We’ve all heard about the need for persistence. Perseverance. Slow and steady wins the race.
Yes, we know it’s true. But sometimes we associate the idea of persistence with a kind of weary uphill slog.
As pianists, we’re lucky because music is so joyful. If we can remind ourselves of this at each step of the way, each day, then our musical journey becomes one of joyful persistence.
Yes - Joyful Persistence. That’s the “ticket!”
My annual stint in Alaska at The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival ended yesterday and I was reminded of joyful persistence many times during my two weeks there. I heard singers in my vocal performance class sing at a professional level after slowly progressing, year after year.
I saw it in my Rock & Blues and Pop Piano classes too. There’s a local piano teacher who has taken my class for three summers. She’s classically trained, and never used to know what to do whenever one of her teenage piano students asked to play a pop song. Playing from chord sheets was foreign to her and didn’t come naturally, but this year… it all clicked. Now, she’s comfortable with listening to a pop song, learning the chords, and figuring out how to teach it to her young students in a way that’s appropriate to each student’s level. To get her to this point, I had to ask to approach the songs like a teenager would approach the songs, not like a trained pianist would. And she did it! Bravo!
My main goal with the piano classes was to have each pianist come away with something tangible. I got clued into this when on the first day of classes, I asked each pianist to say something about their musical background and goals. Several of them reported that they had taken a piano workshop years ago but didn’t remember any of it.
So I took the opposite approach. Instead of loading them up with tons of info that they would probably forget, I focused on having them learn the same way a blues, rock, or pop musician would actually learn. I showed each of them a basic way to get started and made sure they could easily play it before we began building upon it.
And it worked! Each day, I had each pianist pretend they were at a party where someone asked them to sit down and play something. By the end of the week, every single pianist in the class, whatever their previous musical experience, could effortlessly play something that sounded good and musically satisfying.
They said that this “takes the pressure off” playing in public. It all fits in with my “Minimum Viable Piano” (MVP) concept. Most of the time when we’re asked to play piano in public, we pray that the planets align in just the right way, for lightening to strike, and for us to play better than we’ve ever played before. In other words, we put a huge amount of internal pressure on ourselves, right? MVP shows us how we can start with something like a basic 12-bar blues, played in tempo, that instantly sounds great. Once we aim for this, it’s so easy to play it that sharing our music with our friends becomes fun.
Joy and Joyful Persistence.
I’m also learning the benefits of joyful persistence during my inflight reading, which is the novel Ulysses by James Joyce. (I’m on the flight back to NYC as I write this.)
I’ve attempted to read Ulysses 3 times before, but never made it past the first hundred pages or so.
This time, however, the experience is different. I’ve become fascinated by how James Joyce describes every single thought that Leopold Bloom and the others have as they move through a single day in Dublin. If I can read slowly enough, and feel each sentence, I get a sense of Ireland that’s amazing and very satisfying. I once spent 3 weeks in Ireland and Ulysses is giving me a similar kind of immersion in Irish culture.
Joyful persistence is also what’s kept me going on my weekly Journey Through The Real Book. It’s been about 4 years now and I’m halfway through the book at #200. A milestone!
It’s not about “having” to make a video every week; it’s about “getting” to make a video every week!
Here’s #200, “Jump Monk,” which is Charles Mingus’s tribute to the great Thelonious Monk. I took and interesting approach to the tune and I hope you enjoy this:
Jump Monk: Journey Through The Real Book #200
I wish you all the best with your music as you joyfully persist at the piano!
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