“Teacher, am I playing well?” John (not his real name) asked. He was pouring sweat and I could actually smell fear. “Am I doing OK?”
“You’re fine,” I reassured him.. In fact, he was playing, and badly, a three-note song that went “This is up, this is down, this is up and down.” Not surprisingly, he quit after two lessons.
This is an extreme case, but in my experience this fear and nervousness is what usually causes adult beginners to quit without learning how to play the piano.
It is also what causes experienced musicians to freeze up. I remember playing the prelude one time in a church, and playing well, until I noticed a man in the front frowning. “Why is he frowning?” I thought. “Doesn’t he like the music? What´s wrong with the way I’m playing?” And, you guessed it, soon I was making mistakes and barely in control.
John’s question, “Am I doing OK?” isn´t wrong. It´s necessary as you play to assess how the music sounds, and if you’re not doing OK, to make adjustments. What he was doing wrong was to feel like he was being judged as a potential musician or not.
This usually happens when we try to impress people, rather than express ourselves. Really, anything you play, even “This is up, this is down,” needs to be played to express yourself. There isn’t any other reason to play it.
When you are playing for a teacher, you are not playing to impress the teacher, but to recruit the teacher´s help in expressing your own creativity. When you are playing for an audience, you are expressing to them the music that is in you. Your goal is not a performance with no mistakes, but a shared experience, a musical journey that allows the audience to participate in the music as you understand it.
You need to accept your own creativity and nurture it. So many of us are still listening to criticism we received as children. Put it away. To Christians I say, give it to God. Each one of us has our own creativity. It’s part of being human.
Do your personal best. Don’t worry about the people who aren’t impressed. Keep trying and enjoy yourself while you do. Ironically, while you keep this attitude, you will probably impress more people than you would if you tried.