Make Every Minute of Piano Practice Count
To make every minute of piano practice count takes tremendous organization and dedication. It is much easier for adults than children. It is very difficult for children to manage time. They have only a dim concept of it. Kids know when something is too long because it is boring, such as a long drive or a test in school.
Kids also sense when something is too short, when they are having fun and the fun seems to have stopped. This makes it difficult for children to manage practicing the piano, especially in an efficient manner. That is why kids have clever teachers and practice regimes, or lack of them. But adults are accustomed to managing time, and as such are perfect candidates for efficient but fun piano practice.
First determine how you will practice this piece today. There are only two answers. You can play the whole piece, or large portions of it, for “continuity.” Or you can practice specific, short sections in an effort to develop your muscles for that passage and expand your musical control. Let’s assume the choice is #2, you are practicing short sections.
Play The Hard Parts
Work only on sections. I prefer to practice only the most difficult passages of the pieces I want to play. It’s a waste of time to play the easy parts. Concentrate on the “train wrecks” until they are as fluid as the easy parts. Your job is to get in as many repetitions as possible. But the repetition must be with an awareness of what is both going wrong and right. A great piano teacher, Denise Lassimone once said, “Play passionately, but practice dispassionately.”
Don’t Judge Just Observe
Making the same mistake over and over may have several causes. Use the repetition to make observations that will all add up to a physical “trick,” the essential finger and hand movement of that passage. Every trick is different. I welcome them as musical and physical puzzles, and strive to solve them. Some passages have taken years just to find the problem. Others take years to then physically solve.
Assume it will take 50 to 100 times longer than you expected to be able to play a difficult passage. Thus, if you think a year should be sufficient to learn a monstrous octave passage, be realistic and count on 50 years. As Rudolf Serkin once said, “Go practice, and then, when you are tired of it, go practice some more.”
Unless you’re Horowitz and have learned the entire piano literature by the age of 20, carefully decide the pieces that you really want to play. Be realistic about your choices. For example, unless you have a spare Philharmonic in your pocket, you will have to forego the concerto literature.
It is fun, however, to play the meaty piano solos, as solos, in these same concertos, as long as you can make the excerpt into a logical portion with, hopefully, a beginning, middle and an end.
Balance Variety And Persistence
Alternate between variety and persistence. Persist in playing those pieces you are obsessed with, but often vary the diet with a dose of something else. Find a balance between work and play. Unless you are scheduled to play a certain piece next month in front of cameras and 2000 people, make your travels through the literature leisurely. Feel free to learn difficult passages by making simplified accompaniments.
For example, if the right hand is particularly difficult, play the right hand part slowly and reduce the left hand to perhaps a chord or an octave, or perhaps a few bits of the actual part. The point is to leave the difficulty to one hand until the other hand has a chance to “learn its part.” Later, you can insert the detail in either hand more easily when the “trick” of the difficulty has been isolated and learned.
Three Major Tools
The three major tools of the pianist are, and have always been:
- Practice with hands separate
- Play extremely slowly
- Practice in sections
Every repetition is valuable, no matter how little attention you are paying.