Lately I have fallen back in love with the piano. I’ve been sitting at it more, each day getting slightly better because each day I sit down and play a little bit. And as I sit there, even if it is for only ten minutes, the fingers become more accustomed to hitting the keys, the strength in the hands develops, and the ear grows more comfortable with what it is hearing.

It’s the last point — the ear — which I think doesn’t get enough credit. We often talk about someone’s talent in terms of how well they play, but we do not talk enough about what they play; that is, their selection of songs, or simply the style in which they choose to play those songs in.

And all of that is the ear. Which takes practice. Listening is a skill. Looking at a piece of music objectively and asking yourself — what is happening, what instuments are playing in the high register, what’s in the low, and what do you hear in the middle.

After you have established that, you ask, what is the pace of the music, is it steady or is it increasing, decreasing; sonically, does it appear to be moving towards a crescendo, building into a great climax, or is flattening out, coming down from a high point.

So much of what we are asking with those questions goes unnoticed by the listener. But, taken together, they affect the emotions which the listener will in turn experience. The simple choice whether to play something staccato or legato, short and punchy or long and drawn out, can change the entire perception of music.

But, you have to be sitting down and doing it first.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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