David Hicken ~ Classical Crossover Pianist

Advice For Pianists

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

I attribute my technique purely to scales and arpeggios, and spend at least 15 minutes on them every day. 

In the past I made a point of sight-reading some classical music every day.  Although I do still play classical music, most of my time is now spent on my own compositions.

I consider myself more of an organist than a pianist.  Some may wonder if there's really any difference between the two instruments, and I can assure you that there  is.  This is one of the reasons that my music is somewhat different from that of other pianists.  You won't hear  arpeggiated flourishes in my music or left hand stride patterns - mostly because you don't see this in organ music.  There are a number of other reasons why my 'organistic' approach is different, but I won't go into that here.  My music is more contrapuntal than other pianists, meaning that the music is more horizontal than vertical.  Rather than based on chords, it is more based on individual melodic lines woven together.  The master of this was J.S. Bach, whose shoes I am not even worthy to touch.

When I sit at the piano I begin improvising, which for me is a process of 'searching'.  When I come across an idea that I like, I write it down.  I use software called "Sibelius" that allows me to get traditional music notes down much quicker than pencil and paper, but the process is the same.  When I have music written down, it gives me something to work with - just as a potter has clay to mold.  I constantly tweak and adjust what I see on the page until I am happy with the result.  Being able to see the music also allows me to experiment with the form and structure of the piece.

When the piece is complete with dynamics, phrase marks, tempo marks and all of the traditional music indications, I sit down and practice the piece, just as I would with a piece from the classical repertoire.  Sometimes I memorize the piece, and often I don't.  There is nothing wrong with performing while reading music and this is what everyone did before Franz Liszt.  Although it could be argued that my body is a little 'stiffer' to watch while I'm reading music, the resulting performance is just as musical as if I were playing from memory.

I use an iPad Air to read the music along with an app called "ForScore".  I send PDF files to my iPad which are read easily by the app.  I use a bluetooth footpedal to turn pages called the Airturn Duo.  This setup works perfectly.  I still prefer to read from paper, but turning pages is a real pain.

I use Apple computers for recording along with microphones by Earthworks.  I use Apple's Logic Pro X software.  My audio interface is made by Mark of the Unicorn and my studio monitors are made by Focal.  I have every conceivable software instrument by all major manufacturers.  Having had MANY different keyboards by many different manufacturers in the past, I am now happy to have only one Kawai VPC1 keyboard controller.

I am very proud to be a Shigeru Kawai artist, and their pianos are the finest I have ever played.  They are very high end pianos which can be compared to Steinway, Bechstein, Bösendorfer and Fazioli.  One of the main reasons I prefer the Shigeru is because of the carbon fiber action.  This is like having the engine of a Lamborghini compared to a Cadillac.  In my opinion, the action is everything.  You can have the finest sounding instrument in the world, but if the action is not perfect, you won't get the most out of the instrument.  Beethoven would have given his right arm for an instrument like this :)

Composing and performing my own music is truly a rewarding experience and I'm happy to say that this is my full-time job.  I have worn many hats in the music world over the years, but it is now a real pleasure to focus only on that which I love to do.  I receive many emails from people all over the world asking for advice, and I'm happy to help whenever I can.  If I can play a part in inspiring other people to develop a love and appreciation for music then I believe I have contributed something good to this world.

Happy music-making!

Musically yours,

David