Clavier Companion - July/August 2017 - 17
Do lots of successful repetitions of small chunks to
deepen mastery. However, vary something (such as
tempo or dynamics-but not fingering) after two or three
repetitions to keep your attention sharp and your skill
In backward practice, it's common to make a
few mistakes the first time you expand a chunk
(apparently, the brain has to re-organize the
learning). Accept it, re-practice it several times, and
mastery will result.
Practice new passages at mezzo-forte
Be mindful of the kind of progress to
expect before practicing
Wimpy tone yields wimpy learning! Practice new
pieces with a comfortably loud sound (mf) before
putting in actual dynamics of the piece. The decisive
motions and sound of mf help your body retain the
feel of the passages and thus builds stronger rhythm,
as well as self-confidence.
Don't look at your hands while playing in a
Instead, learn by feel and you'll progress faster and
more securely. It will also help your note-reading since
you won't lose your place on the page.
Pre-count before playing anything in
Before playing any passage in rhythm, first internally
feel a measure or two of beats before starting-better
yet, count it out loud (pre-counting). With more
advanced players, just a few beats will suffice.
Use backward practice at a slower tempo to
expand mastered chunks
When confronted with a difficult passage, it's usually
best to learn the last chunk in the passage first, then
expand the size of that chunk by starting earlier by a
measure or two ("backward practice").
When going from small-chunk to larger-chunk
practice, slow down the tempo slightly so that the
ease of the passage remains the same.
Favorite terms about
Pianimal: A creature who dwells in a college
practice room for over eight hours a day,
surfacing occasionally for food and water, also
possibly sleep. GPA is usually about 1.8 despite
straight A's in piano.
Pianomole: A sub-species of pianimal that
practices in a basement.
Impulse practice: Deciding to learn a Brahms
Vacation: A trip to the bathroom.
The goal of some types of practice is quick
mastery-such as notes and other basics. The goal
for other aspects is long-term improvement-
balance, voicing, artistry in agogics, and so on. Set
your expectations accordingly.
Practice techniques to learn and
solidify specific skills
Make rests physical
A good way to be accurate and expressive with rests is
to say or do something when you "play" the rest: sniff,
or say "rest!", or grunt. The more physical you make
rests, the better. As you get more advanced, the music
will inspire you to discover more subtle ways to do this.
Be mindful of the component skills in
The easiest way to master shifts in a new piece is to
silently practice touching all the various hand positions
("blocking the moves").
When practicing large shifts, look at the target key
a few beats before you need to shift-this fosters
immediate and recurring accuracy.
When playing after a shift, be sure your hand is already
in position and is relaxed on the keys ("touch-first"). If
you try to play without such preparation-just as you
arrive at the key (as a more advanced player does in
some passages)-you won't be reliably accurate.
Use legato-for-staccato practice to solidify
If a piece is mainly staccato, learn it first all legato-this
will help your hands retain the feel of the intervals more
securely. It's also helpful to return to this technique
close to a performance as part of maintenance
practice, even with advanced players.
Be mindful about physically how you play
When doing slow staccato, allow your hand to rest on
the keys between notes; when doing fast staccatos, it's
easier to bounce between notes. This becomes less
ironclad as you get more advanced.
Use pausing or freezing practice to master
When trying to play legato in one hand, staccato
in the other (mixed articulation), you may need to