Instructor
John Proulx
Quick Tip
Beginner
Intermediate
8:07

Learning Focus
  • Analysis
  • Composition
Music Style
  • Contemporary
  • New Age
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The music of American composer and pianist George Winston is treasured for its simplistic beauty, soaring melodies and gorgeous chords. In today’s Quick Tip, 6 Steps to Play Piano Like George Winston, John Proulx shares how you can capture the essence of the late composer’s popular contemporary piano sound in your own playing! You’ll learn:

If you enjoy playing and listening to solo contemporary piano music, then you’ll love today’s lesson!

Introduction

Whether for mindfulness and meditation or for relaxation and relief, listeners often turn to solo acoustic piano music for the peaceful mood that it evokes. In the 1980s, contemporary instrumental music gained massive popularity as record companies began marketing “new age” music as a mainstream genre. At the forefront of this modern musical frontier was pianist and composer George Winston, who also helped to define its sound.

In today’s lesson, piano students of all levels will be able to enjoy playing new age music in the piano style of George Winston. In fact, you can download the lesson sheet PDF from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose this lesson to any key using our Smart Sheet Music.

In the next section, you’ll learn more about George Winston and his music. To jump straight to the lesson material, click here.

About the Artist

George Winston (1949–2023) was born in Hart, Michigan, but he spent most of his childhood in Montana, Mississippi and Florida. Winston grew up on instrumental rock and R&B artists like the Ventures, Booker T & the MG’s, Floyd Cramer and Jimmy Smith. As a teenager, he also fell in love with the jazz piano music of Vince Guaraldi. Yet, it was the music of the Doors that prompted Winston to begin playing the organ as a teenager. In his early twenties, Winston switched his primary instrument to piano after discovering a love for 1920s and 30s jazz pianists like Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson

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While still in his early twenties, George Winston recorded his first solo piano album on the Takoma label in 1973 entitled Piano Solos (subsequently re-released in 1981 as Ballads and Blues 1972.) During this time, Winston also developed and refined his own style of solo acoustic piano composition which he described as “folk piano.”

George Winston’s popularity as a solo instrumental artist came after he sent a demo tape to Will Ackerman of Windham Hills Records in 1979.² As a result, Windham Hills agreed to produce Winston’s next solo album, Autumn (1980), which quickly become the label’s bestselling album.³ By 1985, Autumn and Winston’s two follow-up albums—Winter Into Spring (1982) and December (1982)—all achieved platinum status for having sold over 1 million units.⁴ In addition, Winston won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best New Age Album for Forest (1994).⁵

In all, George Winston’s sixteen solo piano albums have sold over 15 million copies. Even though George Winston passed away in 2023 after a 10-year-long battle with cancer, his musical legacy continues to inspire countless contemporary listeners and piano students.

Characteristics of George Winston’s Piano Style

George Winston never used the classification “new age” to describe his music. Instead, he thought of his music as “folk piano” or even “rural folk piano.” As such, many of his albums evoke imagery of landscapes and seasons. Musically speaking, Winston’s picturesque compositions are characterized by slow to moderate tempos and introspective harmonies with subtle use of dissonance. Winston’s melodies usually draw on major, minor or pentatonic scales and are pensive and motific in nature.

🔎 Check out John Proulx’s Soundscapes educational book of soothing original piano pieces with a forward by George Winston himself.

George Winston Style Chord Progression

Throughout this lesson, we’ll explore George Winston’s meditative piano style using the chord progression from his popular 1982 song entitled “Thanksgiving.” This progression is in the key of E minor and is comprised of six measures in all, with each chord lasting for one measure. Upon this progression, Winston introduces an initial stark melody which he then develops in subsequent repetitions with increasing creativity and energy, but stopping short of becoming aggressive.

George Winston

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¹ “Bio.” GeorgeWinston.com.

² Baker, Brian. “Sound Advice: George Winston.” CityBeat.com, Cincinnati CityBeat, 13 Apr. 2016.

³ Mannix, Jeff. “Want to Hear George Winston? Good Luck.” DurangoHerald.com, Ballantine Communications, Inc., 24 Dec. 2015.

“Gold & Platinum.” RIAA.com.

“George Winston.” Grammy.com.


Writer
Michael LaDisa

Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...

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