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Hi, my name is Rosablanca. This is a beautiful Spanish name meaning white rose. My friends call me Rosa for short.
Playing piano has been a fascinating journey for me. I used to lament about missing my opportunity to learn piano when I was a child. Who would have ever thought that one day I would author my FIRST book "teaching piano"? In my growing up years & adult life, something else always took a greater priority than playing piano. I never dreamed to become a piano teacher. How did all this happen?
The following piece was written as my first piano instruction volume was coming to fruition. It serves as the Preface to Color Chord Improvisation Volume 1. This was before I ever dreamt of offering myself as a teacher on the internet; or having an online piano forum. My experience in teaching piano has evolved greatly and quickly. However, this piece of writing was a snapshot in time, giving you a glimpse of my exciting roller-coaster ride that took me to the start of my teaching, a new phase in my own piano journey.
The fun & thrilling journey continues. And here is...
I've been playing piano for churches for more than 26 years. Every time I'm relocated to a new city, I become the regular pianist in the new church in no time. On Fridays and Sundays, you see me in my own tranquil corner of the church playing piano. I didn't set out to be a church pianist. It just happens. Is this merely a coincidence? Certainly, God has a message to tell me. I am about to unfold for you this part of my life that I seldom talk about.
I feel good every time I sit in front of a piano. God has given me flying fingers and He gives me joy in playing. Sometimes my eyes are teary. Often, I smile. Occasionally, I burst out laughing. I hear sweet musical notes coming alive nudging the listeners. When the congregation sings, I hear angels chiming in. My heart goes racing. The deep basses march out to finish the triumphant hallelujah! Suddenly, the music stops. The pounding of my heart comes to an abrupt rest. It is dead silent. I can't even hear my own breathing. Guess what? I am transported to Heaven.
When I play the piano, I feel God's pleasure. So play I must to the glory of His Name.
A Pianist Journey
Every musician must tread on a long winding road before the passionate artist plays with creative freedom. When freedom abounds, you feel you are on cloud nine. But many pianists lament that they struggle endlessly. They dread the long hours of boring practice. They are worn out at the piano. All inspiration is quelled. I know. I've been there.
Is there a more effective path to learn to play the piano with enjoyment? The answer is "yes".
Does it take a long time to master such skills? My answer is "no".
Do you need to go through years of piano lessons? You can if you so choose. But then, you may feel you are already too old for that.
Maybe you have never touched a piano, but it has been your lifelong dream to play one. You may have missed the opportunity when you were young. Is it too late for you now? You are truly never too old to learn to play the piano.
But where to begin?
Insights for a Better Approach
Rosa's Color Chord Improvisation Method (CCI) will empower you to start playing piano well immediately. With practice, you will be playing with elegance in a very short time. The non-traditional approach is radical, but it works in a fascinating way!
Many aspiring pianists are groping through a maze in search of a better piano learning method. I'm one of them. After years of searching and exploration, I am now putting together a system that works marvelously. I don't want to keep it to myself, so I invite you to try out this innovative CCI method. It focuses on the essential elements of music theory and techniques that will make your playing sound professional. You acquire the skill to color your songs with artistic tones. You also gain the ability to improvise creatively. Everyone will surely be delighted that you can play the piano!
This method has been brewing in me for 26 years. I could not find someone to teach me the chords the way I am presenting them to you. Teaching this method has been an eye-opener as it involves my own development as a pianist. Yes, I learned to play the piano, but more importantly, I learned to think in a new way. When I teach, my mind reveals a whole new method of thinking that I had not known before. This is a not a method derived from books or classroom theory talks, but from years of mistakes and blunders in my public playing.
Now, you know the truth. I have not always played well and still don't. Half the time my head is spinning in frustration. I fall flat on my face for not meeting the standard. I'm not good enough. My piano playing never ever seems good enough! But, from there, I experience many light bulb moments. Great insights are discovered in the most ordinary and unexpected places. Failure is indeed the best school of learning. That's where I take my piano lessons. Never a boring moment. Nothing to memorize.
The Early Years
Though I don't have a piano of my own, I always have a piano to play on. I play the piano that belongs to my parents, to my friends, to the church and to the school. People invite me to their homes to play their piano. They say their piano stands lonely in the living room. Nobody touches it. What a waste.
I wonder why my parents put their piano in the basement. Right next to the piano on a wall hangs proudly the framed piano certificates achieved by my four older siblings. Life was hard in the sixties, so hiring a piano teacher was a luxury. I looked forward to this piano teacher who came to our home on Mondays to give lessons, but they were never for me. I hid behind the walls to peek through the cracks, wishing one day I could have my own piano teacher. But that day never came.
In my puberty years, nothing stopped me from dreaming that I would become a maestro. When I shared this with the adults, they sneered. Who wants to listen to your music? Ouch! My dream turned sour. I worked hard in my university years to find my career path. At age 18, I thought I was already too old to study music, so I studied Chemistry. But I graduated from Education and became a professional primary school teacher instead. I was confused.
I hadn't a clue what my passion in life was. But one thing I knew, and that was, wherever I taught, I requested to have a piano in my classroom. I always got one. I even had a piano to play at work. I was known as the teacher with the piano. I liked this "new label" to my career. Notice, I was not the piano teacher. But I've indeed come a long way.
I know a few outstanding piano teachers. If you've found one, you are fortunate. In school, we have many teachers but when it comes to piano teachers, often only one. That one teacher can either make or break the music student. I've watched piano teachers making powerful impact on the lives of their students. But I've also seen too many piano students who don't thrive, because they are stuck with teachers who are only able to pass on classroom music theories. Is it any wonder why the drop-out rate is so incredibly high? What's more, church pianists are required to play in public. How well do you think a student can learn to play from teachers who don't ever play in public themselves?
My Playing Experiences
I'm here to share with you my inspiration based on my experiences. I play at romantic weddings. I'm usually more nervous than the bride. The wedding march becomes a wedding run! Once, I was asked to play at a graduation ceremony. I thought I would just play in a quiet corner. But this piano was on stage in front of 800 people. I almost fainted. "Please, not me!" My fingers froze. But as soon as I hit the first note, all fears melted away. That was my first time playing on a grand.
The most touching moments are in funeral homes. People sit quietly deep in thought. Their eyes are eagerly waiting for you to convey meaningful expressions of condolences. Playing piano in these solemn hours is like performing a lonely recital. I want to hide under the seat. But then their heavy-hearted sobs become harmonious tones to my playing. They draw me to play even more intensely to strengthen their faith.
Playing in private homes is one of my favorites. Everyone huddles around the piano, and you suddenly become their best friend as they make their requests.
My regular playing is in a church setting. I'm hidden in a corner enjoying my silent dream, and a lonely one. I would steal a few glances at the congregation. Whew, they are not watching! These are the moments when I become bold and daring. I'm no longer nervous. Suddenly my music takes on artistic satisfaction. I also enjoy playing at the end of worship services when people start talking. I seem to play better when there's a lot of noise around. People don't even know I exist anymore. There's no distraction. I am by myself enjoying my music. I own what I play in that noisy environment because nobody judges me. I play as free as a bird.
The most challenging moment is playing at a church concert. You are in the spot light. Even your walk up the stage is critically analyzed. I often break into a cold sweat. The heroic scene turns into a nightmare, because the keys on the piano suddenly become a maze. Black becomes white and white becomes black. All of a sudden, everything turns white. I frantically locate middle C. I can't find it, yet I can't possibly get up and leave. I adjust the bench trying to look busy. "Sit up straight. Take a deep breath. Curve your fingers. Touch the piano." With courage, I touch the piano. Oh, the piano has a real nice touch! It's as though the piano is touching me to let music come into my fingers. Together, we make music. I like the sound I hear. So does the audience.
On one occasion, I was asked by the pastor of a church to play for the evening worship. "By the way," the pastor said, "I know it's your first time playing at our church, so I'll ask our good ol' organist to play with you." I nodded. I'd never played with an organist before. When evening came, the pastor announced the first song. It's in the key of E. I never like playing the sharps but I can handle it, so off I go. Hey, what's happening? Is the piano out of tune? Why is it that my sounds on the piano clash so severely with the organ? Should I continue? If I stop, people might think I don't know how to play the piano. I'm new to the church. I can't possibly let the church down. Gritting my teeth, I continued. It was a disaster! The pastor gave me a look of comfort. I wanted to press the escape button to slide under the piano and disappear for good.
When the service ended, the organist told me she played that song in the key of Eb as she hated playing sharps. A-ha! That was what happened! Never knew you could do that. Little was she aware how humiliated I was in those first five minutes. Only five short minutes, and that was enough to send an aspiring pianist to despair. A strange nagging voice always comes around to poke at your self-confidence.
The limited space here does not allow me to share all the mixed blessings of my life as a church pianist. Sometimes you feel exhilarated. Yet sometimes you wonder why you are doomed. Strange things happen at the most inconvenient time. Once, during the auditioning of songs, the sustain pedal literally came off while I was proudly performing my piece. I looked with appalling eyes. The poor pedal. It laid there like a dead fish washed in by the waves. Why didn't this happen to the person before me or after me? Now, I have to admit the truth. I've got elephant foot!
I often play for the choir. When rehearsals don't go right, the pianist is often the person to blame. But then, the performances usually outshine the rehearsals. It's because the pianist has taken the responsibility to cover the mistakes to let the music flow. The pianist never gets the credit when things go right either.
Well, most of us won't ever become a star, but we all learn to play our roles with style. Know this: what counts is a style marked with integrity admitting your flaws rather than a presumptuous style of perfect eloquence.
My stories are endless. I find myself fulfilling a dream on an unlikely path. I never envisioned myself teaching piano. I hear the call to train people to play piano musically as well as to play on the spiritual level. Playing piano can communicate a spiritual message of hope that brings peace to troubled souls. There is a sense of spiritual contact that I, a pianist, experience with people. They tell me they sense a deep calming effect in their souls when I play. Today, as soon as I step in the church, I make my way automatically to the piano. The piano calls me.
It's been like this for the last 14 years in my Tsuen Wan Church in Hong Kong. When people walk into the church corridor and they hear music, they know I'm already at church. The welcoming sounds of the piano make them happy. I see it on their faces. I greet them as I continue to play. They wave to me as if we are long lost friends. Even the most downhearted person cannot help but smile sweetly. Music is powerful even in this one-second encounter.
People often ask, "Rosa, how do you play so effortlessly with such ease and freedom?"
I do? I smile. I've pondered deeply on what the answer might be to this question.
Here's the secret: you need a quiet mind. A mind that is too busy counting the rhythm, fumbling around with techniques, juggling the fingerings will inhibit the flow of music. Creativity is blocked. Only when your mind is quiet, then you will listen to the sounds you make. If you listen deeply, you hear things you've never heard before. You get connected to music on the spiritual level. You become in tune with the music that allows you to play effortlessly in the flow. This is where inspiration comes in. Creativity knocks on your door. You are now receptive to ideas but you also need to allow them to come forth without being critical and judgmental. Don't allow your mind to become a battle field. Ride on the river of creativity to bring your artistry to higher levels of spontaneous flow.
Sometimes you see instantaneous result. Celebrate it. Sometimes you need to wait. Be patient. Trust the process to flow through you in its own time.
Quality in Simplicity
Most people think that they need to learn lots of piano techniques in order to play well. As a result, they quickly jump from one technique to another. Good piano playing is not measured by how many techniques you can do, but the quality with which you do them.
Here's a hint: Pick one technique that you like and let it sink into your being until you can do it well without thought. This is how you attain a quiet mind. Even a novice can do this. Train your mind to be still. Nothing is forced. The quieter your mind, the easier it is to allow ideas and inspiration to flow unobstructed. The music will start playing itself through you.
Wrong thinking stops us from achieving our goals. You need to look at piano playing in a whole new way. Thinking on a completely new level will help you breakthrough to play the music that moves you and your audience.
In the CCI method, I open a new path of thinking to inspire you to realize your potential. By sharing the thinking process with you, I am giving you the key to creative piano playing. This is not something static. It has to do with the flow of thinking translated into the flow of playing. I share not only the end product but the process of the journey with you. This, I find, is the most effective way to inspire a pianist to grow dynamically in this God-given gift.
Patterns in Music
You may find my presentation straightforward and simple. That's intentional. Our mind gets restless when we make things more complicated than necessary. Music is not complicated once you see how music works in patterns.
Pattern recognition underlies how we understand music. In fact, patterns underlie almost everything that happens in our lives. Our brain works by recognizing patterns. Patterns are very easy to grasp, but you need to see them in a flash.
My lessons are specifically structured to help you see patterns at a glance. When you understand the overall structure of how music works, the relationships of the individual parts will become obvious. Keyboard diagrams, tables and charts show visual patterns, and simplify concepts that would otherwise seem complex or intimidating. Seeing patterns in one flash will relax your mind to become quiet. When your mind is at rest, it conserves energy. This is where growth takes place. Your options to play creatively will multiply manifold.
I witness people playing musically after showing them some small steps. You should see the joy glowing on their faces. It's a shocking realization to them that playing piano can be easy and enjoyable. Professional musicians don't like to reveal their secrets to novices, but often times they would say to me, "Rosa, let me show you a trick." I am all ears. I listen, imitate and transform these neat tricks into patterns. These one minute lessons revolutionize my playing. I show these simple techniques to you on the video.
People have commented that my video demos look simple and easy. "Is this all there is to it?" Yes, that's all there is to it! When you watch pianists perform, they may be playing something that sounds incredibly difficult, but they make it look easy. Why? It is easy! The techniques are trivially simple. Don't judge and criticize the simplicity. Professional techniques are built on the foundation of simple patterns. Too often, we are tempted to fly through easy techniques and work on complex ones. This is precisely the moment we lose our inner connection. Tension and pressure have replaced the flow. Take this advice: Master the simple skills until you can do them easily and naturally. Give yourself permission to indulge on the simplicity.
Simplicity in Action: Elegance and Expression
Yet, simplicity doesn't mean it lacks content. A simple, focused life is far richer than a life cluttered with unnecessary extravagance. Stay away from the temptation of feeding your mind with irrelevant information and complicated exercises. Do you notice that the best ideas are often the simplest ones? When something is simple, you have room to make it elegant. What is elegant is surprisingly simple. If this is true of all art form, painting, poetry, or even the way we dress, how much more true this is to piano playing. That's it. Less is more. Dare to be simple. A beautiful elegant style of playing is our goal.
The CCI method thrives on its simplicity. When something comes across so easy, people think they know it when they have understood it. However, understanding concepts is not the same as putting them into action. The application is what makes this manual distinctive to give you success at the piano. Make sure you take all the ideas straightaway into a musical experience.
Sources of Inspiration
Today is my birthday! While Raymond and I were having lunch together, exchanging ideas of God's work in our lives, God gave us an ever clearer vision. We see an urgent need to use our earthly time wisely to fulfill God's calling. In our long years of pastoring the church, we have observed that there is a lack of instructional training for church pianists. Someone should come in to fill the gap. So, from this seed thought comes the birth of this book. PLAYING PIANO WITH ROSA: COLOR CHORD IMPROVISATION METHOD.
Over the years, people have asked me to teach them to play the piano. Their constant requests have prompted an urgent response in me to write this manual. I cannot delay anymore. As I pen this book, I wish such a book had existed 20 years ago.
God sends us pleasant surprises along our way. Whoever would have believed that I would write a book, let alone writing on music? In my life, I've been truly blessed beyond measure by people who pass on the art of life to me with their sense of humor, grace and spiritual strength. They inspire me to be what I am today and they make me want to write, to share all the inspiration that bubbles within me. I've truly been humbled by this awesome assignment from God.
A deep sense of gratitude wells up from within. I want to especially thank Raymond, my hubby and buddy in life for sparking up this vision. Just as a father would decide on a name before the child is born, today Raymond comes up with a title for this book. This is the greatest birthday present I have ever received!!! And in joy, I share this birthday happiness with you.
My whole inner being is intensely involved as I write this instructional manual. I write with abandon. It's as if I'm not writing the book but the book is writing itself. I become a spectator watching the whole drama unfold. This is not just a technical piano method book. It is also a personal memoir of my life as a pianist over the last 26 years, and counting. Splashes of vivid events are woven in to share with you God's transforming power in my life. I have been truly captivated with thrill and delight in the process of writing out my method that has brought out the best in me. I pray for the same to happen to you.
This is your time.
This is your moment.
Let this exciting journey begin!
2008, Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong
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