The children are back in school, my piano studio is in full swing and I’m gearing up to teach art classes in a couple of weeks. All this and in my moments of insomnia a childhood poem comes to mind.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For want of a horse the rider was lost,
For want of a rider the battle was lost,
For want of a battle the Kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
I was horse crazy as a child (still am) and anything mentioning horses caught my attention! (It’s the same with Kipling’s “Smuggler’s Song” with it’s chorus of: “Five and twenty ponies, Trotting through the dark …”
But, I digress. The important point is – it’s all in those little, nasty details. I mean, it can make or break a painting or performance. So, I make lists and plow through life, training the brain to be bi-focal – focus on the big picture, focus on the details.
This same element applies to art. Even if the style is loose, there are details in the highlights, correct placement of contrasts. If you’re into art, check my classes or art out in the pages on the left.
APPLICATION: For those piano students, here’s a section from the assignment book I print out for my students about practicing :
Practice at least five (5) days each week, especially with 24 hours after the lesson. Most people settle into a weekday schedule so follow your schedule the best you can.
Practice just makes permanent – perfect practice makes perfect!
Good practice means:
- Make sure there are no distractions. Shut the TV & radio off. Ask people using the telephone if they can use it in another room from the piano.
- Take all books out from which you will be working. Have a pencil on hand to mark any trouble spots or reminders.
- Warm-up with 1-2 old pieces like songs, drills or technique pieces (Finger Power for example).
- Work on your new scales or other drills slowly. Be careful of any fingering and phrasing required. If you can play it correctly through the first time, play it again a bit faster. Increase tempo on each repeat. If you cannot play it correctly the first time through, you are playing too fast! This is most important, you must slow down.
- After drills are done, work from the method book or the piece you are having the most trouble with or you like the least. Play through the whole song or a section at least one time slowly, then choose a line or phrase, play slowly as described under drills. Method pieces or recital pieces usually require between a third to a half your practice time.
Work on your goal for each piece. This is found either in the box labelled “area of concern” or directly on the music. Allow 2-10 minutes. This set is as important as playing slowly. Do at least one goal a day. Do two or more if they are easy to accomplish. Working on goals makes you learn a skill perfectly and you come away from the practice time knowing you have “conquered” an obstacle.
- Move on to the next pieces. Remember, it is far better to learn two or three measures of a song each day perfectly than to play 1-2 times through the entire piece haphazardly.
- Learning perfectly means:
CORRECT EXPRESSION (pedaling, loud/soft, legato/staccato touches)
CORRECT HAND POSITION and
- Ask yourself, “Did I learn the goal well enough to play it perfectly each day of practice? If not, continue to work on it every day until you can play it correctly the first time each practice time.
- PLAY OLD FAVORITES. Spend at least 2 minutes (for beginner students) to 10 or more minutes for more advanced students. Check for memory, dynamics, smooth and flowing phrasing, clean pedaling. These are the songs you need to know when someone asks to hear you play.