Good habits are bad

Good idea – to cultivate good habits?  Not necessarily if you are a pianist.

It’s the very nature of piano playing that is the problem.  Contrary to what those pseudo-physicists who like to dabble in piano mechanics say, the hammer does not strike the string. Unless you are a VERY bad pianist.  No, what the hammer does is coax the string into action, and the degree to which you are able to control exactly how your hammers coax your strings is what determines both the quantity and the quality of each and every note.

Of course, you already knew that.  But that’s just my first point.

My second one you already know as well, but bear with me on this.  Not for us the luxury enjoyed by string/wind etc players who can ‘modify a note in progress’ when it doesn’t start out quite as intended.  Pianos are unforgiving beasts.  For each and every note in a piece you get but one chance.  It’s either right or it’s not.  No third way here.

So far so good.  Now let’s assume we have developed the good habits which mean we habitually do the right thing. Habitually we press our keys to activate our hammers which coax our strings in just the right way.  What’s so wrong with that?

THAT is exactly what’s wrong with it.  The more you succeed from habit the more unreliable the habit becomes.  By definition, a habit is something you do thoughtlessly – in the sense of without needing to think about it.  And sure as ‘Brexit means Brexit’, sooner or later it will fall apart.  The moment some tiny thing disturbs the serene surface of your good habits (a stray thought is enough) the whole edifice is suddenly as wobbly as a pneumatic drill in a jelly.

Given that whatever it was that disturbed you isn’t part of your good habit, it follows that however good your habit is normally, it has no way to cope with this new event.

And so at last to my main point. The only way to guarantee you give the performance you intended, is to consciously INTEND it – every single note, its purpose, timing, dynamic, quality etc.  No matter how fast the passage, you must know exactly when and how every single note should sound, and then you must deliberately INTEND it to sound that way – and all before you play it!

In other words, never play even one note without INTENDING it to sound the way you intended.

And with such good intentions it is amazing how one’s playing instantly improves.

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