A radical approach
to learning piano

 

 

Practice and learning materials to develop fluent musicianship with genuinely useful piano skills such as improvisation, playing by ear and fluent sight-reading

WHAT MUSICAL FLUENCY IS NOT…

The language of music and the stories it tells are two separate things: we use the same elements of language to say many different things. Fluency in musical language is not the ability to perform well, to mimic or design good music – some people can do these things without being fluent. And it is not the ability to analyse music cleverly based on theory. So fluency in music is no different from fluency in verbal language, which arises naturally from practising using vocabulary and syntax in an effortless way without thinking or working out.

WHAT MUSICAL FLUENCY IS…

Fluency is a foundation skill that makes all musical endeavours much easier and potentially far more rewarding, whilst opening up the road to skills advancement indefinitely. A musician who is fluent and literate in the language of music has a clear grasp of tonal and rhythmic vocabulary and syntax – rhythm cells and tonal blocks organised within a rhythmic matrix (the underlying groove or metre) and a tonal matrix (the keyboard map). Fluent musicianship is the ability to play (“say”) music intentionally and spontaneously, straight from our imagination (true improvisation)… or to play music we can remember by ear… or by reading it from a score – even an unfamiliar one – that we instantly hear in our head… or to write it down in musical notation without thinking, as we hear or imagine it.

FREE YOUR INNER MUSICIAN’S NATURAL MUSICAL SENSE

Obviously, there are rare savant individuals with extraordinary intuitive musical abilities but you don’t need to be one of them. Don’t believe the common misconception that you need special superpowers like perfect pitch to be a fluent musician. Your natural inner musician is powerful enough. Consider how people listen to music and intuitively understand it. They enjoy music and recognise a good or bad performance when they hear one without knowing why. This proves that their inner musician is already highly developed. We just need to train the mind to let go of old musical habits and grasp musical shapes and patterns consciously.

WHY WE NEED A RADICALLY DIFFERENT APPROACH TO TRAINING

Musical sense in today’s culture is based on a passive relationship to music. Music is perceived as a thing that exists outside us rather than as a language system that we can internalise fully to use consciously and effortlessly. So we approach making or practising music in the following ways:

“KARAOKE” OR DESIGN SENSE by approximating a musical result mimetically or by designing it – this is often but not always melody-based
MUSCLE MEMORY through repetitive rehearsal or drilling, including scales and exercises
THEORETICAL KNOWLEDGE by analysing music in terms of complex code. This blocks fluency because processing this heavy data in real time is impossible – ear-training and practical musicianship approaches like solfège are very theory-heavy
SHOW-AND-PLAY TECHNIQUE by treating music as mechanical execution

To process everything in real time, you must practice maintaining focus whilst letting go of all critical thinking – this can be challenging at first

FREE YOUR INNER CHILD!

For fluency to develop, it is absolutely necessary to experiment and play with a sense of wonder and expressive freedom like a pre-5 child. It takes some digging deep to open yourself up to this wonderful childlike state. You need to let go of all prior learning, all preconceptions and mental and emotional blockages and become a true beginner. The kind of practice that leads to musical fluency has a sense of self-contained enjoyment – you must be like a kid in a sandpit. Any playing you do using conventional passive musicianship must be kept strictly separate from this sanctum of playful discovery.

THIS KNOWLEDGE IS PRACTICAL – SO UNDERSTANDING COMES GRADUALLY THROUGH DEDICATED PRACTICE

There is an element of intuition to musical fluency and trying to use typical a priori reasoning will only create blockage. This can be an issue for many people who require a clear understanding of how something works before trying it. A leap of faith is needed. Practical understanding is very different from conventional cognitive or technical approaches using theory or show-and-play instruction which block musical fluency. The key to success is to devote many hours of playful, curious practice mastering each step and building skills and understanding together organically.

FIND YOUR GROWTH MINDSET AND PRACTICE IN AN AUTOTELIC WAY

Results-driven learners who need extrinsic rewards will struggle. It’s vital to have the right mindset, to discover how the intrinsic pleasure of moment-by-moment focus and expressive letting go is enough to sustain your practice. Paradoxically, good musical results (a byproduct rather than a goal) come only when you stop pursuing them. You need to be loose, willing to make a mess, then clarity comes. It’s meditative, slightly Zen – being in the zone – in a state of flow!

YOUR CALM FOCUSED MIND AND INTUITIVE GENIUS WORKING TOGETHER

Focusing on the simple model of musical language whilst letting go and expressing unselfconsciously is really more a meditative skill than a cognitive one. Practising musical fluency is a beautiful ritual, a soul-to-soul conversation, pure self-expression. It requires an playful rebellious attitude that rejects the pressure of results-driven, ego control. The willingness to follow a simple discipline with playful rigour is a simple choice but not an easy one: in fact, it is a serious but worthwhile challenge.

EXPRESS YOURSELF, DON’T IMPRESS YOURSELF (OR ANYONE ELSE)!

A critical, objective mindset – typically encouraged for learning – will block your fluency. Fluent musicians express themselves unselfconsciously rather than listen critically to the results. You cannot be a critic and authentically expressive at the same time! You must be willing to let go of what you have played (it’s too late anyway – it’s gone!) and not worry about what you’re about to play: all your conscious attention must be devoted to the musical element that you are “saying” right now in this present moment, this current place within the musical structure. And you must really mean it! Devoted focus on the rhythmic matrix, moment by moment, is the key!

Sight-reading and playing by ear are wonderful ways of practising and I encourage them – there are lots of materials to help with sight-reading. However, the essential, core practice always involves some degree of improvising – spontaneous self-expression using an expanding musical vocabulary that you deeply internalise.

THIS IS A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY, NOT A PRESCRIBED COURSE

Fluency only develops through self-directed, expressive play. Highly prescribed courses with fixed learning objectives cannot train true fluency because we all learn at different rates and have different psychological blockages to clear. So instead, I offer assorted study and practice materials, which people must explore for themselves. So whilst this is not a course, I do present the materials in a step-by-step way to help students develop their skills incrementally and assess their progress along their journey of discovery.

I don’t publish testimonials because each person’s experience will be entirely unique. So you must decide for yourself if this approach is right for you. To be honest, because this is such a counter-culture approach to learning music, it requires a real paradigm shift that can be too much for some people. And there are a few musicians out there who get nice results without being fluent musically. You might simply be curious about my approach without wanting to commit yourself to real fluency training. All this is why I keep the prices low. If you’re serious about going all in with this training, please think carefully about whether you have the right mindset. You can check out my free videos and read the extensive copy from an older incarnation of this website HERE.

To see if this approach is really what you’re seeking, you can even…

Visit my PlayPianoFluently playlist on YouTube to gain further insights and don’t forget to subscribe to be notified when new videos are posted!