Becoming intimate with the piano songs I was learning allowed me to play what is not there, see the invisible and hear the silence through high resolution practice
Rhythm has always been a priority for me whenever I set out to learn a new piano song. I believe not much else can be done without first getting the rhythm right. Unfortunately, learning the rhythm is the most tedious part of learning a song. Before I could move on to the fun stuff, enduring the tedium is not only the only option but a necessity.
Therefore, to escape the trap of getting deflated and quitting on the song, I would try to get the business of absorbing and executing the rhythm out of the way as soon as I can. A quick recap on how to acquire a sense for the rhythm as elaborated in earlier articles; (1) Practicing one hand at a time separately, (2) Isolating and recognizing the rhythmic patterns in the right hand first followed by the left hand later, (3) Using the wrists to achieve the proper touch.
With that done and over with, I could dive deeper into the musicality of the piano songs I was trying to learn. This aspect of learning the piano was duly lacking.
My teacher did her best to make me feel the music she was teaching me, unrelenting in her efforts to stir my imagination and arouse my subconscious so that I can connect with every composition we were working on during lessons.
There was just not enough time. One hour a week of lessons and me being a working adult with limited time for practice were towering obstacles.
In recent years I have returned to the piano with a burning desire to pierce through the exterior surface of the music. If before I was content with being able to play a song decently enough, now I wanted to understand its mood, emotional content, intent and be able to reproduce them.
As it turned out, the piano is quite forthcoming when approached with humility. Not pressuring it to give me my perfect song immediately like what a petulant child would do, I took my time to get to know every individual note in a bar. Practicing one bar repeatedly for weeks, becoming intimate with it. Gradually the bar exposed itself to me, its unseen characteristics namely the mood, emotional content and intent began to unravel.
For example, in Image 1 below, the change in tone and tempo going from the bar on the left to the right were plain to see. I managed to execute them with precision. So smooth was my execution that I completely missed the short pause between the bars.
Granted, it was invisible so I should be forgiven for not noticing it immediately. Because of the difference in emotional content between the earlier bar and the next one, playing them continuously sounded off. I stayed with the phrase for weeks, practicing them repeatedly looking for the source of the upset.
The fast and uplifting mood of the first bar had to be released. Let its sound drift into the air until it begins to fade before playing the next bar. Hence the short pause in between. The following bar carries with it an entirely different mood, more subdued. Without the pause between the bars they collide with each other upsetting the flow of music.
“Play what is not there” – Miles Davis. Wise words that holds true playing any song. The pause had to be heard because they too are music. To hear a pause, see the invisible and play what is not there I had to become intimate with the music. Apparently, it took weeks of practicing the same bars over and over again.