Ian Ruhfass a pianist living in Los Angeles, CA. He is also a piano tutor, and the owner/editor of a popular website for pianists all around the world.
Here’s Ian’s story…
My piano story is probably quite a bit different from others on this site, but probably similar to most of you reading this. It’s the story of how I was able to become my own one-man-band.
No, I didn’t go to school for music. No, I haven’t played up on stage in front of large crowds. No, I haven’t sold any albums. My story begins with a love of creating music, and a love of finding the perfect sound.
I started playing the drums at a young age – around 5 or 6. This was, and always has been my main passion. Throughout my time playing in school jazz bands and taking drum lessons, my rhythm skills steadily increased.
I played with a few local rock bands as well through the years, and despite not having even the smallest amount of knowledge of things like scales or chords, I knew that I wanted to be in control of EVERYTHING. I wanted to create every part myself, and I knew that I had to start learning more instruments if this was going to become a reality.
A little after college I decided it was time to learn guitar.
I went out and got a nice electric guitar and an Axe-FX and laid out a plan. I’d practice for at least an hour each night, and I surrounded myself with everything-guitar. I got my hands on all the learning material I could, and I made my best effort to go see some of my idols play live – guitar legends like Andy Timmons, Greg Howe, and Guthrie Govan.
I made good progress, but after a few years of this I knew there was something I was still missing. I loved chasing the ultimate guitar tone, but it was almost like I needed a third hand to create more complex riffs. Creating a melody just wasn’t enough – there needed to be an underlying progression.
Naturally, I went out and bought a bass guitar!
I figured if I could lay down a bass track, I’d be able to put a melody over the top. After about a year of playing around with bass this was true, but it still just wasn’t what I was looking for.
The Best Thing …
Then, the best thing in my musical life happened. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife!) got me piano lessons for my birthday. Piano was something I had never really considered, but I was excited to give it a shot.
After just the first lesson, I knew this was what I’d been missing all my life.
The fact that you could play a bass rhythm in one hand, and a separate floating melody in the other was incredible. I was hooked with the fullness of sound and complex melodies I could achieve. I was also extremely lucky to get a great teacher. He let ME choose what I wanted to learn, so it was a great experience to have a say in what path I ultimately went down.
Immediately, I grabbed every piano book I could, and tried to learn every song I could muster. I made quick work of some ABRSM Piano Exam pieces, and eventually worked up to things like full Beethoven and Haydn pieces – all while continuing my private lessons.
The 3 greatest struggles I had to overcome were:
1) Learning music theory. I knew a little from playing guitar, but coming from mainly drums means that I had little to none under my belt coming into it. Luckily my rhythm skills were up to par! YouTube was a great resource for me when it came to learning all about music theory.
2) My age. Now, I know I’m not THAT old, but when learning piano at the age of 33 I knew that it would have been infinitely easier as a child. Children have a knack for picking up things quickly.
3) Learning finger independence/dexterity. As a drummer, I had the limb coordination thing down, but finger independence was a whole different story. My hands don’t have much stretch to them, so forming more complex chords was something I really had to work at – sometimes for hours each night.
Looking to the future
Today, piano feels like home to me. Playing it puts me in a state of deep meditation, and it’s where I go to forget about the worries of the day. It has transformed the way that I think about music, and it has led me down a path of relaxation and deep thought.
I’m currently working on writing full songs for my own enjoyment with each part played by myself – drums, guitar, bass, and of course piano.
I’m at the point in my life where I’ve always dreamed of being, and piano was the final piece of the puzzle to get me there.