Jonathan Yasuda

Pianist, Lecturer


Know thy level

There are three general levels of pianists: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.  

Each level usually has sub levels when working within an instructional series. 

How do you identify yourself? 

Ready to bust out the training wheels (Beginner)

We've all been there.  New to the game, the new kid at school, however you want to slice it and dice it.  Starting out is tough stuff, and knowing how to begin is crucial.  

Budding pianists often just want to hop on the bike and go for a spin, only to realize down the road that they didn't anticipate potholes, flat tires, the setting sun and lack of headlight.  In other words, it's easy to get lost at the keyboard without knowing how to read music, or experiencing how your fingers operate in parallel or contrary motion (moving in the same direction, or moving in opposite directions), just to name a few pitfalls.  Granted, you might not look that stylish with training wheels, but with time, you'll get your balance, and feel confident showing off those new handle bar streamers, some baseball cards in the spokes, as you cruise around the parking lot. 

Get familiar with the layout of the keyboard.  Acquaint yourself with the mechanics of each finger.  Learn to read treble and bass clefs if you haven't already.  Take it one note at a time and relish each seemingly little accomplishment.  All pianists, at any level, at any age, need to be reminded of the basics.

For even the most gifted students,
practicing is a team effort.

Set reasonable goals within the context of your own life commitments. 

I'm a blue diamond downhill skier (Intermediate)

You've done the easy, gentle incline bunny slopes, and now can parallel ski down intermediate trails with a little bit of panache, spraying some powder at the end of a run.  Thinking of the advanced, mogul-ridden black diamond trail doesn't instill much anxiety anymore, for one day you know you'll get there.

Life for the Intermediate pianist is not too bad because this pianist has achieved a sufficient level of playing, enough to derive more than a mere modicum of musical satisfaction.  At this stage, increasing repertoire, technical facilities, and knowledge of music theory is the name of the game.  Appreciating that making music is more than just taking a stroll down the boulevard of black and white keys is essential to musical growth.  The Intermediate player must acknowledge that the damper (sustain) pedal is not a gas pedal to be constantly depressed and overused.  Fine-tuning articulation improves musical statements.  Moreover, learning how to phrase and shape a passage so as not to disrupt the natural ebb and flow of a piece is of utmost importance.  

Beginner students learn the ropes, but it's the Intermediate pianist's challenge to swing from the ropes to reach a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the music.  

Always bear in mind that
technique can only swing you so far.

A technically intermediate piece may often require a high degree of artistic sensitivity.

Modesty is a virtue (Advanced)

There's not much to say here except that you've worked your way to the top.  The valleys look very far away, the rivers squiggle between green, rolling hills, and the sun has never shone brighter.  But something is still missing, and you wish to continue your journey, wherever that may take you.  

The Advanced player didn't get to be advanced without a good deal of discipline and dedication.  Further developing listening skills is of paramount importance.  Attention to breathing, so that the music can sing, is more than just something you do on a weekend team building retreat. Delving into advanced music theory, bolstering the fundamental, conceptual underpinnings of piano performance, awakens new musical interpretations.    

In sum, the goal at this level is to learn more about your own preconceptions and predilections.  Get to know your Self.  While it can be said that deepening one's relationship with Self is worthy at every level, the lack of  mindfulness in the hands of an Advanced pianist is analogous to a brilliant, galvanized nail poking out of a floor plank.  The pianist's performance may sound polished, if not brilliant, but the listener is left feeling empty, that something is missing, or not in its place.  Whether playing in the privacy of one's home, or under the bright concert hall lights, the Advanced pianist is very much about cultivating a dynamic, intimate relationship with Self.  Thy music rings true when to thine own Self be true.

Develop your unique pianistic style.  Take a walk in the park.  Discover anew what defines you.

Your artistic personality is inextricably connected
 to who you are as a person.

When everyone has the same chops,
it is your musical opinion, your essence,
that separates you from the rest.