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…

As a fluent and literate musician, I have a deep knowledge of tonal and rhythmic vocabulary and syntax. Music for me is just like language. Fluency gives me the ability to play music spontaneously, straight from my imagination (true improvisation)… or by ear… or by reading it from a score that I can instantly hear in my head.

WHAT MUSICAL FLUENCY IS NOT…

Fluency is not just the ability to perform or memorise music well. Having a fluent grasp of musical language and what we choose to “say” using that musical language are separate things. But fluency is a foundation skill. It makes all other musical endeavours (including theory) incredibly easy and much more rewarding.

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. You don’t special superpowers like perfect pitch to be a fluent musician. Believing that you already have a powerful inner musician is not always easy. It goes against accepted norms. But we do have a natural sense of rhythm and tonality.

But consider that people listen to music and intuitively understand it. They recognise a good performance when they hear one without knowing why. This proves that their inner musician is already highly developed. We just need to train it to recognise musical shapes and patterns consciously

 

WE NEED A RADICALLY DIFFERENT APPROACH TO TRAINING

Current common musical training practices don’t promote active fluency – instead they promote the following kinds of passive musicianship:

MUSCLE MEMORY through repetitive rehearsal or drilling
KARAOKE SENSE by approximating the musical result mimetically
THEORETICAL KNOWLEDGE by explaining music in terms of complex code that is too slow to process in real time – even practical musicianship approaches like solfège are very theory-heavy
SHOW-AND-PLAY TECHNIQUE by treating music as mechanical execution

Becoming musically fluent using a simple model of musical language requires little cognitive effort but it is not easy. But if approached in the right way, practising lots with excellent focus and letting go, it is a very natural skill.

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 and become a true beginner. You must practice with self-contained enjoyment,like a kid in a sandpit. And whilst you can still play using conventional passive musicianship, this must be kept strictly separate from your sanctum of playful discovery.

THIS KNOWLEDGE IS PRACTICAL – UNDERSTANDING ONLY COMES WITH PRACTICE

It is impossible to understand how musical fluency works a priori, in some intellectual way. Many people require a clear understanding before embarking on the commitment of devoting time to practising. Unfortunately, this will block them. Playful practice is the key to success: whilst the 10000 hour principle is probably overkill, you will still need to spend plenty hours mastering each step.

TRY TO FIND YOUR GROWTH MINDSET AND PRACTICE IN AN AUTOTELIC WAY

Results-driven learners who need extrinsic rewards may struggle unless they can develop the right mindset. The intrinsic pleasure of moment-by-moment focus and expressive letting go must sustain you. Musical results come when you stop pursuing them. You need to be loose, willing to make a mess, then clarity comes. It’s all a bit 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 more of a meditative skill than a cognitive one. Musical practice is a beautiful ritual, a soul-to-soul conversation. A willingness to give up ego control and follow a simple discipline with playful rigour is not easy at all: it a serious but worthwhile challenge.

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 don’t work because we all develop fluency at different rates and have different psychological blocks to focusing and letting go. So I only offer study and practice materials which people must explore for themselves. This is not a course, although I have tried to present the skills in a step-by-step way to help people see their progress.

Also, I don’t publish testimonials because each person’s experience will be entirely unique. And I have to be 100% honest in saying that this approach really will not suit everyone. Think carefully whether you have the right mindset.

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

A critical, objective mindset – typically encouraged for learning – will block you. A fluent musician expresses themselves unselfconsciously rather than listens to the results. You cannot be in the audience and at the piano at the same time! You must be willing to let go of what you have played (it’s gone) and not worry about what you’re about to play: all your attention must be devoted to what you are saying right now! And you must mean it from deep within. That’s fluency!

So whilst sight-reading and playing by ear are absolutely valid fluency practices that I do encourage, the essential, core practice is improvising – spontaneous self-expression using musical vocabulary that you have deeply internalised.

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