Personalising Your Journey

and sticking to it!

To be a Water Pianist is to understand the importance of personalising your journey.  This implies a few things:  don't use method books (because not one has been written only for you), don't compare your musical personality or natural abilities to anybody else (because we're all on a different path) and don't worry about your speed of progress (because you're progressing at your best rate at all times based on your efforts and natural abilities).

Personalising your journey requires you to:  stop spending time at the piano, get to know yourself more intimately and accept many truths which you will both like and dislike (small hands, poor memory) - but tough, that's the truth - the sooner it is accepted, the better.

So, where to begin?  Allow me to expand upon all components in the hope you will adopt them for your own maximum growth.  There are many external links but they all open in a new window.

You must first of all know your musical personality.  If you don't play music you enjoy, you will abandon playing the piano for easily fixable reasons.  Often, one is obliged by a teacher to play this or play that, or even discouraged from playing this or that because of nonsense reasons (too hard, too easy, not popular enough, etc.)  You must be strong enough to stick to your guns and play You:  what You enjoy for Your own reasons.  Make efforts to identify the music you like listening to.  This will involve trips down memory lane, various emotional memories to life events and general reactivity to sounds (melodies, chords and rhythm... even instruments).  Doing this brings to the fore more about your subconscious which has been hidden away; now knowing more about yourself, you can better refine your future path and areas of theory and technique which apply to you (but not to someone else).

Musical personality goes deeper than just knowing what music you like.  There is a difference between what you enjoy listening to and what you may wish to play (or the style you'd like to compose in) on the piano.  This will involve listening to new music to see if you like it.  Try a Bill Evans album, or a Satie album, or a Debussy album.  Which do you like?  None of them?  Try something older like Mozart or Clementi, or newer, like Ravel or Einaudi.  After a while, you will start to recognise traits of the music you enjoy rather than just a general 'genre' or 'era'.  Sure, I love jazz but there's a lot of jazz which is unlistenable to me.  I enjoy Liszt, Chopin and Beethoven but some of the pieces bore me to death, despite my stratospheric admiration of the composers.

The point is that I, like you soon, have reached a level of detail about my musical personality that I can discuss musically.  I am aware of chord types, intervals and time signatures which please me.  I have emotional connections with certain instruments, types of improvisation of like and chord progressions which please me.  Thus, aim for this level of detail in your own musical personality journey; for example, go from "I like Elton John" to "I like the Elton John pieces which are in 3/4 or 6/8 time, slower and which use minor chords more often", or, "I like Chopin's Etudes but I prefer the ones with more rapid notes because I like the flowy nature they provide whereas the slower pieces with more space are less exciting to me".  This way, as I said earlier, you are more in a position to refine your path theoretically and technically... and this is a very powerful and important place to be, where so many, many other pianists are not.

Once you've spent time on this exercise (which is eternal, I must add; you will always discover new music and get bored of some other music), start to fill the theory holes.  This will put you in excellent sted for when the time comes to either read sheet music, improvise in a jazz trio or compose your own ideas, watever you've decided.  For me, I knew I loved jazz so my theory had to be based on modal theory, chord extensions, block chords, blues structures, as well as being familiar with the history of jazz right from the early 20th century to the modern era, while developing a knowledge of popular composers (Gershwin, Joplin, Ellignton, etc) and performers of various instruments, not just piano (Milt Jackson (vibes), Benny Goodman (clarinet), Joe Pass (guitar), etc).  Within each roughly defined jazz era, I developed an ear for chord types, improvisation expectations and rhythm (think Joplin's syncopation to Keith Jarret's Koln concert).  As for Liszt, I studied his life (I don't think there's a book on him I haven't read at least once in the last 12 years), his music and the requires for his music, i.e. a lot of finger precision and independence, not to mention endurance, which is a philosophy I learnt from him.  He also taught me the importance of absolute major scale mastery.

So as you can see, a combination of musical awareness and theoretical hole-filling means I have a very refined musical personality which enables me to choose music I like, know why I don't react so well to other music, learn what is applicable to my path and compose in a style which is natural to me without being pushed off course by some nonsense rules and restrictions or opinions and excpetations.  To hell with them.

So, you've got your musical personality down and you've spent some time learning the theoretical elements of the music you enjoy (sight reading efforts, notation, history, composers' lives, etc), so what next?  Technical elements.

To play the piano, you obviously need to sit at the piano sometimes (but not always!)  Whilst a lot takes place in your mind on your internal piano, jukebox and manuscript/lead sheet, it can't be denied that you need to have a certain digital expetise; a digital expertise suited to Your path and Your path only.  This is why books and methods are futile: they weren't written for your path, they were written for the general player to achieve a usually less than mediocre ability but you being a Water Pianist are astronomically higher in desire and potential than that, aren't you!?

Whatever techniques your musical personality require, you master.  For example, if you like Bach, it's lots of staccato individual finger movements in quite a restricted area so lots of digital interplay, let's call it.  For an example, see here.  Don't forget, he wrote for and on a harpsichord, not a piano in the way we have them today.  Therefore, personalise or find some technical exercises which challenge rapid digital interplay between hands (for example, the Hanon exercises).  If you like Elton John, learn about major 7th chords, slash chords and get used to inversions, because that's what his music is full of.  A bit of Debussy?  That's large hand stretches and long, flowy arpeggios which is yet another technique.  Do you see?  There is not one answer for everybody; you must personalise your jouney, no matter what people tell you you should do else just because their teacher said so or chapter 3 says so.  No. No. No!

So, in conclusion:  stop playing the piano for a while, develop and refine your musical personality, identify the theoretical then technical elements of it so that you can then go and spend time on them (reading or technical exercises at the piano).  Only then should you be approaching repertoire, this time with a lot more confidence in the repertoire choices, your understanding of them and your ability to play them.  How great is that!?  Such is the path of a Water Pianist.