Choosing Repertoire

Without the ego

One of the first desires of a newbie pianist is to be able to play their favourite piano pieces; oft times, these may be so-called 'advanced' pieces and are completely ill-advised by books and teachers.  It is necessary, they say, to "start at the beginning and work up"!

As you may expect, I am going to tell you the complete opposite.

But why am I going to tell you that?  And on what basis?  Who would believe it's possible to play a traditionally Grade 6 or higher piece straight from only having spent one week mastering the major scales in all 12 keys both at and away (internal piano) from the piano and spent some time every day working on your shoulder, upper and forearm muscles and finger tendon stretches?

Me.  And soon, You.

Think about it:  if you start at 'the bottom' and work 'up', where does it end?  What happens at that end? Do you suddenly stop playing the piano?  You see, there is no end, so there is no beginning; you may start where you want and as you shall understand by the end of this article, that is perfectly natural and possible, no matter how your ego or others tell you otherwise.

(Consider my new eBook: Water Pianism)

To most, the word Ego carries the meaning of 'believing you're better than others' or 'thinking you deserve something because of...', etc.  As a Water Pianist, you know otherwise.  Ego is simply the one of the three components of the Mind Triangle which tries to kill you and make your life miserable; its poison permeates at all times around the mind and it reacts with incredible force when it is confronted with something it does not like, no mater how true or beneficial to the natural Self that may be.

We all know it; this in itself is a kind of proof that it exists as separate from 'us' because we know it's bad to be negative about ourselves, we know we probably could succeed but that poison will dash any such pure thoughts before they gain any momentum towards making your life (as a pianist, too) better.

Please proceed with this in mind, considering this article as one of your first steps in ignoring the ego and protecting yourself from its toxicity, for this is truly the only way one may ever reach full potential.

First of all, be absolutely certain that you know your 12 major scales.  I will never stop reinforcing this indisputably paramount pre-requisite.  At the same time, be sure to perform muscle and tendon strengthening exercises.  These bedrocks of pianism go without saying, yet I shall always say them.

Second, discover your Musical Personality over a few days and listen to vast amounts of music and styles that you may not have previously considered.

Then, choose a song to learn, irrespective of its traditional 'level', which coincides perfectly with your desired sounds and personal reasons.  Working on a piece of music which satisfies you absolutely without the ego or others saying "That is too complicated", is the greatest motivator.

Consider the following:

Whereas you may hear or feel, "This piece is beyond you; stick with something easier", I am telling you to only hear and feel, "This piece is beyond you; blablabla...".  What help is that second sentence? It isn't, so ignore it, from everybody.  If everybody played to their current level, nobody would ever get anywhere.  The piece is surely beyond you, because if it were not, you would be making no progress, a situation which should make anybody reconsider trying to do anything at all.

Now for something quite interesting:  every piece of music may be broken down into three primary components.  It is a simple task to identify these three components in your chosen piece of music and to then delve into each component one by one.

Just before I give you the three components, however, I invite you to look at the stones in the above image.  Those stones represent your ambitions, your piano goals, the 'real pianist in You'.  Maybe you did not notice when you read the quote next to them that they even carried a meaning at all; that they were just 'for show'?  Indeed not.  Look at them.  Could that final stone possibly be placed without the larger stone below it?  Of course not; it would be floating.  What about the one below that?  No.  What does that mean for you as a pianist?

The larger, heavier stones are placed first so that easier, more manageable stones may be placed atop. In the end, what appears is an effortlessly balanced, well-proportioned, unrushed, logically structured, unique Result.  Your chosen piece of music is represented by the completed stone structure; the first stones being larger represent the initial efforts which must be made so that latter stones may be placed on top without falling off or being too weak for the next stone on top.

See each piece of music as that pile of stones and all will be well in your patient and satisfied mind.

The three components are:  rhythm, structure and melody.

There are countless rhythms which can be performed at various tempos.  Be sure that no amount of perfection of the structure or melody will mean much if one does not possess Rhythm.  It has been said innumerable times that "I don't have a sense of rhythm" but, of course, this is incorrect.

It is the ego which does not have a sense of rhythm because it demands to understand it through analysis and cognitive process; rhythm does not work that way so it is futile to seek such a path to understanding.  Rhythm comes to the restful mind and careful ear; its frequency penetrates the body and natural Self effortlessly through repetition.  Only when the ego wants to understand and analyse does rhythm dissipate.

The structure of a piece may be very easy and common such as the AABA format of pop music, shockingly complicated such as what can be found in Classical music forms or somewhere between the two in the world of Jazz song structures which range from ABABABA or the 12 Bar Blues until they run out of ideas or time, to countless sections like a maze.

No matter, repetitive listening to your selected piece away from the piano, perhaps by more than one group or performer if available, is the only way to internalise the structure and visually construct it in your mind.  Once done, the melody comes next; the most interesting component.


Because it provides you the opportunity to master some chords and keys and finger demands that you may not yet have experienced, of course!  All of these will be easier once you approach them with a perfect sense of rhythm (through repetitive listening) and a perfect idea of the structure (through repetitive listening), both away from the piano.  These may be considered the two lower stones respectively.

If you are required to learn how to read music, then learn how to read music.  This itself is a stone pile which can be constructed quicker than you may think.  I can offer a ridiculously rapid crash-course in sight-reading in this paragraph simply by creating a stone structure:  start with knowing what each part of the score means without any notes on it (clefs, key signatures, bars, dynamic markings, codas, etc.), then learn the notes and spend some time practising pairing them up with their piano key partners, then learn which kind of notes represent which note duration (crotchets, quavers, etc.) and which rest symbols represent which durations.

After a short time of daily practice away from the piano, you will be quite startled how your mind has rapidly connected the dots to the keys, understood note values and how they add up to bar totals (including rests) and have a good vocabulary of Italian terms and dynamic markings.

Stone #1 placed!

Perhaps your selected piece requires left hand arpeggios.  Excellent, because just like when learning a new language, any words or grammar rules that you may learn from an article you have read or native speaker you have communicated with will appear in other articles and conversations about other topics.  So, left hand arpeggios in your selected piece must be acquired anyway for any other pieces you may come across; you'll be ready for them!  They, along with many other techniques, are simply part of the pianist's arsenal.

Therefore, spend some time playing major, minor, dominant 7th, major 7th, minor 7th and minor major 7th arpeggios in the left hand, in, of course, all twelve keys.

Stone #2 placed!

Etc.  etc.

Once you have worked in an unmusical way on the foundation stones of your 'impossible, beyond you' piece, you will feel great confidence in actually being able to internalise and execute it in a surprisingly short amount of time, all the while acquiring useful techniques and knowledge on an as and when basis.

In conclusion, do not be put off by traditional negativity.  No matter how gigantically difficulty your piece may be at this stage or how embarrassingly easy you may feel it is, break it down into the three components of rhythm (tempo), structure and melody (technical demands/piece analysis) and master each absolutely, the first two through repetitive listening, the melody through analysis of needs and requirements and then mastering those needs.

Then work through the piece with greater ease and greater mastery without being distracted by mindless 'practice exercises' and and boring, simple pieces from a book that your teacher believes are "your level".  You are better than that.

I would like to close by bringing to your attention that your ego was probably most silent throughout this reading session.  It is probably quite bruised now, too, but fear not; it will weaken and You will become the pianist you know you truly are already inside.

As always, simply Play You.