By Neil Nguyen - Updated Sep. 12, 2021
Let’s dive right in.
In this today's guide, I will share with you:
Musical subjects are often sorted by 3 categories:
No matter what musical subject you are interested in, at any level, they are all involved around 4 musical elements.
If you are aware of the 4 musical elements you will be able to make progress fast and steady in any musical
subject you are participating in.
Learning one subject will build the foundation for the others.
What are the 4 elements?
When learning an instrument, we have 3 elements:
These 3 elements are also the 3 stages of learning piano:
First, you have to play the correct pitch, and press the right key with the right finger’s order to reproduce the approximate melody.
Second, you have to practice with the metronome, to have the right rhythm of the melody.
Last, you add a layer of intensity to the melody. By then, you will be able to express the nuances and your own emotion in the song.
When you reach the Intensity Stage, you will love the piano so much that you almost forget the time. Listeners also find that your performance is so full of your own emotion, and perhaps, a glimpse of godliness.
To help you recognize the differences between the 3 stages, I will play the introduction of Mariage d’Amour.
If the player only knows the pitch of notes, it will be like this:
Okay, I have to act like a beginner to play like that.
Anyone who is self-taught can play like that.
Anyone who just wants to learn to play the piano as quickly as possible will end up producing the melody as I demonstrated.
The concern of the learners at this stage is which note on the left hand will be matched with which one on the right hand?
So, if they can see both two hands, they will play smoothly. Otherwise, it will be limping.
Sometimes, it’s going smoothly, sometimes, it’s stumbled here and there.
That’s why I said that the players in this stage will be able to produce the approximate melody.
At first, it’s exciting and fun to be able to reproduce the sound of your loved song. But soon, you’ll be bored. Then, you need to go a little higher.
The Rhythm stage.
(It's from 3:43 to 4:06 in the video)
If you reach the Rhythm Stage, your melody could be like this:
Yeah, as you heard, this stage is so much different from the previous.
Before we can express our hearts and emotions to the song, or release our feelings and stresses, we have to go through this stage.
This Rhythm Stage is also known as The Discipline of Music.
Yes, you haven’t heard me wrong, it’s DISCIPLINE!
In this stage, we don’t just play by the beats of our heart, but by the beats of a machine - a metronome!
Practice with the accompaniment of a metronome will transform your fingers, as well as your whole body!
(It's from 5:09 to 5:39 in the video)
Let me give you an example:
In the video, I play the C major scale: C D E F G A B C, timing evenly.
If a learner doesn't practice with a metronome, there will be a high chance that he may be wrong subtly.
(Example of a wrong timing from E to F in the video)
So, if he practices it a thousand times more, he will repeat the same mistake!
This is one of the most important reasons why learning piano is so hard:
If you make a mistake, even a super tiny one, and you don’t have any instructor to correct it timely.
Then, your fingers will be accustomed to the wrong patterns, and your ears will be absorbed in the wrong melody. So the more you practice, the deeper that mistake deepens in your whole body!
So, what should one do to encounter this problem?
Well, one has to calm down and practice with the beats of a metronome.
The principle here is to start slowly and correctly. Then you gradually increase the tempo - the speed to the song requirement.
Now, I will start at 70 beats per minute (bpm). This tempo is near to the normal heart rate. When practicing at 70 bpm, you can concentrate on both pressing the right keys and hearing the beats without any hurry.
One note matches one beat.
Don’t need to be fast, but slow and steady.
When you feel relaxed and confident at this tempo, your goal each day is to increase the tempo a little bit. For example, just 5 bpm!
Now, between 70 and 75, it seems that there is no difference. But, your fingers are more flexible and faster than before, a little bit.
Similarly, when you are comfortable with 75, increase the tempo to 80. And so on, speed up until you reach the requirement of the song.
In this process, not even your fingers are shaped, but your whole body is also.
Then, the by-product of this discipline is quite rewarding:
(It's from 6:35 to 9:28 in the video)
At first, your heart isn't trained enough.
Just when a person sits next to you to watch your performance, you will start trembling, your heart will beat fast. If you stumble on a wrong note, there’s a high chance that you will forget all that you are playing!
Otherwise, if your heart is trained by the metronome, your patience and consciousness will be huge!
Of course, in the beginning, you can keep pace in a short time. With time and practice, you will be able to keep pace longer.
In other words, your consciousness, calmness, and span of concentration will explode.
There will come a point, when you can adjust freely with the metronome, at any tempo. It means your heart and your fingers are trained enough. Now, you can perform any piece smoothly in front of an audience!
This is an interesting stage but often ignored because of its discipline and monotony!
However, as I analyzed before, going through this stage will tune, shape, and even transform your body.
It will help you make fast and steady progress in any musical subject you are participating in.
This Rhythm Stage is extremely challenging to the children. Most of them quit at this stage.
For adults, this stage is not so hard. It’s discipline. And we adults have been trained quite well by society: Going through primary, secondary, high schools, colleges, universities, jobs, etc.
However, if you just stop there, you will be like a robot.
Many piano players can perform extremely hard pieces, techniques but without emotion.
There is a lack of the qualities of the heart in their melodies. It’s just like completing the homework.
Of course, a piano player at this stage will be admired by the audience. He will get many compliments and questions on how fast his fingers are, how long he has been trained, who his master is, etc.
These things raise his status in his network and also strengthen his ego.
But soon, deep inside, he will find that something is missing, an emptiness.
Again, you need to move a little higher…
At this stage, the introduction of Mariage d’amour will sound like this:
Now, the flow of the melody is coming from inside, from the inner being of the player.
Not from outside, not by following strictly to the song requirement, not by the expectations of the listeners or any outer elements.
All the outside world disappeared.
There will be only the player with the melody.
Then the player also disappears, only the melody remains.
And finally, rarely, there will come a point when the melody also disappears.
Okay, back to the earth.
There are 2 important points:
(It's from 12:28 to 12:54 in the video)
Aforementioned, you have to tune your fingers, your mind, your heart, and your body accordingly before coming to this stage.
This is extremely important.
As you’ve seen. My techniques are the same in all 3 demonstrations! It needs no complexity!
It means that you only need a decent amount of techniques to start pouring your heart into the melody.
Of course, practicing advanced and challenging techniques will definitely improve your technical and academic performance, but don’t be so obsessed. Otherwise, you will become a robot, a technical performer.
I myself had been lost in the vast ocean of the academic realm. My father used to tell me that I played like a robot, soulless.
On the contrary, if your techniques are insufficient, your melody will be monotonous. It is quite hard to express your own emotion in the song.
Now, you can see that this approach is in the middle: Neither too much nor too little.
Also, the middle path is the path of Buddha.
So, let call this approach:
The Buddha’s Path to Learning Piano
Decent amount of techniques to perform any piece both technically and humanly
Now, you know the 4 elements of music and the 3 stages of learning piano.
I hope this guide helps you know where you really are in your piano learning journey.
And provide you with a roadmap if you are new to piano.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
Where are you now in your piano journey?
What is the biggest obstacle that is preventing you from reaching the higher stage?
Let me know by leaving a comment below right now.