5 Common Questions Answered

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At first, I wanted to write an introduction but in the end I realised that the topic of the article is in the title already, so here goes, in no particular order (was than an ironic introduction?):

1.  Do I need to learn all the major scales?  Why not just a few?

Yes.  See here and here.

2.  Should I buy a piano with weighted keys and a pedal?

Yes.  Weighted key digital pianos are not expensive and are the most important investment in your piano life.  Once the day comes that you are to perform in public or in a band, you will thank me for having heeded this advice because you will not be shocked at the difference; at the weakness of your arm muscles and finger pressure on a real piano rather than a plastic keyboard with little metal springs.

A pedal comes with all pianos and I would say 99% of digital pianos, even the cheaper ones, have a socket for a pedal.  If you are following my lessons closely, you will be playing the piano how you always dreamed of very soon, and a pedal is an inherent part of playing.  Without it, all the notes end suddenly once they had been pressed so the playing always sounds dry and 'staccato'.  Even if you don't use the pedal in the first few weeks, getting used to its presence is enough; you may even fiddle with it and see how naturally (or not) you can play with it early on.

3.  Can you give me the correct fingering for the major scales?

No, and anybody who says they can is wrong.  Every hand is different in size, flexibility and inherent dexterity; every mind, also, is different in terms of conscious interference and levels of self-belief.

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The only way to play major scales as smoothly and quickly as possible is to spend time on them with your eyes closed and allow the fingers to find their natural way.  By all means try out recommendations but do not be of the belief that there is one way - there simply is not.  In addition to this, remember that the mind leads, the body follows and the is merely the lucky recipient of these two perfectly balanced and trained components, so spend time playing the major scales in your mind, imagining which fingers would do what.

I once had a student who loved the 'Blues shuffle' rhythm so I showed him the common left hand accompaniment for that (little finger on the root, thumb alternating between 5th and 6th of major scale).  He could not do that so I requested he close his eyes and let his fingers find the correct way without his ego getting involved trying to do it 'correctly'.  He discovered that his left ring finger and index finger worked best!  I could never feel comfortable doing it like that, but hey, every hand is different and he was delighted.  Take note.

On the side, be sure to be doing finger stretching, lower and upper arm exercises and shoulder shrugs.  No pianist can play well without strong muscles, no matter how many songs they have internalised or how rapid the fingers may be.

4.  Is *this piece* too complicated for me at this stage?

No.  What does it mean anyway, a 'stage'?  Since the creative arts do not have limits, one cannot put it into stages; one may, however, make progress towards a goal, and repeat, and repeat...

If you wish to learn this after two weeks, 99.9% of teachers, if not 100%, will tell you that you are mad and to seek psychiatric assistance.  But why?  If you have set your heart on a very high target (and granted, it doesn't get more supreme than this piece), take the advice of all the great sages:  seek greatness in the small things; seek the easy in the difficult.

This piece requires an inane amount of arm strength and finger dexterity, both enhancements able to be achieved and maintained away from the piano itself.  It also requires a mind which is so still and non-interfering that a lot of weeks and months must be spent on the mind, away from the piano, reminding you that it is possible.  A lot of visualisation is also required, something which can take place away from the piano.  Listen to it one thousand times to absolutely internalise over weeks and weeks.  All such things, once again, which prepare you to take it on away from the piano.

Once prepared physically and mentally, note the enormous demands first; approach it in a non-musical way, de-construct it, take it apart and note the musical elements such as, for example, parallel runs (same notes in both hands at great speed).  So, take that apart and spend hours and hours playing chromatic and major scale runs, with a metronome at first, eyes closed, progressively getting faster and faster.  You will be astonished at how quickly this becomes easy.  But, never stop maintain arm strength.  If you can find ways to break down anything into smaller components, you can only build them back up again... no other option is possible than absolute progress.

Another thing which takes place in this piece is chromatic octaves.  Take them out, spent time on them as above.  Over time (different for everybody), this piece will come together and at the same time, you will acquire a vastly superior ability and technique to anybody under a 'realistic' teacher.

You see, all the components extracted from a piece such as this can be applied to thousands of other pieces and as you do this more and more, pieces become easier and easier which are considered absolutely impossible for others.  You are not 'one of them', you are 'one of You'.

5.  Should I begin with Classical piano before Jazz Piano?

That is your choice.  There is no correct answer.  It can be justifiably said that a Classical piano training assists the jazz pianist greatly (this was the case for Oscar Peterson, for example) but it is very important to first of all identify your musical personality.  Why do you want to play jazz or classical?  You must come to honest answers about your intentions so that your first steps are in the right direction.

Also, I have always seen jazz and classical as one in the same thing.  At the end of the day, a balanced mind with trained fingers plays a combination of 88 keys; the result is either jazzy, or classical.  Knowing your major scales for both is an absolute must, but once you have identified your true calling at the piano, learn what is required when it becomes necessary to learn.  Reading 100 books on theory, composers' lives and jazz styles won't affect how You play the piano.

I wish you well.

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