The Pianist's Checklist

Deconstructing it all...

One of my favourite teachings is that of finding the easy in the difficult and to make great out of the ordinary.  The reason this is so important to the pianist is because it can be personalised by each and every one of us, resulting in a unique path to what You consider 'successful'.

What one currently perceives as easy, another currently perceives as difficult, and vice-versa.  It may be said then that there is not one thing which is considered easy nor one thing which is considered difficult, simultaneously, by all.

Based on this, I have created a checklist which contains the most important elements of pianism before even needing to touch one.  By working through and adhering to this detailed list, you are sure to feel a little less lost and more capable of achieving whatever you are working on, even more so if you believe in yourself (what other options exist?)

(Consider my new eBook: Water Pianism)

Liken this list to the following analogy:  do not set out to build a wall; acquire the bricks and learn to lay one brick perfectly, but not only that; enjoy acquiring and laying your bricks.  Without comparing your progress to others, the moment will come when you stand back and amaze yourself for having succeeded in making great out of the small and finding the easy in what was previously considered difficult or impossible.  Others will then believe that they could never build a wall and that you must be special or 'gifted', but you will be able to tell them the truth.

The Pianist's Checklist

1. The Mind Commands the Body Which Commands the Piano

This simply cannot be any other way.  Let's break down each component, knowing that they themselves can be further broken down, as we shall see in this article (and as you shall discover on your own journey).

Mind: Understand this order.  Recognise the poisonous ego, its negativity and harmful effects on your progress.  Learn to ignore it absolutely.  Know that your natural Self and Inspirational Source already have your true abilities within and that the only thing holding you back is a rejection of this fact.  Until this is overcome, any piano efforts are utterly wasted so stop reading.

Body: Without strong shoulder, upper and forearm muscle strength, playing the piano will become tiring, no matter how many songs you know or how much theory you have studied.  Spend much time on strengthening these muscles and seek medical or professional fitness instructor guidance on what works best for you.  Further to this, fingers do not have muscles, only tendons, so finger independence exercises both at and away from the piano are necessary for both muscle strengthening and finger tendon flexibility before taking on actual musical playing of the piano.

Piano: It is not a bad thing to study theory, lives of composers or spend time listening to new styles, but at the end of the day, the piano component can be broken down into two easy-to-acquire-and-master smaller components, themselves providing the foundation for anything one wishes to do on the piano:  twelve major scales providing the skeleton for chords to be built up.  Be aware that no amount of theory will affect how the body naturally plays the piano and that every hand is different so seeking a 'correct fingering' is futile.  Close your eyes, execute and see what happens.  You are merely a spectator to your fingers during performance since your conscious interference is minimal.

2.  The Internal Piano (Part of the 'Mind' component)

The layout of a piano keyboard can be found anywhere if you do not have access to one with a quick online search.  It is simply a block of twelve notes coloured black and white but do not think the colour is important; you can also get 'inverted colour' keyboards.  The only reason black notes are black is because they had to stand out from the white ivory keys and were either varnished or of a dark wood.  A piano key could be pink and green or all colours of the rainbow; it simply does not matter.

This layout must be internalised so that you can deal with the piano anywhere, anytime.  You can of course choose how you wish visualise it but the most common is as in the picture below, from C to B (left to right).  Some people prefer to be more symmetrical so start from the D or the centre black note of the group of three (A flat), but however you see it, the letters of the notes will always be the same up and down the keyboard and very quickly it will become obvious that there is no 'starting point' since each note is as valuable as any other; each can be the root (first degree of a major scale):

With this in your mind, you can play the piano and practise anywhere, any time you wish.  It is terribly important to realise that your fingers can do whatever you mind can imagine them doing and they cannot do what the mind cannot imagine them doing.  Therefore, visualisation is incredibly valuable and important.  With the internal piano, you can master the twelve major scales (which you must do before anything else), visualise chords, learn pieces in new keys and develop your improvisation abilities.

3.  The Musical Personality (Part of the Mind component)

It is necessary to know that you have a musical personality, then to identify it, then to spend time with it and then to make sure you update it sometimes.  To save repeating myself, see this article.

4.  Dexterity (Part of the Body component)

No matter what you study from books on theory, no matter how perfectly you know all the major scales on your internal piano and no matter how strong your pianist's arm muscles are, if you have not spent any time on finger flexibility, you have a lot of catching up to do, so start now.  One could visualise major scales on the internal piano whilst doing the following finger flexing exercises, for example:

Hold the hands out, palms face down, fingers spread comfortably open.  No tension required.  Then bend the fingers (and thumb, of course) at the first knuckle from the palm.  Do not use force, simply bend them downwards.  Then, make a fist with the thumb on the outside of the fingers.  Then 'undo' the fist to the previous position, then open the hands out flat as in the beginning.

This video is excellent and educational and contains 7 exercises from a professional.  As you can see, you don't need to only be a piano enthusiast to flex your fingers and enhance related forearm muscles.  Also, see the image to the left.  Ingenious.

In addition to the exercises recommended, for the pianist, one may spend time alternating different finger combinations on both hands.  The mental state that you are aiming to achieve is that each finger is as able as every other, or as well as physically possible for your physiology without hurting yourself.  It could be added that you will not see yourself as having two hands of five fingers but rather ten fingers as a group able to do anything, anywhere, however you wish.  This is not as impossible or far away in the future as your ego would have you believe.

5.  Feeling Intervals (Part of the Piano component)

As a part of the vast topic of music theory, piano theory itself can be comfortably broken down into many clear and concise sub-components.  That said, you don't need to go out there and learn it all in a month.  My philosophy dictates:  acquire what is required when required.  This reduces the many burdens of unnecessary learning.

The most fundamental sub-component to learn is that the interval from any note on the piano to any other note up to and including the 11th note (because the 12th note is the same as the starting note) has a unique sound and feel/emotion when played.  From C, for example, the very next note is the black note, the next is a white note, then black, then white, then white, then black, etc.

Each one can be logically numbered using the word 'flat' for the 'between' (rather than the natural 1, 2, 3 ,4, 5, 6, 7th) notes, as follows (use your internal piano or the graphic above):  Root (C), flat second, second, flat/minor third (minor replaces the word 'flat' only for the third), fourth, flat fifth, fifth, flat 6th, 6th, dominant 7 (replaces the word 'flat' only for the major seventh), major seventh (to distinguish from the dominant seventh).

Each of these exist no matter which of the twelve notes you choose to start on.  This does not need to be made more complicated and there is nothing else to think about it.  Try it.  Start on absolutely any note you wish, black or white, and note how the 'tonal quality' is similar between, for example, an F and A (a third), and C and E (also a third).  Try E and D (dominant seventh) and G and F (also a dominant seventh).  For now, get used to these; it will prove incredibly useful and enhance your awareness of the keyboard in terms of layout and sound.


Once you have spent a number of weeks going through this checklist, you can be said to have laid quite a lot of bricks.  Each person's path will very slightly as they come to realise the direction they wish to head, so the next bricks cannot really be written in one article since it would not apply to everybody.  That said, I will put together a few articles for those who wish to go in any one of the three primary routes: classical pianism, jazz pianism, composition.  I will update this blog post as those articles appear.

Do also please make use of the links I have provided in the text since they are a logical brick to your wall.

Happy playing!

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