5 Tips for Practising without the Piano

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.

You can read the original article here.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

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5 Top Tips To Improve Your Listening Skills

226I occasionally contribute to Pianist magazine’s newsletter (in addition to writing a ‘how-to-play’ article in the magazine), which pops into a subscriber’s e mail box every other month. It’s full of interesting articles, competitions and everything piano! If you would like to subscribe, click here.

The most recent newsletter article contains 5 tips designed to cultivate and improve our listening skills, and I thought it may be of interest to readers; hope you find them useful.


management-training-skills

We might think we hear what we play, but often our attention is focused elsewhere; finding notes, reading the score, pedalling – the list is endless. But when we are finally able and ready to concentrate on the sound we produce, we can really elevate our piano playing.

1. Begin with a few single notes, hands separately. Play each note softly at first, listening to and noting the sound as it dies away. Only play another note once the sound from the previous note has ceased.

2. Now play single notes with greater sonority, but this time don’t allow the tone to die completely, instead sound a further note and ‘match’ the timbre and dynamic to that of the dying first note. This requires careful listening and will attune the ears.

3. Experiment with chords (perhaps a C major triad in both hands). Start pianissimo, and build to fortissimo through a series of 8 or 10 chords. Each one must be placed more powerfully than the last, again fine tuning listening skills.

4. We can learn to hear our own playing when we release ourselves from looking at the score. Once learnt thoroughly, if possible, play through a passage from memory, and when secure, you are free to listen to every note with a clearer perspective. Now record yourself, checking whether the performance is the same as you imagined you heard whilst playing it.

5. Aim to observe the way your body moves; a flexible wrist, arm, and upper torso has an important impact on tonal quality, and by moving freely and encouraging flexibility, you can expect to hear a warmer, richer sound.

By implementing a few of these suggestions, you will hopefully unlock the key to ‘hearing’ with a sharpened perception.

Read the original article here.


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My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

It’s all in the Preparation 2: 5 Top Tips

Hands for blog

Last week I offered a few tips for those about to prepare a piano piece. These tips were primarily concerned with pre-practice elements (you can read them here), and today’s post proffers a few more ideas which I hope may be of interest.

Once you’ve marked up your score and have studied its structure, it’s time to get practising.

1. Much has been written about practising hands separately to start with, and there’s no doubt this is the way to go, particularly with complicated works such as a fugue or sonata, but how practice is actually done in this respect can make all the difference. Depending on level and standard, try to familiarize yourself with note patterns. It can be helpful to ‘speak’ the names of each note at first (bar by bar) and then find the corresponding keys on the keyboard. This might sound very basic, but so many pupils suffer from being unable to ‘find’ notes quickly, and this hampers ability to spot note patterns and position changes.

2. Take one line at a time (first right hand then the left) playing and mentally digesting every note, using correct fingerings, but without adhering to the pulse or rhythm. This should allow space to find all the notes, and even more importantly, be aware of hand position changes (which will be especially necessary if large leaps and chords are an issue). Work bar by bar at first, then line by line. If you practice bar by bar, aim to stop on the first beat of the following bar as opposed to the end of the one you are practising, as this will make continuity that mush easier when playing the whole line (or piece). Pay attention to the sound you are making, and aim to produce a rich timbre on every note. Conjuring a large sound at the start of practice, will make it easier to pull back and change the tone quality later (i.e. playing softer, lighter etc.). At this stage of practice, check how your body feels; do you feel suitably relaxed and free when playing? Try to ensure easy movement around the keyboard at all times, banishing any tightness or tension.

3. Now turn your attention to the rhythm. Find a steady practice tempo (usually no faster than a third of the intended speed), and set about ‘feeling’ the pulse. The quickest way to do this is by using a metronome. Once you are aware of the beat and are firmly ‘sitting’ on the pulse (i.e. not rushing or pulling back too much, but simply ‘predicting’ accurately where the beat will fall), tap the rhythm of the piece (or first page of the piece, if it is lengthy), with both hands (i.e. the right hand tapping the rhythm of the treble, and the left hand tapping that of the bass). This can help with understanding the rhythm and how the two musical lines interact and fit together.

4. Play through small passages hands separately (i.e. a couple of bars at a time); find all the correct notes (as before) but now play in time too. Much is made of counting (and it’s crucial in the early stages of learning a piece), but if you can learn to count aloud with a rhythmical, steady beat whilst playing, you’ll find keeping time is that much more accurate. Sub-dividing the beat can be beneficial as well. Eventually elongate practising in passages, so that you can play through the whole piece separate hands, in time (albeit slowly) with the correct notes. It might be necessary to repeat passages many times. I cannot stress enough the need to pay careful attention to the left hand; both the notes and the rhythm. The bass clef or left hand musical line drives a piece and to perform with real confidence and poise, this must be known as well (or even more so) than that of the right hand.

5.  In order to achieve an even tone, experiment by playing each hand with various touches (legato, non-legato, staccato etc.), thus helping to alleviate bumpy phrasing and uneven sound. When working hands separately, be aware of structure and phrasing. Sometimes, this element is completely forgotten what with attention being focussed on correct notes, movements and rhythm, but if you can achieve a beautiful sound and cantabile line, with effective phrasing and shaping whilst playing separate hands, then when hands are combined, the overall result could be spectacular.

You’re now ready to put the hands together, and I will publish these tips next week. Happy practising!


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.