How to get more joy out of your piano improvising

I was listening to the NY Yankees baseball game on the car radio the other day, as the Yankees were soundly defeated by a team that isn’t considered as good as they are. In a word, the game was an “upset” (congrats to the opposing team!)

While as a Yankees fan I was disappointed by the outcome, their radio announcer, John Sterling, made a good point when he said, (“The thing about baseball is that since they play so many games each season, one single game doesn’t really matter much.”)

Wow – tell this to a child whose Little League baseball team plays only 12 games each spring. Yes – every game counts in this case! But to a professional team like the Yankees who play 162 games in the regular season, no, each single game account for almost nothing.

John Sterling’s point is that a good team like the Yankees will probably end up making the playoffs despite losing a few games unexpectedly along the way.

It’s the same with our piano improv.

If we only sit down at our home piano once a week for 5 minutes, of course we’ll get frustrated if we don’t play like Keith Jarrett. We only have one chance per week! (And think of how self-defeating this attitude would be.)

But if we play for 5 minutes every day. Or 45 minutes five times per week, or whatever, we become more like the NY Yankees.

For one thing, the Yankees know that they will lose some of the 162 games they play each year. So their goal becomes less to play perfectly and more to play well consistently and when it really matters. Same with us pianists.

What’s more, each player knows that he will occasionally drop the ball. (Like hitting a wrong note on piano.). To prepare for these instances, baseball players train themselves to stay focused, pick up the ball, and throw it to the right teammate. We pianists can train ourselves to keep the flow of the music going, even when we play a note or two we don’t like.

The more we play, the less we mind the times when we’re not playing so well. Yes, we still make our best effort each time, but we don‘t get frustrated because we know these moments are inevitable. We stay positive, enjoy the music, perhaps simplify our improvising for a while, and enjoy our time at the piano as an end in itself.

Playing piano is something we do. It’s part of who we are, and we’re in it for the long run.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

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