So many piano students are seeking the "secret". The secret that sends them to the front of the line. That secret has a name. It is called "musicianship". Musicianship is made up of four principal areas of study: technique, theory, history, and aural skills. I've put forward four ideas or reasons to work in these areas.
1. Practice piano technique with a metronome. This will help you get your internal musical clock in order.
2. Master theory/rudiments/harmony that is appropriate to your level. You will learn how music is constructed. This is always a revelation for beginners.
3. Read music history. Knowing the breadth of repertoire and the historical context of your style of music allows you to play with more insight. Classical students study classical history, jazz students jazz history, etc.
4. And finally work on your ear training or aural skills. The ability to visualize the sound of music in your head is often overlooked by music students.
These four areas of study are unfortunately thought of, by some students, as the boring bits. But they are recognized by professional musicians as the exciting bits.
Below is a video of the Duke Ellington student staple, Satin doll. The video is cued for the B section or middle 8. Listen to the trombone "lick" played when the chord progression lands on F. Figure is out. It is in the key of F, starts on A. Now check out the video I've made on what to do with this lick. This is an example of aural skills in action.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.