I rather like this fun chart. I have seen it several times this year on various blog sites and on reading it my mind conjures up images of students in music conservatoires relentlessly following these ‘rules’. There is certainly lots of pressure to practice at a music college and plenty of competition which fuels this incessant practising. Don’t get me wrong, I used to practice for hours too; I would have felt out-of-place if I hadn’t and I did really enjoy it. There is something immensely satisfying about giving your fingers and your mind a good workout.
I do wonder though if hours and hours at any instrument is good for the body, mind or soul. Too much repetition can do physical damage to muscles especially if a pianist has tension problems; a condition which affects so many players. Having been an examiner and an adjudicator, I am struck by how many budding young pianists – some of them very talented – exhibit signs of tension.
The problem with tension is, if left unchecked, it can really escalate and cause a lot of damage eventually forcing the pianist to stop playing. Stiff wrists, high shoulders, uncomfortable inflexible arm positions and inefficient fingers are just a few of the frequent sights one might encounter. There are numerous ways to stop pupils suffering in this way, but it does take time to banish embedded habits, especially in older players.
Good technical grounding is vital in piano playing but many students find themselves ill-equipped and it is difficult to compensate years later. Excessive practising when technique is not fully developed or is lacking in some areas definitely does more harm than good. It is better to practice little and often allowing your muscles and you mind to rest.
To make progress with your piano playing you need to find a teacher who really understands how to deal with tension problems and can show you how to apply this to all areas of piano study from scales and studies to your exam pieces. There are teachers who use Yoga and other types of relaxation methods in their lessons which may be helpful. Alexander technique is also very good for helping muscle relaxation. Always spend time researching a prospective teacher before you start lessons. This is a topic I discuss at length in my recently revised and republished book, So you want to play the piano? published by Alfred Music.
If you feel pain or stiffness after any practice session then it might be time to reassess your technique and the way you approach the piano. If you can’t feel physically relaxed at the keyboard then you probably won’t give a convincing musical performance irrespective of how much piano practice you do.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.