Here’s a picture of me and my new toy!
It’s called a Melodica. I was inspired to get one after seeing Jon Batiste play it in a video with his group “Stay Human” before they got the Late Show gig with Stephen Colbert. Now I can’t put it down!
Here’s a clip of them playing in the streets of Williamsburg.
Some of you may know that I’m really interested in helping people to stop dreaming about playing piano and taking action or taking their playing to the next level by conquering their obstacles. So when people come to me asking for advice I often give it for free. I’m fascinated by the amount of people that don’t take it and the psychology behind why they don't. It’s FREE advice!!
When I ask them why they don’t just set aside some time to do the things I advised, I get a lot of interesting responses:
i.e. “I don’t want to be discouraged”; “I have no discipline”; “I just don't have the patience “;“maybe when the kids are older”; “It's just the amount of time it takes to learn a song”;”I forget and it all flies right out the door”
Often times these responses have hidden meanings behind their words. I’ve found that the root of a lot of these obstacles for us is anchored in fear and doubt.
Recently I asked the internet "what was/is the #1 pain in the ass when it comes to learning piano to you?" The responses I got were very enlightening.
Let’s look at what a couple of people said and what the hidden meanings behind their words…
"Most of my problems are pretty much what other people have already said, so I'll offer something new. Hearing someone who's really good and knowing that I'll pretty much never be able to play like that. It's a tiny bit demoralizing, but it at least gives a goal to work for. Even if I can't play as well as a real pianist, I can at least try, and maybe I'll get better in the process."
What’s he saying? He’s saying that it sucks to hear how much better someone is than him at playing piano but at least it gives him a benchmark to attain.
He THINKS he’ll never be able to play as well as well as a real pianist yet if he tries he can MAYBE make himself a better player.
It’s like the battle is already lost for him. He’s got no real faith in his self or his abilities. He’s bound to fail right from the start because of his attitude.
But with a simple switch in his thought process he can turn all of it around.
Let’s look at another aspiring pianist and his approach.
"I've been an adult learner for almost 8 years now. I started when I turned 40. My goal was to have learned and played piano for 10 years by the time I'm 50.
I'm at a little over 7.5 years and going strong. I play pieces in the grade 7-9 books, which vary considerably with respect to difficulty depending on whose set is being used. I'm also going through a tango phase right now; they're not much represented in the graded literature but I enjoy them, and they've helped me play some Joplin pieces since they employ a lot of 3 against 4 and 3 against 2 rhythms.
I like to mix the lessons with pieces I want to learn. So far that's worked great; a few pieces I keep going back to and getting better at, but I'm not there yet. Eventually I'll have the agility to do them, so I bring them back every now and then just to see what's gotten better/easier, and what I still need to improve on to play that piece in future."
What’s he saying? He’s given himself a goal of 10 years to learn how to play piano. He’s ambitious and determined to make it work.
He mentions what he’s working on right now and how he’s approaching attaining his goals. He knows his weaknesses, identifies them and knows he will improve them in the future.
This is the right mindset to have.
The mindset of “I can never do that. Even if I work at it I might get better but no guarantees” is no bueno but “I can’t do this right now, but I know if I work at it I can” is 100x better.
I’d much rather be the latter guy and I want that to be you too.
Change your approach today. Instead of saying “I’ll never be able to do that!” say “I can’t do this right now but I will later with a little bit of work.”
Do we all have to be the guy that makes a ten year plan? Of course not. Start with something small. 6 months to a year. Maybe even smaller like one week.
Set a goal you can realistically accomplish this week and make it happen by next week.
Try this out and get back to me in a week with your progress.
I promise, once you see the power of taking on a positive mindset, you won’t want to go back.
I have a new video for some of you more advanced players.
It's about jazz ii V7 I's. Check it out here.
I show you a simple yet very jazzy sounding, universally accepted jazz voicing that you can start practicing right away with both hands.
If you liked my video about "Learning all 12 keys for Major Chords" then you'll love this.
Just like the previously mentioned video, I show you how to recognize patterns in the chords
Below is the “I Feel Pretty Chord” which outlines a Bb minor 7. Ab(7th) C(9th) Db(3rd) F(5th).
Notice that I’m not playing the root which is Bb because these voicings assume you are playing the root with your left hand or you are playing with a bass player.
In this video you’ll learn…
How to play all the ii V7 I’s you will ever need for comping and soloing and keep them forever
These chords are the real deal. Forget those vanilla voices you’ve been working on for 5 years. It’s time to graduate to what real jazz musicians are using daily. Furthermore you’ll know them in all 12 keys which means you’ll be able to transpose on the spot
How to easily and effortlessly change between the chords without moving your hands at all -- you won’t ever want to go back to your old ways
These chords are built in such a way that playing them will be intuitive and when you go to play a gig or jam session, your focus will be on where it really needs to be: Making music and having fun instead of struggling over what chords to use or reverting to the chords you already know which sound too basic for jazz.
Here's the video link again.
I have a new video out which I’m very excited to share with you.
It shows you how to play all the major chords in all 12 keys on the piano in under 7 minutes even if you don't know any notes on the piano.
Not only that but in the video, I show you how to learn the chords in a systematic way so you don’t only learn them quickly but you retain them. You can check the video out below.
I want you to be able to take hours of practice time and reduce them to minutes so you can get right to what you want to play quickly and effortlessly.
The quickest way to getting there is learning your chords.
In this video you’ll learn…
How to keep your hand in the same position/ hand placement -- even when you’re changing chords.
I’ll give you a clue -- It involves pipe cleaners.
How to recognize patterns to switch quickly between chords
Most people will tell you to learn all your keys chromatically which means going up a half step for each note but there isn’t any real reason to learn it this way.
My way shows you how to learn in a way that your brain will lock on to what your hand is doing and you will retain what you’ve learned.
Who knew all those shapes you learned in high school would come in handy?
I’ll show you how to use shapes to quickly and easily identify groups of chords, one of which I like to call triangle chords (2 white notes with a black note in the middle)
“This is great info. Harry…but I don't know what any of the notes on the piano mean"
That's the beauty of this because you don't have to. It simply teaches you the pattern. We can work on the notes later.
"What if I get lost or worse, it all goes flying right out the door?”-- I have solutions to that too.
I’ll show you how to build a 3-note major chord starting from any note using a half step system as well as how to retain all the information you learned from the video so you don’t forget it.
P.S. If you enjoyed the video below, please send me some feedback. What's a video that you would like to see? Be specific e.g. I want to learn how to play by ear or I want to learn how to play my favorite Christmas songs for my family during the holidays, etc.
Practicing certain exercises over and over, especially if it's taking a while to get it down, can be hard work.
We’ve all had that day where we have set some time aside to practice the piano and we know what we have to work on; Exercises to improve our precision, coordination, and stamina at the piano.
Unfortunately, exercises can be boring as hell -- so what do we do? We say “nah I’ll do it tomorrow” or we end up just playing the things we already know how to do and in turn learn nothing new.
We often forget however that the big picture for us is that we want to enjoy our experience at the piano and be able to play the things we love.
However in order to do that there are things that we have to do daily that require focus, discipline, dedication and mindful repetition. So why not just make those things fun?
The 3 Items -- Play a little game to gauge your progress
Place 3 items on the piano and for each time you play the exercise or groups of exercises perfect, remove one item. Repeat until all items are gone.
If you mess up just once, all 3 items must go back up. This ensures that you’ve practiced your exercises to the best of your ability and can play them 3 times in a row.
I use the word perfect but don’t get carried away by being a perfectionist.
Here are 3 questions you can use to gauge your “perfect” practice
#1 Did I play all the notes correctly?
#2 Did I play it in time, consistently without skipping a note or beat?
#3 Did I have correct, consistent fingering?
Not only is this a surefire way to gauge how well you know something and keep you goal oriented, it also keeps your practice nuanced, engaging and fun at the same time.
Dessert After Dinner -- reward yourself for
your good work
It feels great to play the things you can play masterfully especially after a great, focused practice session. Not only does it feel more deserved, it is encouraging and something to look forward to in later practice sessions.
Leave the stuff you already know for last. It does you no service to spend your serious practice on what you know but leaving it for the end gives a deep sense of satisfaction that you’ve accomplished what you wanted for the day.
It’s worth mentioning as well that our brains get tired especially when we’re working on particularly challenging passages.
So it’s a better use of your brain power to work out those challenging parts first. Then, when your brain is practically mush, you can work on things it already knows and give your brain the pat on the back it so positively deserves.
Unless you’re major is in piano or you are a concert pianist, you don’t have to spend 6 + hours a day practicing to get good at playing the piano. In fact sometimes when we have lots of responsibilities throughout the day, more time sitting at the piano can actually do more harm than good. Hopefully by the end of reading this you’ll have learned how to use your daily habits to construct a system for success.
EXPLOIT YOUR MOTIVATIONAL TIDE
All too often do we say we will do something and put it off for the next day and they never happen. We tend to procrastinate in different areas of life including working out, dieting, financial planning, sending that thank you card to your mother-in-law. However we have times where we’re super motivated to do something and then times that we are not motivated at all. It’s like a tide moving in and out each day. That’s why it’s important to be ultra productive during these motivational peaks (when the tide comes in) and set up a system to make practice extremely easy to do in times of your de-motivation (when the tide goes out). Instead of simply saying ‘I’ll try harder’, exploit your motivational tide. The next time you get that burst of inspiration to play, grab a pen and paper and carve the time into your schedule. I recommend a huge paper calendar you can get from Wal-Mart. You will have to confront it every day because there’s no way to avoid them hanging on your office wall. Plus they have a lot of space to write down extra notes to track progress which we’ll talk about next. I also recommend a calendar app like Google maps to have reminders throughout the day.
Gauge your productivity by tracking your progress. You already have the dates in the calendar. After the date has passed jot down a little note about what you were able to accomplish that day, the time it took for you to accomplish it and if you didn’t get to it, the specific reason why e.g. ‘I had an project to complete by Friday and really needed this time to get work done’. Learn from your habits. Don’t expect every day to be the same. If you thought Tuesday at 8:50am was a good “fresh” time but you never get to it, try Tuesday at 6:45pm. Keep going until you hit a sweet spot for that particular day.
When you are in your de-motivated times, your schedule is already carved out to include practice times so you don’t have to sit and think about it but just do it. One way to ensure that your butt will be on that piano bench when the time comes is to have very little blocks of time so small that even on your laziest day you can say ‘Eh -- I can do that’. We’re talking five to fifteen minute micro-sessions at the piano.
EXTRA TIDBIT: Set a 6 month goal and a 12 month goal with a sentence of what you want to be able to play e.g. I want to have “Linus and Lucy” performance ready in 6 months and “Rhapsody in Blue” in 12 months. At the end of those goals set the date to have a mini recital for close friends and family. You can also set mini goals e.g. 3 months, 8 weeks, by Christmas etc. You can be the life of the party playing tunes for everyone around the piano.
MASTER THE ART OF DAILY MICRO-PRACTICE SESSIONS
Be very specific and detailed about when you can realistically practice. If you’re not sure, start by planning times where you know your mind is fresh. Block out a few 5 to 15 minute sessions throughout each day of the week where you can realistically fit your micro-practice in for every day. e.g. Upon waking up, before going to work, After dinner/before bed. If there’s a day you know you won’t get to the piano, be realistic about that too. Bear in mind that missing a day is almost like missing 3 days in terms of consistency however don’t let that discourage you from having extremely high quality productive sessions which I’ll talk about in just a minute. Keep in mind that our minds tend to be freshest upon rising. It’s also a good time to practice after you eat a meal but not immediately after. Plan your early practice sessions on weekends or days you are off.
‘IT’S TOO OVERWHELMING!’ -- HOW TO AVOID PRACTICE HELL
For the long practice sessions it is important not to overdo it. Sometimes we say ‘I’m going to get 6 hours of practice done on Saturday!’ and we get to Saturday not necessarily feeling like practicing for 6 hours but here we go! Then after an hour and a half our mind starts to stray. We begin thinking about random things like ‘when am I gonna get my tires replaced?’ and then we descend into the black abyss of “Practice Hell” where you practice forever and seem to get nothing done. When your brain starts to tire, simply walk away. Does a restorative chore like folding clothes or preparing a snack or even running to the grocery store. When you come back you’ll be surprised how fresh you will feel after only a few minutes. Folding clothes while watching TV is okay but try to avoid TV or internet by themselves as they will take you into another place called the “I’m Done For The Day” realm.
Sometimes we can get frustrated even in just a few minutes of focused practice. We will be practicing the same thing that a few minutes ago we were doing fine in but now it seems we are regressing and making mistakes we didn’t make before. I have a theory that it’s because we are not breathing enough and our brains get fatigued. A lot of us tend to hold our breath whilst playing and this inhibits the flow of oxygen to our brain which we need to have focused practice. Simply taking 3 deep slow breaths will cause a euphoric wave to pass down your body and you will have another burst of brain energy. While practicing, focus on your breathing so that you never run into a brain fatigue situation.
‘BUT I WANT TO BE ABLE TO BLOCK AN HOUR -- FIFTEEN MINUTES ISN’T ENOUGH TIME!’
I understand the thought however when we don’t have the time we think we need, our tendency is to just do nothing until the time opens up for us. We need to make the time although you can get much more done in less time than you think. Realize that even 5 minutes of practice is plenty if you know how to use them. Focused practice is key. You should be playing things you don’t already know. This is the stuff that won’t sound pretty and nobody should be standing by saying ‘hey, that sounds great!’ unless their listening to the end result of your practice session.
How do we do this? We focus on one task at a time. Multitasking is a myth and studies show we can only focus on one thing at a time. In fact, if you’re “good at multitasking”, you’re not really doing a whole bunch of tasks at once but are switching between tasks quickly. So how does this relate to practice? Focusing on one thing at a time could mean focusing on your right hand vs. both hands, focusing on your timing in a certain phrase, focusing on fingering or just getting one passage down at a time. It’s always better to undershoot than to overshoot in your micro-sessions so aim small.
Making time to practice is key for any of this to work. If you want the change to happen you’ll make the time to practice despite all the business going on in your life. Remember to exploit your motivational tide, stick to your system and enjoy the process. It is designed to help map out your practice schedule, schedule micro-practice sessions and use the strategies to avoid falling into Practice Hell. Perfect practice makes perfect playing and if you get the practice part right; your playing will be stellar.
The Portability Problem – The solution to “I’m always traveling and can never get to the piano” & “I don't own a piano therefore I cannot learn piano”
It’s unrealistic to think every time we travel we lug our 88 weighed key Yamaha P-70 around so we can theoretically get some (unproductive) practice time in our hotel room in a weekend chock full of activity. Yet there is that itch; that burning desire that calls to us every time we pass that hotel lobby piano that is quickly stifled by the hotel manager’s judgmental gaze. We calmly walk into our hotel room and slowly sink into the bed cushions of depression. Okay maybe I took it a little far with that last sentence however you know that this rings true if you’ve ever traveled and simultaneously yearned to play piano. It seems that, sometimes, when we are abroad our desire to play is increased in a way that it wasn’t when we were home. Even more unfortunate is when we have no direct access to a piano yet there seems to be no places where we can practice so we resign ourselves to never learning how to play. My hope is that in reading this you will learn the framework necessary to have a positive experience when practicing abroad and at home and that you will learn of some places right in your community that offer you opportunities to practice on a regular basis.
HAVE YOUR FUN PRACTICE ABROAD AND LEAVE YOUR SERIOUS PRACTICE AT HOME
Every single time I walk by that hotel lobby I think the same thing – “I wonder if the hotel manager will kick me off if I start playing”. Yes, hotel lobby pianos are a crapshoot and most of us have encountered the dreaded hotel manager who says ‘the piano is only for show’. That’s a (very small) risk we have to be willing to take. Although to minimize this result, playing something you know well is more likely to get positive results from hotel staff and passersby’s. Hotel pianos are a great way to get your bystander practicing done or as I like to call it; “BS Practice”. This is basically the practice where you play something you already know and the only point of it is to reinforce your muscle memory of it. Unlike your serious focused practice, someone can come by and say ‘hey, that sounds great’. The only problem with this is that you won’t be getting serious practice done however you will scratch that itch you’ve had since you walked off Terminal A while simultaneously working your muscle memory and impressing the crowd. Another benefit is that it feels great to satisfy that need to play while abroad. Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping your own interest up at the piano while preemptively eliminating those feelings of guilt or discouragement that emerge when we don’t play for a while.
BUT I’M EXHAUSTED AFTER A TRIP AND ALL I WANT TO DO IS REST!
It would be counterproductive to ever sit at the piano to practice exhausted unless you get some kind of restorative energy from playing. Account for the days you will rest and plan your off-days for some piano time. A great way to plan for this is to wait for a period of time where you have a particularly potent surge of inspiration, which I call your motivational tide, and use that to plan your next week of practice. Getting this done while you are still motivated is ultra important because on the days when you are not as motivated, the calendar date and practice time were already blocked out for you to practice.
WHEN THERE’S TOO MUCH NOISE AT HOME -- GO ELSEWHERE
Universities are probably the most cost effective if you can figure out how to use their practice rooms to your advantage. Most music school buildings close around 10pm and require a student given keycard to access after that time. Get in before it locks and head to the practice room as if you’re a student going in for a late night session. Keep in mind that most music students practice during the day and by 6pm they’re having dinner or doing homework and the practice rooms are ghost towns. Grand piano access is sometimes exclusive to piano students so there may be an extra key that you don’t have access to. In this case settle for an upright acoustic piano in one of the regular practice rooms. Keep an eye on the practice sheets if there are any and don’t make yourself too conspicuous. If the above is simply not an option for you, call the music school and ask if you can rent a room.
Music stores are another good place to ask around for a practice room. Most music stores offer lessons and have pianos in the back rooms. They may charge you an hourly fee to use the room and they usually only carry electronic pianos but that’s better than nothing.
You may also consider a church. Many churches have grand pianos that you may be able to practice on if you ask nicely. Just say ‘Hi I’m a pianist in the area/member of the community and was wondering if it would be okay to practice on your piano when it is not in use. I can stop by during the daytime when the church is open.’ They may ask for a donation for your use of the piano and it will most likely not be an hourly thing but more of a one-time donation.
NONE OF THE ABOVE ARE OPTIONS FOR ME AND I DON’T OWN A PIANO -- SO RENT ONE
There are some places that offer piano rentals and offer moving services to ship the piano into your home for 6 month periods and 12 month periods. The pianos range from electronic keyboards to Steinway grand pianos. The latter is obviously going to be more expensive. When you consider most quality pianos are going to be in the thousands of dollars price range to buy new, these alternatives are not bad financially. I’ve done the research for you and found some companies that rent across the US. If anyone finds any other companies, please comment below on what you found.
Piedmont Piano: http://piedmontpiano.com/Webpages/pianorentals.html starting at $40/mo
Schmitt Music: https://www.schmittmusic.com/keyboard-piano/services/rentals/ starting at $50/mo
Steinway Piano: http://www.steinway.com/pianos/rent-then-own-program/ starting at $69/mo
The Five Minute Piano Practice Method -- How to get an hours' worth of practice at the piano done in five minutes
Isn't it funny how easily we are distracted as soon as we sit down to practice at the piano? It's as if some magic distraction fairy descends down from the sky and places something shiny in the corner of our eyes or flashes an image of that delicious deli sandwich we had the day before. Ultimately this leads us to get frustrated on why our playing hasn't improved in two months or thinking we don't have the patience or discipline necessary to focus. It's easy to get discouraged when you find yourself in the normal day-to-day grind especially when you don't have a game plan that prepares you for success. This is why I've put together a game plan to help you to be 10 times more productive, see instant results and feel better than you've ever felt playing the piano. Most of this is common sense however most people don't stop to think about how their practice effects not only their playing, but their attitude towards themselves and the piano. By the time you finish reading this my hope is that you will have picked up at least one simple tip that will save your hours of otherwise wasted practice time, help you double, triple and even multiply 10 times your rate of practice and retention.
#1 PRACTICE WHEN YOUR MIND IS "FRESH"
Most people say "I'm going to try to practice harder this time!" and then after a 9 to 5 day they sit, exhausted, at the piano and try to bang out a few notes before finally throwing their hands up in the air and saying "forget it!" Have you ever done this and then the next day started completely fresh and things just seemed easier? Believe it or not, it's very common and the reason being is your mind was fresh when you revisited the material the next day. This is why we have to carefully, purposefully and meticulously find a time of the day when our mind is freshest. Have you ever asked yourself when you feel the most alert? Is it 2pm in the afternoon or is it at 7:30am right before breakfast? Is it at midnight? Really be thoughtful about this and begin scheduling your practice times around the times your mind is at it's most fresh.
#2 EAT THE FROG
Furthermore when we practice, we tend to avoid the hardest passages, concepts, chords, etc. and we go for the easy stuff first. Then when we do eventually go to the hard stuff, we've spent all our brain power playing what we already know and by the time we get to the hard stuff we feel fatigued and leave it for tomorrow. Sometimes we just have to "Eat the Frog". Don't worry, you won't have to actually eat a frog! It's just an expression that basically means to start with the most challenging area you are working on, whether it be chords or scales or sight reading or fingering etc. and get that out of the way first. After you use your freshest brain power to conquer the hardest part, then you only have the easy stuff to look forward to and it becomes rewarding to play. Consider this -- when you see movers clearing out a house, notice that they always start with the heaviest items first. This is because the loading process is much easier once they have all the heaver items packed away and out of the way. It's the same thing with your practice. Trust me, this simple strategy will save you countless hours down the road and speed your learning rate dramatically.
#3 GET AN HOURS' WORTH OF PRACTICE DONE IN FIVE MINUTES
Sometimes we can spend an entire hour or more practicing at the piano and realize we've gotten close to nothing accomplished. I know, I've been there! However it's possible to get more done in five minutes than you can get in an hour and I'll tell you how. Make sure you can practice at a time your mind is fresh and you have as little distraction around you as possible. Set a timer for 5 minutes, then start working on ONE thing at the piano. If you're a reader it may be one measure or if you're learning by ear it may be one chord or one five second clip. Whatever it may be, just hammer away at it for five straight minutes. No breaks and no deviations. Just focus on that one part until the timer is up. This only works with "focused" practice so no dreaming about lunch or when your favorite TV program is coming on. I'm going to emphasize that you must block all distractions out of your mind. If you can stay focused, you'll find that doing this will 10x your rate of practice and when you revisit the material the following day it will be more ingrained in your memory.
EXTRA TIDBIT For you more experienced players, you may want to consider placing a distraction around you on purpose and work on blocking it out and staying focused. For example put the TV on with the volume up or play Pandora or Spotify through your phone. This especially helps for being an expert at blocking out distractions that may happen during performance situations.
Harry L. Rios
Founder of HarryLRios.com
Harry L. Rios.com