I regularly contribute to Pianist magazine’s newsletter, which wings its way into our inbox every other month. My article always takes the form of ‘5 tips’ and last month’s were designed for those who fancy taking their practice away from the instrument. I hope they are of interest.
Practising away from the instrument can be a beneficial practice technique. Taking the music off the page is a most valuable facet for any pianist. If you’re able to hear it, imagine playing it, and visualise or recall any passage, you are more likely to be at ‘one’ with the music, thereby producing a performance of integrity and musical depth.
1 Instigate a happy positive mind-set before practice begins; it’s amazing the effect this can have on learning capacity. Before practice commences, aim to sit at the instrument with a relaxed posture; shoulders down, hands hanging freely by your side, breathing slowly, and thinking positively.
2 Consider the piece you are about to practice; how does it make you feel? Feelings take on a new meaning when practising away from the keyboard, and this may be what produces deeper expressivity. As you observe the score, note what happens in each hand; the movements, fingerings and gestures required to play the patterns. It can be particularly helpful to pay special attention to the left hand here too. Aim to do this without the piano.
3 Some find it helpful to write the piece out on manuscript paper (recalling it from memory). As you work at the piano, begin to test your memory during practice sessions; by repeatedly returning to the same phrases and passages over a period of time, the thought responses become stronger and clearer. Now do this away from the instrument, hearing each passage in isolation.
4 Play the piece through in your mind. The effort and assimilation required can come as quite a shock, but once accustomed to the relevant mind-set needed, a calmness and stillness is acquired, and it becomes possible to ‘think’ through the music increasingly accurately. And you can do this anywhere at any time!
5 Visualise watching yourself play your piece at the keyboard, as an image in your mind. It can be a good idea to envisage every detail; fingerings, movements, and everything necessary to play the piece from beginning to end successfully.
If you can work at some of these suggestions frequently, memory and visualisation skills associated with practising away from the keyboard will gradually develop, and this method could eventually become a worthwhile part of a practice session.
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.
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