How to get past Practice Paralysis with your piano playing

Hey Improvisers,

When pianists tell me they have Practice Paralysis, they are usually referring to the feeling of being so overwhelmed by all the stuff they’re told they have to learn that they become emotionally frozen and end up doing nothing at all. This is a very common phenomenon and is understandable, due to the huge amount of info out there nowadays and also because it seems like everyone’s telling us “learn this,” “practice this,” etc.

But I’ve also realized that Practice Paralysis can happen in relation to learning a single tune, especially a complex composition.

Compositions like Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” ELP’s “Tarkus,” or many jazz tunes sound great when we hear others play them, yet sometimes lead us to give up quickly when we try playing them ourselves.

This used to happen to me all the time and I actually “gave up” learning both the Billy Joel and EPL pieces when I was a teenager. They were too complex!

Or so I thought.

Since then, I’ve learned to get past this single-song-oriented Practice Paralysis by focusing on one section of the piece at a time, even if it’s just a few measures long. Once we do so, these complex pieces become very “attainable” and we start to enjoy playing them relatively quickly (imagine that!!!).

Freddie Hubbard’s jazz standard “The Intrepid Fox” is like this.

At first, it just seems really fast, with an impossible melody line, crazy chords, and lots of modes to learn. However, if we take a few days to simply learn the melody, and then a few more days to become familiar with the chords, the music soon starts to feel comfortable beneath our fingers and we find ourselves playing it, despite our initial doubts.

Best of all, we soon discover that the solo section is just based on 4 chords. It’s as if after composing this challenging tune, Hubbard gave us all a break by making the solo section easy to improvise on. Thanks Freddie!!!

Here’s my version of “The Intrepid Fox,” which as it turns out, it very “do-able,” once we become a little bit “intrepid” while learning how to play it.

Ron Drotos; The Intrepid Fox

As always, enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!”


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