Don’t you love those special performances when everything’s going right? You sound great and everything seems effortless. (“Summertime… and the living is easy…”)
Well, I just had one of those performances. I’m in Alaska in the middle of two fun weeks teaching and performing at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, and a few vocalist and I gave an afternoon concert at a local senior center. The singers sang well, the audience was enthusiastic, and I actually couldn’t believe what my fingers were doing on the piano keys!
We played a mix of jazz, blues and show tunes, and I didn’t have to make any effort at all. It was literally like the music was flowing through me into the piano. During the performance I thought two things about this:
1. I remembered hearing my friend Barry Levitt play like this 20 years ago and now I’m at the age he was then and can play with the same maturity and experience, and…
2. I’d better enjoy this while it lasts, because it’s “just a phase!”
Yep: “Just a phase.” But that’s not a bad thing at all.
We usually use the term “just a phase” when things aren’t going the way we want them to go. We’re in a sports slump and remind ourselves that it won’t last forever. Or we’re not feeling well and give ourselves hope that it’ll soon pass.
But it works the other way too. And in music, I find it helpful to remind myself of this. Sometimes we play better than at other times. Or maybe it’s simply easier sometimes. Sometimes the fingers move fast, sometimes they’re a little sluggish.
So many pianists get depressed when they don’t play well that I think it’s more healthy to simply acknowledge that it’s all one big “ebb and flow.” Just like jogging: sometimes it feels great but at other times our muscles ache.In the long run it doesn’t matter. The professional baseball player knows that he’ll have to strike out at least several times for each home run he hits. The jogger knows she’ll have to struggle many times in order to sometimes run 5 km without much effort.
Even as I was enjoying this amazing experience, I laughed a little and gently reminded myself not to become discouraged tomorrow or perhaps the next day when the music might not flow quite so easily.
We can’t control each moment, good or bad, but we can keep it all in perspective. Nothing is always the same and nothing lasts forever; not our slumps or our winning streaks. The more we can keep this in mind and, better yet, embrace it, the happier and more well-adjusted we’ll be concerning our musical pursuits.
So the next time you don’t think you’re playing well, just remember that it’ll pass. It’s “just a phase.” And also remember that the reverse is true. If you can enjoy both moments, you’ll go far with your music. Good luck!
Take your left hand playing to a new level with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You’ll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration