11 Proven Concepts for Effective Piano Learning Used in the Courses

The materials here and in the courses are not “invented” by Jaak Sikk. Some of them are also original ideas but the materials include a variety of world famous and influential concepts and teaching methods. Basically when researching the articles, courses and materials here you are in the same boat with the biggest thinkers, philosophers and musicians throughout all times.

I will bring out a list of concepts and figures that have had an impact on my teaching methods and ways of thinking and briefly give an overview of their meaning in this context. All these complicated ideas are put into my teaching with simplicity and through practical exercises. It is not by far obligatory for you to know and research the concepts and figures I bring out in such a detail as I have been researching them. The main idea behind creating the list is to give you a possibility to learn what is behind the whole atmosphere of this site and my approach if you wish. The list is not complete of course, only the essential is mentioned in there.

1) Concept of Synergy

Synergy means that the sum of the whole is bigger than the sum of its individual elements. This refers to the bigger effectiveness when different elements work together towards one goal. This concept is crucial when to talk about piano technique and using your body as a tool to express yourself naturally and freely.

For example fingers, knuckles, hands, wrists, forearms all have their function and they can all influence piano playing more or less. But if all their motions are combined according to the musical expression and idea it can magnify the expressive power of the body parts many times. Good piano playing needs synergy formed by body parts.

2) Concept of Mental Models

The first cornerstone for the concept of mental models was laid by Charles Sanders Peirce. It has been developed to what it is today by Philip Johnson Laird and several other researchers. The main idea is that before we can take actions we first have to plan it in our mind. It means that primarily we model things in our mental sphere and then apply it to the real world. The concept also refers to several habitual models that guide our actions through everyday life. Creating right and effective models for piano playing is very important.

I consider ‘mastering something’ as getting into a situation where you do not need to actively interfere into action to be able to execute it well in a dynamic process. You can say, that every time something complicated in your piano playing comes with ease and without very active direct intervention, a mental model is ‘carrying you through’. As piano playing is a very complex and multi-layered chain of actions, it can be compared with different layers of mental models that are combined and connected in many different ways. Without mental models helping us do things we would never be able to be good at playing piano.

3) Theory of Communication

The theory of communication was first mentioned and formed by Roman Jakobson. It helps to clarify what does playing an instrument as an act of art consist of. It explains why communication is different than just plain information and helps to understand better how to perform pieces in a communicative (persuasive way). Autocommunication, which is also an intrinsic part of all performing arts was developed by Yuri Lotman.

In playing piano a circle of communication is present all the time. You send, receive, process messages and react to them at the same time. It is a flow of communication. You play, you listen to your own playing and you change your way of playing according to what you hear. At the same time the second line of communication, what can be seen as autocommunication, is taking place in your mind – you have a musical vision, an idea what you want to execute and it is changing with the current situation all the time.

4) Concept of Mental Play

The concept of mental play was first described by Walter Gieseking and Karl Leimer in Piano Technique. Later many musicians and teachers/methodologists have had their word about the concept. At the same time most of the great players have had a clear mental image of the music performed (such as Arthur Rubinstein, Heinrich Neuhaus, Dinu Lipatti, Wladyslaw Szpilman and many others).

Playing without instrument, playing in your mind while using imagery is also part of the courses. Mental playing might seem difficult but when you get more used to it I am sure you can manage with it and most students have found it is very helpful.

5) Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is a science that researches the art of interpretation. How to understand different texts and materials. It is very important to understand how one can learn a piece from the angle of interpretation. One of the founders and most influential figures of hermeneutics is Wilhelm Dilthey.

6) Semiotics

Semiotics is the science that studies signs. As all musical scores consist of signs it sheds light to understanding pieces thoroughly. But semiotics is relevant in all fields of life – we are all the time surrounded by different complex signs. All the signs together are called semiosphere. The main figures I refer to here are Charles Sanders Peirce and Yuri Lotman.

7) The Circle of Understanding

The circle of understanding is described by Hans Georg Gadamer, who was a German philosopher. It describes the way how we learn and acquire new information. It raises the effectiveness of all kind of learning processes. His philosophy also makes it easier to bring in the real practical change.

8) Methods of Teaching That Play a Role In the Formation of the Materials of This Site

a) The methodology of Heinrich Neuhaus (teacher of Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels and many other world famous pianists)
b) Suzuki method
c) Method by Seymour Fink
d) Chuan C. Chang – “Fundamentals of Piano Practice”
c) Alexanders Technique

This list here is just a fraction of what I have gone through. Here I have to point out that as I only want to incorporate what I consider as best, I have not taken everything from the methods also I do not agree with everything in these methods.

9) Pianists Whose Life, Playing Technique And Interpretations I Have Analyzed

Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Arcadi Volodos, Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, Murray Perahia, Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter, Ivo Pogorelich, Martha Argerich, Evgeny Kissin, Marc Andre Hamelin, Glen Gould, Ferrucio Busoni, Leopold Godowsky, Mikhail Pletnev and many others too.

10) Mnemonic Approach

Here I rely on the Book “Supermemory” by Harry Lorraine and the lectures by professor Peter M. Vishton PhD. These two incorporate already many concepts. In addition many articles that touch the subject have influenced my teaching. Using the memory and all its possibilities plays an important role in the whole piano learning process.

11) The Law of Causality And Determinism, Indeterminism

The concept of freedom, determinism and indeterminism I rely on the concept by Max Planck (one of the founders of quantum mechanics and Nobel prize winner). It helps to see deeper into our possibilities to change the situation and understand why and how we can choose or just follow the circumstances.


All the concepts I introduced here have influenced me. Their main ideas are integrated into the free one month piano course and the follow-up piano course. I wrote about them to make it easier for you to catch the atmosphere and overall nature of the courses and other materials.

Thank you for reading! If you have any thoughts or you want to discuss something about these fascinating concepts and their relation with piano and music, I will be very happy to do so. Comments and questions in the section below are very welcome too.

E-mail: jaak@playingpianoblog.com
Skype: jaak.sikk.jr

Read Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

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What Is Your Position In Your Brain? – Art of Practicing 3#

The video is the third video in series Art of Practicing.

One of the previous episodes concentrated on explaining how big is our conscious part on our brain and how big is the unconscious part. Despite the conscious part being extremely small, from the perspective of us, it is still very important.

The video tries to give you a postition that is most effective for playing the piano and being able to perform complicated actions with ease.