Play only when you want to
Another interesting thing about the emotional aspect of playing by ear deals with your mood. Whether you notice it or not, your mood plays a huge part in your ability to hear, and especially to feel, what you’re playing. My basic rule of thumb is this: Never play the piano when you’re not in the mood to do it. There’s a funny link between your emotions and your motivation when it comes to playing and writing music by ear. If you are not in the mood to play, don’t do it. For me, when I force myself against my will to play the piano by ear, it sours my motivation to return to it. Afterward, I can often go weeks without feeling like playing the piano again.
If you’re also a music reader, you know that you can practice reading music all you want against your will. The increasing of skill involved in training your eye-hand coordination has little tie to your motivation to be working on it. The technical aspects of playing by ear still works this way, but with writing music by heart, it’s different.
Perhaps this sounds strange, since piano teachers encourage a set time and duration of practice hours per day. The fact is, we are not talking about piano lessons. You are learning to not only hear, but to feel the music. If your feelings are fighting your will-power in this, let your feelings have their way. This may sound odd, but in my experience, it works best that way. This does not mean that you should only play the piano when you have a burning desire to do so. It only means that if you have a burning desire NOT to play, don’t. If you’re not sure whether you want to play right now or not, give it a try. If it gets better as you go along, great! But if you start feeling even less desire to play, just leave it alone and come back another time.
The Call of the Piano
You may think by this that there will be times that you never play the piano. While this may happen on occasion, you will likely find that as you begin to develop more skill, your motivation will increase also. You will find that often it is as if the piano itself is calling you. When you hear that call, or in other words, when you feel that longing to play, go with it! Play away.
Play for as long as you have the desire to play. When you begin to get bored of it, put it away and come back later. I would highly suggest taking at least a little time every day to practice. You should choose for yourself how often and much time to spend at it, but consistency is one of the great keys to obtaining skill. If you do so, you will be amazed at the speed of your progress, and the wonderful enjoyment you find in it. It really does become addictive. Where possible, take advantage of every time you feel the desire to play.
In light of that, I should mention that it has been in those moments where the piano has ‘called’ to me, that I have created my best musical pieces, and experienced the most fulfillment in my ability to create something new and beautiful. There is much to be said of the first time you find yourself creating music from nothing. It may not be masterful yet, but it will surely feel that way at first, because of the excitement of the moment. The motivation that is born of this experience may be enough to hold you for a lifetime of music writing.