Sunday, January 17, 2016

As so many self-teachers, I have several piano courses.  Out of these, only two have stated what I have come to as a conclusion myself, considering my musical goals.  Before I can skillfully and musically move about the keyboard, I need to develop full command of scales, chords in all their inversions, and arpeggios, each all across the keyboard (typically, 4 octaves).  I have been working at this for some time now, quite successfully.  Once I made the decision to knuckle down and do this, my own sense of direction and musical goals have been greatly clarified.

This, then has been the centerpiece of my daily practice, a little bit at a time.  Each day, a new scale, while reviewing what I have already learned with the intent of making these become automatic.  After the scales, the same for the triads and 4 note chords (7th and major 7th), and associated arpeggios.  This course of practice takes months, possibly more than a year even though I am currently spending approximately two hours a day on it.  I am seeing consistent progress, which keeps me motivated to continue.  I am now seeing my hands performing the very moves I need to be able to make in order to play the kinds of music I want to play.

Unfortunately, for most of us, being the human creatures we are, this type of practice can be a difficult pill to swallow, for the very same reason that so many self-study courses promise we won't need to do this sort of practice.  It takes daily work and long term commitment, something the short term attention spans we have today don't take kindly to.  Practicing in this manner tends to become an almost meditative practice that is really quite relaxing.  If, when you sit down to practice, you make an agreement with yourself that this is YOUR time, and nobody and nothing gets to intrude, it becomes a special time you set aside for yourself as a quiet oasis in the day.  This attitude really does work, and so does the practice itself.

I set aside time every day to do this practice, and then I can do whatever else I want.  Michele McLaughlin, on her web site, said that she learned to play by learning BY EAR, all of the music on George Winston's albums.  She makes, in that statement, a very clear description of what worked for her.  Seeing Winston up close in a live concert when she was growing up, lit a fire in her belly, that became the motivation for her to become a professional pianist herself. She certainly put in the work, as she describes playing one small piece of music on the CD over and over until finally being able to play those few notes before moving on to the next short section.  One very short piece of the music at a time, one tune at a time, one CD at a time, she learned all that music and built her ear skills, as well as her keyboard skills AND the vocabulary she needed to express her own music.

My goal and path is similar to hers, though I am not as motivated to learn George Winston's music (well, not all of it anyway).  Instead, I am learning the music of Michele McLaughlin and that of David Nevue.  David Lanz has one CD in particular that I am motivated to likewise learn, and that is "Return To The Heart".  Today, we are able to slow down this music without changing pitch, and looping very small sections of the music, either on a computer via the appropriate software (typically Audacity or Transcribe!) or on CD players specially made for this purpose.

My piano journey has become very focused on doing what I need to do to play the kinds of music I ultimately want to play, rather than learning to do something else, and then very eventually hoping to make the jump to the music that motivates me to play in the first place.  This journey has evolved into a combination of building the foundational skills and learning by ear, the vocabulary of the music that speaks to me.

An important lesson I have learned along the way is that we each have our own individual musical goals and learning styles.  What works for me may not necessarily work for you, though most likely thee will be some ideas from my experiences and observations that you can glean something usable from.  We each have to dig deep inside ourselves to find what motivates us, what our true musical passion is, and what we need to accomplish to be able to express this music.  Especially if we are self-teaching, we need to build a practice that aims directly at our musical goals, while being flexible about trying different ideas and discarding what doesn't work for us and what does.  It is a process of constantly making adjustments to stay on course.

The courses I have talked about in these posts and have abandoned temporarily or otherwise are not bad courses by any means.  They are simply not what I have determined I need at this point in my journey.  Since I know what is in them and how they teach, I can refer back to parts of them as I need.  If anything, all the various piano courses I have acquired have become like a set of encyclopedias for me.  Every course focuses on something different, and emphasizes different aspects of the learning process.  One course instructor may be much better at explaining something I need to learn than another, or contain information I need that the other courses don't.  In short, all of the courses I have acquired have value somewhere in my musical journey.  In particular, I learned a lot from the Sudnow method about setting priorities, motivation, how to practice, attitudes toward my practice, and many things that continue to serve me well.  When I come back around to cocktail piano, which I definitely intend to do, I will be revisiting this course.  We never stop learning, so that when our current musical goals have been achieved, we continue on to still more new areas to learn.  Having multiple course to cover all this is not at all a bad thing.  What we don't want to do is become sidetracked by another course when the current course of study becomes difficult.

What I have stated in this post is where I am now and what I am currently doing, and not what you should be doing or wanting to do (though the general concepts are rather universal for learning an instrument).  As I achieve one musical goal, I will be moving on to another.  There is an endless variety of musical areas to explore, and that is why music is such a wonderful lifetime avocation.

I believe that gaining facility moving around the keyboard is essential, but how you choose to acquire this skill and how much of it you need is really up to you and your goals.  My hope for you is that reading these posts will give you some insight into the journey I have been, and am, taking to achieve my own goals.  Hopefully, these posts will get you to think in possibly a less traditional manner about learning to play the piano, and being more open to exploring the many possibilities and paths that exist today.