More on preprofessional training.

September 22, 2008 at 1:23 pm 1 comment

I thought that after that last blog it might be good to include some concrete examples of how a pianist might practice in such a way as to make sure he “cannot go wrong.”  Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to prevail upon one of my other performing colleagues in theatre or dance to address this in relation to their disciplines, but for now I have to stick to the piano because it’s what I know best.

First, we have to determine whether or not we’re talking about chamber music or solo repertoire.  Why?  Because of memory.  Solo music is played from memory.  Yes, there are a few great artists that put the music up, but the rest of us just don’t really have the option of walking out on the stage carrying the book.  Playing from memory catapults performance stress into the stratosphere.

So let’s start with chamber music.  No memory and you get to sit on the stage with people you like!  It’s all good.  You still have to be fast, slow, accurate, confident, poetic.  So.  You decipher the notes on the page, you determine which fingers play which notes, you play slowly and accurately, moving up the speed little by little until you can play accurately at the right speed.  You learn the piece.  Someone not planning on being a professional pianist or performing the piece publicly might stop there.  But I wouldn’t.  I would then take the piece apart again, practicing–not learning now, but practicing–in different ways.  For a long passage of fast notes I might want to make sure that I’m playing every single note confidently and accurately.  So I might practice a few times playing the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc note louder than the others.  Then I might go back and play the 2nd, 4th, 6th, etc notes louder.  Then I might want to make sure that my arm is putting my hand in the optimal place:  so I play the passage with minimal finger movement, relying on rotation (think twisting a door knob) to slap my fingers down, trusting that my arm will retain a subtle version of that motion when my fingers are reactivated.   Then I might switch it, using only my fingers, being sure to raise each one before it goes down—if a finger consistently doesn’t press a key down at the right time it’s a good bet that it’s already down!  So you have to practice lifting each one, ensuring that each finger is ready to make good on the adage “what goes up has to come down.”  Or more accurately in this case, “what needs to go down must first come up!”

I play the piece slower than I imagine it should go.  I practice it faster than it should go.  I play louder, developing a very distinct impression on my muscles for the location and order of every key. I turn the metronome on (almost always) to make sure that no inconsistencies of speed creep in.  I practice the first movement first and the first movement last.  I practice the last movement first and the last movement last.  I practice the last movement at the end of a long practice session so that I know I’ll be able to do it when I’m tired, as I will be when the last movement comes at its rightful place at the end of the piece.

Oh, and then there’s the problem of those other players!  You have to be together when you play chamber music.  In order to do that you have to know their part(s).  So, I practice playing my part while singing their parts.  No laughing please.  I practice playing my part while keeping my eyes focused on their parts.  I practice playing my part while looking away from the piano.
So this is a little glimpse into what one pianist does in order to feel confident that every performance is going to be good.  Did you ever wonder why piano players practice so much?  And we haven’t even talked about memory yet!  Another day.

Entry filed under: theories. Tags: , , , .

What is preprofessional? Eco Day!

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Angharad Parkes  |  September 25, 2008 at 12:25 am

    This is possibly the most helpful piece of prose from a professional musician that i’ve ever seen! You can get a long way through your education before realising all this!!!!!!


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