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John Nguyen
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Words of wisdom from mikecitizen

There’s an amazing fellow who goes by the name Mike. There are many Mike’s in the world, so I’d like to narrow it down to this one particular Mike.

We had a few exchanges over PM on Reddit. Lots of good information here about the nature of Jazz practice and how we can improve ourselves. Conversation follows:

Hey dude,

I’ve been going through our PM conversations a year or so ago and I’m sad to say that I have not gotten much progress with Jazz piano! You’re pretty much at the point that I’d like to achieve. I’m not sure how to go about saying this, but I would like either:

Because honestly I’m getting nowhere and its very frustrating.

Anyhoo happy to pay with Bitcoin or Paypal if you prefer!

I’m all too well acquainted with that feeling, and I know how difficult it break out of the musical stagnancy.

I’d be glad to give you lessons and/or assignments, and though I’m not opposed to being paid I have no idea what to charge. That’s relatively unimportant for now though.

Going forward, I’d like to avoid giving you any advice or assignments that are completely trite, obvious, or otherwise totally not worth paying for. These are things I don’t doubt you already know, but are always worth repeating and are guaranteed to make you a better player (and often things I avoid doing myself, out of laziness, disinterest, and/or preference for having fun):

Now these are all things that will with absolute certainty improve your technical facility, manual dexterity, aural skills, and understanding. They are simple enough, but damn hard to do consistently. I almost never play to a metronome, I often give up on drilling things about 3 or 4 keys into the 12, I rarely complete transcriptions, and I all to frequently just play the tunes I know because they’re easy and fun.

An important thing to figure out and keep in mind is what exactly you want to achieve with and gain from playing music. You said I am at the point you’d like to get to (very flattering by the way, thank you), but I am far from the most technically gifted or dexterous pianist.I assume when you say that you mean more that you’d like to get comfortable and capable on piano to the point of being able to improvise around tunes with a level of freedom and ability that allows you to have fun and express yourself.

Wow! Thanks for the massive response! I must’ve hit a passionate spot with you. How do you prefer to communicate? I like to use Google Hangouts if you have that. Otherwise we should share emails/WhatsApp/Facebook Messenger/Line ID or whatever. My email and Hangouts is jtnguyen236@gmail.com.

I really enjoyed this video by you.

Regarding payment, I think its worth paying you for sure. We can work it out later, for the time being I’m happy with just talking to someone about this stuff. I’ve engaged other people on Reddit for piano lessons before, but it’s always sort of fizzled out. The most recent one with Marcus Choi was 20 dollars for a 30 to 45 minute session. I prefer paying through Bitcoin since it’ll eventually appreciate a lot more plus I don’t have to pay massive fees. For instance I’m based in Australia and sending money to wherever you are (United States?) means that I’ll have to pay a huge amount on top. About 10 or 15% I think?

I’m just sick of stagnation as you said. ii V7 Is in the circle of fourths over and over again. I just don’t enjoy the process as much as I should. The way you play is very in the moment and you look like you’re having fun! I want to play like that. Right now its just drills and calculated chords. Struggling with basic lead sheets. I know the theory, but my brain and ears can’t work fast enough. And if I CAN work fast enough, its an uninspired poking of boring chord inversions. Can’t do any decent variations or improv as I can’t hear sounds in my head. I want to be able to just feel where the notes should be and let the creativity flow. Right now my lack of ability to transfer my harmonic knowledge to the keys is a huge blocker.

I just need someone to guide me. I want to be able to express myself. I’ve been at this for around five years now with nothing to show for it. Even something like ‘Do X and put it on Soundcloud’, and then having you listen to it would work for me. Like a study buddy or gym buddy, but for piano! I wrote a sort of ‘profile’ of myself for a previous teacher. I’ll paste it below for your reference.


Music can be a source of functionally infinite joy and creative expression long before you develop virtuoso-level technical facility. Developing your technique expands the musical vocabulary with which you can express yourself, but hardly any technique is necessary to say and feel “This is me and I’m having fun” through an instrument. When it feels like your hands are playing you and you are struggling to do anything with them, it can be hard to get into that headspace of genuine expression, but its not impossible. You can jam out on C, F, and G triads and have a ball, but then it all falls away when you try to throw a Dm7b5 in and your hands remind you how little you’ve practiced. This is getting sorta rambly, but its something I feel very strongly about with music in my life. Being self-taught, my development as a musician and instrumentalist has come primarily through pursuing that sort of honest, joyful self-expression than it has from more mechanical routines and exercises. I do attempt those occasionally, and they are necessary when I need to learn new, more challenging songs, but they have never been my forte or MO.

If you’d still like to, I’d be glad to stay in correspondence and suggest exercises, tunes, ideas, or vaguely philosophical approaches to playing for you to try out and work with. It would be harder to schedule, but I’d also be open to doing Skype lessons or something in the future. Regardless, I’m glad you reached out, flattered that you’d come to me for help, and slightly embarrassed for writing so much. Hope any of this helps, and looking forward to hearing from you!

I haven’t used Google Hangouts before but it should work, and I have no objection to bitcoin but I also have no idea how to accept it. I’ll look into setting up a bitcoin wallet.

I’m glad you enjoyed that video, its such a fun tune! I’ve forgotten the changes since but I am compelled to play it again now. From what you’ve described, It’s clear you already understand and have loads of experience with the mechanical aspects of playing piano. You know the excitement of drilling uninspired patterns, and you’ve got a solid background in theory. It’s more so getting over the hurdle into playing with feeling and feeling what you’re playing. Closing that gap between the music in your head and the music coming out of your fingers is the eternal struggle, and one I’m very well acquainted with. I can’t say that I have a tried and true method of cultivating joy and genuine expression in playing that I can pass onto you, but I’d love to give it a shot. I think giving assignments and what not with things to upload to soundcloud would be a great idea. I’ll message you on google hangouts and we’ll get more into that. I’m looking forward to it!

I do want to tell you that ultimately I won’t be able to accomplish for you what you want. I’m glad to help and advise, and I don’t mean that it will all be nothing, just that it’s going to have to come from you because that’s the only way it can. Really enjoying and feeling music is something I feel very strongly about and think about arguably too much, and it goes beyond just playing. Whether improvising, listening to, or just imagining music, there gatekeeper to passionate involvement and feeling and joy with music is always internal. It’s a state of mind to be in, and you won’t always be in it. The more you get into that flow, the easier it will be to get there and stay there for longer, and that’s where I think this musical relationship will help the most. It’s a type of practice that has almost nothing to do with the mechanical, technical, or theoretical aspects of the music, and almost everything to do with the creative, emotional, passionate aspects of it. You gotta love and want to hear every note you play, even if you can’t play every note you love and want to hear.

No problem, the work is all mine, I just need some guidance!

Good to see you on hangouts. If you’re looking at Bitcoin wallets, don’t use the main one because it has to sync like 30gb. I use Electrum!

Chat to you soon!

Are you an iPhone man? iMessages might work better.