The Practice Tools Lecture Series
The Practice Tools
During the course of my career, I have found myself repeating what I consider a truism about piano practising. It is simply this:
The various practice tools we use for learning a piece in the first place need to be repeated very regularly in the early stages of learning, and are often the same tools we need to use on an ongoing basis for maintenance and upkeep. Slow practice is a good example of this.
There are some instances where in a lesson a word of instruction can cause the playing to change immediately, but there are plenty of other occasions when we need to go through a process to achieve a certain intended result – learning notes, finessing and polishing, and correcting sloppiness. This is rather like a course of medication, one pill will probably not make that much difference – it is the cumulative effect of the whole course that counts.
Another analogy is that of a gardener. If I am planning a new garden, I will first need to have a vision of how I want the garden to look when it is finished. Then I will need to prepare the soil, which will probably involve a bit of spade work and some hard graft. Now, the real gardener will tell you that all this is part and parcel of it, taking pleasure in all the stages from start to finish. There is a certain amount of patience needed to delay gratification and not to skimp on the first stages. If I don’t fertilise my soil, aerate it, add worms to it or whatever else gardeners must do, I can’t expect my plants and flowers to blossom, grow and withstand the frosts and hardships of winter. So when I outline a specific practising activity, I also underscore the importance of doing this type of work daily with full concentration, resisting the overwhelming temptation to finish off the practice session by playing the piece at full speed. This can immediately wipe out the benefits of the careful practising, in one fell swoop. Have other pieces to play through.
Having put my seedlings in the soil, I will need to feed and water them daily, and protect the ground from pests, trusting that if I do this patiently, they will have the best chance to sprout and grow. Once the garden is in full bloom, it will take regular weeding and pruning to keep it that way. So it is with our playing of a particular piece, no matter how long we have known it or how many times we have performed it.
In this series of video lectures, I describe and illustrate the various practice tools one by one. As with any tool, you have to know how and when to use it. You will be able to apply the tools to every piece you undertake, no matter what age, level or standard you have reached in your piano playing. If you use the tools correctly, you will be practising with consummate skill, efficiency and effectiveness, and will notice significant progress.
It is said that success breeds success; because your progress will be tangible, practising will become infinitely more satisfying and enjoyable!
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