My Piano Revival
I was six years old when my parents bought a piano. My mother’s dream for me was that I would be a good pianist. She kept telling me: “One day, you will be sitting at the piano, with everyone gathering around you to listen. You will thank me then…”.
I was sent to our small town’s piano teacher, a tough lady that was quite critical of my playing and kept saying: “If Tchaikovsky heard you now, he would turn in his grave…”. I sustained the lessons for a year, but the daily need for practicing and the constant nagging broke me.
Growing up, I turned to a career of programming and hi tech and my piano hobby was pushed aside, to my mother’s chagrin. Miracles do happen, though, and more than fifty years later I rediscovered my love for the piano and the perfect way to turn playing into an enjoyable and fulfilling pastime. Today I am going to share this with you.
The piano is a marvelous and unique musical instrument. Unlike a trumpet or a violin, it can produce not only the melody but also the harmonizing background. Unlike most guitar playing, songs sound complete without singing along. No wonder some compare the richness of the piano to a full orchestra.
The power, however, comes with difficulties. Although you can easily produce a sound on the piano (unlike a trumpet or the violin which take months to master just that), playing with both hands in a synchronized way equates to a small miracle for the non-playing observer. How can the brain direct each hand to do a totally different thing at the same time? This, no doubt, is a difficult task to master.
When I decided to revive my childhood days and try to learn how to play again, I thought I would do this the traditional way. I looked at sheet music (which my wife, who was once a singer, had kept) and tried to remember the notes. For those of you which are not familiar with sheet music, I will say, without going into many details, that it is not easy or trivial. Musical notes are an amazing invention, yet they are daunting for the beginner because they have many rules which take years to master. Mastering means being able to play without looking at the keyboard (Sight Reading) and being able to play on first sight (Prima Vista).
So, I started relearning notes and ran into a wall. I knew how to read each note individually, I knew all the rules, yet I couldn’t resolve them quickly enough in my head to be able to play fluently and make it sound half descent.
My goals were humble enough. I just wanted to play familiar popular songs and classical pieces in an ear-pleasing way. No aspirations for concert playing, just having some fun with family and friends or even playing by myself (which is a lot of fun too). But how could I achieve this?
Here I managed to use my programming background: I tried to simplify and to generalize.
For the right hand, which typically provides the song melody, I used the letters A to G, combined with the familiar sharp (♯) and flat (♭) signs to represent all the keys in what is called an octave. I used the (+) and (-) signs to go one octave up or down. That provided ample space for musical flexibility for the melody, without complicated rules to remember.
The left hand is the tricky one. On standard sheet music, the left hand plays freely, thus making a huge number of combinations which make it very hard to master. My solution was to limit the left hand to create a harmonized background, and this is created by playing chords. Surely that is often done by many, but the unique way which I have developed, shows how to play these chords in an easy yet very appealing way, and more importantly, how to mark the way by which they are synchronized with the melody! The result is fantastic for an amateur and can be learned far quicker than notes.
I started writing by hand a primitive version of what you see above, in a notebook, but after I realized how powerful it was, I joined forces with a talented young pianist that helped me make it accurate and complete. By then, we have decided to make it public and defined it as a language called PENTA. We created an easy way to transcribe it to a textual document with all the necessary symbols.
Fast forward to date, we have scripted and recorded hundreds of popular songs and light classical pieces, and are able to play hours of ear pleasing music with ease. I can say, with a high level of certainty, that anyone who invests, in earnest, a couple of hours a week studying this new, wonderful, method, will be able to play easy pieces with both hands within 6 months, and even reach prima-vista and sight reading within less than a year.
The learning material is available free of charge at the web site of our company, Piano Esperanto. Come in and join the fun!