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Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? #1863226
03/16/12 04:29 PM
03/16/12 04:29 PM
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Elizabeth_Bennet Offline OP
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I’ve gathered a collection of useful practicing tips from lessons, master classes, and workshops. These are a few of the practice ideas I use on a regular basis:

1) Octave displacement: Practicing passages that are in the outer extremities of the piano in a more comfortable octave, and then moving them back to their original location. This was helpful when I was trying to master the final tremolo in the Prelude from Le Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel.

2) Random measure practice: Looking at the number of bars in the piece, and selecting a random number between 1 and that number, and practicing it. Being familiar with starting at almost anywhere in the piece speeds up and solidifies the memorization process.

3) Two-note slurs: I’ve found that in my zeal to emphasize the first note of a two-note slur, I often play a wimpy second note that doesn’t sound fully. To remedy this, I have found it is useful to pick a specific volume for the second note, practice it without the first note, and then play it is written.

4) Identifying what makes a section challenging and isolating the problematic spots: instead of trying to play through the entire passage in one fell swoop, it is better to pick two or three notes that are challenging, practice them slowly, and then put the passage back together.

5) Tapping the RH notes on the palm of the LH hand, or vice versa. This is helpful for discovering places where I’m using too much arm weight and pressing into the keys. Tapping out passages on wood surfaces is also a good idea – wood is a wonderful resonator. My teacher and I often do this and compare how her “taps” sound different than mine.

6) Slow practice.

7) Practicing without the pedal in pieces that require a perfect legato is a good way to check if the notes are smoothly connected.

8) Using a recording device and listening critically to one’s playing.

What are your most valuable practicing methods? Which ones have been most revolutionary in improving your playing?


Lizzy
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Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863279
03/16/12 05:35 PM
03/16/12 05:35 PM
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jnod Offline
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My latest thing is to focus on the left hand for long periods of time - my goal is to memorize the left hand independently of the right. Weirdly I find that I can memorize pieces hands together but that when I try to play HS from memory I can't do it. Right is easier than left but it often needs work to. Obviously the goal is to play HT but this is making a difference for me.


Justin
-------
Bach English Suite #5
Scarlatti Sonata K141 . L422
Mozart Sonata K333
Schubert Impromptu opus 90 D899
Schubert Moment Musicaux opus 94 D780
Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863339
03/16/12 07:49 PM
03/16/12 07:49 PM
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Brendan Offline
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1. Slowly with the metronome.

That's all you really need when learning a piece, IMO.

Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863369
03/16/12 08:25 PM
03/16/12 08:25 PM
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Some things I've been doing a lot of latley:

1. Playing with a metronome.
2. Practicing staccato passages legato.
3. Concentrating on left hand trill technique
3. Video taping myself playing
4. Sight-reading, hands together
5. Reading as much as I can about a composer and the composition before playing it.
6. Listening to recordings and youtube videos of pieces I'm working on.


"Play Bach constantly. That will be your best means of progress." -F.Chopin
Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863406
03/16/12 09:21 PM
03/16/12 09:21 PM
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1. Memorizing the left hand alone.
2. Changing the rhythm of difficult passages from what is written to different rhythmic patterns. Similarly, changing the placement of the beat and off-beat.
3. Starting at random places in the piece - from memory.
4. Memorizing chord progressions or phrase-starting notes away from the piano.
5. Checking Youtube to verify that I am reading the piece correctly - note-wise and rhythm-wise. Then staying away from Youtube until I've developed an interpretation.
6. Learning from Urtext, then, well into the process of learning, comparing my interpretation to a heavily edited version. I usually stick with my ideas, but it is an interesting exercise.
7. Asking my teacher where the difficult places are and learning those first, very, very slowly.
8. Learning the piece from the beginning and from the end and working towards the middle.
9. Practicing with no pedals.
10. Practicing in my head, sans piano.
11. LISTENING.


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863575
03/17/12 09:56 AM
03/17/12 09:56 AM
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Curious: when you (that's anyone who does this) say 'slow practice' how slow do you mean?


Justin
-------
Bach English Suite #5
Scarlatti Sonata K141 . L422
Mozart Sonata K333
Schubert Impromptu opus 90 D899
Schubert Moment Musicaux opus 94 D780
Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Brendan] #1863580
03/17/12 10:07 AM
03/17/12 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Brendan
1. Slowly with the metronome.

That's all you really need when learning a piece, IMO.
Can you expand a little on your reasons for using the metronome?

Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863613
03/17/12 11:12 AM
03/17/12 11:12 AM
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ps1 Offline
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Beyond a very basic level.. i.e. tempo checks, working out difficult rhythmic sections, etc., using the metronome is a very bad habit.

Music is not a mechanical enterprise, and constant use of the metronome habituates non-musical, mechanical, dulla playing.

The feeling in music is reflected in slowing, accelerating, phrasing, and dynamics, most of which the metronomic robotic practicer kills.

It is the lazy pianist that constantly uses the metronome, because he doesn't have to think and develop his own sense of various tempi in the piece, which... along with dynamics and touch, are what the music is about.

Develop your own internal sense of meter. Practice, for instance, scales very musically at 4 notes at 60 beats per minute, and then stop after counting to 60, and see how close you got to one minute elapsed time.

This is MUCH more valuable than slavishly following a metronome!

Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: jnod] #1863634
03/17/12 12:06 PM
03/17/12 12:06 PM
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tomasino Offline
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Originally Posted by jnod
Curious: when you (that's anyone who does this) say 'slow practice' how slow do you mean?


Slowly enough to clearly hear where the consonance and dissonance may be inappropriately overlapping--or maybe appropriately overlapping. I can then work on the pedaling and/or fingering of whatever I discover.

Tomasino


"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10

Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: tomasino] #1863651
03/17/12 12:45 PM
03/17/12 12:45 PM
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gooddog Offline
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Originally Posted by tomasino
Originally Posted by jnod
Curious: when you (that's anyone who does this) say 'slow practice' how slow do you mean?


Slowly enough to clearly hear where the consonance and dissonance may be inappropriately overlapping--or maybe appropriately overlapping. I can then work on the pedaling and/or fingering of whatever I discover.

Tomasino
May I add to that? Slowly enough to feel the weight of each finger balanced on each key so the muscle memory sets in with clear, even notes.


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863722
03/17/12 02:51 PM
03/17/12 02:51 PM
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LadyChen Offline
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Just checking in between running errands, so not a lot of time for a big post, but I wanted to recommend the book The Practice Revolution. I read it last year and have started teaching my students to use the practice techniques in the book. It's not just for pianists, it works for all instruments.

Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863747
03/17/12 03:56 PM
03/17/12 03:56 PM
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PaulaPiano34 Offline
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Learning pieces back to front or starting with the most difficult passage

Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863748
03/17/12 03:56 PM
03/17/12 03:56 PM
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ps1 Offline
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If by "slowly" the other posters mean "in slow motion", then I agree.

Practicing in slow motion means one is utilizing the dynamics, movements, accents, etc., iow, the full musical intent, in exactly the same way you will perform the piece up to speed.

Please believe me and simply take it at face value that you can practice
merely "slowly" forever and NEVER be able to perform the music even close to a performance level.

Feeling the weight of each key is also correct, in that by pulling down each key with one's finger you are in coordination with the piano action mechanism (this applies more to grands than uprights, since their actions are different).

But this is feeling the weight of each key when pulled down by the fingers, NOT putting arm weight on the keys!!!

The so called "weight transference" school has caused more injury and permanent injury (Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman) and prevented more success than any cock-eyed theory ever invented by so called "authority pedagogues."

Strange that this sure road to piano heck was "invented" by one otherwise quite obscure piano teacher in the late 1800's, and which for some reason gained "pianistic cult" status, STILL falsely advocated by many today in spite of its horrible potential damage.


Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: gooddog] #1863788
03/17/12 05:01 PM
03/17/12 05:01 PM
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Posts: 794
Toronto
jnod Offline
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So, I sort of know what you mean but if you could give a metronomic example I'd be grateful - for your Waldstein workouts, how slow are we talking?

I find slow practice very difficult! I always have a tempo in mind that I'm shooting for and I seem to find it hard to play slower or faster than that tempo without naturally reverting!


Justin
-------
Bach English Suite #5
Scarlatti Sonata K141 . L422
Mozart Sonata K333
Schubert Impromptu opus 90 D899
Schubert Moment Musicaux opus 94 D780
Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863808
03/17/12 05:42 PM
03/17/12 05:42 PM
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jdw Offline
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The slow practice I have found most valuable is not at a particular speed, but--

slow enough that I don't play a note unless I know *exactly* where my hand needs to go for the next note after, so it will move there automatically and be ready to play in time and in control. This can expose a lot of micro-hesitations. It's a good test of what you really know and what you don't.

To me the point is not slowness for its own sake, but to create the time to be mindful about everything you're doing. From that point of view, only the player can figure out how slowly s/he needs to go for a given piece.


1989 Baldwin R
Currently working on:​
Schubert, Op. 90 no. 2
Sinding, Frühlingsrauschen (Rustle of Spring)
Beethoven, Sonata no. 14 in C# minor (Moonlight)
Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863815
03/17/12 06:07 PM
03/17/12 06:07 PM
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How slow is "slow"? It depends.

For me, it can be anything from around a quarter of the tempo to just a small reduction of tempo. But I've found that slow practice that is a good deal slower than is necessary to avoid mistakes is often the most useful. I have to really push myself to do that, though - it's like I have some mistaken idea that it is wasting time or something.




Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: pianoloverus] #1863835
03/17/12 06:39 PM
03/17/12 06:39 PM
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Brendan Offline
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Brendan
1. Slowly with the metronome.

That's all you really need when learning a piece, IMO.
Can you expand a little on your reasons for using the metronome?


Because I rush! I also tend to be impatient when learning new pieces, so forcing myself to do it slowly helps more in the long run than trying to get it to tempo in two days.

Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Brendan] #1863872
03/17/12 08:18 PM
03/17/12 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by jnod
So, I sort of know what you mean but if you could give a metronomic example I'd be grateful - for your Waldstein workouts, how slow are we talking?

I find slow practice very difficult! I always have a tempo in mind that I'm shooting for and I seem to find it hard to play slower or faster than that tempo without naturally reverting!
The Waldstein is resting right now but I plan to start the final polishing in a few weeks. I'll probably start around 60MM per quarter note and gradually increase it. (Final tempo will be 132ish). My goal will be to identify those tiny hesitations or places where I rush so I can even out the tempo all the way through it.

I find slow practice difficult too. I am impatient to make beautiful music!
Originally Posted by Brendan
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Brendan
1. Slowly with the metronome.

That's all you really need when learning a piece, IMO.
Can you expand a little on your reasons for using the metronome?


Because I rush! I also tend to be impatient when learning new pieces, so forcing myself to do it slowly helps more in the long run than trying to get it to tempo in two days.
Sounds like me. I have discovered a source of my rushing that might be helpful to you. I rush the ends of phrases because I'm looking ahead, preparing for the next one. I forget to make the phrase breathe. Then, of course, there are the tiny places where my fingering is a bit insecure. Then, there are the places that are so much fun to play too fast. Whoa girl!


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: gooddog] #1863916
03/17/12 10:39 PM
03/17/12 10:39 PM
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haha - yes, this impatience - a common problem I imagine. I find that sometimes I just have to give in and play as fast as I want to play even though some parts sound hideous.



Justin
-------
Bach English Suite #5
Scarlatti Sonata K141 . L422
Mozart Sonata K333
Schubert Impromptu opus 90 D899
Schubert Moment Musicaux opus 94 D780
Re: Useful Practicing Methods. What are yours? [Re: Elizabeth_Bennet] #1863927
03/17/12 11:21 PM
03/17/12 11:21 PM
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Some of my practicing methods have been mentioned already, but here is what I used today:
1) on a fast passage, play the first three notes at tempo until they are easy to play and even. Then add the next note, and keep adding notes until the end of the passage. If I found notes in the middle of the passage that were awkward to play, then I would start there and just play those few notes. I also started from the end of the passage and add earlier notes. While doing this, I focus on two things - listening to the quality of the sound (is it even?) and on the fluidity of the movement (when I stop on a note, do I find my hand is relaxed, or have I tightened my wrist or am I pulling any of my fingers?). These two things I focus really end up being the same thing - if it sounds bad it's because I'm doing something physically bad.

2) mirror practice. My LH thumb was going up before playing the note, whereas my RH thumb correctly went immediately down. Finding the mirrored configuration of black and white keys, I played the mirrored LH part in the RH, hands separately and hands together until the LH thumb was as efficient as the RH.

3) Hands separate, and "fingers on the same hand separate". What I mean by the second one is perhaps best explained with an example. With the RH, I need to play G (with 3rd finger) followed by E (with thumb) followed by [G and A] (3rd and 4th fingers simultaneously). This was difficult, so I practiced E to G and E to A many times until they were both easy, and then played F to [G and A].


4) play forte passages softly. For example, if a melody is in the top voice of forte chords, just play the melody softly, without the rest of the chord, work out how you would like it to sound, and then work on shaping it that way with the passage as written.

Regarding rushing, in the few times I've found myself doing this recently, it was due to unevenness in the passagework where two notes got squished together, and all the notes after then were played in the squished together time. Given that, I think it is helpful to find which beats or notes are the _source_ of the rushing, and fix that, rather than globally applying the metronome to keep things in check.


Professional pianist and piano teacher.
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