Practising is a highly sensitive topic. In my experience as a teacher and a performer – there are thousands of ways to do something on our instrument. Finding those shortcuts that make everything efficient and better, with true clarity that can later turn into a method – proves to be a challenge.
Let’s first examine a little bit what practising is. When we say “I have to practise “ – we already automated the action, I have to be by the piano (or any other instrument) and do some work.
I find that some essential understanding of what work needs to be done is often lacking. Rather than give a set of advice here, I will make a few proposals and pose a question or two – in hope someone will find it helpful.
1. Identifying The Problem
Often when teaching children, I find that a problem identification is missing as a concept in their practise approach. Many students simply don’t think of identifying a problem and fixing it. This is understandable because the foreign concepts we never encountered can’t appear magically in our existence – unless we have guidance of an experienced teacher.
If a teacher draws our attention to a specific problem several times, a pattern emerges, and an attentive student will eventually be able to apply the problem/solution, or cause/consequence logic.
It is very rare to see a student – so exploratory oriented, inquisitive and search prone in practise, many students simply wait for solutions. Hence, this idea of “I have to practise” as a repetition task is what makes practise sessions unnecessary heavy and slightly boring before we even sit with our instrument.
The concept of searching is potentially the most essential concept in practising an instrument. Many artists spent a lifetime in search of their “sound“. Many composers searched for their structures and ideas. Every artist is actively searching for ways, ideas, concepts… Eventually what search is, is just a journey to one’s satisfaction, temporary or not, paved with correction and another attempt.. a little bit like practising. I believe that search is a quality related to one’s curiosity. It is indeed easier to repeat something, but to truly search is part of an active listening qualities.
Listening is in my opinion the biggest problem in practising and I found myself, majority of my colleagues and students, guilty of not truly listening. It is a hard pill to swallow and even though I feel myself being deep inside my professional experience I still have to actively remind myself to listen more, listen better and somehow follow objectively what I am playing. It is not the easiest, since the occupation with physical aspects can truly overwhelm us.
But that should be used exclusively as a pointer – a big (red alarm type of big) reminder that we are trying to SOUND good. This is why, if we stop active listening even for 5 minutes in our practise, we have ended up practising something we are not conscious of. Automating our hands is not necessarily a bad idea per se, since piano (any instrument) playing is incredibly technically demanding. However, the habit of focusing on the physical can often lead towards the removal of connection to ears, emotions etc and it has to be an aware and conscious choice.
4. Benefits And Dangers Of Repeating
Goes without saying that in order to perfect a motion, we need to repeat it many times. If we take for instance the basic technique types in piano playing – jumps, thrills, broken octaves, arpeggios, scales etc – repetition is the only way to tackle any of these technical (they will become inseparable to musical later on) problems. With repetition we gain finger independence, muscle strength, stamina, we learn what is needed, but that’s only if we know what we are repeating. If we don’t know, a significant amount of time is lost, as well as interest, sharpness in listening & danger of injury is much more probable. Awareness of everything yet again comes as focal point of practising.
More thoughts and ideas in part 2!
Until then – happy practising!