Music Game #1: “Tip Jar” (Playtime For Teacher & Piano Student)

Feeling slightly “under the weather” but still wanting to teach, I asked 2 adult jazz piano students to meet online for lessons. Educators know that teaching over the internet requires extra energy to communicate, and I was a bit short of breath. What valuable lessons could I give my inquisitive students that would keep their fingers busy while I listened, hydrated,  and encouraged them, with minimal talking on my part? I took a couple hits off my inhaler and came up with a “game plan” (modeled after real life situations I’ve had as a performer), and tested it out on my students. Together we had a good deal of fun playing these online socially safe music games.

In order to play each game, the student will need about a dozen pieces they can play reasonably well, either with or without the music. (Having handy access to a fakebook is fine too.) Teachers will want to keep in mind what pieces each  private student has studied in order to create good leading “requests”. This helps the both of you get the most enjoyment from the game.

Game #1: TIP JAR

The student pretends they are a professional pianist playing in a bar (or fancy hotel if you prefer). The teacher acts as a customer making requests. The pianist earns virtual “tips” in their “tip jar” if they play the customer’s request.  A $10 tip is earned if pianist plays the request all the way through without restarting, cursing, making excuses, apologizing, and must provide a convincing ending. Pianist earns a $5 tip for attempting to play the request, but had obvious struggles. $0 earned for refusing to even attempt the request.  When lesson time is up, the teacher/customer totals the number of requests, compares a potential 100% score with tips earned in the student/pianist’s tip jar!

Here are the requests I made of my first student, knowing the music he has learned over the past few years:

  1. Play Mack The Knife (I started with a tune he knew well)
  2. Play a movie theme
  3. Play a tune about love lost or heartache
  4. Play a tune in 3/4 time
  5. Play a standard blues or something bluesy sounding
  6. Play something with a Brazilian or Latin Beat
  7. Sing and play a tune
  8. Play the latest tune you’ve been learning
  9. Play your favorite tune (This one stumped him – as it often does me – because my favorite tune changes day to day. By then, our hour lesson was up!)

Note: If the student is stumbling so badly they are getting visablly stressed, the teacher may reassure their student by letting them know at a bar gig people are busy drinking, talking, and don’t notice every missed note. If you sense the student needs a fresh start, you might say “Sorry I stepped out while you were playing my request. Can I hear it again?” My first student of the day offered to “buy me another drink” for giving him a $10 tip when he thought he deserved only $5 – so you can have some leniency playing around with the rules. Teach your student the polite way to refuse a request is to say, “I’m sorry I don’t know that piece, but will have it ready to play it for you next time…” (Code for student will practice that music for next week’s lesson!)

Watch for Music Game #2: “Happy Memories Retirement Home” published here on under Insights & Ideas very soon.


Doxology: The New Old 100th – An Advanced Reharmonization Tutorial

The following video demonstrates how I came up with new chords using an old hymn as an example. It involves first stripping away the music to discovering the essential chords which give a tune its basic identity – I call these the skeleton chords – usually they are the I, V and perhaps IV chords of the tune. Continue reading “Doxology: The New Old 100th – An Advanced Reharmonization Tutorial”

Music for Troubled Times

Peace Prayer by Debbie Denke


It’s normally a lively Christmas Season full of parties, pageants, and performances – including outdoor concert venues for musicians, strolling carolers, and elaborately festive church services, but this December 2017 is different. Santa Barbara along with Montecito, Summerland, Carpenteria, Ojai, Santa Paula, Ventura and other nearby cities are having quite the challenge with fires, smoke, power outages, and evacuations.

We musicians wait till the last hour to hear if a gig is still happening,  we check the air quality, look at maps to see if the location has been evacuated, and no one can say for certain what will happen if the winds stir fire and ash up again. We are all truly playing this season by ear. Continue reading “Music for Troubled Times”

CA Here I Come!


The history behind the story also known as…

Bob Takes The 101:  A Road Trip Musical Story/Game

Last Spring our keyboard & bass duo was invited to play a charity fundraising event held in the lovely gardens of El Mirador Estate, Montecito (pictured above). The 2017 theme was “California Dreaming” – they requested that we play as many CA themed tunes as we could – naturally Robert Kim Collins and I included a fair share of West Coast Jazz too. 😉

Once again I turned to musical friends and posted an inquiry on Facebook asking for tune titles specifically written about places in California. I also gathered ideas from my father Frank Denke’s album made for an insurance company in the 1950’s called, Melodies of California: Continue reading “CA Here I Come!”

Do You Hand Out Bad Charts?

Deb's blond hair

Okay, I will be first to admit it: I occasionally dash off very bad charts to fling at my trusted musical partners the night of the gig when I am in a big hurry. I am a jazz & church pianist, vocal accompanist, and sometimes sing a few numbers on my gigs too – yet, even when I know better, now and then I fall short and exhibit CSS symptoms. Although this article resembles ‘preaching to the choir’ (including myself in that group) – it is a more detailed exploration into writing music extracted from my blog, Do You Suffer Chick Singer Syndrome?)

I’d like to share a few examples ranging from pitiful to pretty good charts (both lyric and lead sheets), that I have either personally penned or have been instructed to “Just read the chart and listen to the YouTube link and figure it out.”

The following levels apply to charts written by today’s jazz and church musicians, vocalists, accompanists and band members. Remember, men and women can suffer Chick Singer Syndrome – even superbly talented ones!  So with a touch of humor, kindly read on. Continue reading “Do You Hand Out Bad Charts?”

It’s All About YOU! Party Game

How To Play the Musical “Guess that YOU-tune” Game:

The host will want a copy of Debbie Denke’s album, It’s All About YOU!*


Additionally the host will want a pencil for each guest, a fun dessert to serve for intermission, a prize for the winner (I suggest something musical like an album or a music book as an award), and have copies of the list of clues for each guest (or a page with blank lines numbered 1-16), plus a copies of the lyrics to #16 It Had To Be You. Clues and lyrics are found in this site under the Downloads tab above. Allow about 90 minutes to play this game.

Continue reading “It’s All About YOU! Party Game”

It’s All About YOU!


It all started with the opportunity to play an intimate concert for about 6 couples in the home of some former jazz piano students of mine. This husband and wife invite close friends over for an hour concert (with a dessert break in the middle) dedicated to the memory of Marty’s great aunt – a piano teacher who willed them her grand piano. It is a sweet gig for me, especially since I get to work up solo piano repertoire and select what I wish to play for a small, very appreciative audience. Continue reading “It’s All About YOU!”