My Lonely Piano

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How Piano Projects Keep You On Track

While teaching a private student this week, we were discussing the value and merit of practice. Basically, “Why do all of this practicing in the first place?”

The piano is a lonely instrument, you can play piano without the accompaniment of other musicians. In fact, you often find pianists performing by themselves. Whereas, you do not see as many solo drummers out there. Other instruments often find themselves playing in a group. This group playing helps to keep us focused on why we practice. Each group member wants to sound good when going to band practice, the gig or recording session.

For simplicity sake let’s just stick with the ‘piano is a lonely instrument’ idea with practicing.

Me & My Piano Are Lonely

Since you can play piano solely for your own enjoyment, never interacting with another human being, it is easy to become frustrated, side-tracked, confused, overwhelmed and hundreds of other feelings.

With that in mind, let’s get back to our original question: “Why practice all this stuff?” The answer might be “To get better” or “Because I find it enjoyable” or something similar. These are great answers! Now, let me tell you what’s wrong with them (smiling). What’s wrong with these answers is that they do not take us through the ‘difficult times.’ You know the times I mean. I’m talking about those days we just don’t feel like practicing, or we say “I have no time” or similar rationalizations.

It is easy for us to rationalize WHY we are not sitting down at the piano to practice. Let’s face facts, we all do it from time to time. Piano is not the only thing we do it with either. We do this with our exercise routine, homework, cleaning and anything that we just don’t feel like doing at that moment.

Projects Are the Answer

So, forgive me for being maybe a bit melodramatic up to this point. You might be one of the lucky few that sit down at the piano daily, know exactly what to do, how to do it and what to do next. Unfortunately, for many of us (myself included at times) we need more direction and above all, need to know WHY we are doing what we are doing. You will get much more mileage out of your practice if you have a clear answer to the ‘why’ question. This is where projects come in.

A project, is something to help focus your practice. It gives meaning to the hard work. It gives you a reason to sit at the piano and work hard. In this article, I will give you some different project ideas that might help spur your creativity.

When choosing a project to work on, there are a few “rules” you should consider:

  1. Do you already have a project started that you can finish?
  2. Is this project easy enough to finish within a reasonable amount of time?

Both of these questions require some time and thought. These are also subjective questions. What seems a “reasonable amount of time” to me might be too short of a timeframe for you.

When considering if you “already have a project started that you can finish,” consider your current practice routine. If you are currently working on doing scales in all 12-keys, trying to learn 3 types of chords in all 12 keys, memorize a few songs and also understand how to re-harmonize tunes…well, you’re over doing it. With all of this on your plate, you are very unlikely to actually take any of these concepts to completion.

Projects & Practice

In the example in the paragraph above, you can see that particular student is trying to achieve too much all at once. The argument can be made that “Hey this is all part of practice right? If I practice all of this stuff 4 hours a day, I’ll eventually get it. Right?” Well…maybe, but probably not. Information needs to be absorbed and applied. There’s the biggie…application. Just because you learned all 12 major scales doesn’t mean that you can apply them when the need arises.

To transfer these big concepts from practice to application, use a project. So, what do I mean by a project? By projects, I mean:

  • Create a composition
  • Commit to learning X-number of songs (maybe 3 to start)
  • Record yourself performing those three songs
  • Have a dinner party where you play those songs for friends. A “mini-performance”
  • Perform in an assisted-living home
  • Perform at a coffee shop or book store
  • Perform at your church or place of worship
  • Form a combo and play every-other week

These are just a few different ways to create a project for yourself. Each one of these ideas takes a different level of commitment, but they all help you to move from practice-to-application while keeping you focused.

More to explore...

Jazzedge Teachers
Willie

Welcome Paul Buono

Paul Buono has returned to the JazzEdge family as an instructor.  His professional piano/keyboard experience includes national and international touring, university professor, musical director, pit

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Responses

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  1. Willie,

    I am working with your dvd’s hoping to figure it all out.
    Practice is tantamount, I am improving, but alas, I am
    so impatient and need to get it on soon. I would like to know
    if I could send you a recording of my efforts for your evaluation.
    Please let me know.

    Thanks,

    Jef

  2. Hi – thanks for the thought provoking article. I recently completed an email for an “assessment.” There wasn’t a place to put the following so I thought I’d send it here. It was very hard for me to select just one goal because, truly, I would have picked them all. Also, I’m looking forward to diving into you site. I think you and your family might just be an answered prayer.
    Happy 4th – Beth Durbin

    1. Hi Beth, I know exactly how you feel as I felt the same when I did my assessment last year. Speaking from my own experience, I would suggest tackling one area at a time. Any area. Just pick one. Why not focus on improvisation for a set period of time (say 2 weeks), then learn blues licks, scales, fills and runs for another two weeks, then try out a jazz standard. By dabbling in a bit of everything, you will naturally start to become aware of areas you need to focus on, and your practice will start to structure itself.

  3. Great insight Willie! This has really helped me to take a step back and see why I have been feeling just how you described; I do too much sometimes. Between music for college and church and composing and wanting to learn songs I want to play, it can all seem such a daunting task to get it all done in a “timely manner” and still be the very best at everything I play. Thank you for helping me realize I really need to restructure my practice time

  4. Hi guys, thanks so much for these tips. I´m a musician, I play piano, guitar and synthesizer. Over the last 2 years I was focused on recording courses and synthesizer programming, until I found a steady pianist job like 10 months ago. How true is all this stuff you are posting here, organization, persistence, and always visualizing the next goal. You´re right, I want to follow your counsel and re-program my work. Just last night I brought my songlist home to check it out.
    Thanks for taking the time to write those articles.

    Daniel

  5. Willie, your idea of a project is great! Sometimes you need this type of motivation to make the practice more meaningful.
    Thanks always for your great teaching techniqes.
    Darlene Denver

  6. I love your articles Willie. You really get down to the nitty gritty and pinpoint how to tackle real problems. I definitely go through phases where I want to practice, and unfortunately, long stretches of time where I don’t touch the piano. And I realise that it is my lack of focus that is the big issue. Thanks for giving me the nudge I needed.