I found it very helpful over the holidays to practice with a video camera recording my progress. I played for 5 minutes, and watched 5 minutes. The camera was positioned so that the keyboard of the xylophone was visible. I was able to see and hear what was working and what was not and adjust accordingly on the next round of playing.
If I can help you, call me.
The above is the final take in ten takes over 20 minutes.
Jamey Aebersold gave a great demonstration, which was so revealing to me as a jazz teacher.
He assembled the students in the auditorium at University of Louisville. He would pluck one “lucky contestant” from the crowd to join him on stage. Jamey would then hand the musician a microphone and instruct them to sing/scat/hauler a jazz solo along with the chords he would randomly play on the piano.
Everyone could scat, some very well, others so so. But the consensus was that the “singers” could scat better than they could play. Hmmm. So, the problem isn’t in the head, it’s in the hands.
Conclusion 1: Jamey was encouraging everyone to improve their general musicianship skills on and off the instrument.
Conclusion 2: If you are a pianist or guitarist, sing and play at the same time.
Jamey's second reveal.
One morning he asks the musicians, “How many of you can play 50 jazz standards from memory?” I enthusiastically raise my hand. Looking around the room of 250+ there were very few hands joining me.
How many can play 25?
Overwhelming the answer was zero.
Conclusion #3 It’s hard to play freely when your head is in a book.
Conclusion #4 These musicians didn’t trust themselves to play without a book/sheet/app in front of them. He was happy to sell them another book.
I hope this helps you begin to think through what may be holding you back.
I. Dust off your instrument.
2. Watch some YouTube concerts featuring pianists playing the music you love.
3. Find your metronome.
4. Read some inspiration material about folks like yourself who have succeeded.
5. Start noodling on the piano. Review some old favorites. Explore some new music. Dream.
6. Plan practice time in your schedule to succeed.
The happiest students know what they want, why they want it. They've made time for it, and stuck with it. Come join us.
At some point you will have to practice fast to play fast. Will it be pretty? No. But, it will get better.
Try this. After mastering the piece at a slow tempo, isolate a single phrase or section and start speeding it up. Phase between repetitions to catch your breath and repeat.
The faster I played the D major scale, the lighter my touch became. Tension is the enemy of speed.
As Jamey Aebersold pleaded one day to his campers. "Don't practice everything slow!"
Planning an interpretation
I can help you understand the plan my student and I created prior to "practicing" the piece.
So many students are seeking the "secret", the secret that sends them to the front of the line.
Alas, there is more than one secret. And they are all hiding in plain sight.
Here are a few of the secrets:
1. Practice technique with a metronome.
2. Master theory appropriate to your level, including harmony.
3. Read music history, knowing the repertoire and the historical context from whence it comes.
4. And most importantly, ear training. Connecting the ear with the hands.
Known by some students as the boring bits. Recognized by professionals as the exciting bits.
Below is a video of the Duke Ellington student staple, Satin doll. The video is cued for the B section or middle 8. Listen to the trombone "lick" played when the chord progression lands on F. Figure is out. It is in the key of F, starts on A. Now check out the video I've made on what to do with this lick.
If I can help, call me.
This late elementary piece has been a hit since the day it was written. Lively and energetic it is a thrilling piece for students to master. But there are those annoying last 4 measures which have devilled generations of aspirants.
The student needs to have the following in place:
“Until it’s comfortable” Benny Greb
Practice tip #1
How many times do I need to repeat a passage?
“Until it’s comfortable” Benny Greb, expert practicer
Most students practice until they get it. Professionals practice until it’s comfortable. I buy that.
Practice tip #2
Why is proper fingering so important?
“Under pressure, a performance, one does not want to train the brain with ineffective or multiple choices of fingering in difficult passages. Under stress the brain will have to decide. It might pick the poor fingering pattern and BOOM! a mistake happens.”
So, when learning, take extra care to follow the fingering in the early stages of learning. Don’t give yourself an unnecessary handicap of poor fingering options.
Bach - The Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by Arthur Grumiaux
1. Phrasing: Notice how the performer tapers each 2 note slur
2. Chords: Notice how the performer "strums" the chord from the bottom to top note
3. Dynamics: When the music goes up in pitch so does the intensity and vice versa. This is a very common effect in classical music performance.
4. Dynamics part 2: Phrases which rise start softer and crescendo.
1. Broken chords that ascend on a 7th chord and resolve in the opposite direction. Measure 4, beat 3
2. Enclosures in measure 2, beat 1 around the note C. Measure 5, beat 3.
3. The use of chromatic approach notes to chord tones in a broken chord in measure 3. Mozart likes these types of figures as well. See Fantasia in D minor measure 10.
Bach - The Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by Arthur Grumiaux
An intermediate player can play some tunes with a band or play along track. They usually have to read the music though from a fake book due to a lack of confidence. They are keen to move it up a notch. They feel overwhelmed with the amount of possibilities in a practice session.
Below are some ideas on how to spend your time. Yes, it is a lot, but over the course of a week and little bit of each can be worked on. Over time your experience will accumulate.
6. Repertoire work, your new pieces
7. Theory work
8. Singing intervals
9. Jamming with tracks, apps, or original recordings.
10. Repeat step one.
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.
The ability to discriminate these individual elements will help you play more expressively.
Here is an exercise:
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 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 realize 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.
One hour a day. What can be accomplished? With a good plan, lots.
1. Warm up
3. Sight reading
4. Repertoire development
5. Reviewing completed material
Warm up: Best advice I ever got? Go for a brisk walk before practice. Work up a sweat. Then your brain will be ready to work.
Technique: Slowly with a lovely tone, play some scales, chords, and arpeggios. What ever the teacher assigned. Play with joy.
Sight reading: Good sight readers just play the piano, like you can read a book. A skill that can be learned with practice.
Repertoire development: Attack those pesky bits in your new pieces.
Away from the piano? Listen to the music you want to play. Go to concerts, be inspired.
A slightly tongue in cheek post today.
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
My top four activities in practicing
1. Ear training
2. Slow practice
3. Bench time
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 student and teacher of the drums.