Drink While You Learn Piano, No Kids Allowed

By Chloe Riley | February 15, 2013 6:21am | Updated on February 15, 2013 10:30am

WEST LOOP — Pianist John “C-Note” Cordogan wants you to play the piano, even if it means you have to throw back a few beers before sliding up to the keys.

To get adults tickling the ivories, Cordogan recently started “The Musical U” — adult group piano lessons where the pianos have cup holders and no one under 21 is allowed. The lessons are being held at the The Music Garage, 345 N. Loomis St.

“When adults traditionally have attempted to play piano, the first thing they’re met with is a book that has degrading little cartoons in the corner screaming that you should have done it 30 years ago,” Cordogan said.

“They don’t want to see that, and they don’t want to play 'Frere Jacques' for six months.”

This isn’t Cordogan’s first musical endeavor. He also co-owns Illinois’ largest piano shop in west suburban Geneva. When he isn’t sitting at a piano, he freestyles as “C-Note,” his alter ego in a mostly white hip-hop cover band called “Too White Crew.”

“It’s pretty much the polar opposite of my day gig. My alter ego has quite a bit of notoriety in the city, but nobody knows I’m that guy,” he said.

Too White Crew has dancing women, onstage guzzling of Boone's Farm and hip-hop music performed live onstage.

“I’m a total grown-up. I have three kids,” Cordogan said. “But C-Note doesn’t. Nobody knows C-Note’s a grown-up at all.”

But when he is in grown-up mode, Cordogan said, one thing that’s always bothered him is an industry statistic he’s heard that 90 percent of Americans would like to play piano, but only 10 percent actually do.

He said he hopes these classes — along with just a sip or two of Boone's Farm — can give potential pianists the courage to make that happen.

The curriculum is key: Treat the adults like adults learning to play piano and they have a better shot at actually learning.

Instructor Annie Dolan, a native Chicagoan who’s played piano since she was 8, teaches all the classes. She said in essence, she gets to write her own curriculum based on what works and what doesn’t.

Making the piano keys look less scary is the first step toward success, Dolan said.

“First we demystify the keyboard,” she said. “You break it down and tell them you’ve got seven letters of the alphabet which are repeated over and over.”

After that, she said she gets quickly into chords — “easy three-chord things” — that allow students to play many pop, jazz and country songs.

And, Dolan said, you don’t need any experience to make it happen.

“Some take off and really start reading quickly, even if they have no musical background,” she said.

Each piano has its own set of headphones so Dolan can talk one-on-one to practicing students even while in a large group. She also has a camera hanging above her piano and two flat-screen TVs that show the class how her hands are moving.

“That’s the coolest part,” Dolan said. “It really has been an amazingly fun way to teach.”

The group lessons cost $25 per class and feature digital pianos that can be rented monthly for just $50. Classes at the Music Garage right now are offered only on Mondays and Tuesdays, but Cordogan does throw some fun weekend classes in.

For those who didn’t go out on Valentine’s Day, Cordogan is offering a Couples Candlelight class Friday night. For $100, couples can learn the basics of piano, sip some bubbly and cuddle up by a “candlelight” video of a fireplace.