
With love and music, Gaili