One of the tragedies of modern life is that so many pianists don’t enjoy their own playing. From 6 year olds taking piano lessons to seasoned professionals, many (if not most) pianists secretly feel that they’re “not good enough.” (This false perfectionism didn’t exist to this degree before the 1950s, when recordings became widespread, but that’s a longer discussion than I want to go into here.)
In this context, it made me feel really good when an online piano student of mine emailed me to say how he was actually enjoying his playing more these days, even on days when he wasn’t playing his best. Of course we all want to play well, but it’s a simple fact that we’ll play better on some days than others. Why not enjoy those days too?
So why do some pianists learn to enjoy the “ups and downs” while others don’t?
There are a few things going on here. One is that we tend to relax about always sounding great as we gain more experience. It takes time, but we eventually realize that we will never sound perfect all the time. It finally sinks in!
Also, the more we play, the more mistakes we will make, even if they’re only a small percentage of all the notes we play on a gig. Some will be wrong, and it doesn’t bother us as much because we also play more correct notes and good grooves, etc. Even at Carnegie Hall and on Broadway, wrong notes are played every night. (But also a lot of right notes!)
Another thing is that we getting better at covering and recovering. As we get better, our not-so-great moments aren’t so bad after all. Last night, I played at a rehearsal with some vocalists and a small rock band. Even though the music was all easy, classic rock songs, I didn’t play as well as I do on some other nights. I was getting used to the way the guitarist was playing and the music wasn’t flowing the way I wanted it to be. But I realized that the other musicians, who I hadn’t previously known, still thought I was playing well. So I relaxed a bit and just went with it. The rehearsal went fine.
One more thought: Sometimes, when we listen to a recording of our band, the keyboard is louder than it really sounded in the room. Maybe the recording device was right near the piano or keyboard amp. This makes every note we played stand out in an unnatural way and it doesn’t sound too good. During the actual performance, however, the keyboard blended into the overall sound better and it sounded great.
These are just a few of the ways in which we can relax and start enjoying our own playing more, even as we experience the inevitable ups and downs of a musical career. Music is a beautiful thing, and we want to enjoy it the most we can, right?
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