The FERMATA SERIES • by ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect
Those who know me well enough to have observed some of my personal struggles often urge me to stop caring what others think of my choices, opinions, beliefs and work. Many of us become trapped in the mindset of the “people-pleaser”; manipulated or bullied by others, we can easily lose sight of our own core values if we aren’t careful.
A decision not to care what others think about us can be emancipating, and can empower us to be our more authentic selves. I’m not surprised that this sentiment has become a common theme in self-help manuals.
But wait. If we stop caring about what others think, how long before we stop caring about them at all? Mutual understanding of each other’s ideas, feelings and perspectives is a crucial foundation for building empathetic, honest relationships.
We may not always agree with the opinions of others, but shutting them out ultimately isolates us. Clearly a balance is needed, along with an ability to accept the perspectives of others without feeling belittled.
As in life, so too this applies in our piano playing.
It seems growing numbers of players are so assertively independent that, at best, they regard the views of teachers and other players as an optional “take-it-or-leave-it” commodity. It is a viewpoint which I countered in some detail in my article Who Needs Piano Lessons Anyway?
The simple truth is that all of us, however good we believe we are, and however much personal satisfaction we presently gain from our playing, can benefit from the advice of other experienced players and teachers.
As the Chinese saying goes,
“However good your eye-sight, you still can’t see the back of your own head.”
There is always value in getting another, fresh perspective on our playing.
But not all opinions carry equal weight, despite the best efforts of social media to present them thus. The commenting of Facebook peers and strangers may be useful, but won’t always convey special insight; and how does one sift through so many contradictory opinions?
It seems obvious that when we consider (and if necessary, research) the expertise of the person who is giving us feedback, and reflect on the quality of our relationship with them, then we will be better placed to find the healthy balance we need.
- Does the person offering advice just want to show off their own knowledge, are they touting for business, or do they genuinely want to help me?
- Do they have the experience of playing this music well, or at least a good knowledge of the repertoire?
- Are they listening carefully and engaging positively with me?
- Am I looking for the support of a friend or the constructive advice and insight of an expert?
How we answer these questions might give us a clue as to whether we should care about a person’s opinions or not. There remains the possibility to take charge of our personal and pianistic development while also nurturing respectful, honest relationships.
But we might notice that sometimes the feedback we are given, invited or otherwise, can be useful even when we don’t feel a particular connection to the individual offering it. The observations of somebody we might not generally agree with, or even particularly like, can present the fresh perspective we were previously missing.
Beyond personality issues then, when receiving feedback on your piano playing ask yourself:
- Does the feedback increase my understanding of the music in a way which will help me to play it better?
- Does the feedback include practical, physical or technical advice which I might benefit from trying out?
- Does the feedback inspire me musically, get my creative juices flowing, or offer an alternative interpretation of the music which could be interesting to explore?
Maya Angelou once said,
“We do the best we can with what we know,
and when we know better, we do better.”
Are you ready for a fresh perspective on your playing?
Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:
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