Internal Piano Visualisation

Look familiar?

'Internal Piano' is a term I coined a few years ago and which I have been pushing vigorously via my books, articles, videos and private correspondence.

Awareness of its existence, followed by its recognition within the mind are the first two important steps.  Third, one must acknowledge absolutely its value because playing the piano is simply not only about the eyes looking at the hands on the piano and the sooner such a limited mentality is replaced, the better, quicker, more natural, more enjoyable, more mature and more sensitive one's musical output will be.

As with any new concept or theorem, one does well to break down the whole into its component parts and understand them fully before putting them all together.  For the internal piano, fortunately this simply involves the 12-note block which itself contains whole and half steps over a clear layout of black and white notes.  With this, one is then able to identify any chord or interval instantly, as well as transpose on the spot and imagine improvisations and melodies, away from a physical piano, for use later on at the piano with no loss of skill.

The most common difficulty experienced is that of visualising the 12-note block and thus getting lost when trying to identify the seven notes of each of the twelve major scales, usually because, apart from C and C# major, the other keys enter into a second 12-note block and handling two of them can be a little challenging at first.

This is the 12-note block:

A regular piano or digital keyboard is basically made up of seven of these.  No matter which major scale/key you are dealing with, be sure to solidify this C>B 12-note block and play 'over' it.  The time will come when you suddenly realise that you are not relying on the 12-note block and that you know all 12 major scales effortlessly.  This 'mindless' state is your first significant achievement and one that will stay with you until you play your life's final note.

Dissecting it, we can see two black notes filled in and surrounded by white notes and then three black notes also filled in and surrounded by white notes.  Do not even attempt to master any major scales until the 12-note block is absolutely crystal clear in your mind.  This way, it will not be a problem when you work with two 12-note blocks since you will not be thrown off by them and will be able to 'see across the seam' (the B>C of the new block) without difficulty.

Sometimes, it is suggested that mastering the 12-note block at the piano is just as beneficial as mastering it away from the piano.  True, but minus the advantages of mental development and musical sensitivity and maturity, not to mention the significant disadvantage that many people have of not having much time to sit at a piano for hours every day.  The internal piano allows one to study the piano and some related theory throughout the day, quite literally anywhere, without actually needing a piano at all.

Which brings me onto a very interesting study of brain research which will give you a greater understanding of how the mind works when practising a skill minus the physical tools actually necessary to execute the action.

It is known as Motor Imagery (MI) and before you read on here, do read this article in your own time.  For those wanting an overview, here are two relevant sentences just for you:

1.  "Motor imagery is the cognitive ability that allows an individual to perform and experience motor actions in the mind without actually executing such actions through the activation of muscles.  MI thus enables one to practise movements without needing to physically perform them. For this reason, MI has proven valuable in a variety of circumstances such as athlete’s or musician’s training, training of surgical skills and rehabilitation after strokes.  MI may be particularly useful in conditions where practical limitations constrain physical training such as biomechanical rigidity, limited physical strength, pain, fatigue, risk of injury, limited access to equipment, etc."

2.  "Perhaps the most widely used protocol for MI in sports training in recent years is the PETTLEP model, developed by Holmes and Collins (2001). This view holds that for maximal effectiveness of MI, the subject has to try and match actual performance in seven aspects: Physical (for optimal benefits, imagery should be as physical an experience as possible), Environment (the MI environment should be similar to the actual performance environment), Task (MI content should match individual skill level and be customised to the individual), Timing (MI timing should approximate that of real-time performance), Learning (MI should be adapted corresponding to the increase in skill), Emotion (MI should incorporate the effective experience as associated with physical performance), and Perspective (first-person is advisable for most sports situations)."

The internal piano is not something one chooses to believe in, nor is it something one is either born with or without; it is simply a mental representation of what the eyes see when sat at a piano.  If I were dantheguitarist or danthebassplayer, I would have come up with the internal guitar or the internal bass.  It is necessary simply to realise that what your eyes see at the piano is the same image stored in the mind when away from the piano, one is just able to spend more time with the internal one than the physical but this in no way whatsoever either reduces one's ability nor does is not count towards beneficial practice efforts.

When viewing the internal piano, for example to reinforce major scales, it is not necessary to see the fingers playing the keys.  For me, my mind's eye simply scans the notes and the required ones appear a little brighter than the others.  If I want to work out or practise a particular fingering, I then close my eyes and observe my hands in the same way I would when seated at the piano.

This is where some people may hold up a hand and say something like:  "OK Dan, I can get that I need to visualise the 12-note block but now you think my hands know what to do on their own when they aren't even touching the piano physically? That takes years! You don't remember what it's like to be a beginner, man!" - Well, I do!  The problem here is not that I have forgotten what it's like to be a beginner but rather You don't have any self-belief because Your ego is getting the better of you.  You will be astonished at what your fingers are able to work out for themselves without You getting involved... if you'd just shut the ego up and let things come quite naturally.

I imagine very often being a guitar newcomer as you may be a piano newbie and I know that I would take my own advice to become a rather good guitarist pretty quickly as I refine my technique, touch and internal guitar, observing my fingers playing frets and strings in the most comfortable way they already know how.  This is not to say one never plays a physical piano, it is to say: in the world of piano education, mind involvement is at less than 1% and I'm telling you it should be, and can be, 90%.  Once this is recognised, many pianists will become incredibly better almost overnight... including You.

The most beneficial mental exercise one could possibly execute to reinforce the internal piano before starting work on major scales away from the piano is to run up chromatically from each note to its own octave in the following 12-note block.  I recommend this until it becomes child's play.

If I have missed anything or if you have any further questions, do feel free to contact me via the form to the left.

I also recommend this video: