Why is Playing the Piano so Challenging?
In a previous story, I’ve told my personal tale of piano revival. I mentioned that at one point of my comeback adventure I ran against the wall. Here I will tell you exactly why.
The piano is unique between all the musical instruments. On one hand, it is very easy to produce a good sound — just press a key! Compare this to a violin or a trumpet which require months of practice just to get a pleasant sound. On the other hand, the piano provides the special quality of being able to play two completely different sequences with both hands. This is the beauty, but also the difficulty.
Most courses that teach you how to play will start with baby steps: The structure of the keyboard, the basic notes, and how to read them. You will usually start by learning how to play the melody of simple songs with your right hand. This part usually goes well, and you will feel that you are on a roll. Then, the left hand is introduced. You will rehearse it by itself, and that will work too. But soon after, when both hands should play together, things will start to be complicated…
Indeed, when you think about it, the brain is asked to perform a very intricate and accurate motion, differently, with each hand. Your hands work separately, and yet should be totally synchronized. Our ear will usually detect any discrepancy and you, as any innocent listener, will cringe at the mistakes.
Each time I tried to take an online video course, the ritual was the same: I happily started the first lessons, enjoying the fact that I can really master them quickly. The teacher on the video was patient, and at some places seemed even overly slow. But then, he would put both hands together and say: “Now just do this!”, and I would be lost. The gap was too big to cross.
Another difficulty stemmed from the fact that you need to put a lot of effort before you can produce a real song with both hands. You will be asked to do a lot of mundane practice exercises that do not sound like any song you know. One of the pleasures in piano is hearing yourself playing songs you know and love, and for that, you’d have to work for a long time.
So how can this wall be broken? How can you cross quickly to the other side and derive enjoyment from playing before you get tired from practicing?
The trick is to compact things, or in simple words: limiting the possibilities. You can produce 80% of the musical pleasure while investing 20% of the effort.
You can compare the melody of the song, typically played with the right hand, to the naked body. It gives the song the unique identifiable structure. The background, which is typically played with the left hand, is the clothes that cover the body.
Unlike the right-hand melody that has an infinite number of combinations, the left-hand background can be based on a limited set of building blocks, that are easy to learn and play. They are called chords. The right combination of chords gives any melody a significant upgrade and makes the song sound ‘complete’. The way the chords are played effects the rhythm of the song: Swing, Waltz, Tango, Rock, Pop, etc. In a way, the chords serve as a metronome (beat generator) for the song.
It is extremely important to play the chords using the right synchronization with the melody. This creates the right harmony and flow for the song.
Once you learn the chords technique for your background you can play almost every song, even classical music. It is much easier to play using sight reading — just playing what’s in front of you, without the need to memorize and practice a lot.
I accumulated all the lessons above into a musical language called PENTA, which can be easily learned and mastered. It helped me play with ease. Try it and have fun too!