Musical Personality

Discover yours...

From the early stages of music education or first piano lessons, it is commonplace to be required to perform a certain way, to conform, to adhere to the norms of some individual (a teacher) or book.  This goes against the grain of so many individuals that it is not much wonder why output is quite similar, dry or predictable, or why many people gave up after a few months.

Students are put into competitions, expected to live up to the abilities of those with more 'natural' talent and forced into a strict course of study which may or may not serve them in the most natural way possible.

For those who play for fun without the use of books or private teachers, many (I receive many emails about this!) feel lost and even frustrated about what to do with their piano life and consider giving up completely.

By the end of this article, I hope that you will understand how to discover your musical personality so that you may enjoy a stress-free, Purposeful piano existence.

Before you even sit down at your instrument, even for fun, but more importantly so for those wishing to make a career of some kind out of the piano, think long and hard about how you perceive yourself to be.  This is important because, as goes one of my teachings, "You play what you think about".  If you're not on any particular path, play for no special reason, like 'all kinds of music' or only play because you want to show off to others, then you will never perform to the best of your ever-improving ability and to me, that is quite a shame.

By identifying natural traits about yourself, you are helping to line yourself up in the right mental direction and save yourself a lot of otherwise wasted energy and frustration on piano areas that are not important, necessary or relevant to your path.

Natural traits are in themselves not positive or negative; they simply exist.  It is through interaction  with others that certain traits get labelled as good or bad.  A good example is courage:  courage is generally considered a positive trait since being the opposite, fearful, can be a serious obstacle in life; however, courage can cause an individual to go to far and inadvertently cause serious injury or worse.

Being indifferent to a friend's problem may be considered rude or negative to them, but in fact you may be helping them more so than by interfering and allowing them to settle the situation alone.  You get the idea.

As a pianist seeking musical personality, you must identify your natural traits as neither positive or negative because having an attachment to them will have a negative (!) impact on how you play You.  For example, if you notice that you are quite a silent, untalkative person who dislikes social interaction and doesn't smile a lot, it would be incorrect to say to yourself, "This is bad, so I will ignore this trait or try to change myself".  No, don't do that!  It is not bad, it is not good, it is simply you discovering 'a trait'.  Musically speaking, this is hugely advantageous because it means that you probably (probably) like minor sounds, dark sounds and would therefore avoid happy, blues-sounding styles.  This is part of becoming an honest, Purposeful pianist who is aware of their Musical Personality.

Discovering the Self goes beyond such personality traits; it is necessary to identify what you like in terms of music but by this, it is not meant "What styles of music do I like" but rather, "What particular sounds do I like" in a more technical way.  I, for example, love smooth, silky improvisations which highlight many blues notes, contain much silence (silence is a note too) and do not get too crazy with 'out of the box' ideas.  I also love latin rhythms, swing jazz which is not too fast (bebop is not high on my list) and the double bass when played with a 'flick' of the finger instead of full and broadly.  I also love block chords.  Go to 3.10 to experience what I consider perfection in jazz piano improvisation.

A lot of time must be spent on listening to as many pianists as possible in as many different styles and thank goodness we have YouTube for that.  Seek out some Chopin and note down the performers' names; seek some Liszt, Beethoven and Schumann and do the same.  Soon enough, you will come to acknowledge what you like about certain players and give yourself something to 'aim' for (without the intention of copying it).

When I did this (because I do indeed 'practise what I preach'), I discovered an almost unheard of French pianist called Samson Fran├žois who ended up becoming my preferred Chopin interpreter (with Cziffra being the second coming of Liszt).  He has a quote which will stay with me forever:  "Never feel obliged to play the next note".  Truly a quote of wisdom to be acknowledged by all readers.  His philosophy can be clearly heard in this priceless clip.

Your Musical Personality is unlike anybody else's.  The sheer number of possible ways to play the piano and interpret a piece, let alone the endless options of improvisational ideas, renders a duplicate 99.9% impossible.  Be proud of your individuality and seek not to compare with others.

If you have not yet done so, do discover my philosophy entitled Water Pianism, the link to which is on the left as well as a dedicated page on this blog which explains the idea.  From this, you will begin to remove labels and realise how futile it is to compare to others, and this goes for everything in life, not just at the piano.

Here is my associated YouTube video on this very subject.  I hope you enjoy it and choose to subscribe!