Piano students who are talented and dedicated spend a lot of time studying the piano, but in the process they may be losing an important quality of art, the ability to be spontaneous. Here’s some things that piano students have a tendancy to do that limits their creative energy.
1. Play through every song without stopping to investigate areas that interest them or areas they are unsure of.
Students need to examine the music they are learning and be asking questions as they are playing. Observation is important to find the details that need attention. Playing through the music over and over again from beginning to end, and going on to the next song in the same way limits possibilities for improvement. A learning process involves asking questions along the way and paying attention to areas that need to be thoughtfully reviewed.
2. Practice without a specific goal that adds creative purpose to their playing.
Without specific goals and strategies for achieving those goals practice is meaningless. Progress isn’t measured by the clock, but by the product. Students need to know what they are trying to produce to be effective in their practice.
3. Practice their pieces in the same order every time without variation.
At the beginning of practice our attention is highest. First attention needs to be given to challenges in the music. Then stop for a few minutes and start again fresh. Look for areas of the music that need work and focus attention on these.
4. Don’t connect to the music give it personal creative meaning.
The ultimate goal is to bring the music to life. Students need to bring their own magic to the music by connecting to each note so that it resonates as part of a coherent, human story. Music always tells a story. By imaging that each note is part of an important story they are telling to their best friend, students give their music personality and interest that is needed to bring the music to life.
5. Gloss over the notes without becoming intimate with each part of the music.
It takes patience to look deeper into areas of the music to become completely familiar with every melody. The ear needs to hear it clearly and be certain of what is there. Ignoring areas of uncertainty and avoiding thoughtful, creative strategies to bring them into clarity is a matter of discipline. It’s natural for students to put off looking at these areas and focus instead on the areas they can already play well. Uncertainty is uncomfortable and it feels safer to play the parts of the music that are familiar. It is human to avoid what we feel anxious about, and it takes courage to face each challenge in the music creatively.
Even young children can learn effective practice habits that honor creative work and not just time at “work. ” Finish lines and artificial boundaries that don’t really exist shouldn’t rule. Creative playing strategies and tools that have integrity, meaning and purpose are what students need for mastering the art of practicing and piano artistry.
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