Meet Jerald Simon, piano instructor and creator of Music Motivation

Friday , January 06, 2017 - 6:00 AM2 comments

MAKENZIE KOCH/Standard-Examiner Staff

Jerald Simon is a musician, composer and piano instructor. He also created the company Music Motivation to publish songs and music books to help kids learn to play the piano. He also recently released a motivational book, “Perceptions, Parables, and Pointers.”

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I currently live in Fruit Heights with my beautiful wife, Suzanne (Zanny), and our three wonderful children: Summer, 10; Preston, 4; and Matthew, 18 months. I grew up in Pleasant View, and at the age of 8, I fell off a 50-foot cliff just north of Pleasant View drive where we lived. As a result of the fall, I don't remember anything before I was 8. It was as if a new life began after the fall. I went to Weber High School and then, after a two year mission to Brasilia, Brazil, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I went to Weber State University where I met Zanny.

Professionally, I am a musician and I play a few instruments, but my main instrument is the piano. I created a company called Music Motivation, which I set up as a record label and a publishing company. Over the past few years I have written 21 music books featuring original music I have composed for the piano to help motivate piano students with fun and cool sounding music at various levels. I have recorded nine albums of my original music featuring piano solos, hymn arrangements, meditation music, pop, jazz, techno-pop and soundtrack/instrumental pieces with a few additional singles and EPs.

A few years ago I published a book of 222 original motivational poems I wrote, The "As If" Principle: Motivational Poetry, and I recently published a new motivational/self-help book titled "Perceptions, Parables, and Pointers." It's a motivational manual — something I wish I could have given my younger self. It features perceptions, inspirational thoughts, motivational parables and short stories I have written with a few new poems. It also includes my favorite motivational and inspirational quotes I refer to as "Pointers," from some of the most amazing men and women throughout history.

What initially drew you to music?

Music was such a big part of my family life. My father, Jerry F. Simon, was a professional musician, and playing the piano was the 11th commandment in our home — closely followed by the 12th commandment: "Thou shalt not whine about playing the piano." Growing up, I honestly thought all of my friends practiced their instruments before going to school just like I did and was completely shocked to find out, in about the third grade, that none of my friends played any instruments at all or woke up at 5 a.m. to practice them before school.

Why did you decide to start Music Motivation?

I decided to start my company, Music Motivation, because I wanted to teach piano lessons. In the beginning, I taught from available method books and then began focusing more and more on teaching music theory, improvisation and composing. I refer to it all as "Theory Therapy," "Innovative Improvisation," and "Creative Composition." After I came out with the first few music books of my own, I realized I wanted to compose music specifically for teenage and adult-age piano students and primarily focus my teaching and much of my original music on motivating teens — especially teenage boys — to play the piano. Here is my own personal mission statement for myself and my company: "My purpose and mission in life is to motivate myself and others through my music and writing, to help others find their purpose and mission in life, and to teach values that encourage everyone everywhere to do and be their best."

What is your favorite thing about your job?

One of my favorite aspects about my music "job" and my company is composing piano music — complete with a full score of background instruments the students can play along with. I love composing music. When I do so, time slips away from me, and I don't feel as if I am even working because it's fun. It's what I love doing! For me, having a piano student perform one of my pieces and then tell me they love playing the piano and can't wait to show their friends their new "Cool Song" that I composed is something that motivates me and inspires me to do more because I see how excited the student is.

Their enthusiasm is contagious! They motivate me to want to compose all the time. I also love to have, what I refer to as "improv jam sessions" or "Jammin' with Jerald" time with the students, where we improvise or compose something on the spot. It is the practical application of the music theory we have been working on, and I love seeing what they can do and create and how we can just jam and have fun together. It motivates the students, and it's just playing and having fun for me! The more excited they are, the more they improve and advance and excel in music, and that excites me!

What/who inspires you when you compose new pieces?

I am continually inspired to compose new pieces by my family, personal life experiences, people I meet and my piano students. My list of musicians who inspire me is too long to mention because I love taking styles and elements from all genres past and present. I came out with a series of four piano books titled: "Cool Songs for Cool Kids" (primer level, books 1, 2 and 3). Each book has 21 fun "Cool Songs" that were written during piano students' lessons. Several years ago I had several teenage boy students who needed a little extra motivation, and I came up with an idea to compose a piece during their lesson in any style, time signature and key signature they wanted. Then I told them they could tell me certain notes to use, the dynamics, rhythms, etc., and I would compose it so they could play it.

They thought it was a fun game and for me, it was a challenge. I would compose the piece during their lesson, notate it, print it out and send it home with them that day. When they returned and I asked them what they thought of the piano solo I had composed during their lesson, they would tell me they thought it sounded "cool," which is where the title for the series came from and why I refer to the piano solos as "Cool Songs." Almost every piano student would learn and master the new "Cool Song" and ask me to compose a new piece during their lesson for them. It motivated them and it forced me to compose and create new music every day because I was doing it in every lesson.

Aside from my piano students, my wife inspires and motivates me to compose almost every piece I compose. She also names the majority of the music after listening to me play it.

Do you have any favorite genres, composers, artists or songs?

Yes, I have many favorite composers, styles, genres, and artists that I enjoy. I'm kind of eclectic because I love so many different styles. I love Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, Miles Davis, Earth Wind and Fire, John Coltrain, Kenny Loggins, Chicago, Michael Buble, Pavoratti and Maroon 5. The list goes on and on. I enjoy a lot of different styles.

Truthfully, I am a pop piano player and love pop music — especially 80s rhythms, guitars and synths. With that being said, I love playing classical and jazz music (blues, boogie-woogie and modal jazz) on the piano. I was in the jazz band in high school, and that opened me up to the jazz world. I also enjoy playing hymns, and they inspire me a great deal. A few years ago, I started studying everything I could about new age for an album I was working on at the time, “The Dawn of a New Age.” That led me to studying about chakras and healing music and I started listening to quite a bit of meditation music. I created an album of meditation music, “Chasing Clouds - meditation music.

This past year I have switched things up completely because I wanted to delve into the techno-pop world — something I have not done a whole lot of until this past year. I would listen to techno-pop all day to get the feel of the style, sound, rhythm, and overall color. I actually fell in love with the techno-pop sound and feel and it helped me when I was creating “Pulse,” my first techno pop CD. It's a different type of techno pop music because it features the piano as the principle instrument with all of the techno drums, guitars, keyboards, and synth instruments as well. This past fall I focused primarily on listening to soundtrack music and scary music because I came out with a Halloween album of scary soundtrack music, ”Ghosts and Goblins and Freaks and Ghouls.”

What is your favorite of your works? Why?

It's difficult to choose because my music and my books, in a way, are part of me and are like children to me. I feel bad having favorites, but I really enjoy "Triumphant." It is a single that is fully orchestrated. I wrote out all of the parts for the instruments and went into the studio with studio musicians. They sight-read everything as if they had been playing it their entire lives. My friend, Michael Gibbons, played and embellished the simple guitar parts I wrote and then created a fantastic electric guitar lead part. I also enjoy "Heaven on Earth" from my piano instrumental album "The Dawn of a New Age" and also "Pulse" and "Seismic" from my album titled "Pulse."

I believe my all time favorite pieces up until now, though, are two I have not yet released. They both have lyrics, and I will be coming out with them in the future. One is called "A Season to Be Strong," and it was the high school seminary theme song I wrote when I was in high school. The other is titled: "Fairytale" and is a love ballad that I wrote for my wife and played and sang for her on our wedding day at the wedding luncheon. That is probably my favorite song if we don't let the other songs know about it!

Why do you think it's important for people interested in music to learn music theory?

The reason why I feel it is important for people wanting to learn music to learn music theory is because when they understand how the intervals, chords, scales and modes can be used to arrange, improvise and compose music of their own, they can make music and share their music with others. It's as if a light bulb goes on when someone learns that the dots on a page represent chords. The music is a series of chord progressions and the chords create color and each chord creates a mood.

It's wonderful to help students connect the dots and understand how something as simple as a broken major sixth chord with the left hand can become a walking bass line, and it automatically allows the student to start playing jazz or blues or any style they want. They're taking their knowledge of music theory and applying it to making and sharing music.

It also helps them sight-read better, play better with a band or group of musicians and, if they want, begin to share their knowledge with others and help spread music by teaching others what they have learned.

What do you think about the music community in Northern Utah?

We have a great music community in Northern Utah from the music students to music teachers/educators to amateur and professional musicians making a living with their music. There is so much musical talent in Northern Utah and so many wonderful and willing musicians who share their love of music and their musical abilities with each of us.

Parents are so committed to giving their children the opportunity to have musical experiences, and our schools have some of the best choir, band and orchestra teachers around. We have great musicians and supportive parents. I am part of the Utah Music Teachers Association, a group of music educators who are committed to teaching music and helping music students gain confidence by discovering and developing their musical talents. It is so fun to help music students learn an instrument, perform for others and gain more confidence because of performing in front of a group. These young and older musicians learn how to work hard, practice, be committed, set and achieve goals, learn to deal with disappointment, learn to focus, be dedicated and have fun.

I also work with a lot of home-schooled piano students and home-schooled groups, and I am so impressed by how excited the youth are to learn an instrument. I encourage piano students to learn at least two to three instruments and also be involved in sports, reading, writing poetry and stories, and other extra curricular activities. It's important to be well-rounded.

Any advice for someone thinking about getting into music?

I tell everyone who is wanting to get involved in music — either for recreational playing or as a serious and hopefully professional musician — to find their own music niche. I would tell them to find their genre, sound, style, instrument and area of expertise and learn everything they can about that and have fun with music. That is the most important part of making music. It needs to be fun, exciting, inspiring and life changing. It’s what music does for you, for me, and for everyone who listens to it.

I can't, and would not want to imagine a world without music. Movies would be boring without a soundtrack, sporting events would be lack luster without the bands, and what would dancing be without music? Music is the heartbeat of every human soul. Music and smiling are the only two universal languages that transcend all barriers, cultures, nationalities and people. I believe everyone is involved in music whether or not they play an instrument.

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