Lately I've been thinking about what helps us to grow musically and become better piano players. One often overlooked aspect of this is the benefit we get from playing with our peers: other musicians.
Yes, we all know that we get a lot of motivation, practice and experience by playing in a band or jamming with our friends, but what I'm speaking about goes beyond that. When we play with good musicians, something rubs off on us. Whether they play guitar, drums or sing, we absorb their playing and it becomes part of us.
This became clear to me when I was playing keyboard for the Broadway musical Smokey Joe's Cafe. The show had tons of classic rock and pop songs in it like "On Broadway," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Spanish Harlem." But it was the ballads like the opening song "Neighborhood" that had a profound impact on me. What made the difference was sitting next to the drummer, Brian Brake. I can't describe it exactly, but there was something about how he played ballads that I had never experienced before. I could literally feel myself changing during that song every night. His physicality was so solid yet relaxed while he played that basic rock ballad beat on his high hat and snare drum.
Playing beside Brian forever changed the way I play rock and pop ballads. I would then go out on my own gigs and sure, I would be playing piano, but in my mind I was playing drums. Some of Brian's drum magic had been absorbed into my piano playing and it felt great!
Who are some of the musicians you play with? Or is there someone you could start playing with? Maybe that soloist in your community choir sings with a beautiful tone that you could emulate. Or maybe the guitarist in your rock band has a vigorous way of strumming that inspires you.
Go out and play with as many musical peers as you can. Have a great time, and while you're at it, bring home some of their musical magic.
Do you know Keith Jarrett's piano playing? Here's a way to listen to him with fresh ears. Enjoy!
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