Clavier Companion - July/August 2017 - 19
then down the same way. Don't link them until each
is easy and accurate.
Make ritardandos convincing before
Always do a ritard leading into a fermata even if
none is notated. Don't slow down and then coast-
slow down progressively until you come to a stop
(this becomes more nuanced as you get more
Practice days are like
strikes in bowling-
they're worth more
when they're next to
How long should you hold a fermata? As long as it
takes for the sense of the beat to become vague
and almost go away. To do this, stop feeling the
beat internally and experience how the previous
beats take time to "evaporate"-this varies with
mood, tempo, and dynamics.
First treat cut time as common time
A piece in cut time (2/2) doesn't need to be counted
any differently. Just count and learn it in 4/4. Then
when your tempo gets fast, just feel fewer beats
Use leggiero in fast soft passages
Fast soft passagework, even if marked legato,
should be played leggiero (lightly)-with active
fingers that aim only partway down the key-drop.
Leggiero touch cannot effectively be practiced
slowly. Leggiero passages should be practiced
legato when slow, then leggiero at a moderately
fast tempo. (Advanced players can practice it
slowly with "scratch staccato," but this technique
can be risky if overdone, and can lead to tendinitis).
Be mindful of breathing
Breathe with your wrists between slurred groups.
If the tempo is fast, the breaths will need to start
sooner and be smaller but they still need to be
there for ease and control.
"Empty" your hands between chords
When practicing consecutive chords, relax your
hands between chords-don't keep them fixated
(locked). This helps with ease and accuracy.
Be aware of when a fast tempo does not
permit touch-first when shifting
In more advanced music, faster tempos sometimes
don't allow enough time to "prepare" shifts. In that
case, still look at the target key first, then throw your
hand into position, playing upon arrival. If moving to
a chord, don't lock your hand into the finger position
ahead of time-instead gradually form it while
throwing-some people describe this as a "grabbing"
Use a small amount of each-hand-separate
practice again after a piece has been
As part of maintenance practice, each-hand-separate
practice in select spots can bolster control and
memory of what used to be the most challenging
spots, but it should be followed immediately by
hands-together practice again of the same passage.
Many of these principles appear to apply just to
early-level students. In fact, they become part of
the DNA of advanced pianists as well. Savvy players
know that when a complex skill is not being executed
well, it is usually due to something basic that is being
overlooked. Elementary-level students who are
taught how to practice effectively from the very first
lesson are truly blessed. They not only make progress
as quickly as their natural abilities allow (providing an
enjoyable journey), but they also acquire tools they
will use and reuse in creative ways as they advance
and tackle more sophisticated musical situations.
Fundamental principles of practice never lose their
luster-they remain the cornerstone of significant
growth at the piano for as long as one strives for
greater expression and fluency.
Bruce Berr is a full-time faculty
member of the Chicago College of
the Performing Arts of Roosevelt
University, as well as an independent
piano and pedagogy teacher in
Glenview, Illinois, where he works
with children as well as other piano
teachers. He is known nationally as a clinician,
educational composer, and author. His column on
personal observations, "ad lib," appears regularly on
the back page of American Music Teacher, and he
has been an associate editor of this magazine since
1997. His newest music publication is Eight Sound
Poems For the Late Intermediate Pianist, from Opus
Music. Explore his website at BruceBerr.com.
Photos of Jia Meng practicing at the Chicago College of
Performing Arts of Roosevelt University. Photos by Nathan
Mandell. Used with permission.