Perfection and Intelligence


I appreciate and admire your endeavors to perfect your playing and the pieces you are working on. But I would like to remind you that, drilling mindlessly without thinking about HOW to fix the problem is a futile act. And a lot of the times, it’s not even how you play it, rather, how you THINK about it.

Playing the piano, to the laymen, might be a sheer act of technicality and showmanship. It’s for them how fast a pianist can move his/her fingers across the keyboard and how big a sound s/he can make out of the instrument. Certainly, we all understand it’s very far from the truth. (And yes, please ignore them when they make silly comments about how much time, effort and money you are “wasting” on your practice/lessons.)

To be able to play well, we need a positive set of mind. We need to be absolutely focused, on what we are doing right, and have the mentality to persist through ups and downs, rights and wrongs. We need a huge amount of patience, because there are a lot of the times that we keep practicing and we just don’t see the results that we want. That’s where the positivity kicks in and keeps us going, knowing we will finally get there, as long as we set our minds in the process to see it through to the goals we want to achieve.

But, on top of that, we need to use our BRAIN. Our INTELLECT. To think, to criticize, to measure, to analyze. We need to understand what our problems are when we get stuck. Three Ws I want you to always ask yourselves: What? Why? How?

“What went wrong? Why did that happen? How can I fix it?”

Yes, I have “heard” you all thinking, or even telling me, “Wow, this is so difficult! I’ve never thought playing the piano is so complicated!” I am not trying to make it difficult for you, in fact, learning to play an instrument/understanding a subject to a certain level of achievement is an extremely complicated and time-consuming (even brain-cell-consuming) task. Therefore I strongly encourage those who are not in for this not to try picking up an instrument unless they are ready for this. It’s always easy to feel instant joy and fun at the initial stage of learning to play the piano. But it’s what comes next that’s hard. People can tell me, “but I want fun”. Sure you do, we all do. The point is, nothing is that fun until you reach a certain level of understanding and mastering that subject, and here is playing the piano. Understanding in various aspects of how it is done, and venture into all the technical, structural, musical, historical, artistical, sensual, and even philosophical areas of it. And the basic thing is, if you can’t even articulate a scale well with clear attack, brilliant sound and even rhythm in Presto, I don’t see how much fun you would be getting. And when you don’t understand what the harmonic language is about in the piece that you are playing, it’s just the same kind of experience when you are reciting a passage in a foreign language you absolutely have no understanding of. Think Russian, or Arabic, or some language you have the faintest idea of how it works/means at all, only you like the sound of how you recite it. Do you think that’s crazy? It’s just as crazy as how you play a piece without understanding the content of it!

Okay, back to the real issue here, Students. The two-against-three, is it that hard really? Don’t stick with only one method to fix it. I have given you many solutions. Sing it, clap it on your lap, sing RH and clap LH, sing RH and play LH, do them the other way around, and vice versa. Be creative with your practice, and have fun with it.

Being serious is a good thing, and I do appreciate that in you treating piano playing that seriously. However, being serious and getting so tense about it usually brings an adverse effect on helping you to solving the problem. Relax your body. Exhale. (When I ask you to inhale, some of you are holding your breath. So try exhale instead, as by then you must inhale.) Relax your shoulders and upper arms. Can you feel you are squeezing your upper body in when you are nervous or when dramatic moments in the music come in? Sit tall and expand your chest. Sit back and look at the problem, THINK, then TRY. Don’t expect you can fix it in one go. You won’t. Maybe you get lucky sometimes, but that’s harder than winning the mark six.

Be SMART with your practice. You need a lot of that. And you all got it, only you haven’t even started to use a tenth of it.

Playing the piano skillfully, beautifully and tastefully with knowledge, imagination and creativity is for the intellects only. Are you one of them?

I hope you are. In fact, I know you are. Because you are my Students.

Your Teacher,

Teresa Wong

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