Clavier Companion - July/August 2017 - 15
together in this tricky passage? How much repetition does this need? Why can't I play this today
when I knew it perfectly yesterday? Why do I keep
making the same mistake here? Why am I starting
to play random wrong notes in a passage I've been
playing perfectly for the last two weeks? Why can
I play this piece well at only one tempo? How can
I play this more expressively without suddenly falling apart? Why does playing this piece feel like
running across a tightrope with no safety net?
Then there's the dreaded: Why does this get worse
the more I practice it??
And these questions are only from the partially
mindful practicers! What about those who don't even
know they're passing time inefficiently at the piano-
who don't know that they have to pay attention to
and manage their own processes while practicing?
There is indeed much ground to cover here.
In the following pages, I present some important
principles that apply to practicing repertoire
and more in a pianist's curriculum (but not
musical literacy areas such as sightplaying and
memorization). They are summaries worded in
the ways that I present to my teen-aged, college,
and adult students, although of course there are
modifications with younger students. I sometimes
call these principles "Practice Pearls" because they
contain truths that have withstood the test of time
in our field and are beautiful in their efficacy.
The ideas are sequenced roughly from most
general to more specific, and from the most basic
to less so. It's certainly not an exhaustive list, but it
contains essential ideas. Please feel free to share
these with your students.
Goals of practice
Successful practice does NOT help us do something
difficult-it transforms something that used to feel
difficult into being easy, or close to it.
Successful practice helps achieve expression, ease,
and accuracy in performance. However, during the
learning process these facets usually need to be
approached in the reverse order: accuracy, ease, and
expression. More advanced students tend to learn
these three aspects at the same time.
General practice strategies and
Continually assess your practice
Self-assessment is a vital part of effective practice.
Observe what needs the most practice and
tenaciously follow through with it.
Play with alert posture
Your posture should be relaxed, poised for action,
and balanced in three places: the bench, the floor,
and the keyboard.
Practice as often as possible
Numerous shorter practice sessions lead to more
secure learning than fewer sessions of longer duration.
Also, the sleep that occurs after a practice session
readies the learner for the one on the following day.
Therefore, try to practice as many consecutive days
as possible, taking some time off each week as well.
Practice days are like strikes in bowling-they're
worth more when they're next to each other!
Rotate activities of varying "weights"
To keep your attention and energy high within
each practice session, alternate between activities
that are challenging and others that are less so
(like the tempos in a Baroque suite). If a specific
He who half-performs when he should be
practicing is apt to find himself forced to halfpractice when he should be performing.
-Paraphrased from A.R. Parson's An Essay On
the Proper Utilization of Practice Time, 1886 (!)
"Surround every action with a circle of nonhurry."
-From Hetty Bolton's How To Practise, 1937.
"If you want a horse to run a mile-long race,
train him to run a mile and a half; then the mile
will be easy."
-Rachmaninoff quoted in Ruth Slenczynska's
Music At Your Fingertips, 1976.
-From certain students after Dr. Berr asks,
"Did you practice that this week?"
"I really should be practicing."
-From Gary Graffman's book of the same title.
"Go get a life."
-Said to multitudes of musicians over
many generations by their well-meaning and
generally more emotionally healthy nonmusician friends and family members.