PRACTICING IS GOOD — AS LONG AS YOU DO IT RIGHT
There are many dangerous myths and misconceptions about practicing piano out there. In this article I want to cover five of the most harmful ones. Abandon those practices at all cost, not only because it will save you valuable practice time, but most of all, because it will help you prevent injury and reduce frustration.
MYTH 1: SIT ABSOLUTELY STILL AND UPRIGHT WHILE PRACTICING THE PIANO
Have you ever sat on a chair completely motionless for about five minutes? If you did, you probably noticed that your back and neck started hurting and just about every muscle in your body became tenser by the second. You probably couldn’t wait to move your body into a different position, right? This is because sitting absolutely still requires the skill to sit perfectly balanced and relaxed which is an art that should be reserved for yoga sessions and other guided meditational exercise programs.
When playing the piano, however, sitting absolutely still goes completely against the physiology of our bodies not only causing it unnecessary muscle tension but also making it more difficult to play altogether. After all, it isn’t just our fingers that are engaged when we play the piano; in fact, almost every muscle in our body plays a vital part in the sound production, assuming that we use our playing apparatus correctly. For optimal results we must allow our entire playing apparatus to move freely, which is also the key to ergonomic piano playing. For example, leaning into the keys, or to the left and right of the keyboard is sometimes necessary to execute certain passages that would otherwise put unnecessary strain on our hands and fingers.
The photo shows Keith Jarrett during a live performance. Jarrett is a classically trained piano virtuoso who made himself a name with his famous improvised solo piano concert in Cologne, Germany. It is one of the most sold records in history. Jarrett is especially known for his extroverted performances. Not only does he move his body in the most extreme ways to the point where he is dancing rather than sitting, but he also makes strange sounds with his voice that drive every sound engineer crazy. His music, however, is just brilliant. If you have never heard of him I highly recommend that you check him out. The reason I bring up Jarrett is because he is a good example of someone who doesn’t sit still and upright as promoted by many piano instructors. I am not suggesting that we all should move exactly like Jarrett; however, I do think that letting our bodies move more freely has a positive effect on our performance.
Tip 1: Aim for a well balanced sitting posture but avoid sitting absolutely still when playing the piano; instead, allow for your body to move naturally.
MYTH 2: THE MORE TIME WE SPEND PRACTICING, THE BETTER
This myth can be very dangerous. What if you are tired, frustrated, or maybe even in pain? Should you still keep going just to meet your self-imposed schedule? Of course not. Instead follow this rule: the more time you spend practicing in a focused, relaxed, and productive manner, the better. You are better off putting quality over quantity when it comes to practicing.
TIP 2: Making the best out of your valuable practice time should always take precedence over the amount of time you spend practicing.
MYTH 3: NO PAIN, NO GAIN
It can’t be overstated how dangerous this myth is when it is taken literally.
Certainly, you never want to reach the point when you play with pain. It is the one thing you must avoid at all costs. Long-term injuries have ended the careers of many very talented pianists. Let’s change this myth to NO SACRIFICE, NO GAIN instead. Although it doesn’t rhyme, this rule makes a lot more sense and doesn’t harm your body.
TIP 3: We must never practice when we experience strong physical discomfort or pain.
MYTH 4: REPEATING A DIFFICULT PASSAGE AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE IS THE BEST WAY TO LEARN IT
Many students get into the habit of playing the same passage over and over again. Yes, repetition is a necessary part of practicing, however, you must be careful not to overdo it!
Tip 4: How to use repetition properly
- Only repeat a passage after you have worked out the correct fingering and placement of the hand and fingers along with any other technique-related issues.
- Start slow and increase the speed gradually, but only after you are able to perform the passage without mistakes a few times in a row at the slower tempo.
- You must stay focused when you repeat a passage. Avoid mindless repetition.
- Reduce the number of repetitions when the passage is technically demanding and could lead to injury.
- Immediately stop repeating a passage when pain sets in.
MYTH 5: YOU SHOULD TRY TO FIND A PIANO FOR YOUR PRACTICE SESSIONS THAT HAS A VERY HEAVY ACTION
One of the unavoidable circumstances pianists have to live with is that they rarely get a chance to perform on the same piano that they practice on. Every piano has a different action, sound, and resistance. This does not mean, however, that you should practice on a piano that has an especially heavy action. Instead, try to find a practice piano that gives you decent control and has a moderate key weight. Playing the piano has nothing to do with lifting weights. Of course, you don’t want to practice on a piano that doesn’t give you any resistance at all either. You won’t be able to shape a phrase, play dynamic passages with confidence, or use the bounce of the keys to your advantage (one of the many problems you will encounter when practicing on a digital piano, for example).
Tip 5: Your practice piano should be similar to one you would like to perform on.
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