It's Easy!?

Identifying your ability...

It's a beautiful thing, a blooming flower.  Quite marvellous that 'it' happens at all, you might say.  Yet, it does.  Effortlessly.  It doesn't rush, it doesn't make a mistake, it doesn't overthink the inherent process and it doesn't shout about its success when it's fully bloomed; a few points of wisdom that some might do well to adopt during moments of mindfulness both at and away from the piano.

Within the blooming flower are an unbelievable amount of processes going on.  Recognise that each process is a precursor or 'smaller component' of the next component of the whole process.  Without each individual process having taken place, final bloom would be impossible.

From this natural process, we can recognise that the result, the beautiful complexity, much like a Chopin Nocturne, is made up of much smaller, simpler and more manageable, comprehensible components.  Some of these components are the same across all flowers but some are unique to the flower in question, again, much like piano repertoire.

I already wrote an article on what Water Pianism called 'the Dissection Philosophy', (see here) which focuses primarily on the components common to all repertoire and encourages you to 'revel in the tiny' but this article is more about proposing that you go on a journey into your repertoire choices, technical weaknesses and theoretical holes and find the level at which you are comfortable and being able to say, "It's easy!"

But wait.  Easy for you is difficult for someone else.  Difficult for you is easy for someone else.  By this statement, it is implied that what is 'easy' and 'difficult' are not absolute terms at all; you cannot say 'this is easy' as a statement of fact since it does not apply to everyone.  We all have things we can naturally do and understand without effort and we all have things which take more time and practice to do and understand.  The problem is when the mind attaches to the concept of 'easy' and 'difficult', usually 'difficult', and then becomes emotionally, detrimentally involved with what 'difficult' implies: "I can't do it, this will take ages to understand, maybe this isn't for me, I'll never be as good as X..." etc.

I'm here to tell you that such a mentality is epically wrong because of the very unavoidable logic that Easy and Difficult are not absolute terms, they are flexible; they move, which means that you will encounter easy and difficult things, no matter what is currently easy and difficult.

This philosophy applies to everything and everybody involved in anything at every level.  I recommend this book, from which I share an interesting sentence:

"After you have practised for a while, you will realise that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet but as you keep walking, you get wet little by little. If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, “Oh, this pace is terrible!” But actually it is not. When you get wet in a fog, it is very difficult to dry yourself. So, there is no need to worry about progress."

I would like you to be aware that I was, am and will always be a student of something.  Just because I am of some particular level in piano ability does not mean everything is 'easy'.  I know how it feels to be a student and I absolutely love the process of dissection to manageable levels which are naturally easy to do or understand theoretically.  When someone says, "This is easy, I can't believe you can't do it!" ignore them, for they are neglecting that they too cannot do or understand things that you can.  It is a balance and they are ignorant to have such a mentality.  You must not be affected by it.

In my life, I've studied many topics, French being one of them.  I became a translator, so for me, French grammar is what one might label as 'easy' but I advise not to employ such terms because it puts your mind into a competitive, defensive state.  If I say that the French use the 'imperfect' form of the verb with the past participle to create the pluperfect tense, this may be meaningless (J'avais voulu - I had wanted - but in French, it's 'I was having + wanted) but it's not easy or difficult; we simply get to the dissected level that you are naturally able to understand and build up from there.  Do you know the names of the tenses and what they are even in English? Do you know even the present tense of the verb 'avoir' (to have)?  It's just a matter of dissection, not worrying over distracting adjectives.

So how does one apply all the above to the piano?  I'll demonstrate using an imaginary student who would like to master this Chopin Nocturne.  Some would say he's crazy and that it's too difficult.  Well, of course it is but remember that the flower in full bloom did not come from the seed already in a state of bloom; many smaller, easier-to-understand events happened, in order, without force or haste.

This student must first identify his natural level, his automatic 'ability' to see where his journey of growth shall/is destined to begin, remembering that everybody is different and that comparison is futile.  'This' is not 'easy', and 'that' is not 'difficult'.  They are variable, just as people.

He knows the major scales and chords in root position and inversions theoretically but discovers upon attempting the piece that left hand chords being played in two inversions in quick succession is difficult.  Accepted, he does well to dissect this difficulty to its component parts:  two notes of a chord, followed by three, without the bass note involved, personalising a technical exercise of two notes of the chord followed by three notes of the chord of his choosing, in any key, at a tempo which results in correct execution, getting used to the idea and feel of this requirement.  Once achieved, he adds the bass note to see if the difficulty still exists.

He now discovers the octave jump from bass note to first part of chord inversion is difficult too, so he focuses on only the feel of an octave jump, irrelevant of repertoire piece, key or chord type, executing this at a tempo which is 'easy', then pushing it.  He has succeeded in identifying the level of the required skill which is 'easy' for him through dissection and begun to push it to the required level which was previously 'difficult' but has finally become 'easy'... until the next 'difficulty' arises and the same process is implied, never attaching to the adjectives.

Here is a video which touches on this topic, asking if you can at least do a few things and even if you can, can you take it to a higher level?
I hope that this article encourages you to adopt a healthier, more positive mindset of your piano playing, as well as anything else you may be a student (or teacher) of.