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I made a new friend over the weekend, Mr. Chips. That is his stage name, he is a dancer. We first met about a fortnight ago at a club that I frequent on Fridays. He invited me to attend a dancing workshop and join in the after party by the beach later. I went and it was a blast.
Since then I have grown to admire Mr. Chips, here is guy living in a foreign country (he is from the Phillipines), with all the challenges that comes with it and yet he is flourishing, a radiant smile that never ceases from his jovial face greets me everytime I am speaking to him.
That is not all, I also envy his job – all he does is dance, either for a show or while giving lessons. No mind numbing sales meetings and no writing financial reports. In his world, there is only music and dancing.
While watching him dance on stage on the night of the party, I wondered could my world ever be like that - just me and the piano?
It does not have to. Even now, practising piano exercises for just 2 hours a day after work has given me great satisfaction, although I have always wished I had more time to practise so that I could be a better pianist.
But practising the piano is a lifelong process. You can never practise enough. It is a constant work in progress. Let me give you an example – scales.
Scales are so elementary we tend to think nothing of it after a while. In the beginning we learned which fingers to use for each key, practising with the right hand. Then the process is repeated with the left hand. Next, came the coordination nightmare of playing with both hands.
After mastering the mechanics of going up and down a scale on the piano with both hands, we learned to add in the dynamics - louder as you go up and softer as you go down scale.
For something so basic as scales, the process of learning them is a long and continuous one. Stop playing them for a while and you will have to start from scratch all over again. Piano exercises require maintenance.
Music is like the universe. It is infinite, evolving and accelerating.
For many years I learned mostly romantic pieces. Only recently have I begun to learn classical pieces in earnest. The transition has been difficult. Romantic songs flow at a more moderate pace, giving me enough time to respond to the notes coming up next.
At first, to me, classical pieces felt like trying to jaywalk across a highway, with cars, buses and trucks coming at you at 100 mph. The number of notes squeezed into a bar was dizzying.
They are also different. Composed in an era of the harpsichord the songs were written to be played without the assistance of the pedal, so the fingers have to do all the work to sustain the melody. They are action packed, high octaned and suspenseful affairs.
Invest your time practising a multitude of piano skills. Learn romantic and classical pieces. I know of a university professor who teaches jazz piano and I once met a Cuban amigo who offered to teach me salsa piano. There are infinite opportunities.
Piano technique is developed by doing not dreaming. Pick a few piano exercises that you think you may like, for example the one I am practising on right now – Czerny op. 599. It is contains a fine collection of piano exercises that will do wonders for your fingering skills.
Stretch your fingers with this gem of piano exercises bequeathed to us by a great pianist over 100 years ago. After hundreds of hours practising, I have realized that there will always be mistakes in my rendition.
There is always something more to work on, a miscued timing over here an overly prolonged rest over there, the struggle is never finished. Practicing never ends, it took me 5 years to discover Czerny and I still look forward to what the future may hold for me. Piano practice is a lifelong process.