Practice-Awareness – Appreciating the value in everything you study | Concept Lesson

This lesson is all about maximizing overall growth as a musician. Adopting a mindset for seeing potential and leveraging skill re-usability for efficient practice.
Do adopt and you might find that you are already a lot better than you actually thought.


Hi Everybody! Anything new?

After a lot of questions and picking my own brain (I like long walks, overthinking concepts. Of life and of music) about stuff relating to the very topic of this post, I figured it was time to let you guys in on a little secret.

A mind-hack to studying, if you will. A shortcut to improving.
In piano and in music, definitely.

But I think this actually works with anything new we’re trying to learn. Be aware. Be engaged. Be open to pick up sub-values. Take apart, see correlations and (re-)assemble to amplify your insights and skills.

Fun fact: for this lesson, I’ve already had some 10 different titles, and a multitude of combinations from terms within each of those titles. I’ve even published it – when I finally thought the title reflected the core takeaway of the lesson, and then I changed it again, after one day in the wild. I’m still not sure.

So I wanted to start with: “In this weeks lesson, I’ll get into…” but I’m finding myself having a hard time finishing that sentence 🙂 I guess what I want to put forward and explain with this post and its corresponding video, is that there’s value that’s easily overlooked within everything you play – everything new you learn.

I am referring not so much to the “common” stuff like make sure you ace it before moving on, practice slowly and in-time and more of these things that I advocate, but more to the multi functionality that each and every {chord – melody – riff – lick – progression – technique – pattern} has – if you’re able to appreciate it for what it’s truly worth. See its value.
This mindset of being aware with everything you practice, cultivating a habit of looking for more layers of musical value translates into the most beautiful thing there is in learning – efficiency.

This post is meant to help you become aware of- and cultivate that mindset. To warn you for the “dangers” if you don’t. Yes, there are dangers.

Let me tell you a bit more about building musical vocabulary – as opposed to just learning a new tune.

Practicing to forget.

As you know I’m all about maximizing efficiency of learning.
To attain the best gains, there’s a few important pillars to underpin the overall tactics to Hacking the Piano that I advocate. One of these – that might even be the most important one – is “re-usability”

Ever so often, the most valuable tricks, skills, techniques or insights get lost because they’re not acknowledged for their true worth. One studies a song, tune, lick. Puts in the effort to memorize the note sequence, to practice and get gradually better at (re-)producing it and making it sound to a desirable level.

And then?

He / she – YOU – can play that thing. Cool. But what’s the use?
Sure I get it. In the end, we’re not all trying to improve the world or whatever. Most of us are just looking to be able to play what they want to play. So you can play the thing you’ve practiced and that goal is in fact accomplished, right?

But does your desire to learn new stuff, new songs stop there?
Maybe it does. Maybe you’re just looking to learn that one thing. That’s cool too. Now you can. Enjoy!

However, if you’re somebody that intends to learn more, let me ask you this: what if next time, next tune, you could maybe improvise a bit; dress it up with something of your liking. Something that totally fits your voice, style and taste?

Or what if you could cut the amount of study time spent to learn that new tune down significantly?

‘Cause that’s what’s going to become possible when you get better. When you enlarge your vocabulary. Your grab-bag of skills. When you grow as an overall player.

Ever so often people study and learn a piece of music without acknowledging the underlying values that are in there. They see it as a note sequence that should be played in this order, a root muscle-memorization to produce a specific tune – not realizing that all music is “built.” Constructed from and underpinned by analyzable blocks, skills, tricks, techniques and underlying harmony and theory.

Seeing these for what they’re worth, means you can extract them from the whole and internalize each one just like a word, phrase or expression to add to your vocabulary. LEARN.

And when you grasp these blocks, when they’re added to your grab bag, you can re-use. Either to speed up the process when they re-occur and you then again recognize them for what they are: something you already know, or – even more beautiful – to create your very own musical voice, (re)using phrases that you like.

Recognition and Awareness | Seeing skills for what they’re worth.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post and did a video lesson on re-using an arpeggio, which in essence was an embodiment – a practical example – of the point I’m illustrating here. If you missed it, check it out (preferably after you’ve finished reading this post, so you’ll have more context and awareness when going into that one).

In that lesson, I exemplified how using the technique of arpeggiating an A triad up and down, can translate into so much more then just playing an A arpeggio.

  • Played over a different bass / harmony, we saw that it “changed value” – that the exact same thing transformed into something completely different (for instance, playing A / F#m = F#m7; this also works when playing an arpeggio with that A over F#m – transcending just the theory by adding a technical aspect).
  • “Disconnecting” the actual technique of arpeggiating a triad of that form, from it being (only) an A  (D, E, Fm, Gm all have the exact same form). When you are aware of this, you’re actually practicing 5 different chords, and don’t even get me started on all the functions, the values those can have (Gm/C anyone?)

Where in that lesson I took you by the hand and extracted the A arpeggio and its values for us to isolate and study together, the difficulty arises – “waist” often happens – when you’re learning a tune without me, or any other teacher and there’s no one to notify you of underlaying, fundamental bricks like these. You learn a tune, phrase as just being that particular piece of music, missing the chance to find and use the vocabulary builders – the re-usable blocks.

So how do you stop yourself from missing out and start seeing all that you play, all that you practice for what it’s actually worth?

How can you make sure that every key stroke counts?

Awareness, first and foremost.


Being aware and playing consciously.

Ever so often, we loose ourselves in thought – in life, but certainly also at the piano. Especially when practicing.

When we’re playing something, we tend to let ourselves get distracted when we’re taken away by the music (which can be a very good thing), but sometimes even more so when we’re performing repetitive tasks – like practicing something.

We can get so caught up in the succession of notes actually coming out in that sequence that we’re trying to learn, muscle-memorizing the technique. that we fail to look for these underlaying values as per described. Either in the practice itself – when we’re just repeating mindlessly (not so good) or the focus is on the notes and technique (better) – or when we finally get to a state where the notes start to come out the way we want them to and we’re so thrilled about that fact that we just play, play, play, we tend to easily forget this oh so important step.

Trying to stay aware, mindful with everything you play – actually listening, feeling (did it come out exactly the way you wanted? did your finger hit the side of another key? these small details) – not only keeps the mind sharp and focussed on what is actually happening, making the whole experience much more enjoyable, but will also both improve your playing and the results of your training.

An extra warning for those that are playing from sheets.

I tend to repeat myself regarding the playing from traditional sheets and me not holding a grudge against sheets, which I don’t. Not necessarily. You all do know however, that I’m not an advocate of the lines and dots on paper, and this post leads me to another reason why:

When playing from sheets, you have to focus on something else – the sheet-reading – allowing your attention to be further away from where the awareness should be: on the music, expression and seeing the coherence, correlation, similarities, value.

So try always to be aware when studying. Have a soft focus and directed attention on what you’re doing, so that not only you’ll be able to notice the underlying theory, skill and/or technique but also to consciously internalize what you’ve found to add it to your musical vocabulary and grow as an overall musician. Better and more efficiently. Definitely more fun too.

Remember: You’re the easiest – and definitely the best – person to steal from.

LESSON | CONTENTS

In this weeks video – using the absolutely stunning *classical* piece “Arabesque” by Claude Debussy – to show there’s re-usability-value in all music:

  • I illustrate my above point by exemplifying exactly what I advocate
  • We get practical by extracting, analyzing and transferring a – in my opinion – beautiful left hand run from this song, that’s just oozing value
  • Tracing all single notes from this piece of music back to their harmonic roots: the chords they’re built from
  • How that is an embodiment of my vision and approach to music, which helps me internalize all music by ear & heart
  • .. and “steal” tricks from anything I like to create my very own style of playing

The deconstructed “run” pic from this lesson is below the video. Complete handout with all chords used in this lesson available for Premium Couturians with the Deluxe Tutorial version of this lesson in the Couturians’ Lounge.

Comments are appreciated 🙂

Have fun!

Cheers, Coen.

Practice-Awareness | Deconstructing Debussy

Concept Tutorial

B9 no numbers

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DELUXE TUTORIAL

watch Tutorial Ad-Free and download the Full Chord Sheet & MIDI in The Couturians’ Lounge | member area

Premium Couturians can find the “Deluxe” version of this lesson, including the following downloads:

  • A handout (.pdf) with chord pics from all chords in this tutorial
  • Four MIDI files. Debussy’s intro, the riff isolated, the riff transposed to A and the alternative chord progression
  • The audio-only file for when you want to learn on the go (“listen to learn” is golden, as Piano Hackers know)

Or get all that and the video download included with the tutorial pack.

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About Coen

Founder of Piano Couture, Piano Lingo and creator of the Hack the Piano method. Coen is a musician, reader, writer, web-designer, eater and traveler. Find him at CoenModder.com

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