David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

Many people ask me how I do what I do, so here is an explanation:

I recently received emails from two young men who desperately wanted to become musicians, but whose parents were dead-set against the idea.  The first fellow was nineteen from Los Angeles, and the other was fourteen and from France.

Lao Tzu said in the "Tao Te Ching" - "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step" and this can be translated for aspiring composers as "the journey of composition begins with the first note".  Sound too simple?  The truth is that it is as simple or as difficult as you make it.

Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918) once said "Works of art make rules; rules don't make works of art."  He was of course absolutely correct, and his insistence on not following established rules led to his expulsion from the Paris Conservatoire. 

Piano students will know that they are practicing a piece of music correctly when they are asked by their family and friends if it is really necessary that they play that section of music over and over again.  Many family members will hopefully be far too polite to say anything like this, but basically if you playing a section of your music so many times that it becomes annoying for those around you, then you are probably doing it correctly.

In a previous post, I mentioned that the very best instrument for serious piano students is always a grand piano.  Of course this is not feasible for many people due to their high cost, lack of space as well as sound issues in apartments etc.  A digital piano can be a good solution.

The goal of all piano students should be to become so proficient at reading music that they can play any style of music they like.  The process of learning to quickly decipher and interpret music notation and turn it into musical sounds is long and arduous, but well-worth the effort. 

Piano students should mostly study music that was originally written for the piano.  Learning music that was written by pianists for pianists will improve your skills much more quickly than playing other types of music.

Correct fingering is crucial for a fluent and effortless performance, but many piano students are only focused on playing the right notes and ignore fingering suggestions completely.

A tremendous amount of time and energy goes into learning and mastering a piece of music, and one of the most frustrating experiences for pianists is to return to a piece after a while only to find that they can't play it anymore.

Advances in technology over the last decade have opened up more possibilities for piano students all over the world to improve their skills than ever before.  

Many people who own acoustic pianos have no idea how to look after them properly, simply because it was never explained to them.

Learning to play the piano well involves years of intense study in a number of areas such as technique, notation, interpretation, theory, ear training etc.

Playing the piano can be a very solitary activity, unlike playing an orchestral or band instrument which usually allows the performer to belong to an ensemble.

Piano students should constantly listen to recordings of great pianists, as well as attend live concerts whenever possible.

Your ultimate goal as a pianist should be to have the ability to read a piece of music that you have never seen before, and give a reasonably good performance.  

There is a big difference between practicing the piano and playing the piano.

As you practice a piece of music, you are conditioning the muscles in your fingers, hands and arms, to respond very quickly with desired movements.  This process is complex and takes many repetitions as well as ample time.

Audiences are used to listening to music with solid timing, because almost all modern music uses drums and percussion.  Even classical music enthusiasts are constantly exposed to music with a beat, whether they are in an elevator, the mall, or watching TV commercials at home.

Your piano education should include the study of the following six core areas.

At this very moment, there are students all over the world who are practicing the piano, and completely wasting their time.  Am I saying that you can practice the piano and accomplish nothing?  Yes, absolutely!

If you are serious about your piano studies, then you owe it to yourself to practice on the finest instrument that you can afford.  Not all pianos are created equal, and an inferior instrument can hinder your progress.

Great pianists have excellent listening skills, which are essential for successful performances.

Many false assumptions are made about what it takes to become a great pianist such as you need to play for ten  hours a day and play countless scales, or maybe that you need to practice blindfolded like in the movie "Shine"

Scales are not simply technical exercises that pianists use to develop finger strength.  They are sets of notes that should be though of as "templates" which are used to compose music.

In order to play the piano really well, you must have a strong belief that you can play really well.  This makes all the difference.

Teaching yourself to play the piano just doesn't work.  All of the books, DVDs and online videos that suggest that this is possible, not only do not work, but are written by people who have not had experience in formal music training.  

Music notation has been around for roughly one thousand years, although its present form wasn't arrived at until about three hundred years ago. 

I often hear people complain that they wish they knew their notes better, which is not surprising considering the fact that there is little emphasis given to this subject in the average piano lesson.

I recently received an email from a young man in India, asking me what he needed to do to become a great pianist.  I gave him several pointers, but the most important concept that I stressed to him was the importance of daily practice for the rest of his life.

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