A Pianistic Balancing Act

When you get a chance (today if possible), take out a pencil and paper (or digital equivalent).

Make 2 columns. In the first column write down all the things you need to improve about your piano playing. In the second column, write down all the things that you do well.

Here’s the catch: the two columns need to have an equal amount of items in them.

So if you write down that your rhythm is terrible, you need to find something good about your playing to balance it. At first, you may not even realize there’s anything good about your playing, but think a little wider. Maybe you have a nice touch, or play with a lively spirit.

Keep the columns equal as you go along. (And if you want, share your columns with all of us in the comments section below. It would be very encouraging to compare our lists!)

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4 thoughts on “A Pianistic Balancing Act”

  1. I came up with a list of seven things for each column. I’m not really sure how many rows would be expected for something like this? Anyway, here’s what I got:

    Needs Improvement:
    1. I sometimes go off rhythm, or become unsure of the rhythm of my current section.
    2. I mostly stick to the same style (usually Classical)
    3. When improvising, I don’t use rests often enough.
    4. I have bad hand position, which leads to me feeling pain and getting tired after I play for long periods of time.
    5. I rely too much on muscle memory.
    6. I need to play with other people more often.
    7. I don’t learn new pieces often enough.

    Things I’m good at:
    1. I’m very good at improvising counterpoint.
    2. I’m good at using my left hand for a variety of different purposes.
    3. I rarely become monotonous when improvising.
    4. I’m mostly good about practicing daily.
    5. I practice scales in a variety of ways.
    6. I’m a fairly good solo player.
    7. I’m reasonably efficient at learning new pieces (practicing passages slowly until they make sense to me, playing hands apart when I need to, etc.)

    Anyone else?

    • Thanks for sharing, Godahl! (I hope others do the same.)
      This is an amazing list; incredibly specific and honest. Two things immediately caught my attention: 1. the pain you experience because of bad hand position. (I wonder if there’s physical tension too. I’m wondering what you can do to correct this.) and, 2. Your classical improvisation, with the counterpoint (I’d love to hear you play. Do you have any videos online? Do you improvise in any particular classical or baroque style, or does it vary?)
      I was also interested in the reliance on muscle memory. You might try focusing on a specific area intellectually, like suspensions/resolution and intentionally bringing that into your improvisations at times. Or certain chord progressions that you normally don’t play.
      I also like the fact that you’re improvs don’t become monotonous. Have you thought about why? Although sometimes it’s best not to over-analyze this if it’s working. 🙂

      • Well, I have a book that details various strategies for avoiding tension in the hand through correct positioning. I got recommended to it by an old organ teacher. To be more specific on that point, I think part of the problem is that I didn’t study it enough. The book is “What Every Pianist Needs To Know About The Body” by Thomas Mark, with supplementary material for organists by Roberta Gary and Thom Miles.

        I recall you commented via Twitter on something on my Soundcloud; It’s okay if you don’t remember. Most of my stuff is electronic with some sounds I designed myself, so it’s maybe not the best example of piano playing (although it is played on a keyboard, just not with traditional piano sounds), but my Soundcloud is here: https://soundcloud.com/godahl . I also have a bunch of stuff on my Bandcamp here (it’s all free, and some of the older stuff is piano based): https://theinfalliblegodahl.bandcamp.com/ . You can listen to my work there if you’re interested. It is very much in the Baroque style.

        Thanks for the advice on loosening the reliance on muscle memory! Different chord progressions in particular sounds like a very good idea.

        The main reason I feel I avoid monotony in my playing, and it’s possible this is just my impression and that some may disagree, is that I try to vary the melody and harmony from section to section. I don’t know, avoiding monotony might mean different things for different people? I’m not usually bored when I hear recordings of myself play, at any rate.

        • Now I remember. And I just listened to some of your April improvs. You have a huge talent for improvising counterpoint.
          Interesting how you vary the different sections. I remember my jazz piano teacher Billy Taylor would so the same. He’d get to the top of a new chorus and boom, 16th notes.
          If you don’t know it already, check out Bach’s Musical Offering, particularly the 3-part Ricercare, which is based on an improvisation of his.


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