Piano: Getting to the Next Level

As many of you know, I’ve been studying jazz and blues piano intently for the past few years.  I finally found a teacher that gets me and understands my music goals.

I’ve improved a lot in the short few years.  My wife recently commented on how quickly I’m able to play and embellish a new tune from any Fake Book now.  I’m shocked how fast I can grab jazz chords now.

I’m pleased with my progress so far.  But, I fear reaching a plateau in my skill level.  I want to get that effortless sound in my playing.

How do I get to that next level?  These are two thing I want to learn to do more of in 2014.

Memorizing.
I’ve never been good at memorizing songs.  I’ve always played with a lead sheet or sheet music or even just notes of the chords.  When I was a kid, memorizing my music for a performance was often frustrating leading to traumatic experiences.  So, I avoided it all these years.

But today, when I talk to my musician friends, the friends who can outplay me, they all say the same thing: start memorizing your music.

When you think about it, all the professional pianists out there memorize.  It’s hard to imagine paying a lot of money to see concert pianist playing out of book.  It’s hard to imagine someone like %% do the same.

I hope by practicing memorization, it gets “my head out of the book” and more intently listening to what I’m playing.  And that the more I do it, the easier and less traumatic it becomes.

Recording.
I also plan to record myself practicing and listening back to the recording during my train rides to work.

I feel that when you’re playing, you might not hear the nuances in your music.  I hope by constantly hearing my playback, it slowly and changes the way I perform and approach the piano.

The difficulty in doing this is not the act of recording.  That’s easy.  You just hit the REC button.  It’s regularly going back the next day listening to it and finding all the uncaught mistakes and places for improvement.  And I mean, listening to the WHOLE recording, not just spot checking here and there.

Right now, I’ve been using the Voice Memo app that’s already installed on my iPhone. Which gets the job done, but not the greatest recording.  Also, sometimes the app will stop recording at some random point during my practice session.  I hope to get a dedicated handheld recorder for musicians soon.

I hope these two approaches get me to that next level for 2014.

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