A pianist posted a video in an online forum, along with the question “Am I doing this right?”
I spent a few minutes trying to decipher the motivations behind this post. I began suspecting that this pianist did not look at the world the same way I did.
But, I can’t blame them. After all, the traditional way of thinking about piano practice encourages that worldview.
The traditional way of thinking about piano practice goes something like this:
- The score tells you the right way of playing.
- There are “right techniques” and “wrong techniques.”
- The teacher tells you if your technique is “right” or “wrong.”
- The teacher tells you if your playing is “good” or “bad.”
- Practicing means learning the right technique and doing it over and over.
In contrast, here’s a different way of thinking about piano practice:
- The score tells you how the composer thought the piece should sound, as much as music notation can.
- The “right technique” is whatever works to play the piece.
- Your personal experience will teach you if your technique is “right” or “wrong.” A teacher can only point you in the direction of having new experiences.
- Practicing means doing exercises that challenge you to have new experiences.
- Your playing is “good” if it helps you achieve what you’re trying to achieve, and “bad” otherwise. A teacher can’t possibly know this better than you do.