Piano Practice Tips For Intermediate & Advanced Music

A lot of the information in this post is similar to my prior entry about cello practice tips.  The mental process that one goes through to learn music on any instrument is pretty much the same even though the physical action of practicing the notes is very different.

For me, learning advanced music on the piano has always been more of a challenge than learning music of equal difficulty on the cello.  It’s just so much easier to wrap my brain around one line of complicated music as opposed to two hands playing two different complicated lines of music at the same time.  Having a systematic approach to practicing is the key to conquering any piece of piano music that you’ll ever want to play.

1. Do Some Preparation Work.
This can be done without the piano.  You should look through your music and make sure you understand what all the dynamic and style markings mean.  Take note of how these markings help to shape the overall piece.  I think it’s helpful in your interpretation of a work when you understand what the composer was trying to convey through his or her use of musical elements.

You should also visually follow the flow and road map of the music as a part of your prep work.  Are there any repeated sections…any Da Capo or Dal Segno notations……any codas?

2. Practice Each Hand Separately & Use Efficient Fingerings.  
I recommend first playing through your music a few times with each hand separately before practicing with the hands together.  This gives you the chance to focus your undivided attention on what each hand is doing individually.  This would also be the time to decide on the most efficient fingerings to use in each hand’s part.  Using standard and/or logical fingerings makes a difficult piece a little easier to manage and learn.

3. Practice Slowly Before Increasing The Speed.
You should pick a slow tempo when you decide to start practicing with both hands together.  Your brain and hands have to get acclimated to processing both parts simultaneously, so you need to start off slowly until you feel confident that both of your hands are working together as a single unit.  When the slow tempo starts to feel very comfortable, you should increase the speed in reasonable increments until you reach your goal tempo.

4. Divide The Music Into Smaller Passages.
Breaking your piano music down into smaller parts will help you set clear, measurable practice goals.  I find that I almost always have to section off my piano music to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed.  Learning smaller chunks at a time will help you feel like you’re making progress quicker because, in actuality, you are.  Most people are able to retain restricted amounts of information quicker and with greater accuracy and clarity.  After you’ve learned the first passage well, you should then move on to the next passage.  You can patch together these learned passages as you make your way through the piece of music that you’re working on.

5. Use A Metronome.
The metronome is a great practice tool.  Most come with a standard range of settings printed on the back for each of the major tempo markings.  You can use these numbers as guidelines to come up with the goal tempo for your song.  You can also use the metronome to help you remain consistent as you practice since it’s very common to unknowingly change speeds as you go back-and-forth between easy and difficult passages.

This device will help you gradually increase your technical proficiency on parts where your fingers have to move very quickly and accurately.  These technical sections in your music have to be mastered at a slow tempo first before increasing the speed.  I usually keep a running tally of conquered metronome speeds down the side of the page until I reach my goal tempo.

6.  Make Hard Passages Even Harder.
The objective here is to practice a hard passage with additional layers of complexity so that when you go back to the notes as originally written, they will feel easier to play.  This is a technique that I find easier to use with the cello, but I have used it successfully with certain piano selections.  Sometimes I will double or triple each note while staying in tempo, or I’ll syncopate eighth and sixteenth note rhythms in various ways to force my fingers to move or jump faster at a different spot each time.  You should definitely use your imagination to come up with other ways to make your music more challenging to play if you decide to employ this practice method.

You may also find these links helpful:
Music Terms & Symbols For Pianists
Suzuki Method For Piano
Parts of The Piano
Piano Pedals
Correct Piano Posture

I am a professional musician and music teacher.  For more information, please visit my website at www.AudreyWilliamsMusic.com.  You can hear samples of my music at Audrey’s Music Page.

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How To Handle Your Performance Anxiety

Most musicians who perform live in front of audiences will tell you that at some point in their careers, they have had to deal with performance anxiety and sometimes crippling stage fright. I had a very interesting personal experience a few months ago while performing background music at an event. These are the types of gigs that I never get nervous about, but for this particular job, I had a whole new set of custom arrangements that I had never performed in public before. Much to my amusement, I started feeling the little flutter in my stomach which is my tell-tale sign of performance jitters. It made me sympathize even more with what my students go through at every one of their recitals.

Below are a few tips and techniques that have helped me to effectively cope with and overcome the debilitating effects of performance anxiety. I’ve found that if I actively and consistently practice my set of responses to my anxiety, then I feel more calm and confident on performance day. I’m also less likely to have any memory slips.

Practice well and very thoroughly.
This should go without saying, but it’s very important to stress the significance of preparing and knowing your music well. If you come to your performance knowing that there are certain passages that you haven’t mastered in your music, it will feed into and intensify any negative nervous thoughts that may already be racing through your head.

Do a mock performance (or performances) before the BIG performance.
Gather your family, friends and strangers for a rehearsal sit in. Since everyone’s response to performance stress isn’t exactly the same, this would be the time to focus on how anxiety manifests itself for you:

  • Do you have excessive negative thoughts?
  • Do you have physical symptoms?
  • Are you panicked and looking for the nearest exit?

Don’t try to suppress what you’re feeling. Allow yourself to give a voice to your feelings of angst and pay attention to the physical sensations going on throughout your entire body.

Take the time to reflect after each practice performance.
Think back to how you felt before, during and after you played. Recap for yourself the thoughts that were running through your mind. It’s probably a good idea to write them down. I know that for me, things become more clear and real when I write. Try to relive the moment when your hands started to sweat profusely, when your stomach started twisting into knots, when you felt light headed or when you experienced any other physical ailment.

After you have given yourself the chance to revisit and digest everything that you thought and felt, try countering each specific negative thought with a positive, rational and healthy one. Keep doing this reflection exercise everyday until you have trained yourself to have a different, much better response to anxiety.

I hope that this blog has been of interest and/or helpful to you. I welcome any comments or other suggestions on the subject matter.

You may also find these links helpful:
Piano Practice Tips For Intermediate & Advanced Music
Cello Practice Tips For Intermediate & Advanced Music


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