14 Dec How To Prevent Learning The Piano From Becoming Work
When I was learning the piano, here is what I would tell my 24-year-old self to keep it from becoming work. I sometimes find it interesting to play the “if I knew then what I know now” game … So, here it goes with a couple things on that list! (and no, you don’t have to do flips to keep it fun! I don’t think these old hips could take it anyway.)
When I was learning to play piano, here is what I would tell my 24-year-old self to keep it from becoming work.
Looking back on my life’s piano playing history, I sometimes find it interesting to play the “if I knew then what I know now” game … So, here it goes with a couple things on that list!
I’m so glad I always considered myself a “capital D” Drummer first, who happened to play a little piano on the side.
For those of you who may not know my musical history, I was (and I’m sure could be again if I ever picked up some sticks and physically got my chops back together …) a pretty serious and gung-ho jazz drummer from the time I was a little kid. I had a pretty prodigious and successful young career as a drummer/percussionist up through my college years at IU. I really got a lot of time in practicing privately and playing publicly. I honestly felt like I was pretty damn good at something I had spent the majority of my life up to that point working on. So, what does that have to do with piano?
Looking back I was never under any pressure, nor was I nervous or sensitive about how well I played piano. It was just something I did “on the side” and had fun with … Drums—that was the hard work, woodshedding, and the serious stuff I stressed about for career reasons that I hung my entire personal identity hat on. (You ever see the movie Whiplash?) Piano on the other hand? It was just for fun …
For that reason, I never had that cloud hanging over my head feeling like I should be “paying my dues” and feeling guilty for just learning exactly what I wanted to learn without spending years on the “right way” to play (whatever that is …).
Now looking back, even though (physically) I am FAR from being a great piano player from a performance standpoint, I am SO happy that things played out the way they did. Why? Because I have never once in the 30+ years I have been sitting down at a piano ever found it unenjoyable. It NEVER becomes work. Ever … Even when I spend time really grinding on something I may be having technical issues with (which yes, still happens all the time!) it is just a fun challenge for me because I never work on things I am not excited about learning to play.
I am 100% comfortable in my piano playing “skin” knowing I am usually the worst player in the room when I’m around a bunch of good piano playing buddies (which used to happen quite often when we were shooting The Piano Guy series regularly). I know exactly why it is that I play piano. To have fun! I have no competitive piano playing bones in my body and am supremely confident and proud in my role as someone who can teach others to try and get to that same state of happiness found when doing something as innately human and emotional as creating music.
“Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali
I think if i had ever felt the pressure early on to need to play piano to prove something as opposed to wanting to play piano to have fun tackling something new I was dying to play, I would never have developed the love affair I have with just sitting down to play—for me.
Learning things on a piano based on living vicariously imitating a piano player you admire is not only fine— but highly motivating too!
Having the benefit of hindsight (and a total lack of embarrassment at this point in my life), I don’t think I ever would have really started to tackle some of the tougher things I learned early on if I hadn’t wanted SO much to “be as cool as” or “sound like” or “be able to play and sing like” some of my favorite piano playing idols back then.
Being a realist, even though hard core jazzers like Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans were (and still are) giants to me, I knew that their playing at that point was so far off in the distance from my current ability I couldn’t even begin to emulate them. BUT, there were plenty of other piano players who were big pop/rock stars playing sold out concerts with hit records that I loved and idolized as well. Nothing was stopping me from learning their tunes, and while doing so, secretly imagining myself up on a stage in a sold out arena show playing and singing my heart out. Ha!
My point is, being able to dream a little and visualize myself playing on a tune I could really “step into” mentally was hugely motivating for me. It made me passionately want to “become” the player on the record and learn all the nuances. It was light years more exciting than trying to memorize some piece of sheet music verbatim (and even then not sounding like I wanted it to sound.) It was also when I really internalized the reality of the whole concept that almost never does the corny written arrangement of a piece of sheet music correlate with what the artist was actually playing live (usually while accompanying themselves.)
I think that learning tune after tune by really imitating my favorite recordings gave me the “oomph” I needed to really dive headfirst into learning to play more “by ear,” not that I even considered it consciously when I was doing it. I never formally embarked on “learning to play by ear.” I just had the desire to imagine myself being the one on stage playing the hit tune and sounding just like the pro did while playing it. Really listening to a recording over and over and figuring stuff out simply by trial and error is something I would imagine almost impossible if you didn’t have the burning motivation to want to play it yourself.
That motivation manifested itself into my learning a bunch of tunes that are big hits and that other folks love to hear me play. That in turn, made me want to learn more, and the snowball started getting bigger and bigger. The end result is that by the time I had learned 15-20 tunes, I realized it was getting easier and easier to do with every new tune, and that without any real intention, I had gotten to a point where I could learn things by ear pretty well. It was kind of like magic!
So I guess the insight to be gleaned from these two quick peeks into my back story is that nothing bad (and a lot of good!) comes from not letting piano playing turn into “work,” and, to understand that your motivation doesn’t necessarily always need to come from a dogged work ethic, but instead can flow freely due to the fun of really wanting to learn something you’d love to play.
“Nobody looks stupid when they’re having fun.” – Amy Poehler
Now go get in a little “seat time” at your piano or keyboard and have some fun!