What about perfect pitch – and aren’t most people tone deaf?
It is sad that many of us believe the idea that we need to train our musical ear, first before we can expect to be fluent musically, or worse that most of us have little or no musical ear and there’s nothing you can do about it. Aural training just makes you good at aural tests, it doesn’t make you fluent. Intervals, chords, scales, time signatures, note values etc. – these are all elements that the brain processes far too slowly for musical fluency. This training teaches you tonal and rhythmic elements that are instantly recognisable and which you can use to express yourself effortlessly.
The truth is, we all have perfect pitch. Yes, you read that right! Unless you are one of the tiny percentage of people who suffer from genuine tone-deafness – a rare condition that does exist, like colour-blindness – you have pretty good tonal memory. Studies prove that when we recall a favourite record, we hear it playing in our heads in the right key, not the wrong one. Absolute pitch is of little importance anyway, it is a sense of tonal relationships or a map of tonality that we must develop.
The typical karaoke approach to understanding music needs to be replaced. Instead of being deeply familiar only with certain songs or pieces, we can instead learn to tag tonal or harmonic elements that are used in all music. “Tag” means know and love deeply as meaningful musical elements that make sense – not only as sounds but also as physical, spatial structures within a clear map of our instrument, in this case the keyboard. We must also learn to tag rhythmic elements.
Oddly, people seem less worried about their poor rhythmic awareness. This common negligence will block fluency. Tonal fluency is just not possible without first being equally fluent in the language of rhythm. So rhythm training forms a major part of the work you do on this training.
We all have natural, unconscious tonal sense!
Everyone has perfect pitch – we imagine familiar music and hear it in the right key, not the wrong one!
We all grasp rhythmic and tonal patterns and relationships intuitively, otherwise when we heard new music, it would make no sense.
You might know one of those extraordinary people who can improvise or play by ear with varying degrees of fluency without actually grasping how they do it consciously. This extremely rare and mysterious talent is definitely not something most people can ever aspire to. Unfortunately, we tend to revere such dark talents in our culture and generate a disempowering mystique around fluent musical skills, which creates the myth that uncommon, strange and very special talents are necessary for musical fluency. However, it is much better if our musical fluency is based on principles that we understand clearly and consciously: rather than relying on intuition and blind confidence, we can have real trust in our skills, and progress along a path of lifelong learning, always refining and improving them.
It’s passive playing that makes most people’s playing stiff and inexpressive, not lack of talent
The belief that problems with playing the piano are simply due to a lack of talent is such a cop-out, pedagogically! But this unhelpful belief seems to be confirmed when we encounter another dark talent – the ability to play with musical flair, even when there is no genuine fluent expression. Performance mimicry is a knack that a few people possess to a high level. This minority can learn music in the conventional passive ways and sound good. The truth is that this simply does not work for most people, whose playing remains clumsy or musically flat no matter how hard they try to make their playing sound expressive. But with a fluent grasp of musical language, anyone who loves music can play with sensitivity, flexibility, expressiveness and natural feeling from within.
Musical fluency – an advanced skill or basic empowerment?
This training does unlock your potential musically. And when you have completed all the steps, you will have some pretty advanced skills. You might even become a virtuoso player, if you have sufficient flair and passion and put in the necessary hours. But it’s important to understand that fluency in music is like fluency in language. It’s a basic skill. Being able to speak, read and write using verbal language does not in itself make you a great poet or speaker. Whether you become a great artist depends on your inner feelings, your sensitivity and passion for what music can express from within you. But many people are not looking to become great artists, they just want to enjoy expressing themselves musically, naturally. They can feel self-expressively frozen, because they approach making music as an executive skill rather than a fluent expressive one. This training helps people find their fluent musical skills and is therefore basic musical empowerment that unlocks self-expression.
Focus and let go! The state of flow
The main skill that we must work on is a combination of moment-by-moment focus on the principles and elements of the model whilst simultaneously letting go of all self-consciousness and critical thinking in order to simply feel and naturally express ourselves deeply. These two ordinary skills become almost like a superpower when we have them working together in unified tandem. Especially when practising at the edge of our skill level, we enter peak-performance or a flow state. Flow is a much misunderstood concept in popular psychology. The term is often used to advocate an approach that is lazy and mentally non-rigorous. In fact, the state of flow requires intense brain activity. The moment-by-moment focus required, as we practice at the outer edges of our skill set is about as rigorous as it gets! Similarly, letting go requires an almost aggressive act of relaxation – a courageous defiance of our tendency to be self-conscious and results-orientated. The fact that the flow state is extraordinarily pleasurable and fulfilling does not mean it’s like having a lie down. It is exhilarating and accelerates our progress exponentially.