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Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
AssociateX #2786453 11/30/18 01:32 PM
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Happened to me a lot in the beginning. To get my accuracy up I'd spend a lot of time memorizing technical bits of my music because I don't read fast enough. Muscle memory is 1 thing but getting a tune into my head also helps. To make memorizing easier, I'd record little bits of my pieces along the way.

Last week I was performing a 3m piece in a Trio (2 violins & viola) in church. Everybody stayed focus and the piece came out OK. When I'm nervous I tend to lose my place reading the sheet. I'd visualize the piece I'm playing as if I pressed the [Play] button on a music player and just let my fingers do the playing. And there are sections of the music I don't know very well I'd read a few measures ahead in anticipation. The sections I know well I rely on memory. When you're playing a piece you hear a thousand times already like "Happy Birthday" or "Jingle Bells", you can pick up wrong notes on the spot because you know these pieces inside out. A lot of pieces we learn we sort of know them but not 100%

1 thing I find helpful is to break a piece into small chunks and work on each separately. Starting with a slow tempo until you get all the notes and gradually increase the tempo. You should be able to start at any measure and play through to the end of a section. Otherwise I'd listen to my recordings many times. When I visualize a piece in my head, I'd make few mistakes. Playing with 2 other musicians even 1 mistake can become noticeable.

Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
pianoloverus #2786457 11/30/18 01:45 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I don't think it makes much sense for someone who is having difficulty avoiding errors to make things more difficult.
That's exactly the point, though - by making it more difficult and employing skills that are often overlooked. Thus facilitating ease of playing when the 'difficulty' is removed. Making things harder, in order to then make the original easier, is one tried and tested way of polishing pieces.

Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
pianoloverus #2786460 11/30/18 01:48 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by precise
I suggest two things:

1) Intense visualisation away from the piano - Gieseking called it 'reflection'. Slowly, imagine placing each finger(s) accurately - always strike the correct key in your head. It's hard and exhausting work - and it gets easier as you do more of it. It makes for bulletproof accuracy.

2) Play whilst wearing a blindfold. Slowly. You'll cut out the visual memory. It's very powerful.
These might be appropriate for a very advanced student(even in that case I don't think they're particularly useful) but I think they're not at all appropriate in this case.


I happen to think they're appropriate for students/players of any level (not necessarily of any age, though). In fact, they are methods that have been used for a long time with proven results. My opinion, and experience...

Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
trigalg693 #2786463 11/30/18 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by trigalg693
Taking the blindfold/eyes closed thing one step further, I try to simulate the keyboard in my head while not actually at the keyboard, depriving the sense of touch. Playing on the table is another way, though the table being completely flat can throw you off a little. If you "know" exactly how your hand is supposed to be positioned and where, and can think of all the notes in real time, that's a good sign.

That was point one of my suggestions - although you've probably explained it better than I smile

Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
AssociateX #2786520 11/30/18 04:10 PM
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I asked my teacher about this yesterday - yes I often asked her opinion when I read some interesting discussion here on PW, especially related to performing.

She said there are two kind of "errors".

1. Random errors or wrong notes during performances - She told me not to worry too much about it because it's human nature. In terms of memory, one thing we can do is to play the piece very slowly and make sure we know exactly which key to hit at all times. In other words, try not to overly rely on muscle memory. When we are nervous on stage, our whole body tend to be more tense (less relaxed). In this situation, muscle memory tend to give up first.

2. Errors during the same passages again and again - her approach is very slow practice and backward practice. For example - there are 5 tricky measures. Try to practice 5th measure alone, then 4th - 5th measure, then 3rd - 5th measure...Her reason is that during complicated runs, most people get into wrong notes and start again. Over time later measures simply don't get enough practice time. Also, do not move on because we finally go it right. Her rules is we need to play the same passage correctly at least 5 times before moving on. If we only get this correctly one time, it could be just being lucky. During the performance, with stress and nerves, the odd is against us to be so lucky on stage.

Conclusion - it really takes LOTS OF time to play a piece "clean"; much longer than learning the piece itself. Unfortunately many people do not want to accept that, so it causes frustration.

Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
AssociateX #2786526 11/30/18 04:51 PM
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Midlife, your teacher sounds wise. smile On your last note: definitely. My approach is to spend a chunk of time learning new tunes, and a chunk of time reviewing and polishing old tunes. Once I get a new tune very good - but NOT perfect - then it goes in the review / polish session, and I move on to something new. Sometimes I learn two or three whole new tunes before I have the previous one really, really down. Even that doesn't eliminate errors 100% of the time, but at least I'm able to play as close to perfect as I'm likely to for a while ...


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Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
AssociateX #2786873 12/01/18 08:15 PM
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I used to have the same exact problem! I would practice so much and yet little mistakes would remain. I had one teacher at UCLA, Kanae Matsumoto, who really challenged me to fix everything. I remember looking at her and saying, "I try but I just can't get it perfect." And she told me it all has to do with how you are practicing and thinking about the music.
We were learning Chopin Ballade No. 3 at the time and there were wrong notes everywhere. She told me that I was only permitted to learn 2 pages a week, and if I could play them cleanly (no wrong notes), then I could learn the next two. It took an entire quarter, but once I learned the piece, it was so much better than any other piece I had learned up until that point. And I also had so much more confidence that I actually could play perfectly...I just needed the right tools!

Here are some of my "go to" practice methods...
(1) Double notes (play each note twice). This keeps the wrist relaxed and can help me focus on the attack and release of the note. I usually only do this for fast, technical passages where I am struggling playing it cleanly.

(2) Rhythms: this is one of my favorite practice methods because of all the variations that are possible. I purposefully distort the rhythm (by swinging the notes, etc) and this makes my fingers move more quickly to keys I might have missed before. Then I play it normally, and the normal way feels much easier than the rhythms

(3) Metronome: start at however slowly you need to go to get every single note. Then go up by 5's or 10's until you reach the desired tempo. Don't allow yourself to go any faster until it's completely perfect at the current tempo

(4) Practice for perfection: I got this one from my teacher in grad school (Lorna Griffitt at UCI). If I missed one note or rhythm, I had to start over, no exceptions. I was able to master pieces much more quickly with this simply because I didn't want to start over countless times.

Hope this helps smile


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Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
AssociateX #2786940 12/02/18 04:04 AM
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Your memory is your undoing ,play a note wrong your mind records it,same thing wrong fingering or changing to incorrect fingering it is recordered wrong .
Stop letting your memory be your undoing .

Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
Lady Bird #2787152 12/02/18 07:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Lady Bird
Your memory is your undoing ,play a note wrong your mind records it,same thing wrong fingering or changing to incorrect fingering it is recordered wrong .
Stop letting your memory be your undoing .

Ladybird, there's a lot of truth in that. People often just reinforce their mistakes without stopping, thinking and correcting.
Also, I genuinely believe that, when working on a piece, a wrong fingering is worse than a wrong note.

Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
AssociateX #2788255 12/06/18 12:10 AM
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Originally Posted by AssociateX
Thanks all for the suggestions! I def have a lot to consider, my day job zaps most of my brain cells (lawyer), so I think forcing myself to sit down at the piano at 8-9pm each night is why I am sounding terrible and prob creating bad habits...i guess I will be limiting practice to just a few nights each week when I feel productive and mentally more into focusing on getting pieces polished well. I am not a morning person at all, sometimes I am home for lunch so squeeze in 30-45 min to review scales, but its just enough to warm up.


I've been thinking about this, AssociateX. Some people use piano to unwind. In that respect, "piano" is not so much a work-out; rather, it is a meditation. While one plays, things come to mind, and the day is sorted to music. In this frame of mind, all kinds of insights happen, both musical and practical! (E.g., "Oh, yeah! *That's* where I put that box!," or, "Oh, yeah! I had not considered that citation!," etc.)

If I am reading you right, "piano" is an endeavor with which to strive for perfection, the kind of perfection which is eluding you at present? What if, for a season of time, you let "piano" be "meditation"? Go back to easier pieces, and flow with them. See what you learn about yourself.

Yes? No? Maybe?


I may not be fast,
but at least I'm slow.
Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
Cinnamonbear #2788457 12/06/18 05:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Cinnamonbear
Originally Posted by AssociateX
Thanks all for the suggestions! I def have a lot to consider, my day job zaps most of my brain cells (lawyer), so I think forcing myself to sit down at the piano at 8-9pm each night is why I am sounding terrible and prob creating bad habits...i guess I will be limiting practice to just a few nights each week when I feel productive and mentally more into focusing on getting pieces polished well. I am not a morning person at all, sometimes I am home for lunch so squeeze in 30-45 min to review scales, but its just enough to warm up.


I've been thinking about this, AssociateX. Some people use piano to unwind. In that respect, "piano" is not so much a work-out; rather, it is a meditation. While one plays, things come to mind, and the day is sorted to music. In this frame of mind, all kinds of insights happen, both musical and practical! (E.g., "Oh, yeah! *That's* where I put that box!," or, "Oh, yeah! I had not considered that citation!," etc.)

If I am reading you right, "piano" is an endeavor with which to strive for perfection, the kind of perfection which is eluding you at present? What if, for a season of time, you let "piano" be "meditation"? Go back to easier pieces, and flow with them. See what you learn about yourself.

Yes? No? Maybe?


Yes there is some truth to that. I picked up piano only because 2 years ago my husband and I bought a house that had enough room for a grand piano- so after not playing for almost 15 years (college/law school hiatus), I decided it was time to get serious about this hobby and treat it as more than just an instrument I played 2x a year. (eg, I only played Christmas music at my parents house on the old upright I grew up with). This is why I lurk on PW- the wealth of information and of course, the tutorials by Jane/Josh Wright and other pianists on YouTube make me feel so inspired to play as well as they do.

It wasnt uintil this past summer that I started to seriously consider lessons again because most of my repertoire was pieces I learned as a child (all the Chopin Waltzes and Bach Inventions you see on my YT channel). Now I am motivated to get myself to a higher level (with the goal of playing a Chopin Polonaise, Rachmaninoff, etc). I think part of playing DOES provider stress relief (especially on days I just want to play for pleasure- mistakes be da**#^ned) . But ideally I want to play to improve and just be a better pianist. For my own sense of enjoyment and others as well. I think perfect practice makes perfect and I am just trying to get myself to the best level I can be because at my age (42) its not going to get easier as time passes to learn complex music (I know it can be done, but finger dexterity even now is not as sharp/quick as it used to be in my teens when I actually played the entire Hanon book in only an hour).

Last edited by AssociateX; 12/06/18 05:15 PM.

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Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
AssociateX #2788461 12/06/18 05:39 PM
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Originally Posted by AssociateX
I picked up piano only because 2 years ago my husband and I bought a house that had enough room for a grand piano- so after not playing for almost 15 years (college/law school hiatus), I decided it was time to get serious about this hobby and treat it as more than just an instrument I played 2x a year. (eg, I only played Christmas music at my parents house on the old upright I grew up with).

It wasnt uintil this past summer that I started to seriously consider lessons again because most of my repertoire was pieces I learned as a child (all the Chopin Waltzes and Bach Inventions you see on my YT channel). Now I am motivated to get myself to a higher level (with the goal of playing a Chopin Polonaise, Rachmaninoff, etc). I think part of playing DOES provider stress relief (especially on days I just want to play for pleasure- mistakes be da**#^ned) . But ideally I want to play to improve and just be a better pianist. For my own sense of enjoyment and others as well. I think perfect practice makes perfect and I am just trying to get myself to the best level I can be because at my age (42) its not going to get easier as time passes to learn complex music (I know it can be done, but finger dexterity even now is not as sharp/quick as it used to be in my teens when I actually played the entire Hanon book in only an hour).

Let me reassure you:
I had a much longer hiatus than you (several decades when I barely touched a piano), I'm much older than you (how much older is too much to count cry), yet when I finally bought my own piano eight years ago, and for the first time, could practice at any time of the day or night (previously, I could play only in the practice rooms at my high school and university), my first priority of course was to 'get my fingers' back.

That took a few months (mostly relearning old favorites), and then I began looking at pieces that I'd always thought were beyond me. And to my surprise - now that I could spend all my non-working non-sleeping hours at the piano, if I was so inclined wink - one by one, they began to 'untangle' with perseverance, and......I could actually play them. Properly. Even reasonably well. In fact, I started doing a monthly recital series two years after I bought my piano, and performed some of the pieces that I'd previously thought were completely out of my grasp in this lifetime or the next grin.

So, never say never....... thumb


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
AssociateX #2788522 12/06/18 09:36 PM
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Considering the time constraints the OP mentions - work, night piano sessions etc - again, I seriously advise some real 'mental work' - reflection - visualisation - call it what you will.

If you're driving, travelling, commuting, in a dull meeting, tune your brain into a piece you're playing - feel your fingers slowly playing through a work (even if just a few bars), and feel yourself playing accurately.

That's what the topic of this post was - although, as with many posts, it has digressed.

Play 'clean' - accurately - in your head every spare moment.

It will absolutely strengthen mental connections, it will aid mental clarity (something often overlooked), it will reinforce what you've already learnt.

Re: Practicing for performance: Playing pieces "clean"
bennevis #2788761 12/07/18 02:04 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by AssociateX
I picked up piano only because 2 years ago my husband and I bought a house that had enough room for a grand piano- so after not playing for almost 15 years (college/law school hiatus), I decided it was time to get serious about this hobby and treat it as more than just an instrument I played 2x a year. (eg, I only played Christmas music at my parents house on the old upright I grew up with).

It wasnt uintil this past summer that I started to seriously consider lessons again because most of my repertoire was pieces I learned as a child (all the Chopin Waltzes and Bach Inventions you see on my YT channel). Now I am motivated to get myself to a higher level (with the goal of playing a Chopin Polonaise, Rachmaninoff, etc). I think part of playing DOES provider stress relief (especially on days I just want to play for pleasure- mistakes be da**#^ned) . But ideally I want to play to improve and just be a better pianist. For my own sense of enjoyment and others as well. I think perfect practice makes perfect and I am just trying to get myself to the best level I can be because at my age (42) its not going to get easier as time passes to learn complex music (I know it can be done, but finger dexterity even now is not as sharp/quick as it used to be in my teens when I actually played the entire Hanon book in only an hour).

Let me reassure you:
I had a much longer hiatus than you (several decades when I barely touched a piano), I'm much older than you (how much older is too much to count cry), yet when I finally bought my own piano eight years ago, and for the first time, could practice at any time of the day or night (previously, I could play only in the practice rooms at my high school and university), my first priority of course was to 'get my fingers' back.

That took a few months (mostly relearning old favorites), and then I began looking at pieces that I'd always thought were beyond me. And to my surprise - now that I could spend all my non-working non-sleeping hours at the piano, if I was so inclined wink - one by one, they began to 'untangle' with perseverance, and......I could actually play them. Properly. Even reasonably well. In fact, I started doing a monthly recital series two years after I bought my piano, and performed some of the pieces that I'd previously thought were completely out of my grasp in this lifetime or the next grin.

So, never say never....... thumb


Correct, bennevis!

AssociateX, Take the long view while there is a long view to be had. You'll get there!!! thumb Sometimes its a matter of finding the sweet spot of things you *can* play that get you to the things you *want* to play. (That is not meant to discourage you from using your tenacity and sheer force of will to muscle through *any* piece of music you have in mind to play... For me, there is this certain Kapustin piece I really want to play, which for some people would be not all that hard, and they'd have it tucked into bed already. I get it out and chop at it every so often, and each time, I understand it better, and am able to read it better. Some day, it will be ready to share.)

Warm regards,
--Andy

Last edited by Cinnamonbear; 12/07/18 02:05 PM.

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