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How to practice effectively #2871736
07/23/19 06:20 AM
07/23/19 06:20 AM
Joined: May 2019
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lbuizza Offline OP
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I have played piano from a very young age as an amateur, and for the last few years all the practice I had time for was about one hour a day, which to me now seems like not even enough to get started. About 18 months ago I started ramping this up - first to 90 minutes a day, then two hours and finally now I play about 3-4 hours a day. I still visit my teacher every week.

Since then my piano playing, which I thought had plateaued a bit, has improved a lot. My main drawbacks are my technique, which given the things I want to play is not relaxed and smooth enough, and my sight reading, which holds me back from learning pieces quickly. At the moment I split my practice into two sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening, and I like to use one of these for polishing pieces that I already have my hands into and note learning new ones, and the other for focussing more on the technical problems that I encounter when playing them. I have about 4/5 pieces on the go at any one time.

My question to you pianists is what have you encountered when practicing a decent amount as an effective way to practice? By this I mean anything from splitting up practice during the day to how you practice technically difficult passages to what you practice.

The second is does anyone have any good recommendations for my technical/ sight reading deficiencies. Recently I have learnt Chopin’s Harp etude, which helped a lot and I play it decently - still need to get it more even in some points, but the pp inner parts are sounding ok. I have tried the op. 10 no. 1 and think I still need work before but tackling it properly... What other studies are recommended - Cerny? Should I be looking at studies at all or just solving problems as I go?

Any thoughts would be interesting to hear! I am aware that what works for one might not work for another person, however I am interested to hear opinions and give things a go.

Last edited by lbuizza; 07/23/19 06:22 AM.
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Re: How to practice effectively [Re: lbuizza] #2871756
07/23/19 07:19 AM
07/23/19 07:19 AM
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Hakki Offline
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Since you visit your teacher every week it is best to ask these questions to your teacher since he/she knows what your current level is regarding technique and sight reading.

Re: How to practice effectively [Re: Hakki] #2871793
07/23/19 09:07 AM
07/23/19 09:07 AM
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dogperson Offline

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Originally Posted by Hakki
Since you visit your teacher every week it is best to ask these questions to your teacher since he/she knows what your current level is regarding technique and sight reading.


Do most teachers give instruction on how to practice? That has not been my experience. My current teacher, who has been the best at this, does not discuss the overall plan, but just practicing the problem areas
When I returned to Piano as an adult, I was working full-time and tried to practice 3 to 4 hours per day. I could not keep that up and I was not making as much progress as I should have been. So I looked at how I was practicing and did a lot of reading. I’ve reduced my practice time and also increased my efficiency
Here are a few thoughts:
- I break up my practice time because 4 hours at a time is not focused practice for me. When it is not productive... stop
- I isolate the measures that are problematic and work on those rather than working on the entire piece . You would be surprised how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes if you have a small, defined goal.
-Only occasionally do I play from the beginning. I use removable sticky flags so I can add and remove the parts that need work.
- want better sightreading? Play a lot of new music without the goal of polishing it. Start with music below your current grade level. Go to a thrift store or buy bulk music from eBay. You can also download tons from imslp.org

YMMV


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
" I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

It’s ok to be a Work In Progress
Re: How to practice effectively [Re: dogperson] #2871972
07/23/19 04:27 PM
07/23/19 04:27 PM
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Posts: 245
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ghosthand Offline
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Originally Posted by dogperson
[quote=Hakki]
- I break up my practice time because 4 hours at a time is not focused practice for me. When it is not productive... stop
- I isolate the measures that are problematic and work on those rather than working on the entire piece . You would be surprised how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes if you have a small, defined goal.
-Only occasionally do I play from the beginning. I use removable sticky flags so I can add and remove the parts that need work.
- want better sightreading? Play a lot of new music without the goal of polishing it. Start with music below your current grade level.



I totally agree with this. I have increased efficency a lot in my practice thanks to advice like these.

When you start a new piece, you can save yourself time and effort with good preparations: study the sheet music carefully AWAY from the piano, read it while you listen to good recordings of it (if available). You can then do some mental practice where you observe the structures, try to figure out some basic fingering and tap the rhythm if it is not elementary. When you sit down at the piano you are then already well prepared to start the practical work. If the key is not totally familiar to you, play scales and chord progressions in that key.

Bad or unexperienced pianists have the sad habit of trying to play the piece through all the time, they make mistakes and correct them as they go, which could lead to the terribly annoying habit of "stuttering" - you play a wrong note, you correct yourself at once by repeating it (right this time, if you're lucky) and keep on playing although you just got out of rhythm. Or you ignore the mistake completely and play the whole piece through once more, in the hope of making it better this time.
If you listen to such a pianist, perhaps from another room, you sigh and think this is bad playing. You even wonder if the pianist is aware of how horrible it sounds.

Good pianists just play short phrases, and if they go wrong they try to isolate the erroneous spot and then repeat it many times until it sounds right. So their practice just consists of fragments, it may be hard to even identify what piece it is, but what you hear is good. I once overheard a concert pianist working in this way. Just a few bars but they were beautiful! So rich, so well-shaped, so full of expression. He did not consider himself being too advanced to spend ten minutes just testing the different dynamics of ONE SINGLE KEY. So just small fragments, giving full attention and respect to every little note, rest mark and dot - this is something most of us easily can do, as long as we don't choose too long segments or pieces that are way too difficult for us. Often just two or three notes are enough, with that span anyone can try to reach perfection. Seasoned pianists spend an amazing lot of time just trying to shape single chords, for example. But they don't waste their time with bad playing or uncontrolled playing. That is how you become effective.

Re: How to practice effectively [Re: lbuizza] #2871988
07/23/19 04:54 PM
07/23/19 04:54 PM
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Posts: 246
USA
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Sweelinck Online content
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Quote

The second is does anyone have any good recommendations for my technical/ sight reading deficiencies. Recently I have learnt Chopin’s Harp etude, which helped a lot and I play it decently

A retired professional concert pianist from whom I took a handful of lessons years ago suggested to me that systematically memorizing a piece early in the learning process is a way to reduce the time spent learning the notes, but still to use the score when working on problem areas. I have found it to be good advice, but others may prefer a different learning process.

Sight-reading certainly is a useful skill, but maybe best developed by playing through pieces you can sight-read at tempo. There is no reason to expect to be able to sight-read a piece that presents technical problems requiring focused work. If you can sight-read a Chopin Etude, you are the teacher, not the student.

But I agree with an above poster that you should discuss these issues with your teacher.


Login name is a tribute to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, arguably the historically first great keyboard virtuoso.
Re: How to practice effectively [Re: lbuizza] #2871995
07/23/19 05:05 PM
07/23/19 05:05 PM
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Posts: 23
London
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lbuizza Offline OP
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I totally agree with all of this. It is just like revising for an exam - I would never dream of sitting and studying for 4 hours straight, I would study 30-60 minutes and then have a break (even just two minutes off) to rest my brain.

In the last months I have tried to, as you both say, play just fragments of pieces that I find challenging and improving these - it is much more time efficient and 'brain efficient' ie I don't wear myself out by playing 10 minutes of a piece when I really have to just practice four or five bars well. When polishing a piece for a performance, however, I find it useful to play it through many times to give me an impression of the piece as a whole and the phrasing - is this the same for you?

My teacher is excellent when I have a piece almost performance ready, she really gets the best sound out of me and gives me a lot to think about. However before I get to there I really have to ask her (something that I have gotten better at) to explain more technical problems and show me what my hands are doing wrong rather than just say the usual practice it slowly/with different rhythms etc.

On a different note I think teachers, in general (maths, music, anything), are always very willing and able to answer more technical questions about their subject - eg. how do I solve this problem?, but sometimes do not go over how should I be studying to be able to solve that problem. I would like to get to a point where if I encounter a technique problem in my playing I can not just identify what is causing tension but also know how to figure out how to solve it...

Re: How to practice effectively [Re: lbuizza] #2872064
07/23/19 09:16 PM
07/23/19 09:16 PM
Joined: May 2015
Posts: 4,280
Florida
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Ibuzzia
Yes, when polishing a piece, my focus changes: more play throughs to hear how the piece hangs together. However, when I hear phrasing, dynamics, or interpretation that doesn’t seem quite right, then the focused practice happens all over again, but with different goals than when initially learning. My favorite part of learning new music is polishing and I never really want to let go: to me, it is never baked enough to be considered ‘done’. I am always tinkering.

I think most of us here aren’t able to solve all of our own problems.... that is why I take lessons so I can use my teacher’s brain to help solve my problems. I’m getting better but I don’t think I’ll be completely independent anytime this lifetime.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
" I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

It’s ok to be a Work In Progress
Re: How to practice effectively [Re: ghosthand] #2872114
07/24/19 03:04 AM
07/24/19 03:04 AM
Joined: Feb 2007
Posts: 115
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Rania Offline
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Originally Posted by ghosthand

When you start a new piece, you can save yourself time and effort with good preparations: study the sheet music carefully AWAY from the piano, read it while you listen to good recordings of it (if available). You can then do some mental practice where you observe the structures, try to figure out some basic fingering and tap the rhythm if it is not elementary. When you sit down at the piano you are then already well prepared to start the practical work. If the key is not totally familiar to you, play scales and chord progressions in that key.


I totally agree with saving the time and effort by studying the piece away from the piano, but I must disagree that you would read it while listening to a good recording. This goes against the goal of reading, which is imagining the sound of the piece without the interference of any physical sound or touch. Not even singing, at the beginning. Of course listening is incredibly helpful (and I often devote a couple of entire sessions to it with different recordings, taking notes), but reading, hearing, and interpreting a score without the aid of a recording is an incredibly important skill that is unfortunately really compromised by the habit of listening along all the time. The inner ear is never allowed to develop, and one loses the ability and the sense of responsibility in observing and justifying all the instructions and details in the score, "like a detective", my teacher used to say, and taking them all seriously. Reading slowly becomes an approximation, and the recording becomes not an aid but a hindrance, in my opinion, because hearing is interestingly much less objective than reading. It is more influenced by previous experience, wish, expectation, habit. (A very interesting example is someone who has never studied music playing a piece by ear. Some harmonies which one has never encountered are interestingly not heard, or heard differently, the classic is a ii7 chord becoming a iv chord, for example (completely apart from those that one is aware of not being able to replicate)). The mind is also closer to perfection- an interesting philosophical concept, perhaps, but I always feel like bringing anything down from the mind into the physical world through a physical medium (an instrument, or the voice) involves a compromise, so it's important to start in the mind to have the conception that one wants and then work to realize it physically, even if it will never reach it a 100%.

I've been experimenting hard with effective mental practice for the past three years (inspired by two of my favorite pianists, Grimaud and Tharaud), and I can't say I'm anywhere close to having mastered it- the patience and mental discipline required continue to be such a challenge, but I can never start a piece at the piano anymore. I'm studying Lied at the moment, so it's a little easier since the pieces are much shorter, but after around a year I've developed a series of steps for learning an art song that I always follow (happy to share if you're interested). They also involve reading the entire piece with a metronome going on very slowly, as slowly as I need to read and mentally hear everything, as best as possible. This can be painfully slow, as slow as 30 sixteenth notes a minute in a tempo that is originally 80 quarter notes a minute. (With orchestral scores, I go way slower). The metronome is there to make sure that one reads forward, and it's a very effective tool for it. The measure of a slow enough tempo is of course not simply being able to read/ hear/ play, but doing so calmly and in control, without any hint of panic. Then I go up 4 or 5 bpm, exactly the way I would while practicing, except only reading. Once I am at a tempo that is around 50%, I go to the piano.

This stage admittedly takes a lot of time, but time spent at the instrument is drastically reduced. With shorter, technically easier pieces, it can even be unnecessary. With solo and longer music I am still a little less systematic and still looking for the right discipline. It is interesting to notice how distracted one can get while studying mentally and how many other thoughts creep into one's mind. The very same happens when we practice at the piano, but for some reason, because we are moving our hands, physically "doing" something, we are inclined to forgive it or not even be aware of it.




“Love has to be the starting point – love of music. It is one of my firmest convictions that love always produces some knowledge, while knowledge only rarely produces something similar to love.”
Arthur Schnabel

Re: How to practice effectively [Re: Rania] #2872135
07/24/19 05:05 AM
07/24/19 05:05 AM
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lbuizza Offline OP
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London
Originally Posted by Rania
[quote=ghosthand]
The very same happens when we practice at the piano, but for some reason, because we are moving our hands, physically "doing" something, we are inclined to forgive it or not even be aware of it.


I really agree with this - at the piano, especially when I am a bit tired I always find myself having to consciously focus not let my mind wander. When i just want to play for enjoyment it can be nice, however if performing or if preparing for a performance I find it important to tell myself to focus on what I am doing and the sounds that I am making and will be making.

Re: How to practice effectively [Re: ghosthand] #2875118
08/01/19 11:06 PM
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Exactly.


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