Why You Can't Play the Piano

... how you could.

The most seemingly insurmountable task is to believe in yourself.  Is this not a great shame?  Self-belief is such a powerful energy that we all possess yet for countless reasons it is suppressed by the ego and its 10,000 thorns of scepticism.

(Consider my new eBook: Water Pianism)

Over four points of interest, this article hopes to encourage you to spend much time away from the piano for moments of extended silence; indeed, becoming the proficient pianist you wish to become is unobtainable if only physical practice is pursued.  As is a huge part of my doctrine, the body follows the mind.

This article is associated with this video on my YouTube channel:


1.  Over-thinking

This is the most prominent of all reasons why one is unable to achieve a desired goal.  The need to be in control of all components and to expect immediate results is overwhelming so what we are left with once this has no doubt failed is many wasted hours, days and even weeks wondering why things are not as we believe they should be.

For the pianist, this may include things as scale perfection, piece memorisation or performance in improvisation.  If our fingers have not performed as well as we expect or demand of them, we become frustrated, change tactic, do something else or worst of all, give up out of sheer frustration.  If we often forget a piece when playing it, we may choose another and make up an excuse as to why we cannot learn the previous, citing length, complexity, key or any other such nonsense.

As for improvisation, the worst thing we can do is try to analyse our creations since they are supposed to be instant aural materialisations of what we feel at every newly arrived moment.  By worrying about what notes 'sound good' or if a particular chord 'worked well', we impede what was most likely a perfectly acceptable period of never-before-heard melodies.

One significant component of over-thinking is that of applying labels to what we do or listen to.  It must be understood that since good and bad, and myriad other adjectives, are completely relative and depend on the opinion of the user, there simply cannot be one absolute, demonstrative signification for 'good', 'bad' or all the other possibilities.

Therefore, one would do well to remove labels from (at least) their musical life and simply play as honestly as possible.  If we detect a difference between what we hear or feel inside and what we actually produce, then all that need be done is as much time as necessary to close that gap.  Closing this gap with a pure mind such as discussed herein will become as satisfying, fulfilling and enjoyable as possible since no over-thinking will be taking place and it shall be understood that when the time is right, it will be felt, without need of conscious interference demanding immediate results.

2.  Doubt

This comes in two forms:  doubt of mental strength and doubt of physical ability.  Both forms are horrendously destructive to the pianist, especially when combined with over-thinking as described above.  Mental strength refers to what we believe we can play, what we believe is above or below us and how well we know ourselves to be able to provide an honest performance of a piece or improvisation.  Always, our doubt in this way is wrong but we never really discover this truth.  Physical ability primarily refers to how we make excuses for fingering technique and even goes as far as coming up with reasons why we don't have time to sit at the piano because we are busy.  Again, this doubt is equally unfounded yet is hardly ever discovered as such.

All that must be understood is one simple fact, a certain way of seeing how we are naturally:  we already possess the qualities required of us by our instrument both in terms of mental and physical requirements.  The Great Shame, however, is that even thought you have just read this sentence, it is probably not believed by most.

This must be changed.

Consider a bee.  Not once does this bee ponder over its ability or not to fly, despite its rather unique, eyebrow-raising shape as a flying object of nature; yet, it does.  It buzzes around from plant to plant doing what it does having been given that opportunity by nature herself.

Consider an oak tree.  Not once does it wish to be a rose bush, nor does it sulk at the speed of its growth or the number of branches it contains.  Alas, despite surviving through all weathers, for many decades or even centuries, it, as the bee, do it naturally.

Why should the pianist, indeed, any individual, not see themselves as equal to these parts of nature?  We were given fingers which move, eyes which see and ears which hear all well enough to perform the most beautiful of music, yet we doubt our ability to produce it.  We find reasons to give up, force ourselves to get better and better, settle for less than desirable, etc.

Begin to realise that, no matter your current ability, whatever you see yourself being able to do, you are already able to do it, no matter your perceived lacks or inabilities:  they are wrong.  Instead of thinking linearly, as in: I cannot do X now, I want to achieve X by such and such a time so I must do X all day every day until I can do it, learn to be patient and really try to accept and believe that, just as when a tree's leaves fall and regrow, or a bee finds its first flower to pollinate, both without effort and exactly at the right time, the ability to achieve X will present itself to you.  Again, a tree does not force its branches or leaves to grow just as much as a bee does not sulk when it cannot find a flower to pollinate.

Think about that.

3.  Comparisons

The funny thing about us humans is that we inherently like to see how we are doing against others; we usually find satisfaction in being better than others but fortunately some (albeit a smaller percentage) do enjoy the pleasure of sharing their skills with those of a lesser ability than themselves. 

The reason one is advised against comparative activity is because doing so is akin to directly injecting disappointment into our lives.  What must be understood is that, since everyone is doing it, it serves no purpose to join the vicious circle for with whomever one compares themselves, that targeted individual themselves is also comparing themselves to another who they feel is greater than them in some way so since nobody is at the top, it is all rather futile.

Understand that as long as you Play You, as my philosophy states, then you are perfectly on the right path; a path which has no beginning or no end, just like water... and this leads me on nicely to my final point.

4.  Objectives

Why have them?  More often than not, targets are not reached for whatever reason (laziness, too high a goal, etc.) and frustration and/or disappointment ensues.  It should also be understood that to have an objective automatically implies that there must be a limited number of them, but since when has music and musical ability been as such?  You 'must' learn all types of scales, chords, inversions, theory, sight-reading markings, pedal control, amass a large repertoire, etc., etc.

Rather than seeing pianism as a structured process, which it is not and need not be, see it as an endless path of self-discoveries and realisations.  Instead of 'trying' to acquire a particular ability, simply implement this need into your regular playing so that it has a place; context, in other words, provides a kind of distraction from the 'need' you are working on and provides you within a playground of sorts within which you 'acquire' it.  Of course, the word 'acquire' should be replaced with 'revealed to you'.

For example, if you wish to 'acquire the ability' to play open arpeggios, choose a piece of music which contains such requirements (such as the famous Fur Elise by Beethoven, requiring left hand open arpeggios) and dive in.  Whilst studying 'the piece' in general, the ability to play left hand open arpeggios will 'reveal itself' to you rather than you chasing it through hours, days and weeks of forced practice.

Within my philosophy is the notion of 'practormance', meaning that practice is to performance what performance is to practice.  This notion in itself removes the whole concept of 'objectives' and simply allows you to live in a blend of what may be called performance and what may be called practice.

To answer the title of this article, "Why you can't play the piano", which in itself is purposefully provocative, a simple verse shall suffice which I would encourage you to ponder over:

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm at the end
as at the beginning.

And never forget, Play You.

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