How To Afford A Piano

How To Afford A Piano

 

Disclaimer: if you are a sensitive individual, if sometimes you take what you read personally, if you occasionally are ever so slightly uptight about what you read, then please DO NOT read this article. This article contains exaggerated opinions and harsh, disrespectful and informal expressions to facilitate an enjoyable read. Everything below should be approached with a humorous aura. No advice below is to be followed. The following article is meant to be a humorous text only. Read at your own discretion. 

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“Oh dear me, I can never afford a piano”

“Ah, life’s unfair. Only the rich can afford a piano”.

“Boohoo boohoo, I can’t buy that piano…”

…and the moaning continues…
Who hasn’t heard those extra-boring expressions?

…Meanwhile, me with a snobbish expression: *Yaaaaawn*

Really? You can’t afford a piano? I just don’t believe you, my dearest friend! Shush! Yes, you’re lying! Read below how to “afford” that piano! And yes, I’m not talking about the Bösendorfer Imperial Grand – It’s not everything or nothing. I’m talking about the sensible upright you’re postponing buying for so long.
(Minimum values used below)

How to afford a piano

Covenant: no excuses after reading this.

In order to be able to afford a piano you need to do some of the following:

  • STOP buying that takeaway coffee from that expensive coffee chain. Yes, you know which coffee chain I mean; the one that is full of expensive laptops and mobile phones with which people are pretending to be “working” with. Exactly. That one. You remembered? By avoid depositing your money to them you could save a minimum of £2 a day. That’s £14 a week, £60 a month or around £730 a year …And you call yourself frugal.

 

  • STOP buying expensive technological novelties. For instance, Instead of buying that £300 phone, buy the one that costs £150 instead. (You see? Minimum values used… Some people buy even more expensive mobiles – And then they complain that they only live to pay bills.) Remember that some technological appliances such as computers and mobile phones depreciate very, very quickly. So by avoiding novelties (as I call everything that you don’t actually need), in a couple of years, you could have saved a minimum of around £400-500.

 

  • STOP buying “designer” things. Do you really need that “designer” bag? You worth it, uh? No, you don’t. I might be worth my weight in gold, but should I be stupid enough to believe it? No. So, let me think: £600 designer piece of leathery material (bag), vs second-hand upright? Not a difficult answer for some super-savvy and ambitious pianists that I know of.  Your choice, though. However, I don’t want to hear you later complain why your technique hasn’t developed enough through the years.

 

  • STOP going on that holiday that costs £1000? You deserve that too? No, you don’t. Think again: You deserve a piano, remember? Don’t go to the Caribbean. Just go to the “other holiday”, say in Carmarthen (if in the beautiful Wales) that costs £500. And voila! Here’s a little bit more piano appear on your doorstep out of nowhere. And if it was me, well, I would have stayed at home altogether, skipping the holiday and save myself a whopping £1000! But, I guess that’s why I have two pianos already, and I’m not rich. Read on!

 

  • STOP eating out. I beg your pardon, but eating out basically means that you are willing to taste every other person’s dirty hands and most of the time, “behind the scenes“ there’s a dump for preparing the food, no matter how suspiciously clean it looks. Well, I’m exaggerating. But: Food at home is much, much better – your granny was always right about that. It’s tastier, healthier, lovingly made and you don’t have to face the horrible faces of the cranky waitresses and their bosses. Not that all of them are cranky I guess, most of them are of excellent qualities, and I have to admit that some restaurants keep traditions and all, but why risking it? Plus, you save moneys by the bucket!

 

  • STOP naming everything you buy “tools of the trade”. You just need to stop doing that. Not everything is “tools of the trade”. I’m sick and tired as a friend of mine used to say, of hearing this “tools of the trade” nonsense. You’re not a carpenter, you’re a pianist. Honestly, I’m going to open an office to offer free advice to the general public on how to spend their hard-earned cash. Yes, tools of the trade are tools of the trade. A mobile phone, for example, isn’t. If you want to do serious work or show off your “portfolio”( 🙄 ), you need a laptop. Mobiles are not made for serious work just of yet; not in the arts, not in music creation. A passenger car is not a tool of the trade – especially a new one. A track is. I’m not saying that you should show up on your first professional meeting on a tractor, but be sensible and buy a cheap and reliable brand – and always second hand of course. An expensive watch is not “tool of the trade”; a cheaper Casio should be enough for the trendier of us. An expensive suit combined with the “irresistible” aroma of unwashed underarms is not tool of the trade. However, a modest suit worn after you showered and tidied yourself up, is. I hope some of this starts to make sense to you. So, just don’t buy silly “tools of the trade” and save yourself half a piano.

 

  • STOP exiting your house. Yes, you heard me right. Every time you leave your front door chances are that you are going to spend money. Don’t. With the added advantage that you’re not going to be run over by a car. Stay at home! Home’s great! Make yourself a nice cup of tea, and read that dusty novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that you always meant to read. You’ll save thousands in a couple of years.

 

  • STOP using air conditioners and the house heating system. That alone can save you hundreds by the end of the year. Freezing cold house in the winter is great because, apparently, it kills the bugs too. Look: Just hang an outfit behind every door and you’re set. For example, wear a casual winter jacket while cooking in the kitchen and then when you’re in the living room, add a robe on top of that jacket for added connoisseurship. This way you can also enjoy your aperitif in style. During the summer, air conditioners are of course a waste of money and earthly resources. You’re excused of course if you reside in very hot countries, but still, perspiration from heat expels all the toxins from your body. Remember, for thousands of years humans survived fine without the use of air conditioning, and they even managed to write the Hamlet. So again, no excuses here.

 

  • STOP buying jewellery. Jewellery and other stones and metals as I call them, such as gold, silver, etc, are completely worthless. Why do you need metals hanging over your neck it’s beyond me. Unless you sell them for profit before you die, they’re utterly worthless. Natural beauty. Simple. Keep clean and tidy and no jewellery is needed. And who likes jewellery after all? Not the pianists. Pianists have better things to do instead of buying metals and stones; they buy pianos to practise.

 

  • STOP texting and calling. Becoming a hard-to-find person is and was always fantastic. Plus, everybody gullibly is going to think that you are some sort of an artistic personality since you do not care about the trivial things in life. Texting and calling only costs just a bit of money of course, but that adds up to quite a bill by the end of the year; instead, buy a pay-as-you-go phone and use the internet to communicate with everybody.  Emails and the horrid social media are great for that reason: Since everybody’s unfortunately 24/7 hooked on their social media, you can contact them at three o’clock in the morning and they’re going to jump up to get back to you. However, do avoid social media for any other use other than instant communication and perhaps building up your businesses. They’re wasting your life really.  Calls and texts are to be limited to family and close friends only.

 

  • STOP treating the others when out.  Always pretend that you’ve left most your money at home and so you “unfortunately” must buy the cheapest thing on the menu. Also, be kind enough and swiftly give the others the “pleasure” of footing the bill. Just make sure that you do not carry through this endeavour far too often, for risking to be labelled “stingy”. I know some people that have elevated stinginess to an artistic level that could be envied analogously by the greatest sculptors of the ancient times. Meanwhile, those people manage to buy their desired things far more easily than many of us.

 

  • STOP using paid transportation (or transportation that consumes money earned after tax). Just use as often as possible one of the greatest inventions of mankind, the bicycle. Ask my friends and acquaintances, but I used to save around eight hundred pounds a year by cycling alone. I calculated that in seven years I saved a minimum of £5000! That could have been basically a beaten-up grand, but who cares? It’s a piano after all – a most wonderful friend and companion.

 

  • STOP having a life. You don’t need a life, you need a piano! I’m only kidding of course, but some things in life need sacrifices. I hope that you can get the gist behind my harsh expressions and words. You are to decide which things are of importance to you and worthy of sacrifice. In our case here, piano is our ultimate goal. If not, then yes, go and buy a golden necklace.

That’s all for know. I might be adding to this list in the future. For now, I hope this article helped a little bit in your attempts to buy a piano, and take what I wrote above with a pinch of salt and not too seriously. As they inelegantly say, it’s food for thought.

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Many thanks to Rick Harris page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qc479Xgfse8, for the image used.

About talent

About talent

Tackling the subject of “talent” in music always fascinated me. When mentioning that someone had talent I naturally meant that they were good in their field but I didn’t necessarily mean that they were special; I knew that talent was possible for all of us.

I would like to express that I am fed up with this unending notion of people who are so “talented” in knowing what talent is (pun intended). Who wouldn’t be fed up? Talent here, talent there, talent everywhere. For some, even a brick wall is extremely talented, since it knows how to stop a car.

“Oh, my Auntie is playing the trumpet, she is so amazing!” Or,”My mother in law is performing the banjo tonight with the local singers, she is so talented”! No, she is not. She just happens to play the banjo, and you’re not.

But enough of my moaning and twaddle.

What talent is

 

Talent is a glorified way of saying you do something. Basically, when you cannot do something you’re not talented, whereas if you can do it, you are. Simple.

All that about having a gift or flair are completely misguiding and can do more damage than good to the young and eager to learn.

We are all equal

 

Every human brain, in my poorest of opinions, is the same; every human being is equally blessed to do amazing things and has the same quality of capacities no matter the place of birth, the race, etc. We all have the capacities to create divine music and perform wonderfully no matter what our financial backgrounds are, our parents’ upbringing or if the stars align properly on the 1st of march.

That being said, we must also appreciate that in this cruel world there are many people plagued with disabilities; however, those people still create wonderful things. They excel in sports, in the arts and sciences. Except, of course, in the unfortunate event when a person has a medical condition, that prevents the brain or the body to function properly. But even then, this unfortunate individual is equally important in shaping the world’s future; is equally talented.

We are all equally talented.

So, the only thing that can truly separate us from each other is our personal provenance; that is, our life experiences, our unique interests and leisure activities, and other personal paths that by the sheerest of chances we happened to follow.

Let me elaborate with an example: say you were living in the mountainous area of Oymyakon in Siberia, and didn’t have the access to play the piano but nevertheless adored it; still, you wouldn’t have been considered a talented pianist, because simply, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have “met” the piano altogether. Whereas, if you, the same person who adored the piano, were growing up in New York city, a more approachable and rounded musical environment, if it happened that you played the piano amazingly, you would have been considered a talented pianist.

Why talent is irrelevant

 

Talent is irrelevant for humans because the absence of it cannot prove that this world can not move forward successfully. One might even argue, that absence of talent can be advantageous to the natural continuation of things in this extremely partially understood world. Can you disprove this? I can’t, but I can’t prove it either.

Earth will still be able to revolve even if you don’t write the next Hamlet. Roses will still be able to bloom in spring, even if you don’t manage to complete your thirty-sixth symphony and instead be left with only thirty-five completed ones. Birds will still be able to exquisitely twit even if you don’t throw eight touchdowns in a single game.

Source: https://pixabay.com/en/classical-violin-piano-violinist-1595342/

All is needed and all is equally important in the continuation of this perfectly evolved world. Thus, the notion of talent is overrated and perhaps irrelevant.

Talent depends on provenance

 

As we are all equal, I’m afraid once again and hate to burst a couple of bubbles, that talent depends on some of the following factors:

Past experiences: The more relevant experiences you’ve had in your chosen field the more chances to be vainly considered talented.

Say that your neighbour liked listening to classical piano and lent you a couple of CDs to taste some classical pieces. This immediately makes you more educated regarding classical music and favours you in comparison to another pianist who didn’t have access to quality classical music, and this already puts on track to be considered “talented”. Doesn’t surprise you that a lot of good musicians’ parents are also musicians? That doesn’t mean of course that your parents have to be musicians for you to succeed in music, but that’s another story.

Liberal access to the subject in question: Simply put, it’s a matter of access to available resources. Again, it’s like the vitamins our doctor prescribes; the more you consume healthy foods the more your chances of leading a healthy life. In our case, as long as you are exposed to a lot of quality music material and being in the company of relevant and knowledgeable people of your subject, you increase your chances of becoming proficient in your chosen field; and being proficient, equals to being considered talented in this world.

Assistance from others: How much others are willing to help you realise your potential/interest. To succeed (and therefore to uselessly manage to be considered talented) you will need support and lots of it.

Say that you want to learn the piano and become a virtuoso pianist. This is your dream and you know that you can do it. Similarly to a previous example, you live on a remote island and the only way to play the piano is for your parents to buy you one from the mainland. Well, if they don’t buy you one, I’m afraid you’re doomed to forever live in the land of “untalented” pianists. And of course, you’ll never know if you were ever going to be considered a “talented” pianist. It sounds unfair, but that’s life.

Do you begin to be getting the gist of this “talent” nonsense? I hope you do because the sooner you realise that talent means absolutely nothing and kindly dismiss the talent proclaimers, the better are your chances to succeed in music; and, why not, become a more level-headed personality- that never hurts.

Talent requires the element of comparison

 

In order to be considered talented, you need to always be compared to someone or something, well… “less talented”.

So, for example, if you could only play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with your right hand, but your friend can play a sonatina by Kuhlau hands together, he can arguably be considered more “talented” than you (especially if the person judging is not an expert). But if your friend, who plays the sonatina, is compared with someone who plays Liszt’s b minor sonata in London’s Wigmore Hall, your friend quickly becomes less talented. So unfair, isn’t it?

Talent is depended on who is judging

 

The more experienced the judge, the strictest they become when judging talent. So, if you’re eager to be considered talented, make sure you are only be judged by gentle judges.

Thus, to the eyes of a friend of mine I could be considered an amazing mind who writes prolific articles, a great piano teacher and pedagogue and a wonderful human being, whereas to the eyes of an internationally acclaimed pianist or critic, I could only be considered a deluded amateur, and a wannabe writer who writes nonsensical and laughable articles with shrill tone. What do you think? 🤔could I be one?

Source:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Esau,_цирковой_шимпанзе_за_фортепиано._1900.jpg

 

The importance of talent

 

As much as I cringe at the very idea of “talent” I must concede that, somehow, we need the notion of talent and we need talent itself. We need the talent seekers, we need our groupie aunties, we need friends who think we are the next Hemingway or Christian Blackshaw and we need the word talent to be heard as often as possible.

I would like to conclude this article by expressing that even if talent means absolutely nothing, at least hunting for it can inspire us to reach new heights.

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How to choose the best possible piano edition

How to choose the best possible piano edition

Choosing the best edition of piano music has been a chore for a lot of us pianists since piano music entered the realm of serious music; that means, well… perhaps from the beginning of keyboard history.  Because of editions, pianists had always had to put up with stiff-liped opinions and judgmental experts, together with the ironic smirks of their beloved colleagues.

[with funny voice] “Is this the right edition for my music?” “Is the other one better?” “Will the panel of that piano competition approve of my playing?” “Will my auntie consent to my playing Chopin’s second ballad from this edition?” All those questions popped up at one time or another in our pianistic lives.

 

Edition anxiety

 

The reason why there is always a constant twaddle, moaning and superiority complex syndrome about editions and which is the most acceptable, is because pianists associate editions with their own musical standing. They think that a wrong edition could undermine their ability to perform and that a questionable edition would belittle them in the eyes of their colleagues in this judgmental world of classical music. Apparently, a correct edition would give the pianist, and generally the musician, the keys to musical legitimacy and a “license” to perform. It sounds a bit farfetched, but not too far from reality.

If only pianists could think that piano is just a piece of wood, with strings and keys that you press to make sounds…

Who has the right edition?  Nobody ever knew. Nobody will ever know. Do you know? Do you have the ultimate answer to state with authority that yours is the best edition, and no other can compete with it? As soon as the notes escape from the composer’s mind, there’s no return. They enter the realm of interpretation; an abyss of innumerable opinions and considerations. Even the original manuscript, is, in fact, an edition to the composer’s mind; an edition that in no way can replicate the actual mind.

 

There’s no best edition

 

There are a few things we are left with in order to make a plausible choice of which edition could be best for our own musical circumstances. Here, we should appreciate that there’s always no “best edition”; there’s only… “better edition”. This is because an edition is really a fictional representation of the original artefact. Even a facsimile edition is still a vaguest representation of the original work, since, arguably, you can still lose a lot of nuances (e.g. a composer’s handwriting stresses and other graphological observations that could signal underlying musical intentions). One could go as far as arguing that even the original manuscript is a “dreamy” statement of the composer’s mind.

So, when it comes to editions, we have a few of the following choices:

  1. Use straight “out-of-the-box” an edition that was suggested to us by someone else. (The suggester could be a teacher, a friend of ours, a scholar of the composer, or generally, anybody else).
  2. Get an edition from the store without really caring about its provenance and quality. Then edit this edition to fit our own performance views, or let our instructor do the editing for us and give us the end result to play.
  3. Acquire all editions of that work available in the world today, compare them (hopefully by researching) and then choose our favourite.
  4. Call every editor and ask them to explain their editorial suggestions, and then make a more informed decision regarding which edition to choose.
  5. Find the autograph music written originally by the composer, conduct our own research, and do our own editing – tough, for the laziest of us.
  6. And of course there are more drastic ways, such as finding the original manuscript of the composition, then, if the composer is not alive remove the composer from the grave and ask them to describe in writing how to perform their piece. Then, of course, make them sign their written description as a worldwide binding contract.

Can you see? The choice and the… madness are endless.

 

How to choose a music edition 

 

Simplicity is the elixir of music. 

Just pick an edition and start playing; yes, you’ve read it right. Any edition would do. Is this an oversimplification? Yes, it is. Why? Because, generally editors are mere… editors, and, of course, are human.  Often, they are well read and scholarly efficient people; well, perhaps more so than most of us, who haven’t published any editions in print. Do you have? And yes, every editor is different and every editor can be wrong or right. Every editor has their own advantages and disadvantages. There’s no perfection and there is no perfect editor. Typographical errors together with personal or universal musical preferences cannot count as legitimate reasons for dismissing an edition or an editor for that matter.

 

The best edition is “change”

 

It would be such an unfair situation for the composer and for music in general to reach editorial ultimatums and absolute certainties. Uncertainty is what drives music forward and glorifies its ever-changing medium. Static is not healthy.

Change in the musical zeitgeist should be welcomed, and change cannot happen if we live in a constant musical comfort zone. The music language is ever-evolving, and as with our spoken and written language, it evolves with assistance from our own wrongdoings. Editorial mistakes and controversial musical views are what ultimately shape music and, subsequently, our understanding of it.

So, just play; just put your fingers on the keys and paddle your own canoe like there is no tomorrow. No time to think and judge that horrifying edition. Do play and stop thinking, because music thrives in the air and not on the paper; it is this air that will eventually drive, like the most accomplished pilot, the pen on the page.

And one day, you might realise that your slower take on the La Campanella is actually not too far out from the zeitgeist.

 

 

(Many thanks to maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com, and http://www.publicdomainpictures.net for using their free images on this post)

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What is the best piano edition

What is the best piano edition

The Well-Tempered Clavier

In this article, we shall discuss – albeit in no depth whatsoever and try to give an answer to what is the best edition of any given piano work.

Before I start, please, do let me ask you the following questions: Can it ever be an ultimate edition for a pianist to follow? Can it ever be an edition that will make every other edition obsolete? Is there any such edition available to us today? I suspect, that to all those three questions your answer would, hopefully, be a resounding “No”.

At this point let’s quickly define what an “edition”, per se, of a piano work, is; this applies to all other instruments: An “edition” is a notated view of how a work should be interpreted. In our case, what takes place is, that the piano editor, by hopefully following research, presents us with her/his own notated views of a piano work.

It’s vital to understand that there are many reasons for why we need editions for works of music. Some of them are:

  1. To correct mistakes that composers themselves explicitly admitted to have done in a composition.
  2.  To correct mistakes, the editor thought the composer might negligently have done.
  3.  For a composer to improve upon a composition by correcting passages or even adding more music.
  4.  To scholarly give a personal opinion of how a piece was intended to be interpreted by the composer.
  5.  To preserve a piece’s accurate future interpretation, after consultation with the composer.
  6.  To improve the readability of a piece.
  7.  To give our own, personal interpretational view on a work of music.

Can it ever be an ultimate edition?

 

To cut to the chase, I’m afraid that NO edition is or will ever be good enough. No edition of music will ever get close enough to a composer’s music intentions. No edition will ever mirror the composer’s mind.  Here are two reasons for why this happens:

a) A composer, axiomatically, can never express themselves precisely when notating their music. This is the first point. Here’s why: say, we have a piano piece. A composer can never (or is enormously hard)  do the following: notate how hard each key should be pressed by each finger on each hand; this is also almost impossible to achieve, because there are millions of pianos in this world so a composer has to accommodate his notation for all those instruments: impossible. Moreover, the composer if they want to be as accurate as possible, they will have to precisely notate the exact progression of the dynamics; for example, how should you crescendo from a Piano to Forte in a phrase? Should it be done robotically, increasing decibel by decibel? Should it crescendo with a more “curved” progression? What kind of curve should this progression have? If you go down that road, even more questions arise: For instance, how long a composer’s staccato should last in time on a Steinway Grand D or a Yamaha U1 A? As you can see, no composer can ever notate as precisely, and perhaps no composer wants to do just that.

The only way a composition could potentially and credibly be precisely notated (if ever), is when a composer pre-selects a particular instrument (model, etc.) to perform his composition, write her/his composition to only be performed by that particular instrument, making sure that this instrument doesn’t physically depreciate of course, then choose a specific time and date for the composition to be performed, be in constant consultation with a sole performer of that composition, and by fulfilling other extremely intricate requests.

b) The second reason for why no edition will ever be sufficient enough is because a composer understands the element of the existence of an interpreter. An interpreter of a work of music could essentially be a music editor, a music critic, a listener or a performer of course. The composer, in a way, has to accept that his music will always be vaguely interpreted by his interpreters. In music, every composition will always have an interpreter, and that is the definitive meaning of the word interpreter: You essentially interpret something the way you, personally, see it.

So, what a composer fundamentally does when notating her/his music, is to give a broad map of his composition – a composition that derived from his brain (which is impossible to pick) – to a performer, and leave the performer to make do with whatever musical tools they have accumulated through time, and hope that the performer will come as close as possible to his indented idea; hard.

 

Don’t throw away your edition, just yet.

 

Indeed, please do not throw away your, allegedly, obsolete edition just yet. There are a few reasons for why you should never do that – Here is a couple of them:

1. An obsolete edition can show us the provenance of how things were done in the past. Even if we think that an edition is valid no more, at the same time, we could seize the opportunity to taste the way earlier editors used to approach editing a piece, the tools they used and even the choice of symbols they preferred.  Indeed, we could keep an old edition as an objet d’art that could be of historical value in the future, for many reasons.

2. An objectionable edition can make us better editors: Well, if we are being given everything on a plate, we will never improve our skills in this never-ending world of music; so grab the opportunity and correct a faulty edition, if you can. Do use, perhaps, your preferred fingerings, or call your old teacher and ask them if indeed this composer meant to write that extra note at the end of that piece.

 

What is the best edition?

 

The best edition is the edition you currently possess. And you have to make the best of it.

I know what you are thinking: “But my edition has a zillion wrong fingerings”, or “Wait to see how out-of-style this trill is written in my edition”, “Oh, but the editor forgot that those instruments didn’t do those things back then” and other, well, silly remarks, if I may say.

Well, that’s life I’m afraid we have to accept this fact about editions; let me be unkind and ask you, why didn’t you write a better edition to be on the shelves of Chappel’s of Bond Street or The Juilliard Store in New York. If you think that the editors of those unacceptable editions were amateurs and goofs, why is that your edition is not celebrated in last month’s cover of Pianist Magazine? Indeed, why are you reading this article right now? Guess why; because you don’t have a clue which is the best edition. (I don’t think I’m getting too many likes on my Facebook page, after this article).

I’m sick and tired of that constant fault-finding and moaning that “there are always better editions”, and “I wish this edition did this, and I wish that edition did the other thing” and “yes, I suppose this is an ok edition, but the other one is better”, and all this nonsense. Get a grip – editions are there to help and suggest. Editions are not written in stone. If you don’t want to play them, fine. Just Buy the Urtexter Intergalactic Of The Ultimate Order Edition, or something. Terribly sorry to be so harsh.

 

The purpose of any edition should also be to teach us how to follow orders

 

Instead of this constant drivel about intolerable editions, I suggest that we first learn how to actually interpret those “wrong” editorial suggestions. An edition, be it wrong or correct, cannot salvage our incapability of performing something correctly. A bad or a good edition is not going to improve our technique or musicality (that shows through technique); well, not necessarily. I’m not saying that you should follow the edition that says that it’s better to play Chopin’s first study 0p.10 with your nose, but what I’m trying to say is that a bad edition, can at least teach us how to follow orders. Always, be gracious and give credit to an editor; you can always learn something from any edition.

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The Remote Island

 

I just want to finish this, by asking you if I may, to try to relate to the following scenario;

Imagine that somehow you find yourself stranded on a remote island. You are stuck with a horrible edition of your favourite composer and you are just so eager to play their music. What, would you do? Would you just put the music down and refuse to play? Would you just say “no, I’m not playing this edition?” Or, would you try to improve upon this edition, by using your own musical capacities? – Capacities, that can never be completely perfected – What would you do? What is the right thing to do? Keep in mind, that you can never get the perfect edition.

In life, we are the ultimate editors of what comes to us.

Pianist’s Block: How to overcome it and keep practicing more constructively.

Pianist’s Block

As in writer’s block¹, piano playing, by being a creative activity and hopefully not a monotonous typewriter-type routine, often encompasses its own share of stalling.

So, the “Pianist’s Block” per se, is when you have run out of ideas of improving a piece of music, but also, when you’ve lost the motivation to practice.

It’s arguably one of the most dreaded situations a pianist could face.

In this article, we are going to learn how to overcome the pianist’s block, regain motivation and get back to practicing, with flair.

 

Loss of motivation to practise.

 

It is an extremely common human disposition to have difficulty in performing a task that requires repetition. In our case, this “repetitive” or perhaps monotonous task, is the act of practicing. And, as you know, practicing is hard as it is, let alone practicing efficiently. Students are the usual suspects here, and their difficulty to get down and practice and generally doing non pleasant activities has always been there from the beginning of time; this was always normal though. There are many reasons for students’ difficulty to practice; here are some of them:

  • Too much homework at home, so not enough time to squeeze practicing in.
  • Too tired after an academically exhausting day.
  • Too many after-school activities that drained their energy by the time they have finally reached the piano.
  • Too bored to practice – do not feel guilty about this, it’s expected.
  • Prefer watching their favorite TV series or playing their beloved video games – also understandable.

We need to appreciate, that all reasons above, are perfectly legitimate, reasonable, and of course, absolutely typical for us, mere human beings. We are not robots, let me remind you, be programmed to do things faultlessly.

To make their children listen and do the right thing, parents for instance, had always had to resort to some grown-up ways; for example, they would use mild warnings. They would often say, “If you don’t practice the scales as your teacher told you, you are not having pizza for supper tonight”, or,” If you don’t learn Für Elise by Christmas, you are not getting the latest iPhone”. Those ways were always perfectly normal, because, children inherently needed to ultimately learn the value of things and the value of doing things timely and correctly.

Make no mistake, if parents keep succumbing to their offsprings’ tantrums and their, predictable, constant desire for pleasurable pastimes, their children are going to eventually hold them accountable for their future failures. And ultimately, the children are going ask their parents why they haven’t pushed them enough to accomplish more things in life.

As a general advice, we need to encourage and be sympathetic with people who find regular practicing hard. We should listen to them, understand their way of thinking and try not to make them feel guilty. Our goal, if at all possible, should be to help them recover from a possible pianist’s block and help them carry on practicing and improving their pieces, efficiently.

To finish this section, I would say that loss of motivation in things we do in life was always very common. There were always many reasons for it and they differ from person to person.

However, there is always hope, and as the saying goes, there’s always, always, a solution to every problem,.

 

There’s always a solution to every problem.

 

In life, as you appreciate, when we like something a lot, we can’t wait to do it, and we like doing it as often as possible. So, I have to alarm you that if you have reached a point of motivation-to-practice loss, it’s time to start reconsidering things in music perhaps, and recover your music goals.

As with the “writer’s block”, there isn’t any university course, or a vaccine, or a special miraculous treatment to treat and cure the pianist’s block forever. We just have to follow some simple techniques that will eventually help us to soldier on through this peculiar condition.

Here are my two techniques that I found help my pupils to shake off the pianist’s block:

 

Recovering from pianist’s block

1. Robot Mode

 

First of all, we have to turn Robot Mode on. The general idea here is to just sit on the piano stool, place our fingers on the keyboard and start playing, without evaluating too much. However, refrain from playing “Robotically”. Far from it. Let me elaborate:

Robots, as seen on TV or generally perceived by most people, just go about their businesses without expressing feelings and without evaluating the reason why they have to accomplish their tasks. They just act “robotically”, as we say.

Here’s how to exercise the Robot Mode:

1. Every time you go past your piano try not to do the following: A) Think about how difficult your pieces are. B) The sheer length of them. C) Their negative psychological impact on you-if any. Just see the piano as the wonderful instrument it is.

2. When you have time during the day, just sit on the piano stool and open any of your piano books.

3. Place right hand on the keys and start playing the passage you are not comfortable with, without thinking its complexity. Repeat with the left hand.

4. Just plough on, without any type of emotional evaluation.

5. After, you have finished practicing, treat yourself with a small gift. For example, a cup of tea, or a small bar of chocolate, or even watch your favorite series. This last part is extremely important to do.

6. Repeat this process daily.

By following the above steps, gradually, you will become accustomed to the notion that practicing is not a laborious activity but a pleasurable one, since you stop thinking of the negatives, and instead you just receive the pleasure deriving from just playing music.

 So, to put Robot Mode into perspective, pianists just need to start practicing without evaluating the act-of-practising, prior to them commencing practicing.

Through this unchallenged act of sitting down and practice, you will start automatically and inevitably find interpretational answers and rekindle your desire to keep playing the piano. Well, you will find more interpretational answers than not practicing at all, anyway. You will also start experiencing incremental results and progress.

Humans, often tend to value the importance of things accordingly to their emotional state at any particular time. That’s why we often use the expressions “I don’t feel like it” or “I’m not in the mood for it”, etc. However, when we feel stressed out or are in a grave situation and we have to take quick action, logic kicks in and we start doing the right thing without evaluating our actions too much, because simply, there is not enough time available to us. Here’s an example: Say that you need to perform a hard piano piece for a concert in two months time. At the same time, you know that you only need perhaps a week to learn the piece. Subconsciously, you know that the right thing to do is to start practicing as soon as possible and get done with it. However, since you’re human and naturally susceptible to procrastination, you could just decide to start practising in the following days; that’s perfectly acceptable in our lives. However, if your concert was next week, you would just sit down and practise without further ado, without thinking about it, without overanalyzing and without procrastinating, because you know your piano limits and because there is not enough time left.

So, coming back to the “unchallenged act of sitting down and practice”, the essence of the Robot Mode is that the appetite comes with eating, as the saying goes.

 

Recovering from pianist’s block

2. Setting Short Term Goals

 

The next approach in recovering from the pianist’s block is to set short term goals.

“Short term goals” in music, means to set more achievable, more realistic and smaller objectives, to help you complete a grander music task.

Instead of thinking, for instance, “I have to play the Hammerclavier by the summer”, you have to set smaller goals/steps in achieving your ultimate goal, of playing the Hammerclavier. Having to play a momentous work can be overwhelming, so, to stop vagueness in practising and loss of focus, you just need to take it step by step.

Here’s how:

Example Goal: Learn the Hammerclavier. (Here, the Hammerclavier stands for our ultimate goal)

1. Do not contemplate the piece’s gestalt. Well, do not often contemplate the piece’s gestalt. In essence, we should refrain from constantly reflecting on the whole picture/sheer length/magnitude/artistic influence, popular culture etc. of our piece. This could overwhelm us and make get down to practicing even harder.

2. Break piece into smaller objectives. Instead of, say, thinking that you need to start completing the first movement, decide that you are going to learn a system per day. This way, the piece doesn’t overwhelm you and you just keep on practicing more comfortably and more realistically.

3. Join smaller goals together. This is the final part; merging all those smaller objectives together to consolidate the piece. (Piece = our ultimate goal).

So, there’s not a lot of science in practicing constructively, with permanence and flair. All we need is a couple of positive thoughts, a piano stool, a cup of tea on the table perhaps and a bit of strategy. So, do consider using combined those two little suggestions above, and you might enjoy a more prosperous piano life ahead.

¹The term Writer’s Block was coined by Edmund Bergler in 1947. Read more about Edmund Bergler, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Bergler
GUEST POST: How to Practice Piano: Tips for Exercises OFF the Keys! [Infographic]

GUEST POST: How to Practice Piano: Tips for Exercises OFF the Keys! [Infographic]

I would like to present you with a guest Infographic, curtesy of TakeLessons. This infographic is about practicing and improving your skills even when you’re not sitting at the piano bench. It shows exercises that you can do off-the-bench that will help you improve your overall musicianship. It includes exercises like listening to (and internalizing) piano pieces, working on your hand shape, and loosening any tension in your body. I hope you enjoy it!

TakeLessons is an online marketplace that connects music teachers and students for private lessons. In addition to private lessons, TakeLessons offers online group classes in various subjects, and publishes guides and tutorials for students to learn from.

Off-the-Keys-Adults

 

Off-the-Keys-Kids

 

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