What influenced my passion for playing and teaching piano

Early childhood

I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria and came to Finland as a child. Both my parents have musical and educational backgrounds and my early life was fully immersed in both worlds. My parents did not play any instrument proficiently but were singers. Singing and fooling around was very common in our family. Improvisation was vastly encouraged.

My parents were early childhood education teachers and I got to follow that type of work very closely. They had a private school in Bulgaria and later a private kindergarten chain in Finland. They were mainly developing curriculums that incorporated the use of imagination and improvisation. They liked to use the child’s inner eagerness and curiosity to steer the learning process into one that is pedagogically found. Most of the time the children did not even realise they are in fact learning things based on the curriculum. They were mainly immersed in games and using their imagination.

My parents let me utilise my imagination to the fullest as well. I developed my own books, toys, crafts and later music. I started playing the piano quite late around the age of 15. After a short period of “traditional” lessons that failed miserably I quit for a few years. The way people teached piano was very outdated and not innovative at all. I started learning things by myself.

The self-taught period

My main interest point at that time were classical compositions from the romantic era. I loved the music of Chopin, Lizst, Thallberg, Alkan, Mendelssohn, Rubinstein and Rachmaninov. Thought trial and error I maned to “fake” some of the stuff at a general level. Without proper technique and knowledge of reading notes I made a lot of mistakes. Slowly I started to realise that all you needed to do was find the harmony and melody of the pieces to be able to fake playing them. This is what opened my eyes to improvisation as well. I learned to fake playing and made it one of my strengths very well.

The conservatory years

I got really good in faking and copying both musical and technical tendencies that I have learned through listening and imitating. After a few years of playing by myself I applied for the classical conservatory and got in. I studied there for 2 years. I always felt I lucked out in a major way during the entrance exam and sort of “talked myself into the school”. I was quite social and from the outside looked very relaxed. I played with confidence but was extremely self-conscious. One year later I applied for the Pop-Jazz conservatory and got in there as well. I studied there for 3 years. Once again I feel like I talked myself into the school. At the facility I noticed there was often a decade worth of technical and theoretical deficit for me compared to the other piano students.

The most important thing from that period was learning what things worked as a self-taught pianist and what were the benefits of the music educational system. I tried to soak in all the beneficial aspects of both ways of learning and kept track of the detrimental ones as well. Slowly I was developing a curriculum for the self-taught pianist in my head. This was one of my sparks that ignited the urge to write my own teaching curriculum.

There were several things I wish I did more during that time I was immersed in music. I wish I focused less on learning chords , scales and licks in isolation and learned actual pieces and repertoire instead. I was practicing but was not performing nor composing a lot. I needed to learn how to be on stage and perform live and how to make mistakes live and adapt to that situation. Now I have been going to jams and doing those mistakes live and learning from them there. I know the terrible feeling of playing bad, overplaying and not knowing the repertoire. That feeling is very educational since the brain tries to find ways for you to not repeat that experience. You thus have concrete things to aim for when practicing. I should have done more of the things mentioned above at the same time as practicing.

There were also dark thoughts during that period. I always felt I was not good enough when hearing the other piano players play. I felt like I was a fraud among professionals since it seemed they were miles ahead of me in terms of ability, musicality and skills. I was also ashamed that I could not read notes and chords properly.

On the other side I got a lot of singers who liked my comping. I always played outside the restrictions of conventional harmony and rhythm. The way i thought of music was not specific notes but nuances and palettes that i took from my memory of listening to all those different types of artists. I took a huge amount of risk in my playing, especially considering my technical level. With time I started to value lyrical approaches more than technical ones and that is the stance I have even now.

I had learned to think outside the box on many occasions and had managed to fill in the gaps through my experience of faking music. I listened to a lot of music and learned specific nuances and phrasing both from classical and jazz artists. I have yet to transcribe a piano solo on paper but I have listened carefully to over a thousand different pianists playing various styles. I categorised and made long and comprehensive playlists composed of different artists. This is something I recommend any self-taught pianist to do a lot. It helps with deep and subconscious learning.

During that time I expanded my musical knowledge and was listening to more classical, jazz, soul, funk, RnB, hip-hop, rock, musicals and world music. My preferences in jazz were post 60s’ swing jazz, cool jazz, nordic jazz and perhaps even some smooth and acid jazz styles.

The new beginning

After the musical period I attended university (economics) and worked in our kindergarten for several years. Do to some unforeseen circumstances we as a family had to sell our kindergarten chain that was operational for over 20 years. That, coupled with some other family and personal tragedies made me think over life choices as a whole.

I wanted to do something that is valuable for me personally and also something that I can leave behind as a legacy. I stated my blog and webpage and started writing an educational book (part of it can be seen in my blog lessons) and teaching. I want to go full circle and utilise the elements that me and my parents used involving thinking outside the box with teaching. I want to develop a curriculum that can utilise technologies better such as MIDI and AR based piano lessons.

For now I put my economics degree on hold and am applying for a teacher degree (non-music related). I started teaching piano at the beginning of this year (2019). I want to really focus on the service aspect of teaching – personalised material, instant feedback, online material capability, the use of MIDI etc. There is a lot of work I have put “behind the scenes” of these methods and I really hope that will all pay some dividends at some point. I am also trying to promote Finnish jazz culture (mainly in Helsinki) in ways that will become apparent soon.

I want to thanks all the people who have been supporting so far during the transition period!

(c) 2019 Sibil Yanev

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