Play Piano With Confidence

Play Piano With ConfidenceI have been conducting piano lessons in a one-on-one environment for many years. Many of these clients have been adults who already had a fair to good amount of previous experience with reading and playing the piano. Their knowledge of and ability to play chords has also been significant enough in order that they might be competent enough to be able to perform a rendition of a favorite standard song in a decent fashion.

Yet it has always interested me that, despite their possession of such knowledge and skills, many of them have one significant characteristic in common:

Their playing lacks that “certain something” that lets a listener know they are in command of that piano keyboard in terms of producing genuine music.

Note that I said their playing lacks that “certain something” rather than saying they don’t possess such ability.

So, what’s responsible for this lack of confidence that is necessary for a performance to come across as convincing? Well, simply put, the music cannot come out of the instrument if it does not first reside in the performer. I see it time and time again where an individual will approach playing a song as if they are mechanically trying to make that piano do what they want. In other words, rather than hearing and feeling the song within and allowing that experience to be naturally conveyed to the instrument, they seem to view the piano as a “machine” to which they are giving instructions via “pushing buttons.”

This is an issue that is much easier conveyed one-on-one than it is via writing about, of course. However, it is so important to the musician who aspires to play authentically that it needs to be addressed. I created two specific video sessions that are aimed at helping a pianist to get that “flow” happening in his or her playing as well as providing suggestions for how to approach playing those left-hand chords in a way that makes musical sense. You can access How To Play Standard Songs With Confidence #1 and #2 by clicking here.

Remember, if you are not able to fluently sing a song – at least hearing and feeling it within – then your potential for performing that song in a fashion that “sings” is rather limited. Therefore, a preliminary suggestion is to familiarize yourself with that song so well internally that what your “singing on the inside” must inevitably be projected through your instrument and, ultimately, to your listeners’ ears. Once you master this relationship between yourself and your instrument, your music will always be taken seriously.

Be Lyrical: The Other Stuff Will Follow

Overly Decorated CakeFocus Less On The Frosting

I’ve become convinced that the majority of those looking to enhance there improvisational skills, styling strategies, and chord techniques often overlook what is really missing in their piano playing. They feel that, once they acquire enough “fancy dance” technology to add to their playing, they will be at a playing level that warrants their own approval and that others will admire.

I don’t see it working this way and, as I’m writing this, an analogy is coming to mind. Imagine a cook who has little experience in baking a cakes placing his or her main focus on the frosting and decorations. If you were in those shoes, you could experiment with all the frosting flavors and colors you want along with adding an array of sprinkles and decorations .  Bottom line: if the cake underneath doesn’t taste good, all those toppings won’t be worth a thing. The cake will still taste lousy.

On the flip side, an awesome tasting cake can stand by itself without even being enhanced with any topping at all. If it tastes great, people will come back for more.

Know Your Musical Priorities

Let’s equate this with the essentials of a good song performance. If the melody, harmony, and rhythm all add up to something that is easy to listen to, you have a good song… even before anything is added to it like phat chord voicings, decorative fills, or anything else.

With that being the case, I still know what it’s like for an aspiring player to want to learn all about those additives without even having reached a point of playing a song fluently and tastefully.

She’s Delicate. Be Nice To Her

Consider the most important element of a tune. It’s your melody. Even as an instrumentalist, your melody is the “voice”of the song. It’s at the forefront of your performance. It needs to be played confidently. The way you phrase that melody can make it or break it. The dynamics of that me!ody are an emotional aspect of that “voice.”

As long as you place your emphasis on the melody in this fashion, the most simple of chord accompanying techniques will serve it well. The fills will mean even more. Everything is done to support that beautiful melody to keep it remaining beautiful.

When learning a new song, look upon the different roles of your playing as you would a band consisting of a small, dainty female singer, a guitarist, drummer, and a bassist. In order for that singer to remain in the spotlight and shine, those other musicians (your bass line, chord playing, etc. ) must maintain respect for that voice. Their job is to support and enhance the integrity of that voice.

Join The Minority

When you think along these lines, then your learning of all those finer details of playing will have a better defined purpose. Your reasons for wanting to learn them becomes more justified. Why? Because, now, you’re a musician in the truest sense of the word.

How Thoughtless Can You Possibly Be?

Create Freely Without Thought

Uphill Battle?

When was the last time you sat at that piano or keyboard of yours without thinking about what you were doing? Do you find that each and every playing session involves striving to achieve something a certain way as your inner critic has his or her way with you?

If so, you’re not alone. It’s a topic that tends to occasionally surface during discussions between almost every student and myself. When it does, the conversation causes me to self-reflect as well.

It strikes me in a rather amazing way that, in an arena that is meant to be creative, most individuals who engage themselves in the study of music can be among the most self  criticizing people on the planet. It’s especially interesting  when you consider that your most creative juices generally flow best when you’re thinking the least.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s value in allowing the left brain to decipher, analyze, experiment, etc. That all goes hand in hand with increasing understanding of theory and honing certain skills to greater levels. We’re not here to question that.

Become Temporarily Disconnected

That said, that self critic is often given license to more than his or her fair share. We get trapped… stuck in our heads. Frustration results and, suddenly, what we’re doing isn’t fun anymore.

If this sounds familiar, to any degree, let it serve as a wake up call. There’s another way. Stop. Stop. Stop.

Stop thinking.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Here’s a suggestion. Just the idea of doing this makes people uncomfortable. But, then again, an idea is a thought which isn’t necessarily your friend. Go to you piano or keyboard (or whatever your instrument), place your hands and fingers on those keys, and allow them to lead. Let them move freely. Don’t make sense of any of it. Don’t force it to conform to what you would ordinarily think sounds good.

Don’t let that self critic get a word in edgewise. 

As a kid, I remember owning and having fun with a finger paint set. Have you had that experience? It was like I could do no wrong… because that’s how it was supposed to be. Maybe you did that with crayons. As I write this, I’m recalling my coloring book days, too, how I used to get angry with myself for going outside the lines. Now, I thrive on it.

Knock! Knock! Sorry, Nobody’s Home…

Try giving yourself this gift of “coloring outside the lines” for 60 to 90 seconds a day or so as you let your fingers tickle those ivories. Yes, forget the melody, forget the chords, forget the scales, forget what you “should” be doing. “Finger paint” on those keys. Be like that toddler sitting at those keys for the first time as you observe what happens. Sure, that critic will knock on your door. Just see that and don’t respond.

You’re Out Of Your Mind

As you engage in this kind of activity, you might feel like you’re going out of your mind… like you’re losing it. That’s the ticket. Great job. Don’t worry. All the logical nonsense will be there when you finish.

Play… feel… play… smile… get lost in the mess and love it for what it is.

How thoughtless of you. Congratulations.