Debbie’s Teaching Philosophy and
Student Recommendations

I always enjoy teaching my students. We work on melodic line and chord voicing vocabulary, functional harmony in all keys, play on tunes together with me playing basslines on the electric piano, and generally learn, laugh and have a good time. Even if you haven’t practiced much or feel tired and uninspired, we will practice together and I guarantee that you’ll go home feeling better and wanting to spend time at your piano. I consider inspiring my students to be part of my job.

I help keep my students very organized so that they know how to use their practice time at home. I am extremely organized as well and prepare for every lesson in addition to keeping notes at the lesson so that I know what subjects we’ve covered each time. Students who have been studying with me for many years are always amazed that I can go back to a lesson date in my notebook from years ago, and see exactly what we did that day!

I also help the students learn how do do their own transcribing of their favorite jazz musicians so that they develop their abilities to listen and understand what they are hearing. Learning to play jazz is, above all else, an incredible ear training. Certainly we constantly study to improve our theoretical knowledge, and become more and more aware of what we are doing within the language of music. But always, it’s about listening and finding out what these sounds are, and connecting more and more deeply to our inner ear. And by listening more closely to these fabulous musicians (such as Bill Evans and Miles Davis), they become your teachers too, and their playing becomes more accessible to you.

I am happy to teach people of all levels. My practice includes complete beginners as well as professional musicians and teachers. I also teach jazz vocabulary to other jazz instrumentalists, for example guitarists, horn players and singers. I taught for much of the 1980s in the jazz departments of two conservatories in The Netherlands, where I taught ensembles and also had small classes of the non-piano players to learn what was titled “Harmony on the Piano.” So I’ve developed many skills to impart jazz vocabulary applied to instruments other than the piano. Currently and for last 20 years I teach Jazz Piano and Trio classes at the Berkeley Jazzschool.

I am also available for one time workshops or presentations to, for example groups of classical teachers who would like to develop more jazz skills for their own teaching practices. “Introduction to Jazz Piano” is a one to two hour lecture/demonstration on the basics of learning a jazz tune from a jazz chart.

I teach private Jazz Piano Lessons in my home near Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, Alameda, and Piedmont CA. I am also happy to teach two people who are friends together if they would like that. Another possibility is for example if a pianist and bass player want to come over for a lesson(s) to work on their playing together.

I incorporate the “Taubman Approach” to piano technique in my teaching. Briefly, this is an approach that emphasizes a more coordinated use of the fingers, hand and arm in order to make piano playing feel more natural and comfortable, and to avoid injury.

Please feel free to call on the phone or email me if you are interested in lessons and you’d like to discuss more about my way of teaching. My email and phone are on my “contact” page. I am also available for Skype/Facetime lessons!


Recommendations From Students

I still love playing the tune Debbie gave me our very first lesson. Looking back I soon realize my playing has reached levels I hadn’t imagined. I studied jazz and classical piano performance at Sonoma State University and graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Music. I quickly became aware that graduation was only the beginning and serendipitously enrolled myself in a trio class at the Jazz School Debbie was instructing. Little did I know I would continue to study with her from the time of that first class to this very day.

Debbie not only helped me understand jazz theory and method but introduced me to an entirely new philosophy of playing and learning. With each new piece she brings me to memorize, comes the ideas and skills that continue to build upon our last project. Every lesson ends and returns with a renewed excitement within an approach that is challenging yet has become part of a growing confidence.

Her exercises and insights into theory and technique have immediate and accessible application that demystifies and informs my playing. Even as a multi- instrumentalist and writer in a variety of styles other than jazz, my lessons with Debbie have enabled me to access my highest level of musicianship, understanding, and love of music.

I am truly inspired each time I hear Debbie at the piano. It becomes instantly apparent that the same joy, devotion, and curiosity is present whether at a gig or a lesson. Debbie has made one of the highest impacts on my music and teaching thanks to the passion and experience she so graciously imparts onto her students.

Charis Ashcraft, 2017


Debbie enriches, strengthens and empowers you as an improvising player. Through her ongoing assessment of your playing, she encourages you along a path of learning that she designs just for you. She incorporates the tunes and skills that interest you most, but she also makes sure that you build broad skills, stay injury-free and keep growing. Knowledgeable about the Taubman Approach, she is able to recognize and correct playing habits that might lead to injury. Her attention to improving your keyboard technique also pays off in improved tone production at the piano, an element not often part of jazz piano training. For me, it’s been a revelation to have her guidance on fingering strategies for improvised passages, on improving my time and rhythm, and on countless other aspects of playing, both basic and subtle. And it’s fun to work with her, believe me.

Debbie is herself an inspiring, swinging and hugely creative improviser and player, with beautiful touch and tone at the piano. During your lessons, she entices you by playing examples of what could be done with tunes you’re working on. I’m glad I record every lesson, so I can steal some of your lines, Debbie!

Tim Nelson, 2017


When I started taking jazz piano lessons with Debbie a few years ago, I was a jazz aficionado, but had no piano experience since some not-very-successful early childhood lessons. Debbie has been amazingly patient with my total beginning skills. From the start, her lessons include an exciting blend of regularly plunging into new tunes, music history and harmonic theory, improvisation practice, and good technique that is protective of hand-health. Debbie is super well-organized and adaptable in her approach to each student’s unique circumstances and needs. She offers encouragement and moves on when the going gets tough or I can’t find the time to practice as much as I’d like. It is the pleasurable fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me to be learning jazz piano! I’m grateful to Debbie for her excellent teaching and highly recommend her to learners at any level!

Sonia Diermayer, 2017


I have been a professional musician for over 40 years, both as a drummer and composer. I have also studied a wide range of musical styles and techniques with many wonderful teachers. But, studying with Debbie is on a whole different level. A jazz musician friend recommended Debbie to me after I had frustrating experiences with shoulder and arm pain that forced me to quit playing. So, I came to her excited about her use of the Taubman method, but, boy, did I get so much more than that!

From the start, Debbie’s love of her work as a player, composer, and teacher is apparent and inspiring. Her vast knowledge of musical history forms a base for her teaching, as do her basic kindness and patience. From a technical point of view, she is more attuned to a student’s needs than any teacher I have encountered. She perceptively tailors each lesson to my development as a player and composer, enhanced by the extensive notes she keeps on each lesson. She sees exactly where I need development and how I can use my strengths to progress. She has shown me clear, new approaches to improvising that are helping me develop melodic lines in my composing. And I am loving sitting down at the piano and improvising to a wonderful array of jazz classics. I also love just listening to her play.

Finally, Debbie’s real world understanding of the Taubman piano technique has enabled me to play piano again, pain-free. She has shown me how to eliminate the bad habits causing me pain that I had accumulated over the years.
Thank you, Debbie!

Jim Helman, 2016


Debbie is a great teacher, as many have said. It’s hard to do justice to her broad knowledge and experience, her intelligence and her supportiveness. She has a knack for expressing concepts succinctly, often profoundly, and with a lot of humor. Fingering and other parts of technique are important to her, and while she doesn’t push, she always encourages students to learn more about theory.

I did video production for a living and loved one aspect in particular — setting music to images for various projects. So when I retired, I took some music classes and eventually found my way to Debbie’s piano trio class at the California Jazz Conservatory. I had no music background or professional aspirations, just a general interest in learning to play. This is the end of my third year in Debbie’s piano trio class and I’m still learning so much! For example, I remember her coaching me on my rubato intro for Night and Day. In just a few minutes, she suggested where to use a fill, distinguished fills from soloing and ran through some major 7th chord options in charting an ending.

The piano trio class setting brings all her skills to the fore — teaching, playing, arranging, composing. She works with musicians of all levels, from the most advanced to the rank beginner (don’t I know!). The focus is the ensemble, so listening and responding are key. And for the piano player, there’s the added dimension of leading the band. Debbie is great at articulating all of these larger ideas, not just the finer points of playing the piano.

Audrey Ichinose, 2016


Debbie was the teacher I needed. She has a comprehensive knowledge of both classical and jazz harmony and is able to combine the two styles in a way that is easy to understand and apply. She was able to take my existing jazz knowledge and move me to the next level with solid, foundational tools.

She is a masterful player. During lessons, she guides me through new concepts by providing easy to understand and, very musical, examples. In the past, I twisted myself into knots trying to improvise. Debbie showed me a simple, straightforward improvisational process and I was so happy with the way I sounded!

Alex Hargrave, 2016


I am a pianist with a master’s degree in performance from SF Conservatory. I concertize around the Bay Area regularly with chamber music groups and also by myself. I started studying with Debbie because I wanted to expand my horizons. Even after playing for over 30 years, I learn new ways of listening and thinking every time I have a lesson. This is true whether or not I’ve had time to prepare. Debbie is one of the freest players I’ve had the pleasure to hear — slowly I’m learning from her how to play freely, too.

Monica Chew, 2016


Debbie Poryes is not only a wonderful jazz pianist, she is a teacher extraordinaire. In the several classes I have taken at the Jazz Conservatory, I have seen how immediately she connects with individual students in a class, whatever their musical experience. She teaches complex jazz concepts in a clear and uncomplicated way. She demonstrates and gives practice strategies that can be applied immediately and that will deepen understanding as you use them.

I recently retired after teaching music for 32 years at Solano Community College. Therefore, I am well aware of the challenge of teaching different levels of musical ability and experience in the same class. I can appreciate Debbie’s skill in observing each student with incredible focus in a positive way. She notices everything and has insight into what is going on in your mind when you “get lost” or when you have technical problems. I marvel at how she can work so quickly to have each student improve and how she communicates without intimidating in any way. Her humor and warmth make for memorable and joyful learning.

These same qualities are magnified in her private teaching. For example, in order to build on what I already knew, she was able to meet me on my own terms by using classical terminology such as “passing tones, appoggiaturas, harmonic function and form” to explain jazz improvisational concepts.

Finally, Debbie’s teaching is worth a thousand books full of confusing examples and tedious exercises.

Helen Intinoli, 2015


I played drums in Debbie’s Jazz School piano trio class in 2013/2014, and it was a great experience! There are several parts to my growth that year. First, I feel like an asteroid that has settled into orbit in a new solar system as a listener. I especially enjoyed the quintet concert featuring her compositions at Piedmont Piano on May 9, 2014. I’m drawn to the inventive, modern style that she has, both in her writing and when she is interpreting standards. Second, my wife could tell you how happy I was after the few moments when I got to play with her and Noah Schenker, the bass player, in class. I can make myself feel better just by remembering that feeling. Finally, her teaching boosted my confidence – she is supportive without being saccharine. I learned a lot from suggestions she made directly to me, even if some of them caught me off guard. I also think my soloing improved by trying to apply ideas about soloing she made to the pianists. I look forward to more listening opportunities and also hope to be able to study with her again.

Jeff Pera, 2015


Not only is Debbie an extraordinarily talented jazz pianist, she is also a rare and gifted teacher. Each of her lessons is a work of art in itself, a product of years of teaching experience.

She is dialed in to where I am as a student, planning a custom made lesson every week. She keeps careful notes during the lesson, allowing her to fine tune her lesson plan for the future. At the end of each lesson, she hands me a CD record of the entire hour. This is a good thing, because she usually packs so much information into each lesson that I need to review the recording several times to catch all the details.

Somehow we manage to cover a vast terrain in an hour, including jazz harmony, chord voicings, comping, transcribing, improvisation, fingering, technique, etcetera. She shows exquisite taste in her choice of tunes for our lessons, with plenty of classic swing, bebop, hard bop, modal, and standard tunes that (somehow) always match my own tastes. They are frequently accompanied with recordings showing many interpretations of the tune from well known artists.

Her lessons are a blast and a high point in my week. I have great fun when she sits behind her keyboard to play bass behind my piano. She maintains a great deal of enthusiasm during the hour, with plenty of encouraging and useful feedback. I can say with certainty that I have progressed a great deal since I started taking lessons with Debbie, and a huge amount of credit belongs to her and her exquisite guidance.

Larry McGovern, 2013


I came to Debbie Poryes to re-invigorate my avid interest in music and the piano, instrument of the angels… and the devil, some would say. I attended Cal Berkeley in the ‘70s and graduated in the music department with all the requisite training courses in musicianship, harmony, counterpoint and analysis, and having taken a thorough tour of music history. Then my “real” life began and like many people who found that music is next to poetry as a career money maker, my time since has principally been spent making a living; but the fire never stopping burning.

In returning, I decided to seek a different perspective than was offered in music school. While the basic theoretical training was important, I wanted to learn to play by ear, to get beyond dependency upon the printed score. I recognized that I had learned to read so to speak before I could” talk”, an approach I believe is fundamentally backwards. Playing music and hearing music are so often not joined in modern music pedagogy.

Debbie brings theory and musicianship to life. For those interested in gaining an understanding of harmony and voice-leading, Debbie has designed a program to train the mind and ear. She is steeped in the jazz tradition, and walks the talk for her students not only by means of her mentoring but through an active live performance schedule. Name pretty much any tune in the jazz lexicon and she can improvise it. Debbie is a passionate practitioner and has logged thousands of hours teaching students of all levels. Dead serious about her art, she is also hip, quick witted, playful, and unabashed. Her enthusiasm is downright infectious. For those who feel the call, you will do well to find the door to Debbie’s studio.

Paul Bertolli, 2013


I first heard about Debbie from the local jazz community as THE person to go to for jazz piano lessons using the Taubman Approach. This is true, but in studying with her I have found that she is, more generally, an extraordinary teacher of jazz.

A few years of studying piano and working on computers had left me with carpal tunnel syndrome, so I had to stop playing and, eventually, have surgery on one wrist. I avoided piano lessons for a while after the surgery because my impression was that the Taubman Approach, which is supposed to prevent further injury, required one to start over completely from scratch, and I wasn’t sure I was willing to make that commitment.

Debbie proved that impression wrong. We started not with “Taubman exercises” but with jazz, and my lessons have been a wonderful integration, with some focused mainly on Taubman methods, some on learning new jazz tunes and skills, and some, mostly in response to my expressed need for understanding, on jazz theory.

Debbie has emphasized the two jazz essentials that I find most difficult: memorization and improvisation. In my experience, teachers often skate around these, maybe because they’re hard and don’t give immediate results. But Debbie’s support and enthusiasm in my struggle to master these essentials of jazz has resulted in a great deal of learning of what the music is really about.

Another thing that makes Debbie special is that she has done a great deal of thinking about the music. With a broad background of classical and international study along with jazz performance, she understands the origins of the music, and challenges some of the easy answers about how to learn to play. Studying with Debbie, you don’t just learn licks and standards; you learn to make the music your own.

Shirleen Schermerhorn, 2013


After spending most of my life playing classical piano, I decided to learn improvisational music in the Jazz style. I read books on Jazz piano but when all was said and done, I knew a lot but could play very little. Debbie has helped change that. She is not your garden-variety music teacher. I find her unique way of conveying the harmonic language of Jazz to be more conducive for good improvisation than what you see in books and on the Internet.

I’ve met plenty of good teachers in my life and also plenty of bad teachers. Debbie is one of the great teachers. She clearly takes pride in being the best at what she does. And I say this even though I’ve only seen her in person once in my life. Our lessons for over a year have been on Skype. This technology is available to anyone with a high-speed Internet connection, a computer and a webcam. You can’t play music together on Skype but there are advantages. I was able to have a lesson with Debbie on a day that she had to cancel all her “in-person” students so as not to infect them with her cold germs!

If you are considering taking lessons from a first class musician AND teacher, contact her but don’t be surprised if you end up on a wait list for a while. It will be worth the wait.

Dr. Jeffrey Drutman, 2013


I’m following Debbie’s jazz piano lessons for about 10 months now, and it has been a great experience. I have a classical background, but deep interest in developing improvisation and jazz vocabulary, and having those lessons with Debbie are always very rewarding in my learning process! I’m always amazed by the ability of Debbie to use every single minute of the lesson to go further, there is a real generosity in the sharing. I won’t talk about her knowledge and talent in jazz music, I will talk about the teaching part, the reason why I enjoy so much her lessons: she has an amazing enthusiasm, I just enjoy the lesson, willing to learn more and more, and to work always more, and waiting for my next lesson! I believe that learning music is a long process, and it is so important to be able to help a student to keep the motivation, and the will to continue, through an always so busy life! I live in Europe, so we are going through a video-conference program called Skype. You basically just need a mic and a webcam, and you are set! No problem at all in the interaction, Debbie always manages to see your fingering, to hear the chords you are using, really amazing! And the same from the other side, I never had any problem to understand what she’s showing me or playing for me. I see basically so many advantages in those sessions, with a gain of time, the possibility to have my kids around and to still have my lessons,… The only downside maybe is the impossibility to play together with the time-lag.

I usually record all the lessons, which allows me when the lesson is over to listen again to the lesson (when needed), I’m always surprised to realize that I missed some detail of the lesson! I would like to finish with another point I really enjoy with Debbie. She is so organized (opposite of me 😉 ), it feels so good to feel that she really knows where she’s going. She takes notes of the material seen during the lesson, and always (well I guess, otherwise, what a memory) prepares the lesson… that sounds maybe natural, but I don’t remember having another music teacher doing that! A very warm, kind and competent teacher, what else could I ask for?

Dr. Reza Dadkhah, 2013


I have been playing the piano since second grade and graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Jazz Piano Performance. Although I had a great experience in college, I found myself overly concerned about the pedagogy and playing within a box. Debbie has helped me break down that box and find my own voice with more creativity, energy and zest for life than I could have ever dreamt of. She is passionate, strong, true to herself and an inspiration to not only woman in jazz, but people in jazz. I never stop smiling in our lessons so it is amazing to look back and see how much I have improved – who knew it could be so fun?! She is extremely organized with lesson plans and ideas, yet completely flexible. I have come into numerous lessons with vague statements such as “I want more 70’s funk jazz instead of be-bop right now” and within minutes she has several tunes prepared to show me. Not only is she fun and inspiring as a person, but her extensive knowledge blows me away every lesson.

Leah Chisholm, 2013


Debbie’s extraordinary teaching qualities are well articulated by a number of fellow reviewers here, and I don’t want to be redundant. Over many years she has developed a highly personal and creative approach to teaching, customizing it for each individual student. I have observed this in my study with her both in a group situation (piano trio at Berkeley’s Jazz School) as well as in individual lessons. I also love hearing her play in lessons, live locally, and on recordings.

How much do you wish to plumb the depths of the art and science of playing piano—such as its physicality/mechanics; harmony/theory; approaches to improvisation; understanding how music was and is heard and appreciated throughout history and how specific artists altered its structure/sound; and the particulars of performing solo and in groups? Debbie is a Master in the classic sense and will reward you with her expertise in all these areas. Her focus is jazz, but she is well grounded in the classical world, too, which resonates with my ancient history as a student at the SF Conservatory of Music. I never retained any of my learning about theory. So to illustrate secondary functions recently in a private lesson, she played through and discussed Bach’s 1st Two-Part Invention, which I was able to later review on the lesson CD she always provides. It might not be what every student would want, but it was definitely right for me, and she knew it.

Most importantly she clearly loves what she does and imparts her enthusiasm along with the education. Echoing others here, few talented musicians are also gifted teachers. Debbie is a winner in both worlds.

Dr. Art Levit, 2013


I began my studies with Debbie after already playing classical piano for 25 years and having been a piano teacher myself for more than 10 years. (I hold two degrees in music and run a music studio in the south bay). After years of study with her, I am continually impressed by her deep knowledge of both jazz and classical music, and her ease at explaining and applying music theory, technique and musicianship.

Debbie has the rare and wonderful ability to demystify complex topics such as melody, harmony, and improvisation, and she can explain a difficult idea in 10 different ways, with unending patience and genuine humor.

She has all the qualities of a great teacher: She is a thoroughly knowledgeable and wonderfully talented musician; she is unfailingly organized and prepared; she brings boundless energy and enthusiasm to every lesson; she motivates and inspires; she is patient, thoughtful, articulate, honest, and sincere; and, most importantly, she listens!

Some lessons are filled with playing music, start to finish. Other lessons we analyze and learn from great musicians. Sometimes we even discuss how to practice effectively! Every lesson is fun and informative, filled with laughter and learning.

John Syzygy, 2012
composer, teacher, owner
Play Music Studios


After years of struggling with playing jazz, I found Debbie Poryes. Thank goodness, because she has made previously complicated concepts simple for me, employing patience and humor. Debbie is a unique teacher in that she uses her own methods (and incredibly useful worksheets that she makes herself) and years of experience to impart her vast knowledge of jazz and the piano. Debbie unveils the “truth” behind the music- the sounds, the chords, the rhythms and why they work. As a piano teacher myself, I work with Debbie to explore new concepts, fresh ways of looking at things, and to better understand how to make my music sound the way I want it to. I came to Debbie for private instruction on the Taubman approach, and she has been able to articulate these concepts to me in a way that I can really use to improve my playing. I feel fortunate to have studied under her always encouraging direction. Debbie is a fabulous “musician’s musician.”

Deborah Murray, 2012
http://sites.google.com/site/murraypianostudio


Debbie understands students’ needs as if someone gave her a memo, which she then teaches from with joy and humor. She flows with questions from left field, while keeping on track and linking it all together — I have never left a lesson feeling anything but elated to return to my piano with fresh ideas and a renewed sense of patience, awe and wonder. Through her I’ve grown more musically curious and disciplined, qualities that improve my work with my own piano students.

Kelly Anne Kreutter, 2012


I was very fortunate to have discovered Debbie Poryes on her piano website. I have found her to be an outstanding jazz piano teacher who tailors her teaching to the students’ needs and ability. After playing piano for over 40 years I find it very encouraging to be able to add new creative ideas to my playing. Debbie’s personal interest in her students’ success is very apparent as she presents gems of musical knowledge from lesson to lesson.

Milt Bowerman, 2012
Former Director of Instrumental Music – Hayward School District
Current Jazz Director Castro Valley Adult School
Professional Jazz Pianist/Teacher
Assoc. Camp Director Hayward La Honda Music Camp


I am an adult beginner, who hasn’t touched an instrument of any kind in years. Debbie’s approach had me up and running in no time. Not only has she given me an understanding of the theory behind jazz composition and arrangements, she has increased my music appreciation by an order of magnitude! After only a few months I can pick up sheet music and actually play tunes. Her encouraging manner, her preparation, and customized curriculum have me looking forward to each session with anticipation and enthusiasm. I would recommend Debbie Poryes to anyone interested in jazz piano, from beginner to virtuoso.

Tony Harris, 2012


I am so happy I found Debbie. She is a bright, bright spot in my musical life. I’m a jazz beginner, coming back to music after a decades-long lapse, bringing a load of luggage with me (fear, bad habits, hand-health problems). Somehow, even though she’s a brilliant, seasoned professional, whose knowledge will blow your mind, she knows what it’s like to be in my place. Her empathy and patience, combined with her profound understanding of how music works, not to mention her love for her art makes the word “lesson” a misnomer. It’s more like a personal seminar.

Marilyn Perry, 2012


I highly recommend Debbie Poryes as a teacher at the Jazzschool. I took her Jazz Piano II Class and it was exactly what I needed! I have a strong piano and theory background, but at the time had not had much experience with Jazz. She is an excellent teacher, full of enthusiasm for her students and a wonderful player with lots of soul. I am a professional piano teacher myself, and I was impressed with the fact that Debbie was astoundingly well-prepared every week. She presents material in a clear and concise and creative way, with hand-outs, listening material and assignments. She is very positive and encouraging, and listens carefully and critically to each student. She offers excellent technical advice as well. Her approach is inspiring, and is ultimately about fostering creativity in the individual. Lastly, she is fun and funny!

Joyce Todd McBride, 2012


I come from a musical family and have played piano for most of my life, but just had lessons for about a year in high school. I have only been having lessons with Debbie Poryes for a few months now, but they have improved my piano playing, my musicality, and my life. I am playing better, hearing music better, and enjoying music more. Debbie gives me a CD of each lesson, and the other day my wife listened to me listening to a lesson, and she commented, “You sure have a lot of fun at your piano lessons!” The lessons and the practicing are hard, but indeed they are fun. We do laugh as well as work! And every lesson has surprises, new tunes, new interesting exercises (hip voicings, neighboring note studies, new approaches to harmony, insights into music theory, study of solos and compositions by the jazz masters and more). I am learning how to handle and move my hands and fingers so much better, and by playing more relaxed I also amazingly can now play faster and more precisely. I have been learning how to improvise in more varied and interesting ways, especially in the rhythms of my improvised phrases. What I have been learning makes me want to practice more and more. I am working hard, but none of the lessons or practice feels like drudgery. I could write more, but honestly I need to go play the piano now!

John Boe, 2012


Hi Debbie,
It’s a been a while but I wanted to drop you a quick email. I’ve been living in New York for the past two years (still tutoring math), but have kept up piano, and studied with a piano player named Dave Frank. I reapplied to the Berklee College of Music, and got in this time! I start in the Fall, and my intended major is film scoring. So I just wanted to thank you for helping me start off on this path – I still listen to those recorded lessons on my Ipod every once in a while, haha. I hope I get the chance to study with you again sometime.

Wishing you continued success,

Ted Sheridan, 2011


I love my lessons with Debbie. That simple.

Without a doubt, she has completely changed the way I approach, study and play the piano. I have never been so challenged, brain crushing at times, yet so warmly supported in my development as a musician.

As a classically raised pianist my approach and confidence became limited. My progress and musical interest stalled. After studying with Debbie, I have learned methods to maintain an on-going exploration and development in the “how” of practice and the “cool” of play. The fire is back!

Practice can include: 12 key work, functional analysis of tunes, fingering and hand position work using the Taubman Approach, transcription of bass or melodic lines, lesson review from the CD Debbie cuts at every lesson, or listening to the greats of jazz; and trying to play along. There are even days when I just look at the keyboard. Yes, this is practice too. Play? Public? We are working on that.

At the beginning of each session Debbie checks in with you and makes suggestions for the hour. She listens to what you want to get out of the lesson and can change course instantly. Others have written about Debbie’s extraordinary organization and preparation of lessons, depth of musical knowledge and brilliance of performance. I too now keep a diary of my daily practice and maintain various notebooks to record what is going on in this jazz.

But I want you to hear our voices. The following is an excerpt from one of our lessons:

Debbie: “Did you bring that bass line?”
Me: “I did. And this last harmony homework was figured bass. I think I just looked at the keyboard this whole past two weeks.”
Debbie: “Totally.”
Me: “Really, I just sat and looked.”
Debbie: Warm laugh. “That’s good…. I looked!” Deeper laugh. “I love that. This week I looked!”
Me: “Really, just looking and thinking. Looking and thinking.”
Debbie: “That’s right.”
Me: “That’s what it was.”
Debbie: “Well let me tell you, that is everything.”
Me: “In bed I am still looking and thinking but in my head.”
Debbie: “Beautiful.”

Totally.
Thanks Debbie.

Francesca Saveri, 2011


Without doubt, one of the finest teachers I’ve ever encountered (and I’ve had great teachers from Julliard, Stanford, Berkeley, and Princeton), Debbie is
• inspirational
• lively
• superbly well-organized
• flexible
• thoughtful
• fearless
• imaginative
• experienced
• enthusiastic
• energetic
• confident
• FUN
• and she has a persistent sense of humor.
She will listen and respond to your musical aspirations, needs, and desires. Her lessons are packed with instruction. We worked on theory and practice, jazz and classical, analysis and technique and voice leading, voice leading, voice leading.

With very little experience in performing or improvising, I had plenty of fear in playing, which Debbie deftly overcame with directness, good humor, and encouragement.

Debbie knows “the territory” of music: composition, improvisation, jazz, classical, theory and practice. She “gets” the inner nature, meaning, and drive of music as well as music’s external relationship to history and culture. She brings lessons from a life-time completely devoted to music.

She instilled in me confidence to play, to improvise, to go slowly with music, and to enjoy it. She knew how to get me “un-stuck” when I was “stuck.” She introduced me to new musicians and taught me new ways to appreciate musicians I already loved.

Art doesn’t seem separate from life, for Debbie. It’s all one: cosmic yet accessible, a deep beauty where even the blues have their joy, in which “grammar” and “vocabulary” describe music making, each note worth attending to and reveling in, each note an opening into a deeper mystery.

Rev. John McEntyre, 2010


Debbie Poryes is a wonderful teacher, and her class was excellent in all respects. Debbie clearly knows her material very well. At many points in the class she was able to point to some of the great musicians in jazz history and explain how they approached the music. This was very helpful. She also provided some very useful handouts, and it was clear that she had spent a great deal of time thinking about what she should include.

She has a wonderfully adaptive technique that allowed her to demonstrate the different ideas she was explaining. In general, she was able to put the material she was teaching into a wider context that enabled the student to understand why it was important.

Debbie has two characteristics that are essential to a great teacher. First, she is wonderfully enthusiastic about the subject matter of jazz, and that enthusiasm becomes contagious. Secondly, she has a seemingly infinitive amount of patience with students and a willingness to work with them to
bring out their best musicianship.

I would highly recommend her as a teacher.

Bill Petrocelli, 2010


In my 73rd year I decided to do something I had never done before with the condition that it be difficult in order to exercise my advanced age brain.

Since music is a love of mine, and a universal language that met the first two criteria, I enrolled in a beginning piano class. As it turned out, the class went much faster than my brain could embrace and luckily I found Debbie Poryes.

She took me in as a total beginner, made the instruction fit my learning pace and even though it is all so new and difficult, it is fun to see the progress she helps me make month to month. She is convincing me that I will be able to play some of my favorite songs in the style that makes me smile. With her encouragement I now have a new respect for the difficulty of the art and in the bargain I now have a terrific new, brilliant teacher that constantly opens me up to new explorations in my life that will no doubt lead me to ongoing discoveries.

Thanks Debbie.

Larry Crevin, 2010


Debbie is a rare teacher of jazz piano and music in general. Despite her many gifts for piano playing, composing and arranging, her unselfish talents for teaching others might be her greatest contribution of all. Unveiling the mysterious world of jazz for her students to comprehend and appreciate, she offers you a very structured, yet individualized path to participate in that world yourself.

After studying with her for many years now, each lesson still feels fresh and new, like you’re engaged in an elusive but thrilling adventure that comes closer within reach the more you immerse yourself in it. Debbie’s constant curiosity and zen beginners mind attitude of always seeking out new tunes, ergonomic ways of playing them and providing tools and insights into putting your own musical signature on them is contagious, and makes you feel part of a life long learning process regardless of your level of proficiency as she proves to be a reliable and inspiring guide through it all.

Mark Rappaport, 2010


As soon as I took a class from Debbie at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, I learned so much in just one short quarter that I knew I wanted to study privately with her.

A uniquely gifted teacher, Debbie has a remarkable ability to take the infinitely complex art form of “Jazz” and make it accessible – even to beginning students.

Because of her vast teaching experience here and in Europe, as soon as she begins working with you, she knows exactly which approach to use and – this is important – when to vary or change it. Debbie closely observes placement of the fingers, hands and arms, teaching many ways to avoid injury and play piano comfortably.

She records each session, giving you the CD as you leave so that you can listen to it as you practice; extremely helpful.

Debbie is so very patient – able to articulate and demonstrate difficult concepts many times and in as many ways as necessary. And to top it off, she has a wonderful sense of humor! I have been studying privately with her since 2003 and always look forward to my lessons.

Susan Sarti, 2010


Debbie has a rare ability to truly keep me motivated to keep practicing and learning jazz piano, even when life gets in the way! She is one of the few teachers I have met who can explain harmonic theory in a way that is easy to understand, often resolving some of the confusion and myths that still exist in jazz theory today. As someone who always wants to know why something sounds the way it does, I really enjoy her ability to communicate and explain patiently.

Debbie’s in-depth knowledge of jazz allows her to constantly bring something new to the lessons and help me appreciate artists I had not previously known, which always keeps things fresh.

Her style of teaching is very flexible and she will naturally tailor the lessons over time to suit the interests and needs of the student. Debbie will pack a lot of information in an hour’s lesson and always leave me with plenty to work on.

Finally her sense of humor is terrific and we always have fun. At the end of the day it’s hard work practicing but Debbie makes it worthwhile.

Chris Porter, 2012


I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to study privately with Debbie. She is remarkably prepared for every lesson. She has a written lesson plan for each lesson that is based on notes from our previous lesson and on what she knows would be useful to cover given my goals, and her lengthy experience as a jazz player, student and teacher. She is present every moment to listen and give constructive and detailed feedback. She makes sure that I work on improvising with her by playing bass lines with me. Her knowledge of music theory, history and piano technique is very thorough and she always makes an effort to communicate clearly. She is generous with providing recorded examples of the various pieces and artists that I have studied with her. She records each lesson so I take home a CD of the lesson to review. She has set up a microphone and amplifier so that she could help me to work on singing, comping techniques and balancing the sound of the piano and my voice. She is a great singer herself and has experience and expertise in singing, therefore, it is a uniquely great experience for me to work with her.

Most importantly, it is her sincere interest in teaching that makes all of the effort that Debbie puts into her teaching resonate with me.

Sue Jewell, 2010


Debbie is a great player, performer, teacher, supporter, and friend. I leave every lesson feeling inspired and changed, having walked through musical doors I hadn’t even known were there. Debbie is unfailingly generous with her knowledge, enthusiasm, playing suggestions, and teaching tips. She’s got the knack for making things readily understandable, whether it’s fingering drop-2 voicings, using everything from harmonic analysis to simple 5-finger positions to start improvising on a tune, or explaining why jazz piano players should transcribe solos by Miles.

Debbie is both flexible and professional in “meeting me” right where I am, whether I need to loosen up my eighth notes, prep for a gig, beef up my repertoire, or indulge in a “theory geek” lesson. Her suggestions are always focused, supportive, and practical; I’ve filled several binders with the notes I’ve taken from my lesson CDs. I’m a better educated and more well-rounded musician, a physically healthier player, and a better teacher because of Debbie. As a fellow female long-time performer and piano/keyboards instructor, I’m also grateful for the opportunity to “talk shop” with Debbie about the local music scene, teaching and performing experiences, what it’s like to be a woman in a predominantly male field, etc. We’re all lucky to have her immense teaching and performing talents here in the Bay Area.

Jennifer Jolly, 2007


Debbie is a phenomenal teacher of jazz piano, with a rare combination of talents and skills: (1) She’s an awesome player! (2) She knows her harmonic theory—a bit of a rarity among jazz musicians, in my experience—and she can clearly explain the applications to jazz. (3) She’s fun, supportive, incredibly patient, and with an enormous repertoire of things for a student of any level to work on to make steady progress. As a big bonus, she’s concerned about helping her students avoid or recover from common pianist injuries.

Finally, she’s just genuinely nice and a pleasure to work with—a real gem!

Bruce Birkett, 2007


I have been studying piano with Debbie Poryes for the past 17 years. Prior to that, I had taken lessons as a child from an old fashioned teacher who had me holding my hands and moving my fingers in all of the incorrect ways possible. Debbie has guided me towards perfecting my touch and using my hands and arms correctly. My lessons are always exciting and fun, no matter how unprepared or tired I am. Debbie also taught my son for several years. He had prior piano experience and a good deal of knowledge, but Debbie refined his playing so much, it is a joy to hear and watch him play.

Speaking of playing, whenever I get the chance to hear Debbie, I do. I really enjoy listening to her, watching her hands move up and down the keys in such a smooth motion. I think I share with her many of the same preferences for past and present pianists. Some I had known of and had been listening to, others Debbie introduced me to over all the years. She has a vast wealth of information for all things musical.

Rondi Hoffner, 2007


Debbie Poryes has an uncanny ability to zero in on your particular level of playing, and at a pace both comfortable and challenging take you to a higher and more satisfying level. She generously shares her many insights learned from decades of playing and teaching piano and emphasizes, among other things, the intellectual process inherent in jazz. Her teaching has changed my entire piano experience.

My lessons with Debbie explore harmony, voice leading, rhythm, improvisation, physical technique and composition — all while building a repertoire that includes wonderful jazz tunes such as “Solar” by Miles Davis, “Melody for C” by Sonny Clark and “Peace” by Horace Silver. Prior to my jazz piano lessons with Debbie, my playing was straight off the sheet music and my ability to interpret a song was limited. With Debbie’s teaching, I can now bring a greater “musical vocabulary” to each song and play more creatively and expressively. Even more important, I have a deeper understanding and enjoy myself more at the piano.

Ann Wassum, 2007


On subjects ranging from sports to music it is often said, ”Great performers, lousy teachers; Great teachers, lousy performers.” No one who has both studied with Debbie and heard her in live performance subscribes to that view.

Members of her class at the Berkeley Jazzschool and private students are inspired with patient, energetic and extraordinarily well organized instruction. One sometimes finds her at the drums providing a rhythm section or gracing the piano with her take on the music. Teaching for her is a passion.

Her audiences are treated to elegant musicianship — tasteful, lush and swinging performances — never excessive, showy displays.

For those of us who have been privileged to experience her gifts in both idioms she is a virtual treasure.

Howard Weiser, 2007

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