What exactly is a state of flow or peak performance zone and how do you get into it? In this video I explain what flow means to me as a teacher and student of fluent musicianship and give some key pointers on how to achieve this elusive state.
As a fluent musician, to learn to play fast notes on the piano, you first need mental dexterity and then you need to be able to let go and play with physical and rhythmic freedom. It is the passive, muscle-memory approach that becomes obsessed with the physical difficulty of fast playing. In reality, strong fingers are a bit of a myth: once you can find and maintain the right mental focus whilst letting go and playing with genuine freedom, fast notes are easy to play.
The groove in music is its underlying rhythmic structure and the main source of musical meaning. It functions just like metre and form in poetry. The meaning of the words in poems are enhanced by musical rhythm. So groove is a kind of musical logic, a natural flow and unfolding that makes music meaningful, accessible, intelligible and also beautiful, dramatic and moving.
In this video I play with futuristic transformations to the Pianoteq’s new J. Salodiensis Virginal 1600 after performing a short piece by Frescobaldi using the instrument in its original faithfully reproduced form.
In this little film, I say a few words about my process as an improviser, then perform a melodic and accessible unplanned improvisation in a contemporary classical style.
Bach’s Prelude in C sharp minor has the most pleasing symmetry and poetry, yet it flows with an improvisatory, natural unfolding. Its lyrical phrases ache with pathos and beauty.
When you know the language of music fluently, you love to discover new music. Whilst it is natural, up to a point, to want to play music we know and love, there can be rather a delusional element to this, if what you are playing sounds less intelligible than you might think…
Chopin’s G minor Ballade is one of those pieces that is played a great deal and often rather mangled by exaggerated rubato and mannered interpretation. I love to reveal the unvarnished truth about music, to reveal its natural patterns and structure. For me, allowing the rhythm and melodic lines to flow with natural flexibility only adds to the extraordinary cathartic beauty of Chopin’s refined yet emotional and virtuoso composition.
Playing by pinning fingers to set keys destroys natural musical fluency – you can use any fingers.
If we can only play music using the same fingers every time, it means that muscle memory has such a critical role in how we play the piano that our musicianship is stunted. On the other hand. If we can play the same passage using different fingering each time, this means that we know how patterns of the music are formed within the structure of the keyboard.
This is fluency – the ability to effortlessly understand how patterns of tonality and rhythm are formed. It is the ability to intend every sound as we make it, to know where it lives in the tonal structure of the keyboard. True improvising – or composing in real time – becomes impossible if we rely on executing muscle-memorised finger patterns. We need to see that we can learn to improvise music as naturally as we speak, then we will play with ease and flow. Playing by pinning fingers to set keys destroys this natural musical fluency.