Friday, July 12, 2013


Every time I start to learn a new piece, I seem to find it necessary to futz around with it for a while. The while could go on for a couple of months. I go at it from many rather useless angles -- try to play it up to tempo, try to memorize it before I can really play it, try to play it mechanically without thinking at all -- even though I know these things aren't going to work. Once, when I was at a piano lesson, my teacher had to tend to something in another room but told me to keep playing, so I started playing one of the pieces I was just starting, and when he came back in he said, "I hope you don't practice like that!" I responded with something snappy like, "No, but I sightread like that!" But that got me thinking that, uh, yeah, I do kind of practice like that. But it's more like a way of feeling my way around the piece, and eventually something clicks and I suddenly know exactly how to practice it and go from struggling to really being able to play it.

A couple of weeks ago, I brought this up in a lesson. I felt like an idiot -- I ought to know how to practice by now; I'm even teaching people how to practice! But hey, I'm not proud. If I need help, I'm not ashamed to ask for it. The advice was to focus on short sections, perhaps one page at a time, and apply various techniques to each. As an example, we worked on the last page of the Rondeux from the Bach C minor partita: slowly, hands together; then hands separate; then hands separate, staccato; then hands together, staccato; then hands separate using only one finger; and so on. This was all fine, and what I already knew. But the next  piece of advice? Put that piece or movement away and work on it again another day. This butts up against my natural impatience, wanting to get it all done NOW, despite my knowing that with practicing, you never get it all done NOW. And if you try, it almost always backfires and you end up getting nowhere.

Over the past two weeks, I have dutifully attempted to apply a more patient approach. At my lesson yesterday, I played the first movement of the Bach, and my teacher rather excitedly asked me to play the next movement -- and then the next -- and then the Brahms. He was hearing something different in my playing; he said I sounded like a different musician. These weeks also happened to coincide with my decision to resign from my job, so who's to say which had more of an effect? But it's encouraging. I hope whatever it is continues to develop.

No comments: