So I grew up in a community that was predominantly Asian. The Asian parent rings were filled with moms who loved bragging to each other about the achievements of their children. My mom was herself in one of these rings, and so a lot of her friends were talking about how their kids were amazing musicians and things of that nature. My mom didn't really want to force anything like that upon me, but still...
One day, when I was 8, I was at my mom's friend's house, and they let me play on their piano. I started listening to classical music at a really young age, so absolute pitch was naturally very easy for me, and I was able to already begin playing songs on a piano by ear, despite never having touched one in my life before.
Immediately, my mom's friend told me to start learning piano.
There was a piano legend who lived in my area, whom some of my friends study under, and my mom's friend wanted me to study under him, but he seemed very strict (and he was like really old), and as the rebellious kid I was, I didn't want to study under him, so we went to a different teacher.
We went to this lady that taught out of her house, who seemed kind of nice, but eh...
At first, piano was interesting. But the interest quickly faded. There are a few good reasons for this.
So first, my teacher didn't have any recitals. There was no drive to practice. There was no one that I was performing for, there was no purpose. This is another thing that separates me from my friends, but I'll go more into this later.
I didn't get to play any of the songs I liked. We played out of this boring book that taught things to you, but the songs all sounded the same and were not very interesting. The teacher never really played alongside me, and never really played the songs for me. Just kept hammering me on everything I did wrong.
Don't get me wrong, she was a good theory teacher. I excelled much quickly than the people my age in terms of theory.
But in terms of everything else, I wasn't really enjoying my teacher...there was nothing interesting about playing the songs that I was playing, I was just mindlessly pressing notes on a piano.
After about five years of this, I quit, since I got very tired of just mindlessly playing songs that I didn't like. And I hadn't gotten very far, since I always wanted to play Halo/Starcraft instead of practicing.
What I didn't know, however, was that even as the worst student ever, my teacher had managed to nail all the foundations of good piano technique into my hands. So I'm thankful for that, but I do wish she made piano a bit more interesting and stuff.
So right after I quit, I started playing all the songs that I wanted to play. First was "River Flows in You" by Yiruma, a ridiculously easy song that for some reason I had a ton of trouble with at the time.
A lot of trouble.
I really wanted to play this song though; there was this girl that I was into and she really liked guys that played piano, and she showed me this song...and I wanted to be able to play it. [I'm in 8th grade at this point].
So I tirelessly practiced [the worst way possible], and after a very long time, I was able to play it...and play it blindfolded [which isn't really hard], though I had a strange problem with consistency. No matter what song I played, there was a 99.9% chance that I would mess SOMETHING up. I could never play anything perfect. And this drove me insane.
Eventually, I quit altogether...I would occasionally get on the piano and try to play a song that I heard...only to give up after a bit of trying since it was too hard.
Then came the stage of jazz piano.
I was with some buddies of mine, and they were in a jazz band, and the pianist was out of town, but they wanted to jam. So they asked me to just play this really easy part on a piano again and again and again while they solo'd and stuff. The first tune was Canteloupe Island. It took a bit of deciphering to figure out the part, but after playing it a few times, I memorized it...and then I was playing with them. And it felt really good.
It felt REALLY good.
There were chords written at the top of the bars too, so like ten minutes later, I began adding my own stuff into the music...and everyone else was adapting to me, I could hear it. They were playing things that went along with what I was playing...
And then Matt gestures to me to tell me to start soloing...it's just the drummer, the bassist, and me at this point. It's just me...
But I've never improvised before...and it was strange.
But as I kept playing...certain keys were...calling to me. So I pressed them. And you know what? A solo [with a few wrong notes here and there] was coming out...and eventually my left hand joined on, making strange chords that somehow sounded good with the simple chord progression. The song became progressively funkier as I played...and...it felt...powerful to me.
And then I understood what everyone meant when they said "music is self-expression." It had never been for me. I had always just been mechanically hitting keys for notes written on a page...but I learned that night that music was expression.
School kicked in, so I stopped playing for another few months...but then summer after Sophomore year, I decided to start playing again. I didn't really play jazz though, since I wanted to play more cutesy songs, since I liked those better, it was closer to who I was as a person.
But...it was strangely difficult learning a song. I was awful at sight reading [slow reaction time and fludity], and learning a song took really long...
I learned "Kiss the Rain," and "Maybe" by Yiruma that summer. Yupp. The whole summer. Two songs. That aren't even that hard. But after I learned them...what made the songs special to me was that I could really put myself into those songs. I could express myself through those songs...and that was enough for me. I enjoyed piano again. This was why I started the instrument to begin with. This was what kept me playing.
Then I was dropped into the world of playing difficult pieces...after watching a video of Maskim playing "Flight of the Bumblebee." The song was obviously way harder than anything that I had ever played...but the song was so interesting...and so cool...and I decided to pick it up anyway, despite the fact that I had a lot of trouble learning so many of these easy songs.
So I printed out Maskim's version of Flight of the Bumblebee. The hard one.
It...was a nightmare. I couldn't really play the notes evenly, a lot of the jumps I could never get unless I played slow, and there was just a lot of difficulty and struggle in the song.
I decided to ask a friend of mine, Meg, a concert pianist who had won countless competitions (and studied under that famous piano teacher that I was talking about; she was a piano legend at my school) for help. Since I helped her with math sometimes, she agreed.
So we sat down in the choir room one day before Marching Band rehearsal so that she could help me with some things. I brought the piece with me...
...and she sight read it at tempo. It was incredible to me how she could do that...I mean sure she played the song when she was 10 and all (we were 16), but still...wow...
Then I played it for her. Immediately she started pointing things out about my technique...and how it was very suited for slow playing, but not for fast songs like this. She showed me some tricks, gave me drills, and gave me all around good tips in general. She then played alongside me for some of the harder sections, and kept adjusting stuff so that it felt strangely easier to play things that I'd never been able to play before... Then she wanted to practice some of her songs, so I just sat next to her and watched.
Watching her play was very educational. I watched the way she moved her fingers and wrists and things of that nature...and I tried to copy her in my own playing when I got home, in addition to doing everything that she told me to do. There was improvement every single day. And after a while, I not only understood what to do to play faster and more even and stuff, but why and how to do it. I was making progress at a remarkable rate...and a month later, I was able to play Flight of the Bumblebee. With dynamics and everything. Sometimes I messed up a bit on the part where the left hand is playing the little EFED#EFED# again and again while the right hand is doing the little staccato chords, but still. For someone who had never played a fast song in his life...
Meg, however, eventually got too busy to help me out...and Junior year man. Those AP tests. So another six month hiatus was taken from the instrument.
After, I went back to piano again. First song was an arrangement of "Test Drive" from "How to Train Your Dragon" from Sebastian Wolff. The song was pretty straightforward [compared to Flight of the Bumblebee] up until the end. I'd never played using my entire hand like that. And it was really hard. And I never actually got in until this year, but I was able to play a passable version of it at the time.
Then...the piece that changed my perspective on piano. Jarrod Radnich's "Pirates of the Carribean" arrangement. The thing took me a month to learn...which is a lot longer than it really should have, but still. It was hard. The jumps I had so much trouble with...but once I learned to look ahead and "feel" the piano, they became...doable. I practiced for a few hours every day that summer, and eventually, I was able to do it :D
And since then, I have never had trouble with jumps...ever again.
After that, I began playing more of my own compositions, which never actually happened; I was never able to successfully play any single one of my songs, since they were all just too hard. Some were impossible.
I realized, after a while, that there must be some professional resource out there that I could use. And as it turns out...there was. I read a series of books on piano...including my favorite, CC Chuang's "Fundamentals of Piano Technique." I applied everything he said to playing...
...and now I'm learning Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu. And it's pretty difficult, but I'm managing And I'm also working on Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 5...and surprisingly it's lack of practice, not technical difficulty, that's holding me back. :D
Never give up guys. It took me five years to get nowhere...but it took me little over a year to make the same amount of progress that many took years to make. And they could've done it too...if they played as much as I did these past few months haha.
Anyway, if you really want to get good at something, but you claim to be "stuck," that's not true. There's always something...always something out there that can help you inch forward just a bit. And after enough inches, you'll get somewhere...every distance, every uphill ascent can be counted with inches...and even if it's a lot of inches, if you keep inching, you'll get there eventually.
I guess the moral of the story is...never give up! Never surrender!
EDIT: Here's me goofing around the piano. There are a lot of mistakes, and I tried to play as fast as I can so yeah...
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