The Way of The Pianist


To You, dear student, in your sincere search for perfection.
Throughout this book, I will be treating you as a great friend and offer these thoughts, discoveries, ideologies and scientific analyses to simply plant seeds in the fertile soil of your creative personality, only with your permission however.

In no respect would I want you to be tied down by any hard and fast rules, or a dogmatic, unfeeling approach, quite to the contrary.
We share a great love for that most challenging of musical instruments, so magnificent in its tonal capacity, so singularly satisfying and fulfilling in its broad outreaching ability to portray, in the hands of a solo performer, such a complete repertoire of musical nuance, style and integrity.

The Pianoforte.

The very name of the instrument and the colours of its keys hint strongly, and immediately of contrast, one of the facets we shall cover as the book unfolds.
All, saving the very young early learners, will hopefully be able to glean at least some helpful tips, and perhaps a glimpse into what I refer to as the Science of Piano Playing.

Firstly, however, before we set off on our journey together, a word or two about expectation.
Simply put, an old and very wise phrase, that applies to all walks of life, and all areas of study, and although it may dismay and repel the faint-hearted, there is a great realism within, and also the power to stir up the courage.

"If Perfection were obtainable, it wouldn't be worth having."

There . . . can we face that together and continue with our sights readjusted?

Excellent, at least we'll avoid the pitfall of too much self satisfaction (of course a gentle glow of pride is always allowed, as long as we share it all with The True Source of Everything) and we can always remind ourselves of the Infinite challenge we have set ourselves, and maybe get a sense of pace to our study.
Balance, not too hard on yourself, and not too soft.
Enjoy both with equality.

Okay, I'm going to demolish the rationality in the above, and open ourselves up to a different point of view, a different and much more inspiring perspective.

Perfection, in the relative sense, ie. from the conventional, value judgement sense, is perhaps never attainable, because, quite simply, our mortal points of view could never conceive of Perfection.
So, perfection is not going to even lie in the arena of perception.
Let's try looking somewhere else, at that which we are EXPERIENCING, when entirely untouched by our judgmental, conceptual view.
What we will find is something in the order of the miraculous.
Incredulous, almost un-believable, were it not unfolding, around us and about us, within us and without us.
Simply to touch any part of this with our awareness, light as a feather, will surely bring us to experience Perfection of this different order.
The ineffable, unspeakable Perfection of Truth.

So let us re-affirm our goal. We wish to travel on the road to Perfection, experiencing as much of that Perfection on the Way as we can.
Always include yourself within that Perfection, my dearest friend, that is the very first step, whatever you do, whatsoever you think, where ever you are.
Truly you are always HERE and NOW and that is where Perfection lies.
We have our share of this, and will know it, when we simply allow what is there already, to happen.
You will therefore detect two currents of thought from now on.
The Perfect, in the absolute sense, and perfect in the relative sense.
The Way points to both of these simultaneously.
The relative is contained within the absolute, and yet the absolute permeates the relative.

The Way

Another useful phrase to remember . . .
"Einmal ist Keinmal"
I remember that from a novel and the translation is "Once is as if it were Never."
Or put another way, some people will practice only until they get it right, but there are others who will practice until they never get it wrong.
I expect there is a bit of both in most of us, but it is good food for our wisdom hungry appetites.

THE WAY

The reason for the title sounding rather mystical, is firstly to stir your interest, from the inside. That warm, gentle, sometimes passionate person, who has felt the contrasts in this wonderful life, happiness, melancholy, up days, down days, lost days and found days.
This book is addressed personally to you, my dear friend.

I know precisely when you are going to read this and I know exactly where you will be when you read this.
You will be HERE and NOW.
The only place and the only time for Everything.
Perhaps, like myself, you have decided that you need a more dimensional language with which to get to know yourself, and with which to express yourself to the world.

Very wisely, you have made an excellent choice in the language of Music, and consistently wise, you have chosen the Piano as the instrument to mirror your growth.
Yes, that is just how it may seem to you.
A steadfast friend, who will give sound to your inner song.
Comforting, sturdy, full of fascination, and what is more - a beautiful adornment to your home. Cherish your life long companion, who obediently responds to your touch, and remains deeply silent when you wish.
Best not then to cover it with all manner of objects, that will resonate and rattle much to your consternation.
Have you ever tried to locate the source of those irritating buzzes? I swear they move about when you start to chase them out!

With such a vast repertoire of music, virtually anything in fact, available to play, we cannot look in that direction if we are trying to define our goals.
The only consistent presence will be YOU, and your Piano.
What we shall be examining therefore is your relationship to your instrument, becoming aware of constant factors in the manner of Attitude and Approach, emotional, mental and physical, trying to loosely codify a set of practice and performance manners that will apply generally or specifically to various musical ideas and examples.
Incorporating aspects of The Science of Piano Playing, we shall call the whole of this The Way of the Pianist.

So, my dear student, I hope that your interest is stirred, and that together we can share the Journey, and learn together, and have fun.
For until we develop eighty- eight or so fingers, and live for a thousand years, that majestic perfection that we so courageously have set as our goal, will always be rather more than an arms reach away.
The journey, however, will always be at our fingertips.

General Principles

First and last rule: There are no rules here, only observations. If I can help you to make them your own observations, and you find something worthwhile or useful, it is yours forever.

Golden rule: Never undervalue your own creativity, in either the sphere of practice or interpretation. Make everything your own. Get right to the inside of yourself and the task you have set. Evaluate and learn, in each unique opportunity, from as many different approaches as you can think of.
Feel it all as a part of yourself.

The Primary Principal in Performance will be to portray your own Landscape.
Specifically this is outside the scope of this book, but generally, by respecting the composer's wishes and trusting his annotation, you will find the direction. Add to this the uniqueness of YOU, in the moment, and you have a powerful recipe for a performance Landscape . . . the impression that the composer and you desire to leave with the listener.

The Primary Principal in Practice is to absorb, as efficiently as possible, by using awareness and the intellect. Absorption takes place during repeated exposure of the awareness to the object to be absorbed. It is absorbed into the whole being of the Pianist, the emotional pianist inside the understanding pianist inside the body pianist.
The process is successful to degrees all the time, even unconsciously, but must be continued until the object of absorption can be performed at will without too much apprehension, and can fulfil all the musical criteria in context.

I feel strongly that the contextual consideration is the most important and therefore it is wise to study the landscape first, away from the piano and then zoom in, as it were, to the object, remembering these first observations regarding rhythmic and dynamic flow.
(We shall look at these two aspects of The Science in a further portion of the book.)

Strive for contrast. Yes - the very name of the instrument hints at this - piano (soft) forte (loud) and the colours of the keys act as a constant reminder.
Although majestic or delicate, rich or sweet, the piano, because of its intrinsic mechanical nature - (there is quite a lot of clever mechanics between the fingers and the sound) - nevertheless cannot do one or two things that perhaps other instruments can.

For example - once a note is played - there is absolutely nothing you can do to affect the volume. You cannot crescendo (grow - get louder) nor can you diminuendo at will - the note will simply deacy, naturally until released.
Nor can you add any sense of vibrato to emotionally heighten the sound - as you can on wind instruments and stringed instruments. The tone produced will be absolutely even.
You do not even have to breathe (apart from staying alive, that is) so the sense of phrasing that wind players, brass players or singers can apply by simply breathing is not necessary to actually play a pianoforte - the phrasing has to be interpreted, at first consciously, rather than instinctively.

To compensate for these missing abilities I feel it is vital to always strive for as much contrast in playing as is possible.
Contrasting dynamics - loud to soft.
Contrasting articulations - staccato to legato.
Contrast or balance between different musical elements - melody - accompaniment.
How much can you heighten these contrasts - how clearly can you mark one extreme from the other - how much of a range can you give to these matters of contrast?
All questions for you to explore and experiment with.

Above all, I would consider the fact that music is about relationships.
Sound in relationship with silence.
Pitches in relationship with each other - rhythms in relationship to a metre.
Timbres - colours - textures in relationship to each other.
Contrasts being another aspect of relationships.
The relationship of composer to performer - the performer to the listener.
And finally - critically - the relationship of the pianist - with him or herself.

Object of Concentration

So, the practice object is what we set out to absorb.
What that object is will be defined by musical phrase, spatial movement, fingering sequence, tonal balance or any of those in combination. It could be anything that requires special attention, for whatever reason.

In depth study will lead us to conclude that everything deserves correct absorption, for no part of a musical whole is less deserving of our attention than another. Quite often the parts we regard as the "simple bits" are found to be lacking in sincerity and authority if they are overlooked by our attention and may even be found missing from the memory when it comes to performance trials!

Notice the omission of the word "difficult" which is purely a relative judgement and has no place in the mind of a Pianist, upon the black and white way.
Seeing practice objects, (all be they self set goals) as purely matters of science, sets a positive attitude in motion.
A practice object is simply the current challenge you have set yourself.
Thoughtful consideration of the context of this object, combined with the scientific methods at your disposal, plus determination and applied concentration will yield the desired result.

It must be born in mind, however, that concentration is a somewhat limited resource which tends to become less effective the larger the area it is applied to.

Concentration is like marmalade.
Imagine a teaspoonful of marmalade spread over a slice of toast the size of a football pitch and then imagine the same amount spread over a piece of postage stamp sized toast.
Now think of the effectiveness of the marmalade in both cases.
The idea, therefore, is not to choose too large an area as your practice object. Be very disciplined and try to resist the temptation to attempt to play a piece in its entirety (badly) simply for the reward of reaching the end.
That time will come.
Enjoy the learning process. Relish seeing yourself becoming the best teacher in the world, be patient, scientific, artistic with yourself.

Start off with small sections for the beam of your concentration to tackle and gradually work those small sections into larger sections taking care to make the joins inaudible. Try to work between firm "posts" in the music to help you integrate the rhythm, always bearing in mind the context - what comes before and afterwards - so that the small section reflects as much as possible the realistic conditions of its eventual performance. Energy flow, rhythmic law, degree of relaxation are all useful observations at this stage.

Avoid, wherever possible, practicing at an irregular tempo, or you will find it makes no sense if you try to apply rhythmic law (covered later on.) It matters not to play slower than the eventual pace so long as the pace is consistent with itself. Pace will come with your mastery of the practice object and it is simply a case of “scaling up” what you have already achieved until a suitable pace becomes manageable.

Questions

Awareness during your practice sessions will bring to light many insightful questions and answers about yourself.

Try to not play incorrectly at all.
A tall request you may think, but your time is valuable and not a commodity to be squandered, so you owe it to yourself to apply the speediest means to attain your goals. Above all during practice respect the power of your mind.
Practice in the realm of the mental rather than physical, for little is possible in terms of your performance at the piano without the mind being in the driving seat, as it were.

Mistakes are caused by an unprepared mind not by untrained fingers.
You are training your mind to play correctly not your fingers or hands.
Yes, they apply the finishing touches, but it is your mind that must visualise and fully grasp the tasks that are demanded of them.
Always allow the time to clearly understand with your mind what you are about to perform. Correct conceptualisation is the key to successfully performing tasks big or small.
Understand first, use the imagination to visualise the task in its correctness before any physical attempt.

Imagine two piles beside you.
One pile consisting of all the attempts that you made that were accomplished successfully. The other pile consists of all the bad attempts. Think about all the permutations of errors that are possible during one small passage of a piano piece. They are countless and could occur at any one repetition. Through correct visualisation you should be able to keep the “bad pile” very low. Remember that these piles are stored in the library of your mind and at any given repetition you can make a withdrawal from either pile. It would surely help considerably if the “bad pile” was always out of stock.

Another question that will arise is “At what point do I know that I’ve learned thoroughly enough?”
Well, I suppose any time spent in studying with the correct degree of awareness and application will produce positive results of some kind, but in terms of performance it is useful to have a yardstick to measure success with.
By performance here I mean any repetition of a practice object where your heart, mind and body are coordinated in the aim of success.

What can we use as a yardstick?
I think we should look at our ability to stand back and evaluate our performance in purely artistic terms, in a state of relaxed awareness, having transcended the technical challenges that we originally faced. When we can time and again give full rein to the emotional and rhythmic energies unleashed in a performance, still remaining in control, still able to evaluate and make choices in terms of landscape and balance, then you start to see the sort of yardstick I mean.

In order to achieve your very best, your full potential must be applied to your playing.

Apprehension

Relaxing into the here and now is the doorway into that world of potential.
You will then be able to avoid the pitfalls of tension and fear.
We all have fears of many kinds, some that may appear to be useful in terms of survival, and some that we carry around with us at a sub-conscious level which actually hold us back, and prevent us from realising and living our full potential.

Your awareness lives in the HERE and NOW, when you are playing and thoroughly enjoying the experience, hearing the sound, feeling the flow of rhythm.
What happens from time to time is that we encounter moments of apprehension that flash through our minds. Whatever the cause, in these moments we become self-conscious, that is, we are jostled from our state of peaceful awareness, and instead are faced with negative propositions and suggestions from our mind.
Our mind tends to talk to us in terms of "Me" or "I" and this creates the illusion of a permanent, solidified personality. Our awareness ceases to flow naturally and we start bouncing around in the pinball machine of our thought process and succumb to the personality we think we are, assailed by doubts and restricted by fear.

We should know therefore that the mind and the dream it creates for us is not the real "I".
For WE are AWARE of this process itself, and there is another part of us experiencing. With pure awareness as our guide we realise that we have in fact UNLIMITED POTENTIAL, as part of the One Reality.
We can then unhinge the fear process by staring it right between the eyes and confronting it.

Let's ask ourselves what it is, about playing the piano, that creates this sense of fear and apprehension.
I know, if you play a "wrong" note the piano will in actual fact explode and send pieces of you flying into outer space! No? Will you fall through a large hole that swallows piano stool and all? No?
I think you will find that what you are afraid of experiencing is your very own creation, and that is your own Self Judgement! You are afraid of not achieving the high standard you have set yourself.
You are fearful of your own negative reaction.
Feeling this in yourself you will transfer this thought process on to any other person who you are aware is listening, and the fear compounds itself.
Judge not lest ye be Judged.
It works the other way round also.
If you judge yourself (and anything you care to tell yourself is UNTRUE by the way, for the Truth about you cannot be spoken, it just IS,) you will presume that others will judge you in the same way.

There is always a reason for error, (which is simply things not going to plan) and the cause is usually the mind being unprepared. Be kind on yourself, see it as purely a matter of science. The science of the universe.
We cannot alter the laws that operate within and around us, but we can observe, and learn how they function. Perhaps apprehension has been caused by not making good friends with every area of the piece we are playing.
We know that there are parts that need further attention.
Fact.
We feel the passage approaching and up goes our level of apprehension. Instead of sailing right through it with as much relaxed awareness as we can achieve, we doom ourselves to stumble and fall.
Perhaps we lose concentration.
Fact.
On no occasion is there any call for us to judge ourselves severely, or even at all, for if we have observed, we have understood.
We are still who we always are and always will be, crystal clear consciousness, an awareness that allows us everything, and that feels but doesn't judge.

Until we reach that wonderful ecstasy of fearlessness consistently, we will not be operating at our full potential, not be offering one hundred per cent of ourselves.
However, the only way to unhinge these moments of apprehension when we do observe them is quite simply to let them go, open the hand and let them slip out of our grasp, with a very fond farewell, for it is part of us that we are seeing, and simply deciding that we need no more. Let go, deeply, firmly, very wilfully, let go.
The river of life will wash it away, let that river flow with unknown strength as it carries our burdens away.

Growth

General principal of growth: Growth must mean that we are alive.
How incredibly, ineffably wonderful that is! We all grow at a pace that is perfect for us. Anything that is force fed or artificially hastened will incorporate weaknesses. So let us accept our natural rhythm, and the beautiful design of our unique biological equipment, namely our shoulders, arms, wrists and fingers. Size and strength are rarely an impediment to our joyful growth.
With correct awareness there are always alternatives to any situation.

Please don't be tempted into trying anything like the young Robert Schumann, who devised some mechanism to "strengthen" his fingers, and ended up breaking one or two!
Heaven forbid that you suffer such a tragedy as Paul Wittgenstein, for whom Ravel composed his awesome Left Hand Piano Concerto.
However, accidents do happen.
I have had three separate "Practice Stopping" injuries to my hands over the years.
Fortunately, only one hand at a time, and all fully recoverable.
Please look after your precious body.

Growth in the study process seems to follow a pattern of peaks and plateaus. The study of the new followed by a period of assimilation. Quite often it might be felt necessary to have a complete break. Go ahead, be positive about it if you feel it. You can rest assured that you will return to practising with freshness and renewed vigour.
The Way is still there.

It is critical for your growth that you supply the right nutrients. A varied diet of pieces of the correct degree of challenge that suit your taste and regular study to help your technique grow. To this end, I would recommend a series of Musical studies, not the dry "Technique in Isolation Ward" type that leave the musical soul parched.
After all, what use is technique if it is not contextualised?
Karl Czerny comes high on my list, he had a wonderful understanding of "relaxed hand fingering", which the studies mysteriously impart to whoever takes the trouble to learn them. I will supply in a separate section some dry isolated technique exercises for you.
A little bread with your meal?

Reading Music

I have all manner of topics to present to your mind for your consideration and at this point, I wish to step aside a moment from the main thrust of this discourse, which is your approach to playing, and put before you the subject of reading music.

Tracing backwards in the general evolution of music we will discover that the origins, in the way distant historical past are that of a purely aural tradition. Born out of our constant need to express and communicate, we would find our ancestors in song, lyrical or not, and no doubt accompanied and supported by various instruments of the generic line that has culminated in the instruments of the present time.
As our intelligence manifested more and more, the ability to record for posterity, by increasingly technological means, has developed. Some of the earliest examples being the beautifully illuminated manuscripts, labours of great love created by monks, who were part of the minority of people even capable of reading and writing.
Gradually, through many a twist and turn, the system of notation that is now quite universal was arrived at.

Consider, if you will, for a while, the requirements of a system to record musical instructions in a medium that does not employ sound. Still, to this day, there are various alternatives put forward by lateral thinkers, but after your consideration I think you will agree that what we now have is a system that is remarkably versatile and flexible, and one that permits a great deal of graphic representation and understanding, after suitable study.
By that, I mean it's almost what you see is what you hear.
Graphic in the sense that we have the two axes, Horizontal being the time domain, and Vertical the domain of pitch.

I cannot allow myself to be specific about the process of reading music, but I am presuming that you are aware that as far as the vertical axis is concerned, ie. your ability to read the pitch of the notes and find the corresponding keys, the act should ideally be instantaneous, or as near to that ideal as you can possibly train yourself!
Yes please, dear student, you should not allow time to scratch your head too much.
Remember that music is a language.
Take yourself to the stage of reading it as fluently as you would your native written language. Add to this the extra dimension, that in our every day language is never quite so explicit, the dimension of time (and precision timing at that) and you will see your target ability ahead of you, or already in your grasp.

To sum up therefore, you are required, as much as possible, to combine the immediacy of identifying the correct notes and the order and duration of their timing!
OK, I relent, we are talking about Sight Reading skills here, and unless you have a situation which will focus you in a very real way, and bring your awareness and concentration to a peak, it
is unlikely that you will find your sight reading skills developing very quickly. However, the ability to read the music from the page as fluently as you can is immeasurably useful, and will develop alongside your other skills with regular practice.

The fluency of translating rhythms, from the written, to the felt (excuse the pun) must not be under-rated, for the correct absorption of the rhythmic information empowers you to be able to play.
In simple terms, understanding WHEN to play must happen before your understanding of WHERE to play has relevence, although you will hopefully forgive the obvious when I state the fact that these two processes will feel simultaneous.
Nevertheless, decoding the rhythmic information unlocks your energy, gives you the fuel with which you play, it empowers you for the task.

Energy Flow

We have touched here on the fundamental issue in playing the piano. I shall put it in capitals to imprint it firmly on your mind.

ENERGY FLOW

It goes without saying that nothing exists without energy, no pianos, no books of music, no composers and sadly no Pianists, not to mention piano-stools or candelabra! But here we are, my dear friend, happily in a world that is all energy, all about fluxes and fields, flows and forgetting.
I put the last word not because I love alliteration, but because it is one of the great truths in life. We have forgotten, or we do forget.
When we remember, however, hey presto, as if by magic, all manner of wonders are revealed, a secret world is opened up before us.
Energy is our true nature after all.
Let's learn to go with it, let's use that understanding to our mutual advantage.
I love "hey presto" and certainly as much magic as I can experience.

We can watch it happen for us in our piano playing.
With our sights set firmly on the Holy Grail of Perfection, we might as well settle down and enjoy the journey, The Way of the Pianist.

Very soon you will meet the most amazing friend, always a joy, consistent in His comforting ways.
She wishes to take the journey with you.
Can you wait to meet Him?
Just one more paragraph.

A paragraph about posture.
The keywords here, my dear student, are GRAVITY and BALANCE.
These are the two arenas in which we will display our ENERGY FLOW.

Sit comfortably on the stool, which should be selected carefully for it's height.
If anything, err on the side of too high, rather than too low. This way, you will have gravity working with you, not against you.
Sit with an absolutely erect spine. This is by far the most comfortable position eventually, and will not lead to any stresses or strains in your spinal column.
Don't let gravity pull you east, west, north or south, point your head to the sky.
Sit always with your nose in line with middle "C," and place the music with the spine of the book, or the centre of the page in line with this point as well.
You will be surprised at how consistency in these things will lead to greater security in spatial movement.
Place the feet suitably near for using the pedals.

At this point feel your balance.
Allow your breath to come and go, of its own accord, gradually increase the depth of breathing and start to feel centred. This is probably one of the most beautiful moments. Go on for as long as you like, your own timetable permitting!
Become aware of any tension in your upper back and shoulders. Allow all the tension to escape with your breath.
Send all the tension out of the room.
Instruct it very firmly to never come back!
Imagine a secret key hole between your shoulder blades, insert the secret key and unlock, unwind, unlock, unwind. Continue for as long as you like, until you feel normalised and ready to start.

Become aware of the fact that your arms have weight.
How heavy are your arms? Feel the pull of gravity. Feel the point of balance in the centre that is you.
Imagine albatross, imagine eagle. Become aware that it is the tension of the muscles that controls this weight, denies the weight from falling.

Relaxed arm weight is the most important item in your tool kit. Lift with the slightest tensioning of the muscles and lower by relaxing.
Get to know this experience well.
It needs to remain with you all the time.

Turn your relaxed hands so that the fingers point upwards.
Do you notice that the tips of your thumbs are almost on the same plane as the tips of the fingers? I do hope so.
This is a very useful observation.
Keeping your hands in this shape, as near as possible, let your fingers dangle just above the piano keys with both thumbs around middle C.
Imagine a drop of water on each shoulder rolling down the top surface of each arm. These drops shouldn't be allowed anywhere to rest until they drip off of the ends of your fingers.
That would be an ideal model for positioning your arms.

Please remember, dear friend, that you are a Human Being, not a mannequin or robot.
This is simply a position for starters, feel the pleasant relaxed mobility that you have around and about this position. Breathe life into your arms, feel the hinges at the wrists, side to side, up and down, and at all times be aware of the weight of the arms.
Feel this weight connect, through a variable "centre of gravity" (the fingers) in each hand, with the surface of the piano keys.

This is the mystical interface between you and the instrument.
The touch zone, the space where feeling is transmuted into sound.
You will learn how to bring forth bells, or trumpets, thunder or birdsong by the very touch of your fingertips.

Remember, gravity, relax, balance, relax and be aware.

These are all very real and tangible essences. Please do not merely read these words.

Try, the food is yours to taste, experience, find your way around this world of sensation. The piano is very "sensational" only, however, if YOU ARE THERE BEING THE SENSER.
Take these ideas with you to the piano and have a play around with them.

Please take the time to relax sufficiently before you start, and at any time you begin to feel any tension whilst playing. You are aiming for a state through which the rhythmic energy can flow unhindered, and your arms are flexible tubes down which this energy gushes on its journey to the tone.
Any hard or violent movement should be avoided.
Caress the keys, squeeze out the sound, harmonise your motion, create exquisite vibrations with everything you do. Enjoy!

You will, no doubt, be hiring the services of a professional teacher to keep up your inspiration for playing and to guide you through your years of study ahead.
Obviously, your external teacher cannot be with you the majority of the time. This includes the time that is so critical in your development, the time you spend alone practicing.
It is imperative that you find honesty of evaluation, sincerity of effort and a constant source of inspiration in those hours of solitary practice.

You must find the teacher within yourself.

The Teacher Within

OK, as promised, I'll introduce your friend for the journey.

A moment of quiet reflection will lead quite simply, profoundly, yet effortlessly, to an understanding that you are a part of this magnificent Reality. The pure magic of existence. You will experience your very own awareness of the phenomenon we call "Life".
That pure, uncluttered awareness that you feel is your Spirit, it is you at the root level, the part of you that has never changed.

THE TEACHER WITHIN.

You have met Him many times before, maybe recently, She's the one who gave you the breath, earlier on, and right now for that matter.
He's the one who is hearing you play, She loves it, by the way. He's also the One Who is feeling your fingers on the keys. She's also the tension that you sent out of the room.

(He didn't want you to feel so tense, by the way, but you have been so busy recently that you didn't hear Her calling for you to take some time out, and relax and enjoy that wonderful Human Body that He also gave you. Still, better late than never. We can only continue from HERE and NOW.)

As well as being your best friend on this journey She will also show you that He is the best possible Piano Teacher in the whole universe, and what is more, She is absolutely FREE, totally sympathetic to your personal needs, always there to listen and offer guidance, and the only thing He asks of you is TO REMEMBER that She is there.

That should help you to relax.
I have the same friend, the very same teacher. It's amazing how He has the time for both of us, sometimes simultaneously, and She's always so wonderfully kind. I really, really love Him. I'm sure you do too. The staggering part is, I can't do anything in return, for Her, I mean, except remember, and smile in my heart. By the way, He invented harmony, the very idea of it, so music is very close to Her heart.
He loves it when we play just for Her.
Listen carefully to His gentle voice.
She asks you not to rush away, but enjoy fully the time spent with Him.
You are Her favourite, best, most beloved pupil.
He has nothing to gain from teaching you, save the thrill of seeing you grow and enjoy. Whatever your task, the satisfaction of reaching the end will undoubtedly come all too soon. Enter within each precious moment with Her, each special moment of music, every touch of your fingers, the flow of rhythm from the centre of you to the point of connection with the sound and onwards until the silence returns.

Silence is to music as an empty canvas is to painting. Create upon that medium and drink the silence deeply, you can find it within you.

Anyway, introductions over with, I'm glad that you've already signed the contract. So on with the journey, don't forget to remember, and remember not to forget. That's our part of the Beautiful Bargain.

So, I admit it, the Mysterious interface is not really between you and your instrument,
It's really between the Idea of you and the Idea of your instrument. Seeing as His ideas are the only ones that count from now on, we might as well stop pretending that there is any real difference between the piano player and the piano being played.
Ah, but there is one major and crucial difference, which makes everything fall into place.

The piano player is alive and conscious! Aren't you? Of course.
That enables you to enjoy the experience, enjoy the journey, black and white, high and low, loud and soft, stop and start, happy and sad, long and short, breathing in, breathing out.
I'll stop there, I think, dear friend, you have the general idea.

So you are already at one with your instrument, that's an auspicious start.
Can you feel at your fingertips the gentle vibrations of sound as you play?
Try some balancing exercises including your feet at the pedals.
Pivoting upon the heels of each foot, rotate the feet under and over the pedals in a circular motion clockwise and then anti-clockwise.

Open the ears, relax the arms and shoulders, feel the gentle breath, open your heart . . . you are ready to play.

The System of Music

Music is quite remarkable in its ability to portray the world we live in. Not only in terms of TIME and SPACE but also in Human Emotional terms.
From the playful to the sombre, from joy to melancholy, celebrational to mournful and all the variety between these poles.

Just as we find in the theatre the symbols of Comedy and Tragedy, we have in music the statements of Major and Minor.
As all of life unfolds between these two opposite ends, and upon the vast stage that conjoins them, we will have to admit that each is contained in, and owes its existence to the other.
They are mutually interdependent.
Just as our awareness of happiness is contrasted as we emerge from a state of sadness.

However, music, or to be more precise, the nature of sound has a secret to share. A beautiful secret, a message of great hope for Humanity.
To find this secret, which is embedded in the nature of sound itself (and we can reverse that quite sensibly and say the sound of nature) we must look towards the phenomenon of Harmonics, or partials, as they are sometimes known.

A freely vibrating object, such as a piano string when struck by the felt hammer, will produce what we hear as the main note. This we call the fundamental, and it is this pitch that we pay most attention to. This is produced by the whole length of the string cycling backwards and forwards at whatever frequency (determined by length, thickness and tension.)
For example, the strings of the note "A" above middle C, are tuned to 440Hz. In other words, the whole string completes 440 cycles of motion each second. (Hz is an abbreviation for Hertz after the German scientist Heinrich Hertz and is used as a measurement of cycles per second.)
A cycle of motion is from the starting point, at rest, through an excursion to the positive, back through the starting point, through an excursion to the negative and back to the start point. (Positive and negative are theoretical labels only for the point of illustration, as both states are co-dependent.)

If this were the only frequency created however, the sound would be very unfamiliar to us, and very unlike what we expect a piano to sound like. For this is not the only frequency produced by the vibrating string.

Divide the string into perfect integer proportions, ie. Halves, Thirds, Quarters, Fifths etc. and etc. ad infinitum, and consider the fact that these portions of the string contribute their own frequency to the overall sound, in ratio to the integer number.
Therefore, the two halves of the string produce a tone at twice the frequency of the fundamental. This will give us a tone of an octave higher. If the fundamental is "A" 440Hz. this tone will be "A" 880Hz. but about half the volume of the fundamental.
This tone is known as the first harmonic or partial. The other integer portions add their own voices, in diminishing amplitude, which is why they remain hidden to our awareness.
However if they were not there, we would certainly notice.


You can prove all this by trying a little experiment (this will only work on a real piano) using a piano technique called "Flagging." With your right hand you will be revealing, one by one, the harmonics that are naturally present in the note that you will sound with your left hand. Be sure that you understand this before we start.
The right hand is revealing the harmonics that are within the left hand note.

Here is the simple experiment.
With a finger on your right hand, slowly and silently press middle C. Do this without any sound. You are simply lifting the damper away from the string and allowing it to vibrate in sympathy at its own frequency. This can be triggered by the same frequency, in isolation, or contained within another source. The source will now be supplied by your left hand.
Get ready with a finger of your left hand above the "C" below middle C.

Keep middle C depressed, and strike a firm but short note on the "C" below. Listen carefully to what happens. If performed correctly, you should be hearing the middle C string gently answering the "C" below.
You should hear it ringing.
That is because middle "C" is the first harmonic, the first partial of the "C" below, and is actually present in the sound of that note.
Let us proceed up the Harmonic Series of the "C" below middle C.

Do exactly the same again, this time the right hand should be holding down, silently the "G" above middle "C" instead.
Again, strike the low "C" with the left hand.
Listen . . . the second harmonic, contained within the sound of the low note - answering in sympathy.

Proceed upwards, trying the notes "C" above middle C (the third harmonic) the "E" above that (the fourth harmonic) the "G" above that (the fifth harmonic) the B flat above that (the sixth harmonic.
This will usually sound rather weak as the note B flat is not quite in tune with the natural harmonic of the left hand note) and finally the "C" two octaves above middle C (the seventh harmonic.)
Notice that the harmonics are getting closer and closer together.
The process continues ad infinitum, at least until the original energy input dissipates.

The whole point of this exercise is to demonstrate that the nature of sound (or the sound of nature) includes within itself the MAJOR third.
This is the "E" at the fourth harmonic. To me this suggests that nature (or the designer of nature) intends us to be JOYFUL.
Or have we learned to align our state of joy with this phenomena, simply because it is more natural?
Either way, it is confirmation that the natural state of the universe is one of harmony.
Are we a part of that harmony?
The answer, my dear fellow journeyman, is YES WE ARE.
A part of the whole experience of cosmic harmony.

Harmonics provide us with our sense of harmony and all simple major triads (3 note chords) are comprised of notes that are present (at some pitch or other) within the spectrum of naturally occurring harmonics or partials. It would appear therefore that harmony is the precursor of melody, as harmonics provide us with many of the notes that we employ as our major scale. All very interesting speculation only as the emergence of musical language took place many years ago in our pre-history.
However, the laws of the Universe haven’t changed.

Before we go on let me throw a few more musical terms into the melting pot.

A Mini-Glossary

SCALE : A series of notes in alphabetical order, ascending or descending.

MAJOR SCALE : A series of notes (as above) that define a major key.
The degrees of a major scale can be described in ascending order as: Tonic, Supertonic, (above the tonic) Mediant, (the middle note of the tonic triad) Subdominant, (in the same position under the tonic at the top, as the dominant is above the tonic at the bottom) Dominant, (referring to its powerful nature being, as we have just discovered, the first different note that appears in the harmonic series) Submediant, (in the same position from the tonic at the top as the mediant is from the tonic at the bottom) Leading note, (a magnetic semi-tone that urges us to lead on to the . . . ) Tonic.

MINOR SCALE : A series of notes (as above) that define a minor key, differing from the major always on the third degree - and with optional differences for the sixth and seventh degrees. These differences involve notes that are a semitone lower than their equivalent degrees in the major scale.

CHROMATIC SCALE : (Literally, a coloured or colourful scale.) A series of notes in alphabetical order that consists entirely of semi-tones.

WHOLE TONE SCALE : A series of notes in alphabetical order that consists entirely of tones.

SEMITONE : The smallest distance you can travel from one note to another on the piano. All the notes of a piano are one semi-tone away from their neighbour.

TONE : A distance of two semi-tones.
(The order of tones and semi-tones that will form a major scale is : Key note : Tone : Tone : Semi-tone : Tone : Tone : Tone : Semi-tone (you should be at the key-note again but higher up.)

KEY : Defined by the notes of the scale, the first of which is the Key note. Therefore every unique note has its own key. To be precise, it has a Major key and a Minor key.
A piece of music played in a different key will sound exactly the same but will sound higher or lower. Although it will therefore use a completely different set or sequence of notes, they will all be in the same relationship to the key note in every case. A piece of music written in a major key played in a minor key will not sound the same at all, even if the key note is the same, it will have a sad, mournful atmosphere to it. And the same is true in reverse, a minor tune played in a major key will sound disrespectfully joyful.

ACCIDENTAL : The term given to sharp, flat or natural signs in the main body of a piece of music. A term not applied to sharps or flats in a key signature. Accidentals only have the power to affect notes on that particular line or space and only for the duration or remainder of one bar.

SHARP : Above the true pitch. A sharp sign before a note means RAISE the note by 1 semi-tone (irrespective of the colour of the piano key.)

FLAT : Below the true pitch. A flat sign before a note means LOWER the note by 1 semi-tone (irrespective of the colour of the piano key.)

If you try to construct a major scale from any note other than “C” you will find that they necessarily include sharps or flats to maintain the correct sound. The arrival of these sharps or flats, first one, then two, etc. leads us to be able to Signify any specific key by the sharps or flats that it contains.
These “badges” if you like, are called the

KEY SIGNATURE : the mark of a particular key. Key signatures consist of these sharps or flats written in a determined order, placed at the start of each stave of music and they inform the player of their required presence throughout the piece of music in every octave (unless contradicted by a natural sign before certain notes.)

RELATIVE KEYS : Major and minor keys that share the same key signature - not the same key note. The relative minor key may be found on the sixth degree of a major scale - or the relative major key may be found on the third degree of a minor scale.

A DOUBLE SHARP : sign before a note means raise the note by 2 semi-tones.

A DOUBLE FLAT : sign before a note means lower the note by 2 semi-tones.

A NATURAL : sign before a note cancels out any previous previous sharps or flats for that particular line or space in the stave.

ENHARMONIC CHANGE : When a note or key changes its appearance, the way that it is written (e.g. F sharp to G flat) but maintains the same sound.

Sharps and flats are, as you can see, interchangeable to a certain extent and there are various theoretical rules as to how or when either can be employed. Suffice it to say that F sharp and G flat make the same sound.
Physically on the keyboard you can construct a scale from each of the unique physical keys. Count them, there are twelve before repetition starts. Major and Minor scales (2 forms of Minor scale) are possible from each. That makes a total of 36 scales, not counting the various

MODES : Other series of notes or types of scales with different orders of tones and semitones.

The physical act of playing the piano, as with any instrument, is so much interwoven with the theoretical side of music that it is wise not to attempt learning one, without at least a little of the other. Besides - there is great wisdom in learning the common language of music - it helps you communicate ideas with other musicians.

You can see from the above brief glossary that there are numerous words used in music that might have more than one meaning. For example the word “key” is used sometimes to mean the physical parts of the piano that make up the keyboard, as well as its use, as in “Play in a different key” (although the result would mean that you played on different keys.)
“Tone” is sometimes used when describing the quality of sound produced by a musician, as in “She played with a mellow tone” as well as describing “A distance of two semi-tones.”
So context is vital to the understanding of which meaning is correct.

The Mandala of Keys

Let us examine the system of the keys. It is a very worthwhile exercise, and can lead to a broad understanding of the way that the twelve semi-tones that we have divided the octave into relate to each other.
Firstly let us understand that this is our Western system, and that other systems exist. For example, in some Eastern systems of music, up to twenty four partitions of the octave are recognised, including intervals that we refer to as micro-tones being half of a semi-tone.

An octave, being the distance between any given frequency and the doubling of that frequency will naturally contain an infinite amount of potential "notes." We can imagine this if we think of a sound source, such as a variable oscillator or the human voice, being swept continuously through all the frequencies from "f1" to "f2."
Anywhere that we cared to pause the sweeping sound, and listen, we could say was a "note." However, a little thought will lead us to realise that although some instruments are capable of producing all these notes, most are not, and certainly a piano with an infinite amount of notes per octave would be highly impracticable, and mercifully does not concern us here.

So we have arrived, at our system of twelve semi-tones per octave. There are various ideas as to how this evolution took place, but no-one can be really sure. But there does seem to be a recognisable hand, a certain mysterious guidance over the years that has steered it on its way.

We find the recurrence of the mystical numbers twelve, seven and eight. Guided over the many years by the Spirit within him, mankind has overseen the creation of this system. The keyboard would appear to have been behind the logic in the key system, although whether that is possible, historically, I very much doubt.

Consider this if you may, the fact that although the musical alphabet starts with "A" the key system (although a complete cycle, without a real beginning or end) would appear to "start with" "C." The key of "C" being the only all natural key, (no sharps or flats) and that which corresponds to the white notes upon the piano keyboard. I love the mystery, I thrill at the magic.

Let's explore onwards.
We can draw the twelve keys around a circle exactly as the hours appear on a clock face. (This is very appropriate considering how inextricably intertwined are music and time. From the ground floor up, in fact, because we only choose to use, as a rule, periodic frequencies as our sources of sound. That is, frequencies which are consistent over time produce what we recognise as a musically useful sound.)

Let's place "C" at the twelve’ o’clock position.
Let's lay out all the other keys in the hour positions and travelling clockwise put them in the order of increasing quantity of sharps.
Therefore we will have "G" with one sharp at one o’clock, "D" with two sharps at two o’clock and so on.
But wait! if we proceed all the way around the clock with sharp keys, we don't arrive back at "C." Instead we arrive at the key of "B" sharp, with a key signature of twelve sharps!
How on earth can a key have twelve sharps with only seven different notes in the scale? The answer is that some of the sharps are double sharps.
The notes in this scale would be as follows. B sharp, C double sharp, D double sharp, E sharp, F double sharp, G double sharp, A double sharp!
Not the easiest of keys to play in.
Enharmonically the same as C.

Let's try a different order around the clock face.
Let's say that at the six o’clock position, we will have an "interchange" with the flat keys. So, at the six o’clock position we find the key of "F sharp" the note that is halfway between C and its octave.
Let's interchange with the flat keys, and call this "G flat" as well.
Six sharps or six flats.
Now if we proceed round the clock "D flat" with five flats, "A flat", with four flats and so on we will arrive back at "C."

Let's see how we can look further into this chart.
It is sometimes referred to as the cycle of fifths, that is perfect 5ths ascending travelling clockwise, descending travelling anti-clockwise. Really we are looking at an integrated system that is complete, and therefore any direction can only be implied.

I much prefer to call this a Music Mandala. Your philosopher's stone.
Ask any question and it shall be revealed.

Imagine placing a mirror along the axis of "C" to "Fsharp". That is what is actually shown. Everything on one side of this line is reversed and inverted on the other side. "C" and "F sharp" being the two points of integration, "C" has no sharps or flats, "F sharp" or "G flat" have six.

Certain musical patterns can be represented on this mandala, and they can lead to useful insight. For example, by joining the points on the circle in the order of a chromatic scale what shape arrives? A beautiful twelve pointed star.
A whole tone scale produces the image of a hexagon.
Try diminished sevenths and augmented triads, major and minor scales.

Let the shapes speak to you.
Try intervals and their inversions, all will be revealed to you.
Get familiar with this Alice in the Looking Glass world that is the system of music graphically portrayed.
Above all realise that your familiarity of this system, with regards to your knowledge of keys, scales and chords, should become as complete and fluent as possible, for this is the raw material of your musical intellect, here is the syntax, the grammar for your musical creativity.
Take delight in the symmetry of it, and wonder at the mystery of how it all came to be.

Magnetic Semitones

Perhaps you will have already noticed a symmetry within the major scale.
The first four notes being identically constructed as the second four.
These are often referred to as the two tetrachords.
Each consists of two tones and one semitone, and are separated by the interval of a tone.

As in living beings the seed, as it were, for the next is contained within the first. We see travelling clockwise, that the second tetra chord of any scale is the building block for the next scale around the Mandala, and requires the sharpening of the seventh note in order for it to become stabilised as a new key in its own right. Why is this?

Without the sharpening of the seventh degree, the second half of this new scale would now have the semitone in a odd position, and would still sound to us like part of the "parent key." We would "Psycho-acoustically" not recognise any different key basis.
The new scale would simply sound like the “parent key” starting on the dominant.

This is because it is only the positioning of the semi-tones within a scale that give us the reference points with which we determine the key, or imply the tonic, even if it is not actually sounded. We learn, and remember, sub-consciously, that all scales, major and minor, end with a semitone leading up, and back home to the tonic.
This is a powerful reference point for our ears, and in conjunction with the other semitones that are presented to us during the course of a melody, we deduce a sense of key.

This accounts for the floating quality of whole tone music.
A chromatic scale or whole tone scale have no innate key structure (each step being identical) merely a starting note.

The magnetic quality I refer to can be demonstrated if we look at the two semitone movements in a dominant seventh to tonic cadence, or V7 - I.
The leading note will be attracted back to the tonic, and the sub-dominant will be attracted back to the mediant.

This phenomenon also accounts for the ubiquitous usage of a diminished seventh chord, sometimes referred to as the "Charring Cross" chord, for you can modulate to virtually
anywhere from it and modulate to it from virtually anywhere, because of the availability of possible semitone movements to other recognisable chords. In other words - you cannot move any of the individual notes contained in a diminished seventh chord by a semitone, in either direction, without creating another recognisable chord.

Developing a sensitivity towards hearing the magnetism of semitones will help immensely your sense of understanding and feeling for harmonic progressions as they lead you through a piece
of music.

The Rhythm Is Life

Music at the piano can be so wonderfully fulfilling. Perhaps the reason for this lies in the fact that at the piano, one performer, that is you my dear friend, can represent a very whole and complete balance of the triune nature of music.
The three separate aspects of music, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm. All equally necessary and always present even if only by implication, just as we are created from Spirit, Thought and Flesh.

We can align the three aspects of music with the three aspects of man.
Melody aligns with the heart, Harmony with the mind and Rhythm with the body.

When we sing our song it comes from the heart. The melody is always the point of focus. We can modify the experience of melody by different harmonic approaches, each adding their own "spin", or particular view, clothing the melody in different colours. Our bodies are inspired to dance by the compulsive rhythm of music, subconsciously we find a foot tapping or a finger drumming.

All three aspects, as well balanced as can possibly be, make both Man and Music whole.

Melody and harmony are out of reach for science, but rhythm not so. We will discover that perhaps there is such a thing as Rhythmic Law. I wish to expand on the earlier material on relaxation at this point. As you will know or at least remember well from your early days at the piano, our hands do have minds of their own.
They have tendencies built in to them as to how the fingers like to behave. We are trying to achieve a state in our equipment that allows the rhythmic flow of energy, our very LIFE ENERGY, in an unhindered way.
Relaxation from the shoulders to the finger tips can aid the flow of this energy, and with special regard to the movement of fingers, can help to defeat the impositions of the hand's own tendencies.
In other words, the messages from the brain not only find a clearer pathway to the fingers, but when they arrive, have less of a struggle asserting themselves in a relaxed hand.
Furthermore, relaxation can become a consistent state for you with practice, and your equipment will then be always familiar to you.
Your hands will feel different in tension and your playing style and the sound produced will be harder for you to master if you avoid the issue of trying to establish this consistency in relaxation. It is of prime importance.

Now to the matter of Rhythmic Law.
There are basically only two different forms of rhythm. Duple, and Triple.
Any time signature or grouping of notes will be in combinations of these patterns, and any further subdivision of beats will assume combinations of these two basic patterns.
We will find constant states of Macrocosm and Microcosm as we zoom in on a landscape.

A segment of a musical whole, such as a phrase or riff or section is the first Microcosm.
Treating these as our new Macrocosm we zoom in to find the bar as a Microcosm. Within a bar we have the beats, and within the beats we have subdivisions or groupings.

Within the bar is where we shall observe Rhythmic Law.
Duple time will always contain positive and negative. Think of it how you will, Yin and Yang, heavy and light, down and up, whichever way suits you or feels most appropriate in context, but it is there, and we should learn how to incorporate this Law into our Energy Flow so that we co-ordinate our movements and inflections with the requirements of the music.
Remember, we are desperately seeking contrast at the piano.
Contrast that must live at our fingertips and that will sketch out our landscape with precision.

Think Down-positive, Up-negative all the way, each allows the other life, they are co-dependent. The alternative is an arbitrary syncopation caused by an uncontrolled thumb or a uniform blandness of too much or too little tone.
Contrast is the keyword here that allows you to breathe rhythmic life into your playing and continuity, for one negative forms a void space that sucks into itself the next positive, which in turn must create in its shadow another negative.

See how it works within a bar.
In duple time the two halves of the bar are the main Positive Negative statement.
Within that, and within and within and within that, are other positive negative statements - the beats themselves and then the subdivisions of these beats.
Can you feel the flow through your fingers, think it, feel it.

Not as good watching your fingers, you'll only see what you've already done! Feel it flowing on the inside of you.
That is where the master is, on the inside, feel with him, feel him every note of the way.

Triple time is wedge shaped, with the positive end diminishing to the negative. Of course you can have triples in duples and duples in triples. The Law always applies.
Put it into your playing as you learn. Learn where to put the weight, learn where to put lightness. Remember that this is your Life Energy that is starting to flow in a co-ordinated way with the requirements of the music, because you are aware and in control at every moment, and you are causing this to happen.

You can combine and absorb this while learning the fingering and the notes. Best not to add it on later, you'll only have to unlearn from the way you did it initially. If you do it from the beginning
this way, it'll stay with the fingers, as part of your muscle memory.
Add to all of this the very real sensation of "Breathing" with your arms for each separate musical phrase, sing it with your heart.
If you are unable to sing it in your heart, more friendship with the piece is needed. Let it become your song that you are singing and put your full awareness into this as a performance state. It is impossible to perform without the "singing" ability, all that happens then is that keys are pressed and beats are counted.
Let's learn to perform.

Final Cadence

And so, my dear friend, thank you for taking the time to read these observations. I sincerely hope that they will add fuel to the burning desire you have to play well. I shall see you all someday, and hear all the wonderful, glorious music that you are playing. That day we will all know the Divine Truth, and we will be in the caring, loving company of the best piano teacher in the universe.

We can be with that teacher whenever we choose. All we have to do is take a breath and remember, and decide to stay because we love to.
We will discover a patience and a tolerance and good humour inside us that we once only dreamed of.
The beauty is that it is here to stay, if we wish it to be so.

I'll say goodbye, temporarily, wishing you the most exciting and enjoyable journey on the black and white way, and leave you with a few keywords.

BREATHE IN
BREATHE OUT
RELAX
BREATHE IN
BREATHE OUT
RELAX
LET GO
DEEPLY
LET GO
WILFULLY
YOUR TEACHER LOVES YOU
RELAX
LOVE YOUR TEACHER
GRAVITY
BALANCE
HARMONY
ENERGY FLOW
THE RHYTHM IS LIFE
FEEL THE FLOW
RHYTHMIC LAW
RELAX
BE AWARE
ENJOY
YOUR TEACHER LOVES YOU