5 ways to play piano well on those days when you’re not playing well

We’ve all had those days right? We’re playing piano at home, or in a rehearsal, or maybe even in a concert. And it’s not “happening.” The music isn’t flowing. Or it just sounds bland. Or we’re just playing the same-old-same-old bring stuff over and over again.

What do you do when this happens? (And yes, it’s going to happen at times!)

Over the years I’ve become fascinated with these moments, because they afford us a special opportunity to go “beyond ourselves” at the moment. In fact, going “beyond ourselves” is really the only way we’ll begin play better.

This is also why I love sports, and I was reminded of this topic when watching the NY Yankees baseball playoff game on TV last night.

Early in the game, the Yankees pitcher, Luis Severino, wasn’t doing so well. His arm was strong, but his accuracy was a little bit off. After a while, he found himself with a situation that all pitchers dread: the bases were loaded and there were no outs. Yikies! On wrong move and the opposing team the Twins, would score.

What happened next was astonishing. My theory is that Severino summoned up a huge amount of positive emotional energy because he didn’t want to go down in history as the guy who pitched badly and lost this playoff game.

In just a few moments, he transformed into the “best” of himself, and began throwing the ball with such strategic accuracy that the Twins didn‘t have a chance. He quickly got the next three batters out without letting in any runs.

Even though I live in the Bronx and want to see the Yankees win, it’s moments like these that interest me the most.

What does a player do to turn the tide of a game? When they’re not playing well, do they “crumble” or do they rise to the double challenge of not only playing better but playing good enough to win the game?

It’s the same with playing piano.

How do we play better on those days when we’re not playing well?

It’s not just a question of doing the same thing, but better. (Try it yourself and see if it really helps.). Rather, the key is to go somewhat outside our thoughts at the moment and bring in something new. Breathe a little fresh air.

Here are 5 ways to start playing piano well on those days when you’re not playing well:

1. Sometimes we have to kind of trick ourselves to begin, and then momentum takes over. One way is to start playing in clearer phrases, even if they don’t sound as good at first. Eventually, a natural phrasing will appear and you’ll sound better. Or, you could start articulating each note more cleanly. Just try something – anything – and see where it leads.

2. Listen to the other musicians more. Often this is the last thing we do, but it should be the first. (If you’re playing solo, listen to the piano more.)

3. Realize that the audience and you are experiencing the music together. It’s not just “you” are playing and “they” are listening.” The acknowledgement that you’re all in this together and that it’s a shared experience can be a powerful factor to help you play better. Maybe better than ever!

4. Relax your fingers. I can hear Keith Jarrett do this on some live recordings where the music isn’t flowing as naturally as it usually does for him. He plays simpler with a “rag-doll” touch. Soon, his natural phrasing kicks back in.

5. Simply smile and don’t force it. Even a small smile can bring a breath of fresh air to the situation and you’ll be surprised at how effortless playing the piano may become. After all, everything’s in constant motion and nothing stays the same forever. Smile, remain focused, and soon you’ll begin playing better.

Always remember that we’re human and part of the human condition is that we’ll sometimes perform better than on other days. The more we study this and try things like the five suggestions I’ve outlined above, the more fun we’ll have as we discover that playing piano is a voyage of discovery, and part of this is discovering how to play better on those days when we’re not playing so well, at least initially.

Have fun with this, and “let the music flow!”


PS – Here’s my new Journey Through The Real Book video:

Freedom Jazz Dance


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