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Practicing again and it feels so good.

by Bruce Siegel on July 28th, 2010

I’ve been playing the piano regularly for much of my life. But exactly how I spend my time at the piano continues to evolve.

From the age of five to about twenty, much of my passion centered on building my technique (the physical aspect of playing). I practiced hard, and by the time I graduated from high school, I knew the thrill of being able to play some of my favorite sonatas and concertos.

In my 20′s and 30′s I began to explore styles other than classical, and got swept up in learning to play by ear and improvise. This was challenging for someone who had been taught to play strictly from the page, but oh so liberating!

Then, in my 40′s, I took a deep breath. After all those years of practicing, it dawned on me that I didn’t have to relate to music as an endless assignment, a pass-or-fail course. It was OK to kick back and enjoy myself.

It was OK to simply play.

Which is not to say, you understand, that practicing had been drudgery up to then. But I can be pretty hard on myself. And allowing the pendulum to swing the other way was exactly what I needed.

So, for years, I gave myself the pleasure of doing what came easily. I played and sang old favorites and discovered new ones (including, for example, simpler pieces by Bach, Debussy, Chopin, Mozart, and songs by Randy Newman, Billy Joel and many others.)

I improvised a lot too—just didn’t do anything that felt much like work. It was a wonderful, healing, time.

Anyway, things changed over the past several years. I was so absorbed in creating this instructional website that my playing, sadly, practically came to a halt.

But here’s what I’m getting at. The past week or two I’ve resumed my piano sessions, but with a difference: I’m not only playing, but once again, I’m practicing. I’m having fun—you bet—but also challenging myself in areas where I’d really like to grow.

Best of all, now that I’m back at it, I’m remembering how good I always feel when I’m playing regularly, and the excitement of discovering exactly what it is that turns me on this time around.

I’ll keep you posted.

  1. very very inspiring post. i have been “down” in playing too, and getting back into it, like, practicing. then realized today in a lesson that I haven’t been improvising enuf lately, at all, like the creative part of myself is shut down, the practicing part (left brain?) is going along but not the other part…
    and told a student too that I had a storage tub full of handwritten scores under the piano that have to get into a computer and (gulp, eventually) online for the masses…
    thanks for your words. :-)

  2. Bruce Siegel permalink

    Hey Julie—thanks for your comment!

    Here’s something I do that helps me a lot. I end each of my piano sessions with at least a half hour of pure playing (often including improvising and singing.)

    I forget all the “shoulds”—I mean ALL of them—and ask myself just one question “What can I play right now that will give me the greatest musical pleasure?”

    I can’t tell you what a difference it makes in how I feel about my work and my life.

  3. I did that last night–was watching Carol King and James Taylor on PBS and went right to the piano and pulled out my “Tapestry” book (tattered!) and my Fire and Rain and had a ball!

  4. PrawnanowsNus permalink

    Very Interesting!
    Thank You!

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