Recently I did a concert at a private residence my friend so graciously hosted. I had never done a concert like this before. I actually really loved it: an intimate setting for a closer connection between the performers and the audience.
I played some classic pieces such as Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Piano Sonata and Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, as well as a couple compositions of mine. I also played a couple chamber pieces with my friends, including Brahms’ and Dvorak’s piano quintets. I had a few of my piano students perform too. It was a lot of fun.
After I finished the concert, I had a reception in which I got to interact with my audience and friends. I felt pretty good about how I played in general. There is always room for improvement. But this time I tried not to focus on that.
I recorded the whole concert (video and audio). Usually I don’t really want to watch or hear how I played after the concert. I would just leave the recordings there until I gather up the courage to look/listen to them. But this time I might watch it soon to see what I did good and what didn’t work.
I find, as most of us musicians and piano students do, that we focus on how bad we did, or how we could have done better. “I could have played that phrase more clearly”, “I could have controlled the left hand line better”, “I could have made less mistakes” etc. Often we forgot to think about what we did right: “I played it with good control”, “I did great dynamic contrast there”, “I have improved so much!”.
I am not saying we should not improve ourselves, not at all. But we need to shift our focus to what we have done right more. It’s the good part that keeps us move forward, knowing that we did something good, so that we can continue on our journey to play more and do better next time.
If we keep beating ourselves up, we would feel frustrated. “I’m not good enough”, “I would never do better than this”, “this is a waste of time”, “I don’t have talent/what it takes to succeed”, or simply, “I’m not good at the piano!”.
Focus on what you’ve been doing good so far. See what you’ve done to do those right things, and how you can apply that to the not so right things. Focus on the accomplishment. Then comes the improvement. There is always room to be better next time, whether it be in a piano lesson, piano exam or piano performance.
Do the best you can, and move on to the next (lesson/exam/performance).
Of course, you can always consult someone on where you are at and how you can improve.
Now would you excuse me, but I am going to do some brainstorming on the next project.
Today I had a rehearsal for my upcoming concert. After the first run for one of the concert pieces, a member in our group jokingly said to me, “are we good enough to play in the concert?” I was a little startled by her comment.
After I got home from the rehearsal, I thought about what she said. I remember long time ago when I was still studying, I realized one thing, and I believe it was one of the most important ideas I needed to play better. And the idea is,
“Music before me.”
If I am to explain it, I would say, “I have to put away my ego to better the music I make at the piano.”
The “me” is not important when I am playing music. Not in the way we usually think.
Of course there is self expression when we play music. But, when we focus on ourselves, we worry how well or how bad we play, and then how great or how embarrassed we feel accordingly.
Instead we need to focus on how to make the music better. So we do all these things (learn the music, practice, go deeper, and repeat the cycle) and hope we are worthy of the music.
We, when we play the music, are the servant. We are the tool. We, are not important in the music. The music itself it.
So when we play bad, it’s not us that are bad. The music is bad now. We should feel bad about playing the music badly, but not feel bad about ourselves.
When we play well, the music is great. It’s not us that are great. We should feel great about the music, that we have done the music justice.
Taking away ourselves, our ego, is a huge step towards making great music.
I almost forgot about it. I was experiencing it again lately but I was grateful that my friend reminded me today.
This would make me a better musician, to make better music.
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If you are between 18 and 100 and are looking into taking piano lessons as an absolute beginner, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve made the first step to starting this wonderful musical journey with a magical and (literally) majestic instrument.
I am certainly biased here, being a classically trained pianist for so many years. I basically live, breathe and sleep with piano/music in my head 24/7. I love playing, teaching and writing about it/them.
I have to admit though, it was not love at the first sight, and I was no child prodigy. I just went through the early period of my “piano life” because I was told to like every other obedient child. My brothers played piano and I also played it, with it being part of our education curriculum.
All those early years I spent at the piano with a few piano teachers were not all that enjoyable or educational really – no offense, but I believe most of them didn’t know what they were doing. I have perfect pitch (which can be a blessing and a curse), and my teachers didn’t even know or take advantage of that to teach me. They just went through the books (“play louder, play correct, play faster, and then some more!”) and thought they did their jobs, one of them occasionally comparing me to my brother (who was doing much better than I back then) and implying that I was a disappointment to her as my piano exam grades were not as good.
Long story short, I thought I was not good at piano. In fact, quite the contrary, and not until I met my first real Teacher, that I realized I loved playing the piano and I was actually quite good at it.
She opened my eyes, ears and mind to this whole new magical world of music. I mean, I never thought playing the piano was that fun and literally, colorful! (She made me draw a picture about the piece I was playing, and even though I was super bad at drawing and she teased me about it, it was an amazing experience to know that music had image and story and color and so much more…)
And I was 13.
Piano has taken me to many places, met many people and experienced many things I would have otherwise never had. I went to Europe for music festival before 18, spent a summer playing music in ancient castles and opera houses in Italy and sang in the Vatican Church. I got invited to France and all the amazing countries to perform in concerts. I also wrote books on piano, started a piano school and a charity organization, and did a lot of interesting fun concerts all these years.
I am writing about my experiences to show how grateful I feel to have all these opportunities, just because I play the piano.
I guess what I am saying is, I have a lot of passion for piano, not just playing it, but promoting it, writing about it, and teaching it. I spent a lot of waking (and sleepy) hours thinking about how to help students play better. I wrote articles and make videos sharing for free about how others can play and teach better. I do all these only because I love it.
So whenever someone new – whether they be 3 or 93 – is coming to take piano lessons with me, I am always feel with anticipation and excitement, thinking, “great, another opportunity to share my passion with a new student!”. And when they feel frustrated with how it goes at the beginning, I always remind them, “it’s just a start, don’t worry, it’s okay to not know how and make mistake, because that’s how we learn!”.
All these years in my piano teaching career, I have so many adult students, including those who start from scratch as an absolute beginner, advanced players and piano teachers. Those who are “successful” in learning how to play – meaning they have good progress and enjoy their playing and learning – are always the ones who love the challenges, who put effort into learning and practice, and who are not afraid to make mistakes and keep going.
I know I have been long winded in this post, but what I want to really say to you is, if you still are thinking about whether you should start playing the piano or not, I say “go for it”. There’s nothing to lose but time wasted in pondering upon what could happen if you’ve tried your hands at the piano – and hey, if you’ve tried it and found out you don’t like it, great, no need to pursue it. Move on to the next project!
Let’s make some music together!