Dubai: I always observe the same situation with all my students - I work hard with them during the class on the exercises, scales and music pieces. Whih means that we are taking several steps in a certain order and progression, so each one leads to the next and you acquire the skills in a gradual manner. Understandably, I am taking it for granted that students know how to practice. But what happens next makes me want to revist my confidence in them. When they are given an opportunity to practice by themselves, or when I’m just watching them practise, they do not follow the basic lesson plan and prefer to practice randomly. This upsets me because I believe this random approach amounts to laziness. It takes less time and effort to play this way and may I dare say, it also does away with the need to think while playing.
Every musician, whether budding or seasoned, wants to play a piece from top to bottom with the flow and from memory. You cannot do that wtihout practice.
Here are the classic signs of lazy practicing:
1. Rather than refer to written notes, a student prefers to guess the notes, accidentally hitting a few of them to get the one which sounds right (and which, naturally, sounds wrong).
2. Everyone wants to play with both hands from the beginning, believing this might save them time. This is a wrong approach.
3. No one wants to work out the small portions.
4. A reluctance to repeat the hard section of a piece. When I suggest that they should repeat it seven times, they are filled with horror. Seven times is usually enough to memorise the technique and tune. Once a student gets it right, it’s time to start the repetitions. At which point, he shoots back, “But I played it right!” What he forgets is he got there after a 100 incorrect attempts, so practicing is the only way.
5. Students love practicing without rhythm, sit with a curved back, playing with straight fingers, which makes music difficult to follow.
My best tips to play the piano
1) Set the time
Just as there is a time for everything - breakfast, getting to school, bedtime, etc., - piano playing also requires a commitment that you will devote an appointed time of the day, every day, for practice. Like any other subject, piano is also one. It needs daily commitment.
Usually, I have to remind my students to do so during piano class by touching their back or tickling their spine. You need to find an ideal position for your body to prevent developing a sore back or painful fingers, arms and hands. Before practicing, you need to check the conditions of the room, it must not be overheated or too cold. If you feel your fingers freezing, put them under warm water for a couple of minutes, and then apply cream to make them soft. Make practicing the piano pleasant. Also, always keep your instrument clean by removing the dust with a dry tissue.
3)Have a short warm-up
Students often like to find any excuse to minimize practicing. They like to skip the warm-up exercises which are very necessary to play. Sometimes they don’t understand why they need to play scales and arpeggios, do the exercises for switching fingers. The answers to these doubts are inside every music piece which they need to learn. In every piece, you will find beautifully in-built scales and arpeggios making a perfect sound. Always, always, always, practice with metronome.
4) Step-by-step is the way to go. Jumping is tiring
Once you are done with exercises, go ahead with the music piece. Remember, the more you want to jump (to the next level), the more you become confused and miss notes. It’s like driving a car - the faster you drive, the less control you have over it. Slow down and practice. There are lots of techniques to practice the piano. I like to divide a piece into small parts, then put them together to make a longer tune till you reach a complete music sentence. Practicing with one hand at a time usually is the best way. Try to do it from the beginning. Start from the first measure, add the second, play them together, go to the third measure and slowly, you will read and play the entire piece.
Repeat each note seven times with one hand. Then repeat the same moves with the other. Now, play with both hands, but make sure you’ve learned the tune correctly with each hand. Always practice with metronome. It will help keep your speed steady. Do not over practice. Two sessions during the day of about 30 minutes each are better than 1 or 2 hours of uninterrupted practice. You need to improve your playing, not your suffering.
5) Theory is important
It’s important to learn theory so that you understand how music comes together. Theory course is your music guide, you will learn about values of notes and their names, different rhythms; you will learn how to identify the key of the piece and many more interesting things about music. Theory of music helpd you create your own music pieces and write them down in a notation.
You should spend time each day on some type of written work. More advanced students shall continue analysing theory of music, but with more difficult exercises for improvement.
Enjoy learning to play the piano; improve your skills, they are precious. Remember, your talent is unique.
-The author is a musician and piano teacher at a music school in Dubai.