Piano students sometimes tend to focus on what their fingers are doing (or aren’t doing) to the exclusion of everything else. If only their fingers would go where they wanted, they’d be playing Chopin etudes flawlessly in no time. Au contraire! Your fingers can only go where the ear tells them to. If you can’t sing the notes, if you can’t imitate a musical gesture with your voice (and also silently, in your imagination) you will be stuck playing mechanically.
But don’t despair if this seems like a foreign concept to you— it can be learnt at any age! It will, though, take dedicated practice. Just as you must practice scales regularly and rejoice in each incremental improvement you see, you must also practice listening, imitating, and making sound with your voice.
1. Play by ear. Pick a song, any song. I quite often start adult students on Christmas carols. (More on this in a later post)
2. Imitate. If you can’t play or sing the notes, follow an outline. Mockery will get you everywhere.
3. Sing back a song you know— all the way through. Can you remember all the details? Melodic lines? Words to all the verses?
And remember, if this is a new skill, it will take time. Be patient with yourself and cultivate time and space where you’ll feel comfortable listening and imitating and playing with this way of making music.