Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What's Easy. What's Hard.

I talked last time about learning to control difficulty in the playing of music. As musicians we have choices as to how we want to approach playing a song, and how difficult we want it to be.

As a teacher of pop piano, I find it interesting to realize I teach very conflicting concepts. First I show people how easy it is to play a song. Then I challenge them by making it more difficult. (If only I could make up my mind.)

But we should also acknowledge that individual songs themselves have an intrinsic level of difficulty to play. Many provide barriers to learning.

Generally speaking, the more chords a song has, and the faster the chords change, the more difficult the song is to learn to play.

Some argue that some songs have "difficult" chords, but that's not exactly true. I always maintain that all chords are easy to play on the piano. But if a chord is unfamiliar to you, then it's intrinsically going to be difficult, because you don't know it yet. And your hand doesn't know it yet.

Here's some examples of what I mean. Silent Night. Very easy. Just three chords and most pop piano players, even the beginners, know what those chords are.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is more difficult. It has maybe up to 18 different chords. Some of them (like the major sevenths) are challenging, because you may not know them yet.

Now consider The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). Very difficult. Lots of different chords coming at you a mile a minute. And the song changes keys several times, adding more challenges. It's a real killer of a song to try to learn.

But one really cool thing is that as a piano player, you have some great opportunities to exert your control and influence. It's always possible to take an easy song and make it harder. And it's always possible to take a hard song and make it simpler. The former strategy is for beginners. The latter for experts.

When you make the transition from one strategy to the other, you have matriculated from beginner to expert.

Sometimes you find a song that you just cannot seem to be able to master no matter what. When you do, don't despair. Just give up (for the time being) and move along. There's no rule that says you have to be able to play everything. You can always come back to it later.


  1. I guess anyone that has the ability to learn the piano is gifted with the ability to learn anything.