“You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.” Dr. Seuss
Piano instruction matters, but the real progress is made in daily practice. The goal of the teacher is to help students know how to practice effectively – how to work and what to focus on.
Effective piano practice is meditation. We aim to bring attention to the essence or character of piece and the quality of tone so that we can become a channel for the music. This requires clarity, focus and deep listening. Of course, you can play in a less mindful way – but why would you?
Wikipedia tells us
Meditation is a practice of mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.
If you don’t play piano, you probably imagine piano practice as piano playing. This can the the case, but most often it’s not. Instead, it’s more like studying ballet. A dancer spends many hours “at the barre” coupled with time “on the floor,” working always towards something that’s a bit out of reach – but always in sight – and always artistic. Ballerinas don’t just dance around on the stage in preparation for performances! Neither do ice skaters or other athletes. It’s the same with piano. We don’t just play around at the piano in the hopes of getting better someday. Playing piano requires discipline, commitment and a plan.
At the lesson, we learn how to structure our daily practice, what to listen for, how to release tension, helpful tips for execution, etc. The lessons provide a map for the student’s daily journey. The daily practice can be incredibly enjoyable, sometimes humorous, gratifying, fortifying, sometimes frustratingly challenging or even a little lonely. In other words, it can be a lot like life itself.
Of course we must have accuracy in notes and timing, but just as importantly, we must strive towards a quality of sound that is music. This requires a complete “letting go” of tension. Any tension negatively affects sound quality and can lead to injury. The two go hand in hand – the letting go of what doesn’t serve us and the building up of those things that enable us.
“I’m afraid sometimes you’ll play lonely games, too.
Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you.
All alone, whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.” Dr. Seuss
At the piano we can learn not to “play against” ourselves! We can observe ourselves and our natural tendencies, discover where our resistance lies, learn to be kinder and more patient with ourselves. In the process, we’ll free ourselves to become “real” pianists.
Some last thoughts from Dr. Seuss:
“And, will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 ¾ percent, guaranteed.)
Kid, you’ll move mountains. Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…. get on your way!”