Swells from Tony Monaco

Chromatik’s Eric Sandler meets up with Tony Monaco to talk about his lifelong pursuit of learning, teaching, the organ, and how all three are adapting to the 21st century.


“For me it’s not just about teaching someone to play, it’s about teaching them to continue to learn. I try to keep them very inspired about the future of the learning process. That’s the reason why I teach. I’m still a student myself,” Tony Monaco explains as we discuss the importance of maintaining an overall focus and excitement in both learning and teaching music. Monaco made a name for himself as a masterful organ maestro. Having been taught the king of the B-3, Jimmy Smith, Monaco has taken it upon himself to personally continue the legacy and advance the organ as an instrument. Between instructional DVDs, concert tours, and innovative private lessons, Monaco seems to be succeeding in his mission. Read on as he describes his multi-pronged approach to music education and technology as a tool in music.


With your students, do you see the face of the organ changing with all of this new technology? Has it changed your teaching style at all?

I’ve got to say that all of my students are very invested in learning the B-3. They really want to learn how to play it. But I’ve had some lessons with people that really just wanted to learn a couple licks or how to get a certain sound. Luckily though there are still people who really do want to learn the whole instrument. I’ll teach either though. As long as I get to teach, I’m honing my skills as a teacher. I find that the more I can teach, the better I play. I can’t teach what I don’t know.

What are the challenges that teaching online poses as opposed to teaching face-to-face?

No difference. The only challenge I have is that sometimes people are resistant to technology, but once they get hooked up, most of my students stay with me for a long time. I’ve got one guy who has been studying with me now for 2 years in Copenhagen.

Basically, the way this works is that I work out a lesson schedule on Google. The students go and pick from the available lesson slots. It could be a lesson in Copenhagen or Japan or wherever. At that time we’ll both be there. We make a Skype connection. Then we both sign in to Internet Midi so that they can hear everything I play and I can hear everything they play. We’re in real-time. The only thing you can’t really do successfully is play duets because there is a little latency over the Internet. We’re talking about milliseconds though. I don’t even like to waste any bandwidth on using the video connection, so we just talk and play. I feel like I’m a priest in a confession booth [laughs]. I hear them playing and I can interject and say “Oh wait, try it like this.” They can hear me play it a different way.

I found out in the last three months that I could actually record their voice, my voice, and all of the midi data so that after the lesson, I send them an mp3 file that has both of our voices as well as all of the stuff we played. Then I also send them a midi file of all of the digital data that they can analyze. That’s brand new; I just started doing it. They can even print out manuscript from the midi data later on if they want. So they are able to listen to the entire lesson and archive it to use and come back to. As a result, I’m finding the effectiveness doubles. They are retaining the information a lot better. It’s incredibly effective.

You’ve been consulting with technology companies for a while as well. What was the process like in helping companies like Native Instruments work on their organ sounds?

I helped Hammond and Suzuki in their early days develop the XK system by giving them a ton of information and insight into how they needed to tweak the sounds and make them sound really spot on. With Native Instruments, they came out with what they call the B4 and then they came out with the B4 II which was the refinement. So I was involved with the B4 II. I got together with Chester Thompson and some other musicians. We made up a panel and they would send samples for everything they did within the programming. We’d come back to them, “This note needs to be tuned or this sound needs to be different. This doesn’t sound realistic.” It took 6-months for them to come out with the B4 II. I got a chance to play it and tell them what I did and didn’t like about each change.

Recently I left Hammond Suzuki and went to a new company called Crumar in Italy. They came out with a keyboard called the Mojo and it’s the best-sounding organ synth out there now. Keyboard Magazine is featuring my Mojo in their August Issue. I worked with the keyboard for the last three years refining the sound. I’m not a programmer, but I know how to programmers. I don’t get paid to endorse these companies either. I base it off of my beliefs. I actually left Hammond and went to the Mojo not for any political or financial reasons. It’s just because I’m a purist when it comes to organ sounds. You’d think I’m crazy to leave Hammond, but the Mojo is the real deal. When I go out and play gigs, I want to sound authentic. If I’m not playing a real organ, I want to play a clone that sounds as close to the real thing as I can get. I do still endorse the Leslie speakers by the Suzuki company though. Leslie, which is owned by Suzuki, still makes the best speakers hands down.

What other projects have you been working on in the studio recently?

I have my upcoming album Celebration and I’m also doing a lot of instructional DVDs and digital downloads nowadays for people who don’t take online lessons. I’m getting ready to produce a new one called “The 5-7 Chord and Soloing Concepts.” I want to talk to a bunch of people and record a DVD soloing with these different people and discussing it.

The problem with the organ is that it’s not like the piano. When you go to college there is always a piano teacher. Over the years they have documented everything and they have that available for students. There is very little on jazz organ. I want to create an educational portal so that students of the organ can really learn.

Check out instructional material from Tony Monaco at Mother Hen Music Ed Online


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