More basics

It is the beginning of Term 2, and fortunately the two week holiday has not seemed to break our momentum too much.

However, a few reminders about effective practice are always timely.

  • While it is good to play songs through completely, this should not be the only way you practise.
  • If you make a mistake, make a note of it and come back to work on it.
  • Play the tricky bit 5 – 10 times until it is correct, then a few times to check that it stays correct.
  • In this repetitive practice time, speed is not at all important.  Slow down so that you can get it right.
  • Gradually increase the speed every few repetitions.
  • When you have played the section correctly a few times, try incorporating it smoothly back into the piece.
  • You may need to practise the transitions slowly to make sure they are smooth.

This kind of sensible and disciplined practice will always be more fruitful than playing once through your pieces and ignoring all the mistakes.

If there are consistently many mistakes, or places where you have to stop and correct yourself, you are probably trying to play too fast, or maybe you should even go back to playing hands separately.

Well done for aiming for excellence!  Disciplined application will always lead to success, and is the means by which a  more musical performance will be the result.

Mind games

The more I teach, the more I realise that my job is about more than just teaching piano.

I am not a psychologist, but I am realising more and more that music (and indeed life itself) is often governed by one’s mindset.

Why is it that for those who complain “These things always seem to happen to me” or “I’m such a clutz; I’m always injuring myself“, that these words do tend to come true?

Why is it that some people are more resilient?  Some more about to cope with life’s little speed-bumps?  Some get completely bogged down by the past?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but more and more I am realising that my thought life does have some bearing on my reality.

I am also realising that while I am not psychic, I can clearly see my student’s thoughts affecting their ability to play.

A student who sighs and decides before they start playing that they are no good at this piece, will probably not play well.

Increasingly as I listen to mistakes and then ask later what the student was thinking, the response is “That I was coming up to the hard bit that I can’t do“, or “That this was so much better before the lesson“.

Another part of learning to play music is learning to gain discipline over our thought life.  I am terrible at this myself, and can find myself during my own recital, daydreaming about what I am having for dinner.  Thus part of the discipline required is to stay on task, in the moment.

Another part of the required discipline is practising positivity.

I don’t allow the word “can’t” in my studio, because if you say you can’t, I believe that you are defeated before you begin.

It is important to reframe our thoughts, and I encourage students to say “This is a tricky bit, but I am going to give it my best effort“.

Today I asked my colleague (composer, musician, lecturer and teacher) Richard Percival what was his antidote to mental weakness, and as he pointed out, there is no substitute for preparation and sufficient practice.  If the student has done good, quality, sustained practice, then there is no reason for any mental insecurities.  (For more about Richard, see