I just hit my first anniversary for PianoGroove (and really my jazz piano journey as a whole), and I’ve been thinking a lot about how the past year has been for my developing piano skills. I thought I’d share some of these thoughts here. At the very least this allows me to cement my thoughts into writing, but additionally, if anyone wants to comment with notes on their own first experiences, I’d definitely appreciate hearing that.
As a recap from my introductory post a year ago: I’m a 26-year-old graduate student living in California, and I grew up playing a variety of instruments, including viola, drums, guitar, and piano when I was much younger. I was never really able to muster the dedication to really hone any of those skills, though–practicing was just rarely something I wanted to do, and so I never got beyond average, though I did have a great time, especially as a violist in my school orchestras and ensembles. On the contrary, I consider myself a very active consumer of music and all that surrounds it: personalities, histories, influence on society, etc. I always wanted to know more theory, and about a year and a half ago is when I decided to explore that desire in conjunction with my desire to learn more about jazz, and thus I took the plunge into PianoGroove last year around this time. I got myself a brand new digital piano (which I love), and I embarked on my journey with incredible excitement.
The first two months of the year I spent working through the Foundations lessons. I focused on learning Tune Up and Misty (without the extensions), and I was able to play them in that manner fairly comfortably. I have to say, as someone who really appreciates structure, the practice planner was a tremendous help. I followed it religiously, even keeping an Excel log that included a randomizer function to make sure I was really giving every key equal time (maybe a little crazy). I wasn’t practicing every day, but I would say I was practicing more days than not.
Things slowed down in the spring time. I was trying to transition into the extensions and Tenderly, but at the end of February I got a puppy, and focus on the piano drifted. Here’s sort of where my perfectionism/dedication to regimen impeded me, because while I’m pretty sure that any time – 10 minutes even – sitting down and practicing would have helped me improve, I would always rationalize not doing it because it wasn’t a full dedicated session and I couldn’t trust myself to maintain the habit the next day, or the day after.
So I continued to progress, but much more slowly, and in fits and starts. I would go without practicing for a few weeks, then really dedicate myself for a week or two, then lose focus again. I had to take an unexpected month-long trip out of the country in July, and that also took the wind out of my sails. I had my last great stretch of practicing in October, where I think I really started to get a good handle on the extensions material and developed that comfortably into Misty and most of Tenderly. But that’s about where I am right now, and I’m away for my piano for the next 3 weeks for the holidays.
In short, it’s difficult not to be disappointed in myself. I was hoping to have maybe 6 or 7 of the standards down comfortably at this point, but I really only have 2 or 3, and even those are a bit dusty at the moment. And yet, I still have some optimism. Throughout the year, even when I knew my practicing focus was poor, I would always ask myself, “Am I better at piano than I was a month ago?” And truly, nine times out of ten, the answer was yes. And of course, it follows that I’m a better pianist than I was a year ago. I don’t want to discount that progress. It’s still progress.
I’ve signed up for PianoGroove for another year – I didn’t hesitate to do that. I’d like to stress that I never felt let down by the content on this site. I love it to death. It feels perfectly tailored to how I like to learn, and I couldn’t ask for more. The issue for me has been consistently maintaining focus to engage that material and really progress as much as possible. And maybe I need temper my expectations of myself, and be happy with the progress that I have made. I think that’s probably true, but I think it’s also true that I can get better at practicing and keeping the focus.
My hope is that when I’m back in California in the new year, I’ll have some renewed energy that will at least allow me to return to the level of progress and enjoyment I had when 2019 began. But honestly, that’s easy, and almost a given – the trick will be keeping that up as the year goes on. I suppose it’s like any habit.
One final note: 2019 has been an incredible year for listening and learning about jazz. I would say that jazz makes up about half of all my music listening, up from maybe 10-15% last year. I’ve discovered tons of new artists and albums (I should really post more in the What Record Are You Listening Today? topic). Some of my favorite albums I discovered this year: Freddie Hubbard’s First Light, John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things, Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Dream, the London jazz compilation We Out Here, Andrew Cyrille’s Lebroba. On top of all that, I got to see some awesome jazz concerts, including Ahmad Jamal, Vijay Iyer, Herbie Hancock/Kamasi Washington, and Kenny Barron. I definitely did not lack for inspiration.
Anyway, I’ll wrap it up now. Again, writing this was primarily an exercise for getting my thoughts in order, but if anybody has any comments, suggestions, or experiences they’d like to share, I would love to hear them!