The Michigan Music Retreat

Learn how to teach yourself

The Michigan Music Retreat is open to everyone, musician or not. The course emphasizes listening to various styles of music and identifying what characterizes them, plus learning about the history of how these styles developed. We go back to the beginnings of western music and study the harmonies of which this music is based on, from Beethoven to early American “mountain music,” and to the ragtime of Scott Joplin. 

This eye-opening course appeals to music-lovers of all abilities, from appreciators to beginners to professionals.

Retreat Dates: Sept. 16 - 19,  2024: Monday - Thursday

The Michigan Music Retreat will be held in Acorn Lodge, near Lapeer, Michigan. 

There will be an informal gathering at Acorn Lodge on Sunday evening, Sept. 15.  

Classes begin Monday morning at 8:30

At the Retreat we come together to learn how to play by ear in  lessons and classes by Bob Milne and by sharing with one another. Included is music history which is helpful for understanding the many styles of music. We will be studying ragtime, boogie-woogie, classical, folk styles, blues, plus others as their topics may come up in class discussions. 

"We all learn from each other."   R. Milne

If you are interested in more information or just have questions....

Former Students Write In...

Adam Swanson.

“Bob Milne is the most practical piano teacher who will teach you to truly understand the music, not just play it! Bob taught me useful techniques like the circle of fifths, which I have now been using as a pianist for twenty years!”


Adam Swanson is the only FOUR-TIME World Champion Old-Time Piano Player! Adam has performed around the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Hungary, Switzerland, Australia, and more…

Former Students Write In...

Eric Shore

Attending this retreat 12 years ago changed my musical life. I had a mental block, and felt that I didn't have the ability to play by ear. Bob showed me a few simple principles in a lesson, and by the end of the night, I was learning tunes in my head at the dinner table, then immediately getting up and playing them without the need for sheet music or practice. I've never looked back. I can't recommend Bob's retreat highly enough.


Eric Shore performing at the prestigious Frankenmuth Ragtime Festival, Frankenmuth, Michigan, in 2017. 

Former Students Write In...

Carol Dandurand

Former Students Write In...

A letter from Carol Dandurand

"The first thing Bob told me about playing by ear is that "You have to get your brain into your fingers." I understood exactly what he meant - but had no idea how to do that. Then Bob proceeded to tell and show me how to achieve that goal. After the first lesson, I was able to start playing "by ear"! It was one of the biggest thrills of my life!

Learning Chords Starts Here: "Reading the Keyboard." 

Bob does Q & A. Your questions are the secret of teaching and learning. 

Learn what this is and you're on your way to understanding music. Confused? It's a major chord. Reading the keyboard opens up an entirely new concept of understanding music.  

Students gather around during the morning class session as Bob demonstrates how to play without moving your hands. 

The afternoon "private lessons" aren't really private unless you want it to be. Other students like to sit in a learn as well. If, however, you want your lesson to be private, Bob plays the royal flush and tells them to take a hike for the next 40 minutes. 

This young man has attended the Retreat for about five years now. Although he's still in high school he's beginning to sound like a professional. 

Bob uses a large TV screen to project many photos to further explain his lessons. 

The melodic beauty of Stephen Foster's music is considered to be equal to any melody from the classical era. The students learn secrets of what makes it beautiful.  

Bob points to the screen to direct the students' eyes to a fine point. 

Note the gentleman sitting to the side. He doesn't play any instrument, but travels 500 miles to attend the Retreat every year.

Meet Your Teacher...

Bob teaches from a lifetime of experience, not book learning.  He learned ragtime history from the top historians, like Trebor Tichenor, Dave Jasen, Bob Ault, and more during his years of performing at the St. Louis Ragtime Festivals. Bob also grew up with Mike Montgomery, one of the top ragtime historians ever. Mike & Bob played in many of the same places during Bob's "saloon years" (as he calls it).   

Bob spent many a long night at the Toronto Ragtime Bashes with Eubie Blake, one of the actual ragtime pioneers from the 1900s. (Eubie lived to be 96). This wisdom, learned first-hand from a major player in the development of ragtime, needs to be told to others and preserved. Bob passes it on to all his students.

Bob also calls upon his classical music era when he was a French horn player in two major symphony orchestras during his college days. (He was actually in a professional orchestra while still in high school at the 10th grade). Bob relates stories from musicians such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and many more, on their playing styles and how they approached music. All of this is designed to make the student, young or old, better prepared to understand the basics of music and beyond. 

Most of our Retreaters come from Michigan and the Midwest. However, some of our regulars plan their vacations around our annual event. This map shows the locations where some of our out-of-state travelers. From the top of Michigan's upper peninsula to the southernmost reaches of Florida and beyond, some return every year. 

In the words of the Greats...

Hubert "Eubie" Blake

"It's not the same as it use to be. Anyone can learn the notes, and that's how they play today. They play the notes - but that's not ragtime. Ragtime is syncopation and improvisation and accents. We all played our own style, but if you could have heard those old fellas play, you would have heard ad lib and those accents. Though seldom written into the music, they're very important, but you just don't hear them anymore.”

Eubie Blake

“If someone had to read the music to learn it then he’d do it. But after he had it in his fingers we’d all play it our own way.


To Bob Milne, circa 1979

Vladimir Horowitz

I must tell you I take terrible risks. Because my playing is very clear, when I make a mistake you hear it. If you want me to play only the notes without any specific dynamics, I will never make one mistake. Never be afraid to dare.

Vladimir Horowitz

It's better to make your own mistakes than to copy someone else's.

Cherished memories from Eubie Blake

Eubie used to sit with us younger guys long into the night so he could talk about the old days in ragtime. There were many 4:00 in the mornings with us in those days. 

These treasured cards were given to Bob during his friendship years with Eubie Blake. 

Many of the stories we learned

Amelia & Patricia Lamb at the Toronto Ragtime Bash, 1977. 

Amelia Lamb, center: daughter Patricia Lamb, right. An unidentified person on the left holds a Ragtime Treasures music book. It's a collection of 13 piano rags by Joseph Lamb.

 This picture from October, 1977. 

Bob met Amelia & Patricia Lamb at the 1974 Toronto Ragtime Bash. Amelia was the wife of the great ragtime composer Joseph Lamb. Patricia was their daughter.  

Bob would always spend time with Amelia and Patricia during the festival days. He learned stories of how her husband played and composed. Bob always featured several Joseph Lamb pieces for Amelia & Pat during during his performances.

Joseph Lamb was a businessman, not a piano player, yet he wrote some of the most soaring melodies in all of ragtime. He is considered one of the "Big Three Composers," along with Scott Joplin and James Scott.  

Bob learned ragtime history from the masters

Trebor Tichenor

Mike Montgomery

Dave Jasen

Bob Ault

The Goldenrod Showboat, built in 1909, was a fixture on the Mississippi River for 60 years. The St. Louis Ragtime Festival was held here for many years in the 1970s - 1980s. 

Bob spent many an hour hearing and learning from the likes of Turk Murphy's and his Dixieland Band, The Salty Dogs, Pat Yankee (ragtime/Dixieland singer), and all the music historians who flocked to the place. 

Places like this were the motherlode of ragtime history. 


Extracurricular Activities

Mornings start off with coffee & donuts. Cider too when in season. 

The class often goes out to dinner together. Someone is playing bass clarinet in the background. If you play an instrument, bring it. 

Sometimes we have our own dinners outside weather permitting. 

Often the class fixes their own meals inside. Acorn Lodge actually has chefs on call in case we decide to go big time. 

Leisurely dinners literally become round table discussions of music. If someone didn't understand something, the others all pitch in to help. We all learn from each other. 

The final dinner always features hot fudge cream puffs. Yes, there are refills. Don't be shy. 

More on Bob

Bob conducted a master class for piano students at the Eastman School of Music

Later that evening he performed a concert for many of the best classical pianists in the world. 

Bob received standing ovations throughout the performance. 

Interlochen Center for the Arts, Northern Michigan

Bob teaches at Interlochen Center for the Arts

Bob explains and demonstrates his playing style to Interlochen piano teachers and students. 

And he remembers his days as 1st horn in the Interlochen orchestra many years ago. 

Florida Atlantic University

Bob taught adult continuing education at Florida Atlantic University for 20 years. 

His classes were among the top choices from all the curriculums. 

Bob answers questions at any time during a class. 

"Questions are the root of learning. If you don't ask you may never know. Therefore I welcome questions."

James P. Johnson

James P. was a legendary player of the 1910s - 30s. His playing ability was unmatched by anyone.

“When Jimmy walked into the room (after hours parties) all them cats jumped off the piano. Nobody could touch him. Nobody. And then he’d just sit there and play the hell out of it until the sun was coming up…  

 Eubie Blake to Bob Milne, circa 1979


"I played rags very accurately and brilliantly, running chromatic octaves and glissandos up and down with both hands. I did double glissandos in sixths, and double tremolos. These would run other ticklers out of the place." 


James P. Johnson. 1894-1955

We look forward to seeing you at the Michigan Music Retreat! Thanks for reading!

If you are interested in more information or just have questions....