Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Failure of Mindset

I think I had an epiphany tonight. I was practicing piano, for the first time in a long time, and I was flubbing rather badly. I stopped, and I looked at my hands, and I realized two points.

1. I failed as a student of piano.

2. That failure is due to my philosophical approach to piano.

The reason has to do with technique. Learning how to play piano is all about mastering the technique. There is a list of "musts" that every piano instructor will probably agree on:

You MUST have good posture. You MUST hold your hands correctly. You MUST understand the art of correct fingering. You MUST learn how to read music, and you MUST learn how to sight-read music. You MUST understand how to practice. You MUST accept the discipline of daily, intensive practice.

I got two of those MUSTs down. Why? Because I wasn't focused on learning the technique. I was focused on results, rather than process. I tried to learn how to play piano pieces, rather than learning how to play piano.

Good piano players can be given a sheet of music they've never seen or heard before, sit down at a piano, and play it. Eventually, and perhaps not brilliantly. But they play it. Good piano players have learned the technique. They have learned empirical skills that can be theoretically applied to any piece of music. (I say theoretically because there's some music that defies empirical ability. See: Liszt's Rondo Fantastique. It's said to be unplayable.)

I never focused on learning how to warm up correctly, or how to cross over during trills, or anything about good pedal work. I only tried to learn the pieces I was assigned at that time. I never even thought to myself, "Ian, you need to learn how to play the piano, not just how to play a few piano pieces."

And now I pay the penalty for my mistake. For when I sit down to play piano, after an absence of several months, I struggle. I flub. I flop. I falter. My technique is imperfect, in the archaic sense of that word: it is incomplete, and therefore it is unusable.

In an interesting aside, one might compare the technique required for Playing The Piano to the technique required for Reading A Literature. And one might compare my inability to grasp the technique for Playing The Piano to my inability to grasp the popularly accepted technique for Reading A Literature. My hope is in the fact that Reading A Literature is a science rather than an art, and therefore results are more important than technique.

Long live depressing epiphanies!

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