Q & A: My Musical Background

How did you get started playing music?

I started from ages 8 through 14 taking lessons using children’s tunes and classical music as my main material.  By the time I was a teenager I was getting tired of playing complex classical pieces, and my teach sensed this.  So he suggested that I take lessons from him in musical theory (based on a course he taught at the University of Nebraska  This was a daunting challenge to a high-school junior, but the change sounded refreshing, so I agreed to try it.  This involved either   analyzing a given tune’s melody and telling what chord goes with it, or taking a series of chords and writing a melody that matched it.  This revolutionized my thinkinb.


How did this revolutionize your style?

After about a year of this (and waiting many more years to mature), I realized two things.  First, all music can be explained as numbesr rather than letters that indicate what key you’re in.  Thus, instead of saying “this part of the song is in  C” you say “this part of the song is in “2.”  When you think this way, then you can play any song in any key.  Let me be more specific.

Below are four series of chords for the song, Happy Birthday.  Each chord letter represents one measure of music.  Each series is in a different key.

Key of C:     C G7th G7th C C7th F G7th F

Key of G:    G D7th D7th G G7th C D7th G

Key of A:     A E7th E7th A A7th D E7th A

Now that was only 4 keys out of 12 that are found in Western music.  Suppose I had listed the chord progressions for all 12 keys.  What a mess to remember!

Well, by thinking in numbers, we can condense all of the above rules for playing “Happy Birthday” to one series!  Watch.

For all keys: 1, 5-7th, 5-7th, 1, 1-7th, 4, 5-7th 1

So you notice three things (1). We have drastically simplified what you have to memorize to play a song, (2). There are patterns and rules about music (such as that each song begins and ends with the same chord), and (3). This now opens up the opportunity to play by ear—without reading music.  That’s because with less chords to remember and by not having special rules for each song but rather rules for all of music, you simply don’t need sheet music.


Wow, that’s impressive—to play by ear, use no music, and play in any key!  How could a person learn how to do this?  Is this only for adults?

No, any person at least 10 years old can start learning this process.  They simply have to have the desire and a passion for music.  I would be glad to coach, mentor, or teach anyone in this regard.  Just contact me at tedkowalski@att.net and we can set up a time for initial consultation.


And where did that knowledge lead you?

Well, at about age 30 I got hooked up with musicians who needed a pianist in their bands.  I ended up doing weddings, bar mitzvahs, concerts—even prisons at one time.  As I listened to the tunes I was able to enhance the chord structures I had learned or read about, and made the sound richer.  In addition, the mere activity of playing music a lot improved my sense of rhythm.

Do you still play professionally?

No I quit many years ago.  I found that living in a large city is hard on musicians; you have to drive long distances and stay up late at night to have such gigs.  But my musical ear has matured.  I download music have expanded my musical appreciation beyond jazz—to classical (including modern classical) and blue grass.