I had a date for the exam, a few months out. Whoa! Piano thoughts dominated my waking hours for the next 90 days.
First thing I learned? Thinking about piano is a form of practice. In my mind I saw myself performing the music. My mind sought solutions to tricky parts I saw coming. I was excited.
Second thing I learned? A firm date quickly eliminated procrastination.
Third thing? This was really exciting. As Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers said, "pressure is a privilege". This was real, this was difficult, but this was doable with focused effort and lots of practice.
Fourth thing? I started to listen in earnest to both professional recordings of my program and myself. Record, play, listen became my method.
I'd learned how to practice.
Students often believe that I must have started early in life with lots of natural talent. Let me clear this up.
I am proof practice works.
I made it into Berklee with 4 years of piano under my belt, but it included 2 years of professional gigging in rock and country bands in the North Bay region. A lot of gigs. Plus, my basement jazz band. That made the difference I figure. But who knows, recordings do not exist.
I got through Berklee as a composition major. I thought about being a performance major, but that required serious practice. Something I was not interested in. But I continued playing gigs during those years. A lot of gigs. Some exciting gigs. I was a busy journeyman. I could sight-read just about anything. I showed up on time ready to play. I was pleasant to be around. Where did that put me in the Berklee pecking order? Turns out near the top. I made it one year to the number 2 band.
So, when did I learn to practice?
Signed up for my Grade 10 exam. My very first piano exam ever. I couldn't fake it. I had to play it. I put a couple of thousand hours of focused practice in. I read every book I could find on how to practice. How many books? Chapters bookstore sent me Christmas present. That is how many.
A learning plan is a document (possibly an interactive or on-line document) that is used to plan learning, usually over an extended period of time. Any entity can have a learning plan. They are often used by individuals to plan and manage their own learning, but they can also be used by teams, communities of practice or organizations.
Learning Plan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
What might you learning plan look like? Clarity and specificity are important.
Goal: Sit for my Grade 4 exam in June 2021
Goal: Be able to jam in a community group in one year.
Meeting in person students you've only met online is always a thrill.
Today I had coffee with a student from Northern BC who was passing through town. We recognized each other immediately, even in masks.
We chatted about his hometown and the music making possibilities therein. For a town of 6 thousand there was a myriad of opportunities:
Four out of five of those present music making possibilities. For many students piano is a solitary activity enjoyed with a cup of tea or class of wine. Others? It's a party. More the merrier. I help students achieve both ambitions.
How much effort will it take?
What result are you looking for?
Extraordinary results take extraordinary effort.
Levels 1-3 plan on 30-45 minutes a day, more near exam time.
Levels 4-6 45 minutes plus
Levels 7-8 60 minutes
Levels 9 -10 90 minutes plus It's like preparing for the Boston Marathon.
This is on the piano bench. Add more time for theory and guided listening.
How big is your or your child's desire?
Realistically it should be high. A healthy mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is needed.
What piano skills are you bringing to the project?
Please let me assess your skills before you make decisions. Sometimes transfer students, new to my studio, ask me to help them prepare for exams way above their current skill level. I may recommend some preparation to preserve your enthusiasm and my sanity.
Have you done this before?
Then you know what is in store. If this is a new adventure, let's talk.
Here is my personal experience.
I completed levels 10 and then the ARCT from age 43 through 47. It was by far the most exciting thing I've ever done at the piano.
Remember, I had 25 years of professional experience behind me in commercial and jazz performance. I didn't play classical music or take exams as a child; I went straight to the band stand as a teenager. Classical piano was new to me as a formal study, though I had a love of the music, went to concerts etc.
It was also the most time-consuming activity of my adult life. About 5000 hours over a four-year stretch. The results earned me national, provincial, and local scholarships. That was a surprise. Completing Berklee College of Music as a young man was easier in comparison. I had no idea an ARCT took so much.
Would I do it again?
In a heartbeat. Do I recommend the experience? Yes, it truly is a peak experience. I felt like superman for years afterwards.
Are your practice skills Up-to-date for 2020?
We do not grind anymore. Ask me, I help you get organised for success.
1. Try to finish level 6 theory, it will really help us to communicate as musicians and build your understanding of the music you play.
2. Summer is a good time to explore music history. A good introduction for classical piano students is found on Audible.ca https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/the-23-greatest-solo-piano-works.html check www.audible.com I found it there for a really fair price.
3. YouTube score watching; paying attention to one element at a time: articulations , dynamics, tempo
4. General piano skills
Have Fun, see you in September.
I've made mine. There are below.
Time for yours. Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Have fun, lower the intensity. Except if you are a professional or preparing for post secondary music education. Time to ramp it up!
2. Now back to recreational players. Normally I would recommend some concert attendance, but alas, this is not currently possible. Maybe attend some online live events. The Village Vanguard in NYC is presenting some of New York's finest.
3. If you can visit a music store with a large print section and ask the clerk for some recommendations on what is new and exciting for players at your level.
4. Revisit and reflect on your goals for the fall.
My plans. As I'm a professional, I'm ramping up the intensity until Labour Day in September.
90-day summer music plan 2020
Before Covid 19 1/3 of my students were already online. Now it is everyone. How are folks dealing with it? Generally fine. One young man, 4 years old, had to take a breather. But another 4-year-old is thriving. Kids are still learning, maybe even better because of the extra practice time available. Several parents have taken up the piano again to assist their kids during lessons.
Parental involvement has been a revelation. What fun they are having! Duets are ringing out, lots of laughter and perspiration.
Older adults have really taken to the whole project. Many of them are not going back schlepping through the snow to the studio, they are staying online. Safe and sound in warm and familiar surroundings.
How is the teacher doing? I miss the travel and environmental novelty of travelling. When social distancing passes, I will enjoy the personal interaction I had before. But, I'm pleased as punch that we are all settling into the new normal.
Call me now for the fall. Spots are filling up.
Listening to an unfamiliar piece of music can be pleasurable, baffling or even annoying. Here are some steps to consider making it a deeper experience.
Depends on your goals.
If you would like to plunk out a few melodies, with minimal left-hand accompaniment, it is not too difficult. I would say a few months to a year you will be on your way. Factors that are important to consider though.
If you would like to play Classical piano at say grade 8, or early advanced level. Give it a decade from a standing start. In addition to the points above I would add the following: learn to love every aspect of the game. Do not skip a step: technique, repertoire, ear training, theory, history, etudes, etc. There are no hacks or shortcuts.
If you would like to play Jazz piano in a band, assuming you have already reached level 8 in abilities, give it a couple of years. All the points above are valid with the addition of a few other steps.
If I can help, please call.
How many hobbies can one-person juggle?
Depends. I juggle one. I had two, but Covid19 put an end to that.
I’ve students who try to juggle 3 or more while holding down jobs, spouses, children, and life. They often looked stressed. How do my less stressed students do it? Here are some tactics they follow:
Do you remember why you were attracted to piano in the first place? Put up a post it note on the piano to keep it front of mind.
If I can help you, please call and reserve a future spot. I am now taking reservations of summer 2020 and fall 2020.
"Have a plan, work the plan" Sage advice
A plan is great if you can find your materials when it's time to practice. A plan is great if you can have some quiet alone time to focus and have fun.
Here are ten tips on one aspect of success: an organized workspace.
Have a productive session.
A wise teacher said, “we are who we listen to”. Another slightly more jaded teacher asserted that all students want to play want they hear in their heads. And unfortunately, they already do. Ouch
Building your repertoire of sound possibilities come from repeated listening to the same tracks over an extended period. How much time? Until you find yourself humming along.
PS: as you can see the screen shot above shows a combination of younger and legacy players.
Before the current crisis about 1/3 of my student body had their lessons online. Now it is everyone.
I've lost 3 students. Two lost their jobs, one didn't like online lessons. We all look forward to resuming once the virus moves on and they get back to work. Five new students have been added in the same timeframe.
I now meet my music coaches online now as well. Today with my "classical coach', last week with my "jazz coach". Every week with my drum coach.
I believe a number of students will remain online after the crisis lifts and the others will resume as they were.
If I can help you,
An Ideal Practice Session
How does the teacher practice?
Good question. So, here goes.
I do the following things on a regular basis:
How do I practice in my studio?
If I can help you, feel free to call me.
Parents are dusting off their rusty piano skills and now playing daily with their kids. What a opportunity the lockdown has given them.
Some of them are one finger players, so they play whole notes with one finger.
Some of them were accomplished musicians, their playing reflects their growing confidence as skills return.
Most are somewhere in between.
This situation will be over soon enough, the opportunity will be gone. I say take it, it will bring added joy to your life and fond memories.
Here is a video of a parent getting ready to accompany their child at the upcoming Zoom piano recital.
Piano at the bench
What to practice and why
Finally, be patient, enjoy the process.
If I can help, call me.
Practicing in the times of the Covid-19 outbreak is going to be a challenge for some.
Some lucky people will use the extra time to jump right in. For this group I suggest ramping up practice amount slowly to avoid injury. The book, “The Musician’s Way” suggests increasing practice time 10% per week to avoid problems. Warming up before hand with a short cardio and stretching routine will also be beneficial.
For those too stressed to practice and/or focus try these tips:
“How good do you want to be?” Start with this question followed with: “how should I spend my time?”
Success will depend on the depth and breathe of your practice. My most successful students have made peace with time and possibility. Yes, time counts, but patience and realistic expectations count for more.
Learning has piano follows a well trodden path. You just must follow it to succeed. There is no secret. Just time and hard work. We must be realistic with the fact that course correction will be needed regularly. Life is messy.
Call me, I can help.
I've got happy students who practice more than an hour a day, others who practice an hour a week. Because their time matches their realistic expectations, they are happy. Could they all practice more? Of course. I could too.
In short progress, you can learn, it will be slow and steady. Learning to play is a journey. I’m 45 years in, you’ve just started. Welcome.
Tips to keep the journey moving along
My thoughts this week.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted student and teacher of the drums.