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 need special superpowers like perfect pitch to be a fluent musician. It can be hard to accept that you already have a powerful inner musician, as it goes against accepted norms. But we do have a natural sense of rhythm and tonality.
Consider how 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 the mind to let go of old musical habits and grasp 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
Playing the piano fluently using a clear model of musical language requires little cognitive effort.
The training is simple – although many people may struggle. But if you practise in a calm, playful, focused state, it comes naturally.
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
It is impossible to understand intellectually how musical fluency works a priori. This can be an issue for many people who require a clear understanding of how something works before taking a leap of faith and committing to hours of practise. However, conventional cognitive or technical approaches using theory or show-and-play instruction will block musical fluency. The key to success is to devote many hours of playful, curious practice mastering each step and building skills and understanding organically.
TRY TO FIND YOUR GROWTH MINDSET AND PRACTICE IN AN AUTOTELIC WAY
Results-driven learners who need extrinsic rewards will struggle unless they can develop the right mindset and discover how the intrinsic pleasure of moment-by-moment focus and expressive letting go is enough to sustain them. Paradoxically, good musical results come only 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 really more a meditative skill than a cognitive one. Practising musical fluency is a beautiful ritual, a soul-to-soul conversation, pure self-expression. A willingness to give up ego control and follow a simple discipline with playful rigour is not complicated at all – nor is it easy: 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 train true fluency because we all learn at different rates and have different psychological blocks to focusing and letting go. So instead, I offer assorted 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 assess their progress along their journey of discovery.
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 about whether you have the right mindset. You can read more HERE.
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 wonderful ways of practising that I encourage, the essential, core practice is improvising – spontaneous self-expression using an expanding musical vocabulary that you deeply internalise.