I'm 15 or so, I've been playing a year or two. I "practice" in quotes all the time. She is cute, she sings, she needs an accompanist for the church strawberry social. I step up. I'm waaaaaay over my head. But keen to impress.
We practice, I survive. But I am about to learn the difference between the practice room and the stage. In hindsight I imagine it is like the difference between basic training and real combat.
It's a beautiful day, they haul a small piano outside on the grass. The back of the piano faces the singer and the audience. We step up. I am soooo nervous, so underprepared that my right leg starts to bounce uncontrollably, audibly, banging the underside of the piano. People are looking around for the source of the noise. I'm deadpan behind the piano.
It mercifully ends.
1. "Superbia et ante ruinam" Pride goes before the fall. But the show must go on.
2. Never underestimate the power of shameless audacity in a show biz career.
3. It's harder than it looks. The magic of the performing arts is the illusion it is easy.
If I can help you, let's chat.
I had a date for the Grade 10 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 in the music. 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. I nailed it and won a scholarship for the highest mark in my district.
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.
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.
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
If I can help you, please call and reserve a future spot. I am now taking reservations of summer 2020 and fall 2020.
“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.
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.
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.
A quick coffee video on practicing from pianist magazine.
The end of the year is fast approaching. Time to take stock of the goals we set in September. And, maybe reset. Or, add some new ones.
Here is one I'm making.
1. Attend more live concerts of pianists. The Jeremy Denk recital was quickly followed by the Richard Goode outing. Both were inspiring and instructive. Sometimes in the rush of everyday I forget to go out and be inspired.
Here is a write up on Denk: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/pianist-writer-jeremy-denk-adds-personality-to-his-work/article21505629/
I highly recommend his blog.
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.
Practice makes perfect is we practice perfectly. But, perfect practice is a tricky business. The following article from Vic Firth outlines very effective practice tactics for drummers. I've added jazz piano addendums in brackets.
In a nutshell:
a) Warm Ups (some sight reading)
b) Rudiments – learning and application of (jazz chords, modes)
c) Groove & Fills (working on your jazz licks through transcription)
d) Learning a song (using a combination of lead sheet and recordings)
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
Setting realistic goals for music study? Great idea. Not thought about it? Why not? One of the best reasons is that it gives you a track to run on. One of the best warnings on goal setting? "You can't ride more than one horse at a time"
Here are a few additional thoughts.
Here is a personal example. I study jazz drumming. I'm planning on attending a jazz camp for adults next summer. When I arrive there I will have to audition for placement. I want to place as high as possible. :-)
Goal: Recreational player
Strategy: Two hours of playing and practice a week
Tactics: Ditch the TV and web surfing by 2 hours. Tell your kids to go outside and play. Give a list of pieces to your teacher you would like to learn.
It depends on how good you want to be is the short answer. A thoughtful answer takes a little longer.
Realistic Goals: Are your goals in tune with the rest of your life? What would you give up to reach them? Piano takes time, lots of it. For example to complete my ARCT in 2007, I started Grade 10 in 2003. Five thousand hours later I graduated! (This 5,000 hours included my theory studies as well as my piano lessons.) I gave up the music business to do this.
If you goals are more modest, aim for 2 hours a week of practice to start. Without practice, piano is no fun! The caveat is this. If you are a recreational piano student with the goals of learning some tunes and having some fun, skipping practice is no big deal. We can do it together at lessons, I will supervise.
Whatever the depth of your ambition, I suggest strongly that you schedule piano practice into your schedule.
On the subject of practice, another blog post for that.
A tale of two adult students
I won't make any, but I will review why I signed up for drum and guitar lessons in the first place.
Success, I've been told, is a result of our habits, our habits are the consequence of our actions. Actions come from our values. Values are bred into us. So, resolutions in conflict with our values are doomed. But, habits born of awareness of our values have a chance.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.