I often get questions from people about the tools and software that I use to write and play music, so I thought it would be helpful to put together a simple Q&A page that provides answers and links to many of the common questions that I get.
What type of piano do you use at your home and studio?
I am lucky enough to have a YAMAHA C2 grand piano at the house. It sounds amazing. I also have a Yamaha Clavinova CVP 208. I also have a Komplete Kontrol S61 keyboard that I will use to help record orchestra and other tracks for soundtracks or other projects.
The studio I record at has a Yamaha C7 piano that sounds amazing. I really like bright sounding pianos in both the high and low registers. Yamaha grands seem to have the most consistent bright sounds.
If I’m buying my first piano, what should I get?
If you have kids that are taking lessons or you are looking to have flexibility with sounds, or if you are wanting to write music, I would start out with a digital piano. I think a good digital piano is as important if not more important than a real piano. I had a Yamaha Clavinova as my only piano for more than 10 years before I finally was able to afford a grand piano. The reason I like digital pianos is you can play around with the sounds and get ideas for new songs. I’ve found that kids will have more fun practicing with all of the sound options on a digital as well.
I do think it is important to not go super cheap on a digital piano though. If you are looking to get your first digital piano, my preference is the Yamaha Clavinova line of keyboards. Roland does a great job as well. My recommendation is that you play the piano and get something that feels good and sounds good to you. You can sometimes find a used digital piano on Craig’s list or other classified sites for between $800 – $2,500. A new Clavinova can run anywhere from $1,000 up to $10,000 depending on how fancy you want to get.
My friends at the Ogden Piano Gallery can ship anywhere in the country and they are always willing to work with people to get an amazing price on a Clavinova. Just tell them that Jason Tonioli told you to give them a call. When you call, just ask for Clay or Dan. Their number is: 801-779-9700.
What software do you use to write your music?
I’ve used Finale for years. The other option out there is Sibelius. I own both. Both have a steep learning curve and way more features than most people will ever use. I’ve tried Sibelius and it really seemed clunky and didn’t make sense to me. Finale continues to be my go to program. There is an app called Symphony Pro on the iPad that allows you to write music as well. It’s a great cheap way to start writing music and hopefully they can continue to make their product better over time so that there is a more affordable music notation software option.
When you play at concerts, what apps do you use on your iPad to play your music?
I use an app called forScore. It is a fancy PDF reader for musicians. They have added a ton of great features over the years. It is super easy to import a PDF file of your music and then it allows you to markup a song, easily turn the page, etc. It even has a metronome, tuner, and the ability to put together playlists. I have a prelude playlist of songs that I can play, I also have playlists of Christmas Songs, Classical music, Piano Hymns, and Original Piano Solos. I always will have a set list for the concerts that I play at. If you play preludes for a church service, this is a great way to keep all your music together and avoid having paper that will blow off the piano if the AC turns on.
What size of iPad or tablet should I get to play piano?
I have used the regular sized iPad for years but in 2017 I finally decided I would try the large iPad with the Apple Pencil. I like both sizes, but if I’m playing a lot, I prefer the larger sized iPad. My eyes aren’t quite as good as they used to be, and the larger iPad is the size of an 8.5 x 11 standard sized paper. The larger iPad is certainly a bit harder to carry around than the standard iPad. They both work great though.
I noticed you turn the pages of your music without your hands. How does that work?
I have a special foot pedal that connects via BlueTooth to my iPad that magically turns the pages for me. They are manufactured by a company called AirTurn. I have used both the AirTurn StompKit which was their original foot pedal and also the AirTurn DUO. I would recommend the AirTurn Duo because it allows you to turn the page forward and backwards with your foot and it isn’t near as sensitive as the older version of the StompKit. They are both super durable though and have lasted for years. If you play music from your iPad, this is a great Mothers Day or Christmas Gift for anyone who plays piano.
What Software do you use to record your music?
I use ProTools to record my music. I have a home studio that uses an MBox to interface with the computer, but for most of my projects we use the recording studio. I’ve recorded for years at BigIdea Studios in Sandy, UT. They team at the studio are amazing and have worked on hundreds of projects that I’m sure you’ve heard of. Some of their projects have included Toy Story2, Toy Story 3, Disney Infinity, Cars 2, Cars 3, Jon Schmidt & the Piano Guys. They make my music sound much better than I could on my own and are amazing to work with. If you are wanting to get into recording music, there are great software programs like Garage Band and others that are super affordable and can allow you to learn more about recording. If you do want to get serious about recording, I recommend that you learn to use ProTools.
Do you teach lessons on composing or do workshops?
On occasions I will work with students to teach them about composing but I don’t teach piano lessons on a weekly basis to anyone. My preference is to work with a great teacher and then come in as a supplement to what they are doing and do a workshop or multi-week master class for a small group of students. If this is something you are interested in, please contact me via email or phone from my contact page. I love helping people realize that they are very capable of making up their own arrangements once they learn the basics of chords.
I am open to traveling to cool new places to do workshops. I live in Utah but I’m always up for an adventure to a new place if you’d like to arrange for a workshop of some kind.
How long did you take piano lessons? Did you get a degree in music?
I was not a model student but I had a mom who did make me practice. I took lessons from Kindergarten up until the end of 10th grade. I took a break from piano my 11th grade year and took lessons for one more year as a Senior in High School.
I took an AP Music class my Senior year of high school and learned so much from that class. I really think that class helped me more than anything with writing music. When I started college, I really wanted to learn how to do orchestration. Even though I had passed the AP Music test with flying colors, the music department decided that all students in the music program were required to take their two year music theory class. After spending two full days in class and only learning about whole notes and half notes with 30+ people who didn’t understand music, I went to the teacher and asked him again if I could get a waiver to also take the orchestration class. I even offered to help teach the class so that I could learn a bit more. I was told that I would have to wait two years and that I wasn’t ready. It didn’t matter that I had published music and was already writing my own stuff. I then decided that I’d drop out of the music program, but the orchestration book and learn it myself.
So I lasted less than a week in the music program and ended up majoring in Business and Marketing at Weber State.