You can’t play it until you hear it

Many years ago I was a piano major at Oberlin Conservatory. I was a very good student; not outstanding, but very good. And I very much wanted to study with one teacher who was undoubtedly the best. He’d take ordinary students and turn them into fabulous pianists. Finally I got my chance to study with the teacher.
When I went in for my lesson, I found that he taught with two pi-anos. He didn’t even say hello. He just sat down at his piano and played five notes, and then he said, “You do it.” I was supposed to play it just the way he played it. I played it—and he said, “No.” He played it again, and I played it again. Again he said, “No.” Well, we had an hour of that. And each time he said, “No.”
In the next three months I played about three measures, perhaps half a minute of music. Now I had thought I was pretty good: I’d played soloist with the little symphony orchestras. Yet we did this for three months, and I cried most of those three months. He had all the marks of a real teacher, that tremendous drive and determination to make the student see. That’s why he was so good. And at the end of the three months, one day he said, “Good.” What had happened? Finally, I had learned to listen. And as he said, if you can hear it, you can play it.
What had happened in those three months? I had the same set of ears I started with; nothing had happened to my ears. What I was playing was not technically difficult. What had happened was that I had learned to listen for the first time.. and I’d been playing the piano for many years. I learned to pay attention. That was why he was such a great teacher: he taught his students to pay attention. After working with him they really heard, they really listened. When you can hear it, you can play it. And, finished, beautiful pianists would finally come out of his studio.

Story from Charlotte Joko Beck in Let’s Get Real: or Let’s Not Play

Pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention.

Are you stuck?

Pay attention to the voices in your head. It’s just a thought. The reality isn’t what you think.

Are you having trouble connecting with someone or understanding them.

Pay attention to what they’re saying. Get into that space. See what they’re saying. Their thoughts are their reality at the moment.

Are you having trouble figuring out a problem?

Pay attention to the contours, notice what your assumptions are, what you’re filtering, open up your mind to reality.

Listening is more than just auditory. It is a way of being in relation to something else. It is a hunger for knowing.

Pay attention.






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