Right Back to Basics (1/2)

and then some...

No matter your piano experience, this article has been written with the absolute goal and intention of smashing down your already established walls of perceived knowledge and understanding of pianism and to rebuild it one brick at a time.

What will surprise you most of all is how fewer bricks your wall will have upon completion; should you be of significantly little experience, you will nonetheless be surprised by how few bricks are required, despite what you may have imagined until this point.

This article goes hand in hand with this video on my YouTube channel



In writing this text, I am considering every reader as an equal, no matter experience.  You see, piano philosophy can only truly be understood with an open mind where the ego does not exist; experience, repertoire size, finger speed, etc., must all be cast aside so that an understanding of the content presented can be understood from a mental state of clarity and purity but without a superior or inferior sense of entitlement due to such experience.  Thus, read as if you know nothing, read as if you have not touched a piano before and the full benefit of this article shall be better acquired.

First of all, I am obliged to suggest a few concepts which must be understood before you allow your mind to wander over to the piano keys.

A piano is merely a pile of wood and metal with strings in it.  It has absolutely no value, purpose or need to exist whatsoever.  If you saw one for the first time and touched it, you would jump back in utter surprise that a 'sound wave' came out of it, even more so that different 'buttons' created different 'noises'.  This is what a piano is in the purest sense of thinking without according it labels.  How on Earth, then, does one use it?  Why would anyone want to use this heavy pile of wood and metal?  What value could anyone give to it?  What could it be turned into by the human mind which sits at it?  These are very important philosophical questions which must be answered before life is dedicated to such a lifeless 'thing'.
And so it is that...

You enter a room, in the middle of which is a grand piano.  You are to spend a number of days with it in this room as an experiment.  As you walk around this most bizarre creation for the first time, you caress its shiny surface, open the lid to look at the enormous array of components which at this point are misunderstood, still and silent.  You wonder how noise comes out, and from where, when you strike a white or black button yet how they sound different depending on where you touch.  Crouching down, you notice two pedals, pressing them but raising a confused eyebrow when no sound comes out.  "Whatever do these do?" you ponder.

With the lid open, you return to the keyboard and press another button.  You go to your left and your body rumbles at the low vibration; you go to your right and your ears are pierced by the screeching noise. The middle, you decide, is a nice balance of the two.  You discover that you can press many keys together with both hands, even more than ten notes at a time if you wish, to create a wall of sound and that pressing them individually for long periods of time seems to be no challenge for this alien object which instantly produces sound, even responding in loudness to how hard you press or hit the button, black or white.  "Does it ever ignore me?" you wonder as you shake your bewildered and confused head.

"I mean really, what an incredibly odd yet stunning box", you then mutter to yourself, still stunned by its weighty, immoveable existence.

Going forward a few days, you have come to understand that the pedal on the right somehow prolongs the duration of the sound produced, seemingly by moving necessarily components inside which you have equally discovered are connected to the black and white buttons and react instantly by mirroring your type of strike in terms of speed and force.  The left pedal seems to soften the sound even further.

What you have equally come to realise during the past few days is that when you press whatever buttons you want, however you want, for as long as you want, you feel an emotional connection to the sound produced.  This emotional connection has no reason to be, it simply is.  Somehow, this previously lifeless box of wood appears to be responding instantly and without fail to whatever you wish to express on it, without telling you you're wrong, without judging what you execute on it and without any demands for more or less activity.  It simply sits, waiting for you to do whatever your mind wishes to do.  A truly incredible box of wood and medal, indeed.

But you still have a few burning questions:  "Why does this exist?"  "What am I actually supposed to do with it?"  "Is there a rule book hidden within so I can play it correctly?"

On your final day, I enter the room.

"What is your conclusion?" I ask passively.  You go to the piano and press some notes.  They do not sound musical to me, but you like them.  "My conclusion is this", you begin, "This box freely allows me to play whatever I wish, however I wish, whenever I wish, but I don't know why this is", you question.

"This is the ultimate question", I respond, gesturing you to stand aside so that I may take my own place in front of the magical, disciplined black and white buttons, "And the ultimate answer is that there is absolutely no reason for you to play whatever you wish, however you wish or whenever you wish", I proclaim, as I begin to play some melodies of my own, "You simply Play You in much the same way that I play I".

"I like what you play", you kindly say.  "Thank you, but some do not", I respond, "And this is how it should be because there is no definitive value for what is good, and no definitive value for what is bad".

You are quite surprised that such a huge effort had gone into making such a magical box that you cannot contain your misunderstood frustration, "But what is the point in making such a complex contraption which mirrors my emotions so perfectly?  Where is the manual?  Why should I sit here and press these buttons?" you ask.

"You have too many questions", I retort, "You cannot possibly give a reason to everything you do on this machine because it would ruin the whole point of its creation.  Is not every form of art, even every action you make, for no definitive purpose?" I challenge.  "If you question every movement, you interrupt your own natural flow, you become tense; consider the tree: if it did not flex, it would snap".

I show you the black and white buttons.  "These are called keys", I begin.  "There are 88 of them on this particular piano.  As you may have remarked, they are in a pattern all the way along the keyboard of 'two blacks, two whites, three blacks, two whites, etc., etc."  You acknowledge this pattern but explain to me that you have found no reason for this pattern to exist.

I commence thus, "The number of notes between any two same notes is 11, so every 12 notes is the same note, just higher or lower".  I demonstrate, and you hear this.  "Because of this, it is logical to state that there are 12 notes which are repeated all across the piano and these 12 notes may be considered 'starting points'", something you acknowledge and see visually.

"Now", I laugh, "Forget all that".  You see, theory is just word about words about concepts.  I could write 10,000 words on how an orange tastes, but is it not more beneficial to simply eat one?  It is the physical experience and emotional connection which provides the true knowledge and not the words about words; these are just labels.

"Therefore", I say as I move away, "You may study the manual for this piano but it will in no way make you able to play it any better than how you are already able, no matter how much knowledge you seek".

In a moment of realisation, you finally get it, "I therefore use the labels as a point of reference, for communication purposes with others, for teaching and for a sense of self-satisfaction that I know stuff about this piano, but to be able to bring it to life, I must remove this futile thirst for knowledge and simply allow it to mirror, as it does so perfectly, my emotions, for reasons unknown and unnecessary to know?".

"Correct", I say as I allow you to experiment with the 11 notes between each 12 note spacing.

"I would like to spend another few days in here", you say, "just to play me".

I accept, and leave you until then with these few words:

"Acknowledge that whatever your fingers can do naturally is only a state of mind, and whatever your fingers cannot do naturally is only a state of mind.  Play with ten fingers, not with two hands and above all, as you have said, Play You".

Until next time...

Part 2

If you enjoyed this article, consider sharing it for the benefit of others!