What is Real Piano Music? 1

I read a press release today showcasing a new website featuring the music of Richard Waterman, who ‘can hear a song, and play it as it was played the first time he heard it.’

The ability to play by ear is a real gift – however so is being able to play from music. Maybe I’m being over-sensitive (I am a musician…) but the website reads as if this is some elite supergroup of musicians, and that anyone who plays from music is somehow inferior.

Would we say that a Shakespearean actor is any less the artist and performer if he cannot learn the lines the first time he hears them?

And in any case, someone must have played the music from a printed score in order for these ‘elite musicians’ to play the song by ear once they had heard it.

Apparently, anyone who uses printed music is ‘bound to a page of notes’ – this is nonsense! Printed music only hints at the interpretation – the musician still has freedom to play from the heart, once they know the piece and can feel it. Of course, not everyone does, but everyone could.

The website continues:

In coming months and years, other artists will be profiled — other artists who share Richard’s ability to create beautiful music solely by ear — music that flows from the heart. Real Piano Music is looking for other such artists. If you think you have the extraordinary gift it takes to be profiled on “Real Piano Music”, contact us. Send a message…

Remember, only very gifted piano players who can play by ear will be profiled. We will arrange to examine your music and your talent closely. If you have the right stuff, you will profiled on Real Piano Music.

Oh boy.

When I was 4, I was told that I played the piano by ear – as soon as I heard a melody I would play it. Probably not perfectly, first time. I honed the skill, and I also learnt to read music. I still play ‘by ear’ but am certainly not ‘elite’ – I can’t claim to always be able to play any piece of music verbatim on first hearing.

I use a combination of playing by ear and using the visual musical language of notation. It works for me, and for countless other musicians. Some are more adept at one than the other.

Let’s not put a dampener on printed music – how on earth would some of our greatest classical music have survived were it not for preserved manuscripts?

I doubt I ‘have what it takes’ to join Richard’s elite club – and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to even if I did.


One thought on “What is Real Piano Music?

  • Richard Waterman

    Hi Andy. I am Richard Waterman, the musician who wrote the web site you address in your comments. It is my music that is featured on http://www.realpianomusic.com. Completely by chance, I happened to run across your comments while I was doing a search. And I must say, I’m very glad I did.

    Allow me to respond to your comments.
    I would never say that playing by ear is “better” than playing by sheet music. The fact is, we all know that sheet music is very necessary, and of course the most beautiful music in the world is performed using sheet music.

    Rachmaninoff happens to be my favorite composer, and I worship any musician who has the power to play his most difficult sheet music, in particular, the “Rach 3″….

    I fantasize about being able to play Rachmaninoff’s most difficult music, but I simply do not possess that gift. And as you mentioned, it certainly is a gift. Being able to play the most difficult sheet music is a gift that I completely envy and wish I had. Perhaps you have this gift, and if so, I envy you.

    My gift happens to be the gift of playing by ear. I do not claim that my gift is any better than anyone who plays from sheet music. It is simply a different gift, and the two different gifts produce two different sounds and two different types of music.

    I focused my web site on “playing by ear” for two reasons: because I happen to play piano extremely well, and even though I don’t play from sheet music, I feel my gift merits being shared with others. The other reason is that I think the art of “playing by ear” has never received much attention or exploration, and I want to draw some attention to this particular style of playing.

    I thank you for your comments. I will go back and look at the comments on my web site, and using your perspective, I will change any content or comments that misrepresent my true intentions. I welcome you to submit further comments. I love the perspective and the criticism! It’s great!

    Warmest regards,

    Richard Waterman

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