For the last 7-8 years I have been studying the piano and, during that time, I have come across different myths about how to play the piano. Let's explore them!
Upon scouring the internet you’ll see lots of comments like “Don’t sight-read something you’ve seen before" or "That’s not true sight-reading.” And, while I agree with that, I also think that it can be very limiting! In my experience, I have learned a LOT by playing the same music over and over. Whether that was in Piano Marvel’s Method and Technique, the SASR, or Dr. Cory Hall’s “Sight-Reading and Harmony”, my experience has been completely different.
Speed is the enemy. I remember my teacher in college, Dr. Michael Mastronicola, telling me it was okay to play a Haydn Sonata at a slightly slower speed (100 bpm instead of 130) but I just wouldn’t listen to him. Since I had already heard what it “should” sound like it was hard for me to accept anything less. But, upon hearing this intriguing Authentic Sound (Wim Winters) YouTube video about Bach’s 1st Invention in C Major, I started to finally realize that speed isn’t always the goal to strive for. Try listening to radical pianist Glenn Gould’s “Rondo All Turca” or Mozart’s “Fantasy in D Minor” and you’ll see that speed is most assuredly not what Gould is focused on.
It’s my belief that many pro-level musicians got to where they are from technique practice. Much like sight-reading patterns, learning technical skills enables you to play these patterns when seen “in the real world”. As my family friend, Carol Stivers, once said, “Scales are the bread and butter of music." All - or most - of music is made up from a Major or Harmonic Minor scale. Even if you aren’t shooting off rapid scales in a Mozart or Beethoven Sonata, it would still behoove you to know that Db is the IV chord in Ab Major. Scales are the way to not only strengthen your technical prowess, but also strengthen this theory understanding.
I still remember googling “Do I need to know music theory to write music?” some 10 years ago. The answers were, as you might guess, quite varied. After some time of “dipping my toes” into theory, I eventually grew curious. Essentially, Music Theory is the study of what others have done to write music that “makes sense”. Theory classes are made up of learning conventions that music generally follows. Over time, this convention might go out of style or start taking on another shape. Their goal is to help break down music into a way that more or less follows these rules so that, as a musician, you can know what to generally expect.
One of YouTube’s biggest classical pianists, Josh Wright, made a video 5 years ago that shared his experience with digital pianos. If you haven’t seen that video I would highly suggest watching it. Before Dr. Wright had Steinways, it was interesting to hear what he had practiced on. Now, I have a very nice Yamaha Clavinova CLP-775 which mimics the touch, feel, and sound of a real piano better than anything I’ve ever owned. It’s no Steinway, but I find that my playing and touch have improved over the past year and a half of owning it due to, in part, having a higher-quality instrument. The other part that has helped me to improve was a piano teacher…
I, too, thought this when starting out, but was fortunate enough to have someone recommend I get a teacher. I went and found the best teacher I could find. Michelle Curtis was awesome and showed me some Beethoven, Chopin, and Bartok, amongst teaching me theory and helping me get into music school. This led me to my next teacher whom I’ve already mentioned, Dr. Mastronicola (but we called him “Dr. M”). There were many great things that Dr. M did for me, but the things I remember most are him finding opportunities for me to perform, continuing to teach me over the summer break, pushing me to follow through with my commitments/learning to sight-read, and finding songs that he thought I would like.
There was a teacher I had in college who once said something like, “You have to practice 4 hours every day if you want to be a virtuoso. If you practice 1-2 you’ll be good. Practicing any less than that is worthless.” That being said; I’ve had years where I practiced every day, but most recently my life only allows me to average about 4-5 days a week and sometimes only 30 minutes a day. The older we get, the more responsibility we take on and the harder it can be to carve out the time in your day for yourself. Whether you are able to do 5 hours or 5 minutes, aim to play EVERY DAY.
Memorizing is my natural tendency. In the Piano world, you’ll hear that there are “memorizers” and “readers”. Reading is something I have been getting better at and is a valuable skill that allows you to play much more music than you could ever realize. This is one reason why I think reading is a great skill to learn. However, when it comes to songs that are hard for you, the best way to learn the song just might be memorization - at least that’s what I prefer. Memorizing allows me to dive deeper into the piece and really get it solid under my fingers. But again, this is only something I need for pieces that are hard and not something I can easily read.
No!! Please don’t make the same mistakes I have! This is a surefire way to waste hours of your valuable practice time. And the bummer is: it’s going to probably seem “fun”. Fun can’t be wrong, can it? There’s a great book called, “The War of Art” with a quote I like that basically says “stop resistance”. What is this so-called resistance you might ask? Resistance is what Steven Pressfield calls the tendency we all have to put off the things that are good for us. With Piano Marvel, I have found it much easier to avoid this using “Learn” mode.
One of the great things about Piano Marvel is that it can put you into a virtual “space” similar to where other good readers have honed their skills. The “Standard Assessment of Sight-Reading” - or SASR - is the reason why many people usually join us. That’s not the only thing we have to offer, though. Whether you want to learn to become a better sight-read or perform your favorite song, Piano Marvel can help you out!