One of the “downsides” to having so much technical and theoretical information available to us these days is that most aspiring pianists place a greater emphasis on playing fancy stuff than on the flow of the music. And then they get frustrated because they’re not playing as well as they’d like.
To remedy this for yourself, focus on “flow” and putting in just as much as you can without sacrificing this flow. In other words, it’s better to play 7th chords with Flow than attempting 13th chords that slow you down because you have to stop and think about them too much.
Yes, practice all of the advanced chord voicings that interest you. But don’t let them interrupt the flow of the music.
If you haven’t yet read my ebook, Flowing Water: Play piano with more joy and less stress, you can download your copy here:
By all means, learn the techniques that your favorite pianists use. But don‘t let them slow you down when you’re improvising.
Study every type of left hand bass line possible, but don’t keep using them if they start inhibiting the flow of your right hand lines.
The thing is… professionals know this and use this approach all the time.
I recently played the song “Old Time Rock and Roll” in a concert with a lead vocalist, several backup vocalists, and a sax player. As we rehearsed, I tried out a new boogie woogie left hand pattern that I’ve always wanted to learn but had never played before. I could keep the pattern going well while my RH played a chordal accompaniment, but it was more challenging to solo over it.
During the week leading up to the performance, I played the LH pattern for about 30-40 minutes per day, until it began to come naturally. During the performance, I used the new LH pattern while playing behind the vocalist and sax solo and it felt very comfortable. When it came time for my piano solo, I began by using the new pattern while I played a simple and effective rock and roll riff with my right hand. When I started playing faster runs with my RH, however, the new LH figure took away too much of my focus. Having been through this many times before in various performing situations, I immediately reverted to a LH boogie woogie pattern that my LH can do automatically, so it didn’t inhibit the flow of my RH solo and the overall sound of the music.
The solo sounded great, I had a lot of fun playing it, and I’ll continue to practice the new LH pattern until it “sinks in” and comes to me more naturally. No worries. Hakuna Matada.
Yes, keep practicing the “hard stuff,” but when you’re in the moment, playing a song and improvising, let the music flow. That’s what Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Elton John, Sara Bareilles, and all the other great performers do.
And you can too.