Why piano is hard

Even though every instrument has its own difficulties to master, however, I believe that we do have to play one of the hardest instruments, albeit being second hardest to the triangle.

One of the usual answers as to why the piano is hard to play, let alone to master, is because we can grow to not like it. To put things into perspective, it’s like liking food; I don’t know of anyone who finds eating ice cream hard. Whereas, I know a few people who find eating broccoli hard, even though it’s healthier than ice cream.  

Piano is also hard because we can’t be bothered to practise. If you look closely in this website, piano requires practising and, in addition, a few other qualities such as patience and strategic minds. So, if we don’t want to suffer in the practice room, we must understand from the beginning that piano requires spending a considerable amount of time sitting on a piano stool.

Continuing into the hardness twaddle, piano is also hard for a reason that many music thinkers forget to consider: it’s anatomy. If, for example, you play the violin you have, in essence, more control over the outcome of the sound, because, to cut to the chase, you have a more  direct physical contact with the strings and the bow and so, there are less mediators between you and the instrument in order to control it. Whereas, in order to play piano a pianist will face a few more issues, such as:

1. Every piano has its own idiosyncrasies; and quite often a pianist will have to perform in a different instrument.

2. Each key can be differently adjusted to the next one.

3. Depth of keys varies from one instrument to another.

4. Response of hammer felt can be different from instrument to  instrument and from note to note.

5. Pedaling can be challenging as it is, but having to adjust in a new piano makes producing your desired performance even harder.

6. Keys size and overall response can be different from piano to piano.

By trying to resemble the singing of the human voice and also the polyphony of the orchestra, piano adds different challenges to the pianist as well.

Performing with the piano is like trying to create a sand sculpture not with your hands but with some sticks connected to strings; it’s much harder.

So, keep practising and just see how it goes. Famous expression of the day: No pain no gain.

Performance anxiety in music

Since the beginning of time performance anxiety was the norm in whatever we did as species; from an orator speaking in an ancient agora, to a lutist playing in the local market, humans had always had this issue to address.

Through the centuries, the seeking of musical perfection and the rise of classical music as the “serious” music, as opposed to the “unserious” other musics, has made us talk about performance anxiety more and more in our musical lives, often stopping us from the very thing that a bit of stress is supposed to help: performance. In consequence, recently, literature about performance anxiety has reached heights of enormous gravity.

We need to be concerned about performance anxiety, since many musicians have been discouraged from this condition to even perform live. We need constant scientific progress in defining performance anxiety in musicians and treat it (if possible). Even though I’m not an expert, I strongly believe that, sometimes, having a little “helpful” stress when performing is normal; and, to take it a bit further, somehow, it’s a necessity in our quest of becoming complete musicians.

I, for example, remember sometimes being extremely anxious before an important concert or an exam performance. I had to use all the things from my musical bag-of-tricks to fight this anxiety feeling; and I always came to the same conclusion: I needed deep knowledge of the repertoire I had to perform.  Because, I knew, that if I had sorted out the muscle memory and the finger agility on certain passages, that would have helped me to see the performance through regardless of the intensity of the anxiety.

Here are some suggestions to help us eliminate performance anxiety:

First, we have to understand that performance anxiety is different from normal levels of stress that we all experience before performing live.

In order to fight performance anxiety we have to deeply understand one core thing in music: that there are no bad musicians (If you want more details read my related article here). I believe that all musicians are equally “valid”, are equally important and are equally good.

Then, we have to start considering that live performance has always been an adventurous act that entails the element of surprise and the feeling of uncertainty in its outcome; and that’s why performing live is so beautiful.

We also need to realize, that in life nothing is perfect. Similarly, in a live performance there are no perfect people (audience) that judge imperfect ones (us, the performers).

Then, we must appreciate, that as much as we have the urge to judge everything in everyday life, from buying good quality milk, to find a good tennis coach, we also have the inherent right to judge a performance. Judging or evaluating something is a human quality that exists in order to improve us. So, in a way, when we are being judged in a performance, we improve.

Also, we need to develop the “talent” of not caring about trivial things in life; like opinions about our playing. Some people are very good at it. When I was a student at conservatoire level, but even earlier than that, I would experience some not-so-valid performances which were strongly advocated by their own performers, and I was thinking that I wasn’t going to be happy if I had played like that. And then I thought that, likewise, someone else wouldn’t be happy if they played the way I did. So, musical consensus is ever-changing and could be subjective.

Last, make sure you remember this word: preparation. Just make sure you are as prepared pianistically as possible. Play your pieces to your family as a practice, ask for different opinions on your playing, listen to what your friends say about your own playing and keep the good things they say, but not the bad ones.

Remember that there is no perfect performance and keep going.