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.
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
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.
Ear training gives you the ability to conceptualise what you hear, nothing more. There are countless phone apps, YouTube videos, and social media hustlers, and books promising results in short order. Unless you are in possession of perfect pitch and deep prior experiences listening to music, this will take some time. I am 48 years in. I am still working on it.
Ear Training for Classical Musicians
If I can help you, call me.
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.
My thoughts this week.
Composer Igor Stravinsky said something to the effect of: we find inspiration through work, not the other way around.
Amateurs wait for inspiration to work; professionals get to work knowing inspiration will follow. Good advice when sitting in the practice room waiting for the muse to strike before beginning.
My decades old copy of Opus 821 by Czerny. Still on the piano.
When I want to work on my tone, I go here. When I want to work on the different physical moves required in piano performance I go here.
This work covers all the keys in very short 8 measure exercises. I'm able to work on finger independence, arm weight, rotation, octaves, staccato, legato, portato, drop, thrust, dynamics, balance, and tone.
Last weekend I attended the National Ballet of Canada's performance of "etudes". It is a 45 minute ballet of bar moves and set pieces to the etudes of Czerny. It was fun to recognize many of the pieces. It was instructive to hear the music interpreted by the dancers.
Click here for a free copy: https://imslp.org/wiki/160_kurze_Übungen,_Op.821_(Czerny,_Carl)
Many people want to play the piano. A few people must play the piano. The many are vague, the committed are focused.
A committed student says things like, “I want to pick up where I left off 30 years ago and finish my grade 8 piano, can you help me?” Or, “I want to play piano duets with my children, or grandchildren to support them in their piano studies? Or, “I want to play in a band”. Or, “I’m deeply in love with Beethoven’s op. 1. I played level 10 in my youth. Now, life has given me the time to get back to it. Please help me get back into shape”. “I love the romance of piano lounge jazz. Can you show me how to improvise like Diana Krall?”
The small actionable steps needed to proceed will vary by the student’s background, but the steps will revolve around the following:
Syllabi, such as the Royal Conservatory of music provide, break down the learning process in small actionable steps. Jazz pedagogy does the same. I’ve also created one for recreational players who come to my studio. I will create or direct you to the appropriate syllabi.
I look forward to working with you.
PS. Click on the picture below to learn more about adult learning. You will be directed the magazine's website. A valuable resourse.
Graham has a some effective ideas. As always, patience and application wins.
A quick coffee video on practicing from pianist magazine.
A former student came by today of a lesson after a one-year absence. He played some stride piano. He sounded so much better than I remember. So, I start asking some questions about what he has been up to in the practice room.
Expert musicians know what they are doing. With patience and methodical practice we can all realise our potential.
Skilled musicians have worked on and mastered, to various degrees, the following four quadrants of piano study.
Call now for the fall of 2018. Most days are now sold out.
Who has all the time in the world?
A sampling: Click above for the entire article:
The "A" Student - An Outstanding Student
Getting ready for a new year of practicing? Me too.
· The key to musical happiness is regular practice and having clear easily articulated goals. As business and time management Guru Brian Tracy says, “Clarity is the key”. To which I’d add: plan your life around your practice schedule.
· Write down your goals. Do they align with time available? Are the people you live with onside?
· Motivation problems can often be assuaged with a concert trip to hear a world class musician perform.
· Get the piano tuned.
· Try a good cardio workout to inspire, think clearer, and focus well.
· Have a written practice plan for each session.
Books I’ve found helpful in the last year
· “Time Power” by Brian Tracy, I read and reread this book at least twice a year. The ideas really work, if you implement them.
· “The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life” by Timothy Ferris, an inspiring book on adult learning, hilarious too.
· “International Piano” magazine, a monthly magazine from the UK on learning the piano.
Books I plan to read shortly
· “Practice Perfect” by Doug Lemov
· “Famous Pianists and Their Technique” by Reginald R. Gerig
All books available on-line from your favourite reseller.
The idea is to conect technique and drills with the music at hand.
1. Use a metronome.
2. Practice in small chunks.
3. Play your scales , chords and arpeggios in a focused musical fashion by varying the rhythm, dynamics, articulations and balance between the hands.
4. The greatest shortcut is "Bench time". In other words, more practicing.
5. Never ignore correct fingering.
6. Posture and hand position are important.
7. Be aware of your breathing.
8. Listening to music away from the piano. Try to identify the form, dynamics, articulations in professional performances. It really will help you to play more musically.
9. Record your practicing.
10. Enjoy the journey.
Most neglected and overlooked by students
4. Connecting theory with the music
5. Slow practice
Dave' top four activities in his drum practicing
1. Ear training
2. Slow practice
3. Bench time
The Royal Conservatory of Music published a summary of studies on the benefits of music study in childhood development.
"A WEALTH OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH over
the last decade is proving that music education
is a powerful tool for attaining children’s full
intellectual, social, and creative potential.
l It speeds the development of speech and
l It trains children to focus their attention
for sustained periods
l It helps children gain a sense of empathy
Music study requires a high degree of precision
in auditory processing: being almost in tune
is not good enough. This means that musically
trained children are better able to distinguish
subtle details of speech, leading to improved
reading, better comprehension, and also a
greater ability to interpret what other people
– children and adults – are really saying. "
Here is the link to the full text. I think it is worth the read.
Your Child’s Development:Music Study may be the Best Tool
"Without a sound you have nothing?" Glen Hall
What does this mean? Playing simply with good tone and beautiful phrasing is more important that playing fast, playing loud, or trying to play above your level.
Artistry is possible for beginners who understand this.
An ideal student knows exactly what they want and why they want it. They have set time and resources aside to accomplish it.
An ideal student has read and respects studio policies.
Happy Student + Happy Teacher = Success
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted student and teacher of the drums.