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Today I wanted to write about a conversation I had with someone important to me recently. In this conversation we were talking about playing Piano. Specifically how a complex part is so challenging to play. I was very interested about this so I probed more… Why is it hard? What makes it complex? Is it muscle memory or is there something else it?

The person in question is actually my mum! She has been playing the piano forever… well before I was born… and she has been training intensely to be able to play at recitals and concertos. The only thing keeping her from being a pro is that she does not make money from it. This piece she is training is giving her a ton of headache and she is very frustrated by this process… So we talked.

Her answers were really interesting to me! The question which really stumped her was: “do you sing your part?” — To which she answered and I am paraphrasing here): “My teacher can! She sings her whole part… me? I find it really hard so I do not try it…”

This blew my mind… 🤯

The thing is… when you play there are a few components that allows you to play: the timing, the technical skill, the sound, the melody, the feeling of the piece. She was telling me last night that she had a breakthrough using a metronome and discovering about her pacing and how she was stealing time at one place and not paying it back and therefore the complexity was too much for her. This is when I asked her about singing her part!

So why did I ask her about this?

Well, this is my field! When you execute anything, race a car, play the piano, or even do your business activities there is a horizon… This horizon marks your ability to plan events versus reacting to them. In this case this is a really cool example: my mother has the dexterity and technique to play the part, but at the same time her part is so taxing that she does not have the horizon to interpret it, only to react to it.  

The ability to train yourself to be able to play is important and it makes for good playing, but great playing comes not from just automatically reproducing the notes, but rather to know them so that you can execute the technical demands and to feel them so you can go beyond the mechanics.