Your Story: Ian Ruhfass

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My piano story is probably quite a bit different from others on this site, but perhaps similar to some 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.

Learning Guitar

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.

Overcoming Difficulties

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.

Ian Ruhfass

Ian is 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.

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.