Mix it up

There are many ways to make practice more interesting.  Practice is work, but there are many ways in which we can ‘mix it up’ in order to make it less tedious.

I generally begin a practice session with scales or finger exercises, as a way to warm up my fingers, but even within this format, it is possible to have some variety: here are a few ideas

  • Practise your scales in a different order each day
  • Some days, begin with arpeggios or broken chords
  • Practise in different rhythms
  • Start (and end) the scale or arpeggio at the top of the keyboard rather than the bottom
  • Practise with different articulation (slurred or staccato or a combination of the two)
  • Try a different number of octaves – 2 instead of 1, 3 instead of 4!
  • Practise in contrary motion instead of similar motion

To be completely honest, as a child I used to wedge a novel open on the piano stand, and read as I thundered up and down scales.  Other times (when my mother was out) I turned the TV on mute and played my technical work.  Fun as that might be, it is probably not the most efficient way to practise, as the brain really does need to be engaged in order to make the best use of our time and skills.

These above principles can also be applied to repertoire.

In addition:

  • Sometimes begin practising at the middle or end of the piece
  • Even at an advanced stage, sometimes return to practising hands separately
  • Try playing the piece at a different tempo (speed).  It is good to change things a little and make sure that you do not always play a piece the exact same way.
  • You could always try a piece in a different place on the keyboard – an octave higher or lower, or even try transposing into a different key!
  • Practise the B section more than the A section; practise the end more than the beginning

As I noted with technical work, make sure to keep your mind on the task.  It is very easy for our fingers to move on automatic pilot.  I used to even fall into a reverie in concerts and come out of my daydream not knowing where I was in the piece.  This is far from ideal.

Keep having fun and being creative with your practice sessions.  Let us know of other ideas you might have tried which make practice sessions pass more quickly!

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Perseverance

What an unpopular word I am teaching my students!

Perseverance.

My own definition for my students is “to keep on trying and not give up.”

Perseverance is critical to achieving excellence, and it is an important trait for anyone to learn.  Natural talent will get a performer (or athlete, or business person) only so far; perseverance is what leads to excellence.

I often inherit students from other methods who have never really learnt to read notes.  Particularly for boys, it seems much easier to hear something and reproduce it, than to take the time to read each individual note.  I do understand that taking the time to learn to read music can be frustrating, but I would like to train independent learners who will be able to play for fun, from a score.

For those students not confident with reading the music, please persevere!  It will take a while the first time, but stick with it!  The second time will take slightly less long, and the third time less again.  It will take effort and work, but the rewards are amazing.

Laura Sessions Stepp says “Competence is not easily fostered in a society that values the shortcut, the quick fix, and just getting by.  There are many distractions today, perhaps more than at any time in history, pulling adolescents away from the sustained effort that is required to do anything well, whether it be building a bookcase or playing Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune'” (from ‘Our last best shot: Guiding our children through early adolescence’).

We are definitely going against the grain in aiming for excellence, but why settle for anything less?  What can be the satisfaction in a mediocre performance?  I am interested in children who achieve to the best of their own ability, and I am trying to provide the tools to do so.

My favourite app at the moment is My Note Games, which is quite inexpensive and comes with sound effects of children chanting the correct note name, and a tinkly gold medal if you play the notes correctly.  With the Olympics taking place in London as I write, it’s a well-timed app that is now a favourite of every child in our school, as they seek to play the correct notes quickly enough to receive a gold medal, rather than a silver for slower performances, or the dreaded bronze for a mistake!

Whatever it takes, I am trying to foster perseverance in the pursuit of individual excellence and independence, and I know that when the students start to do the detective work, follow the clues, and read the notes, that satisfaction and pride will follow.