Today’s post was recently published in a Pianist Magazine newsletter, and will hopefully provide a few basic, but important, practice reminders.
We all benefit from reminders. Those elements which tend to be forgotten as we sit at the instrument, keen to get on with our job of practising. But sometimes it’s a good idea to ‘think’ a little before practice commences. It takes only a few minutes, but it can make a world of difference to our practice regime, and ultimately, to practice outcomes. Here are a few ideas:
1. Good posture at the piano is crucial, so when seated, ensure the stool is at the correct height (for you), and try to eliminate slouching. A straight back can change the sound produced and proffer relaxed shoulders and arms. Many find sitting towards the edge of the stool, nearest the keyboard, allows more control. As a rough guide, when the hands are placed on the keyboard, the forearms should be virtually parallel to the floor; aim to keep your shoulders down. Mirrors can be helpful – apparently Claudio Arrau always practised using them. Keep your feet anchored and placed firmly on the floor. Also, allow plenty of space between yourself and the keyboard, as this offers ample opportunity for free arm movement.
2. Wrists should ideally be flexible. Locked, stiff or solid wrists will only encourage tense, harsh and restricted piano playing. It does take a concerted effort to banish this all too common problem, but at the start of each piece, technical study, scale, or sight-reading exercise, keep a running commentary in your mind encouraging the wrists to ‘unlock’ and feel loose (you might need to constantly remind yourself at first). Many find making a circular motion with the wrists whilst playing or practising helps enormously, disengaging any building tension. Arms, hands and shoulders should be relaxed too. And keep moving. The more freely you move around the keyboard, the less chance there is of becoming ‘stuck’ and therefore tense.
3. Playing on the tips of each finger helps to connect with each key and therefore each note. And it usually creates a focused sound. Ensuring all fingers work properly and all joints are fully engaged takes lots of concentration, but if it is built in to a practice session then it will eventually become a good habit.
4. Warm-up. This oft-forgotten element can really help to eliminate tension issues. Slow exercises can be most beneficial to begin with. Sink into a series of slow chords, and then voice those chords, before moving on to faster exercises (Book 3 of my piano course, Play it again, contains many warm-up exercises).
5. Mental focus. It’s the most obvious element but, surprisingly, often the hardest to achieve. Notice when your mind wanders (it happens to everyone) and quickly correct it, bringing it back to a particularly enjoyable aspect of the piece you are practising. Regular reminding or prompting will serve as a useful refocus.
Hopefully these tips will be effective reminders at the beginning of a piano practice session, and after a while, they will become second nature.
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.