3

I used to take classical piano lessons, the Royal Conservatory program, and had an amazing teacher who taught me a lot about discipline and how to play classical music up to about grade 7 or 8 level. I always did quite well playing competitively in our annual local music festival.

I resumed playing some piano and keyboards about 13-15 years later. Bought a keyboard, tried messing around again, learning some classical pieces again. Also started trying to learn blues or jazz on my own, and with the help of a jazz piano guy near me (for a few months).

I play with some guys in a band, and we play various types of songs (Mustang Sally, I’m a Man, Foo Fighters, Bryan Adams, Pearl Jam, Dawes, Paul Kelly; lots of different stuff for fun)

I play keys for them and I’m mostly a “crack filler” as they joke. Which is true. It’s fun, but sometimes unfulfilling when I’m just filling cracks. But there’s opportunity to expand and play more piano driven songs.

These days when I am sitting at the piano, I play chords and make up little songs just to make noise and experiment with chords.

But, I feel lost. I don’t know what to learn or what to play.

Sometimes I say I want to learn blues, then jazz. But it never materializes. Ill sometimes try to pick out a time, like a Beatles song for instance, and try to play right hand melody with left hand chords. I usually don’t get too far before I stop. I’ll try some sheet music, and work on that for a little, but again, I don’t get far before I lose interest.

So I don’t know where the heck I am with piano and keys. I used to think I was musical just because I know how to play classical and because I fill cracks in a band, but I’m starting to get frustrated and confused because I don’t know what to do next to progress. Maybe I’m not as interested as I think I should be. Because if I was, wouldn’t I find a way to progress?

Any suggestions you folks might have would be appreciated. Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about.

Cheers

3

You need to find an outlet for your talent. What good is being able to play if you have no one to play for? Every performance is worth ten practices so performing makes practicing addictive.

Here are a few suggestions: Find a singer or instrumentalist, put together a one hour program and offer it to nursing homes. Many (here in the USA) pay $100- $300. You could work weekly if you really pursue it.

Join a church choir or seek out a job playing in a church. You'll get to work musically with other musicians, you have deadlines, works to practice, many will be out of your comfort zone at first, you will get to perform and practice with other musicians one or five times a week. Additional income can come from weddings and funerals.

Try to get paying or free jobs playing for community theater. This is very addictive. Many pay but some will abuse a sucker if they come to their door. That can be okay your first or second time. Being involved in community theater is very addictive because it is very social. Professional theater is social, too but, they regulate your hours because they pay. Play for one show and you will grumble for a month because of all the time it takes up but when it is over, you'll be pining for the next one.

Contact your local library and set up a weekly concert series (FREE since it is federally funded (in my country)) and book other musicians (and yourself) to perform. Pick a season to do this such as Christmas (Advent), winter, summer, spring, autumn, Lent, etcetera. I have a friend who does this every Sunday at 2 from January to April. Because of the success of her concert offerings, she is somewhat of a celebrity in town. She is a great singer and actress but is known for these weekly concerts.

Contact your local public access cable station and inquire about performing or hosting a weekly or monthly jam session or something. This is free also because your taxes pay for it (in my country). Since you pay for it, it is free for you to use.

Another great way to learn is to teach. Try it once and you'll discover what I mean. You will quickly know what you don't know, remember what you've forgotten or have to further study something to keep ahead of your students.

Music should be fun. You need to be addicted to it. You have to not want to get up from practicing and look forward to the next time you can sit back down. You can not force this. It must be innate or cultivated. The more you start to learn and if you have performance deadlines you have to meet, and your audience loves you, you will develop that addiction.

This is not a matter of discipline. You must have fun doing it and you must hunger to improve. If you have the hunger and thirst, you will start to drop other things in life to accommodate music and you will only improve as you are challenged more and more. I mean, that's how you got better, your teacher challenged you and assigned more challenging pieces, right? There comes a stage where musicians need other musicians to challenge them.

Who knows, the piano may be a stepping stone for you. You may evolve to become a conductor, organist, director, composer, accompanist . . . Music can open every door in the world to you. You just need to be brave enough to walk through and above all, never say no to an opportunity. Every opportunity leads to other opportunities.

AND, you will never be ready. NEVER. But that is why you have to do it: On the job training. Each time you challenge yourself, you will grow and learn and that is the addiction. Most everyone will admit that college doesn't train them for their career. Doing the job trains them. Like, you can never prepare for a jam session but when it is done, you will know what you know and know what you don't know and want to rush right home and work on it.

Don't be afraid to look into the abyss. It is only you staring back. A better you. Seize the day. Or not. In the words of one of our centuries greatest philosophers, "There is no try, only do." - Yoda.

  • Exactly! This is an expanded version of my answer. :) Having an outlet, target, goal, purpose, puts you in a position where things flow through or via you somehow, instead of standing still. When you're a part in a stream or flow of things, everything in your thinking is guided or channeled to some kind of a direction. And +100 for the performance vs practice hours comparison. Practicing with no sort of idea of a use in a performance is a waste of time. By the way, for someone, having a teacher might be an outlet in itself, if the presence of a teacher makes the person focus on the task. – piiperi Jul 12 at 13:29
  • Excellent answer. I think this captures a lot. Thank you. In your opinioni, how useful, if at all, is it to get instruction books with accompanying lesson sound files and learn from them? – EastCan Jul 16 at 15:04
2

Excellent question! I think you're asking about the single most essential thing which makes people find solutions and tools and whatever is needed to get music (and life) going, and that is: purpose. If you have a purpose for your musical activities, then the right questions start popping up: "what musical elements and skills do I have to learn and improve to fulfill my purpose", "is this good enough now for the thing I'm after", etc. And then you start finding answers to the questions.

What you need is gigs where you're serving an important role, not just filling in gaps (if gap-filling doesn't feel purposeful enough). Gigs can be live performances, recording, arranging, music-production, making music for games, making soundtracks for videos, playing in family get-togethers, playing for old people at a nursing home, busking, playing in church, anything as long as you're making a contribution you feel is meaningful and important, and where you can interact with people. Can you find somewhere where you could, say, accompany someone? Play with friends - so that you have a more important role?

  • Finding purpose and the associated questions - I like that. Very helpful. Also, playing live and not simply "crack filling" is an excellent idea. – EastCan Jul 16 at 14:56
  • @EastCan by gigs I don't mean necessarily live performances, but just anything that's done - or might be done - for someone, somewhere. If you can make someone happy, impress someone, ... Making music for a video can be a "gig" just as well. Even if you can dream of something, it may help to set things straight in your head. But if you're trying to learn skills with no idea of a role you would be serving in society, it's like standing water, it just gets dirty and muddy. You want to get the waters flowing. :) In music and in life. – piiperi Jul 16 at 16:48
  • That’s interesting. Having a role/purpose for playing music/being creative. – EastCan Jul 16 at 16:50
  • I suppose playing keys in the band has the purpose of me meeting with some mates and having a social outlet, enjoying music together. Even if most of it is “crack filling” for the band, and it’s not necessarily fulfilling to play, it has other purposes - comraderie, I get to sing sometimes, and play bass sometimes. As for piano/keys, I still need that role/purpose to grow and enjoy. I will think on that. – EastCan Jul 16 at 16:51
  • I got the feeling that you weren't getting a role that feels essential or important enough? Meeting people is of course hugely important, but it may not drive you into learning music as such. (Though lots of young men have learned guitar in order to impress girls...) Try a duo with a singer or solo instrumentalist, so you're the whole band and everything depends on you. :) Busking is not the easiest choice for a keyboard player, because of the portability issue. Can you find a choir or something where you could be the sole accompanist? – piiperi Jul 16 at 16:57
1

What you're feeling is perfectly natural. You won't always be "on" every day. You will have "off" days. That's part of life, but especially part of any creative process. There will be some days where you make lots of progress and feel very inspired, and there will be days where you don't. Just take it as it comes and move toward your dreams at your own pace.

That said, there are some concrete things you can do to improve your piano playing:

  • Get lessons from a teacher in-person, once a week or however best fits your schedule. Often times immediate feedback on how to improve can be most effective.
  • Construct a practice regimen and commit to it. Committing is the most important part here. Just like a diet, a practice regimen is only as effective as your commitment to it.
  • Seek other like-minded individuals and collaborate. You mentioned you used to be in a band. Unfortunately, most rock bands or jam sessions don't play piano-focused music. Alternatively, if you still have friends or contacts from the conservatory, I'm sure you can find aspiring string musicians who would be only too glad to have some percussive partnership.

However, I feel like your question isn't "how do I improve my piano skill" as much as "how do I improve my desire to play piano?" And there's no universally-applicable answer to that.

My advice would be to take some time away from the keys and get back in touch with your creative side. You may find another medium to be inspiring, like painting. You may find inspiration from a hobby. Even trying a different instrument can be inspiring for some people, especially after playing the same instrument for many years.

Everyone you ask will have opinions on how to improve technical skill. But you can't apply anyone else's motivation to your life. You've just gotta find your own. The good news is, you're not alone -- many musicians struggle with this. Best of luck, brother.

  • 1
    Thanks. When I sit down at a piano or keyboard I am excited and interested, and I love to play around and hear chords and making up melodies to go with it to go with it. I feel the desire is there to play. But I feel like I need some structure to learn. I do well with some structure. So your suggestion for me to get a teacher could be useful. I know a guy who used to teach me a bit, and we would do a little jazz and a little blues. Sometimes, though, playing standards like Autumn Leaves doesn't do it for me. I enjoy hearing Chuck Leavell's playing. – EastCan Jul 11 at 16:37
  • In that case, if motivation isn't an issue, I would definitely recommend a teacher or jam partner. If playing "typical learning pieces" isn't your goal, communicate that to your teacher. They should find ways to keep you engaged in the material, and typically that will involve learning/practicing songs you enjoy, which also build technical skill. You don't have to settle on a teacher after only one lesson, find someone you connect with and you'll get a lot more out of your lessons. – 3d12 Jul 11 at 18:07
  • I will start looking around for playing partners or teachers. My sister is quite musical and lives near me, yet we never play together. This is probably a fantastic opportunity right under my nose this whole time. – EastCan Jul 16 at 15:07
1

I think most musicians experience what you're feeling and it could be looked upon as a good thing. You've described to us a little about your musical past, and expressed uncertainty about your musical future. I have had an intense interest in music since I was a small child. I've had periods in my life when I've pursued that interest like a dog, and other times when life's responsibilities did not allow me the time needed to further my studies in music. That's just how life goes. As it has turned out, those periods of down time from playing and studying have allowed me time to think about which direction I'd like to follow my interest and when I've made a decision, my life and responsibilities have opened up and allowed me to move forward. The one point that I'd like you to understand, is that you are the person who needs to decide which way to go from here. We can share our experience in our lives with you and that can show some options, but you must be the final decider in order for you to end up happy in your musical pursuit. I wish you the best!

  • I appreciate your response. It is a very sensible and allows me to think it's ok to just "go with the flow." – EastCan Jul 16 at 14:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.