CEDAR GROVE, NJ – He’s not yet nine years old, but Michael Miller of Cedar Grove is already composing his own music.
The soon-to-be fourth grader first started playing the piano around age four when he heard his father Rich playing a song on the guitar. The song “Let It Be” appealed to Michael and he wanted to learn how to play it.
“I don’t play the piano so I looked up the chords on YouTube,” Rich said. “Within three days he was playing it better than I was so I went to Guitar Center to get him a chord chart. Within two weeks he had memorized it. He knew 48 chords before he ever took a lesson. I knew something was up.”
Michael can play a song by ear, meaning he can hear it and then decipher the chords. The electronic keyboard he uses at home has a variety of songs programmed into it and according to his mom Mirvia, copying those songs is how he first started to learn how to play.
“When he first started to learn I did worry it would just be noise,” Mirvia said. “But that was never the case. It never sounded like a mess because he knew all of the chords from the beginning.”
Rich agreed, noting that as Michael learned to copy the songs on the keyboard it became hard to determine where the music was coming from, Michael or the programmed song.
“So many times I’d be upstairs and hear a song being played and think he was just listening to one of the programmed songs, only to come downstairs and find he was actually playing it,” Rich said.
With Michael’s obvious affinity for music, his parents enrolled him in the Lindeblad School of Music in Pine Brook. For the first two and a half years Michael worked with Steve Myerson. Currently he is taught by Dr. Jose Bevia who specializes in music composition making him perfect for Michael, Mirvia added.
“Michael plays from hearing and he doesn’t like to read sheet music right now,” Mirvia explained. “His teachers have told us that he really has to do both so he’s learning.”
Michael studies music theory in addition to music composition and guided practice. He composed and performed his own song “Double Trouble” for his recent recital. He is currently working on a second composition entitled “Michael’s Birthday Composition” in honor of his upcoming birthday at the end of the month.
To see Michael's recital peformance click here.
Mirvia said it was clear from an early age that Michael loved music and he often just sits down at the keyboard to jam during the day. But does he sing along to his tunes?
“I hum a lot and I’m not bad at church songs. Actually I’m pretty good at them,” he noted. “I have a very deep voice.”
Michael’s teachers are still undecided on whether or not he has “perfect pitch,” meaning he can identify a given musical note when hearing it without the benefit of a reference tone. “The jury is still out on whether he has perfect pitch because he is too young,” Rich explained.” “They won’t commit to it until he is older.”
To demonstrate, Rich played three separate notes on the keyboard and asked Michael to name them. Michael went three-for-three.
“He’s really incredible. We heard ‘Piano Man’ on the radio and I told Michael he should learn how to play that when he gets older,” Rich shared. “Two weeks later I suddenly hear him playing it. I asked him when he learned that and he said he just remembered it from hearing it on the radio.”
When he’s not playing, Michael enjoys listening to classical and pop music. He named Rob Thomas and Marc Cohn as two of his favorite musicians. In addition to the piano, Michael can play the recorder which is part of the third-grade music curriculum in Cedar Grove and he is looking forward to learning the cello in fourth grade.
In school Michael excels in math and geography. Rich noted that Michael used to be able to name the capitals of all 193 countries in the world.
“The only reason I’m a little rusty (on the capitals), is you haven’t been quizzing me,” Michael told his dad. Rich then quizzed Michael a bit and he didn’t seem rusty at all.
“Sometimes I have to Google things to see if he’s right,” Mirvia added.
Beyond music and school, Michael is a dedicated Minecraft player and an avid Pokemon card collector, with more than 300 cards in his collection.
In the future, Michael wants to continue to compose music. “I want to get famous for playing the piano. I want to play and compose songs,” he noted. “I also want to play music for fun. I want to entertain people.”
More immediately, Michael is looking forward to his birthday on July 25 and his “Minecraft” birthday party complete with “Creeper” piñata.