Beyond the “Do It Again”

If I teach my students any one thing, I hope that it is how to practice. As a young child, I remember sitting down at the piano…and then what? Maybe glancing at that notebook my teacher wrote in. Half-heartedly playing a scale or two. Opening one of my books and launching into a piece. I’d start with the first measure (which always sounded good considering all the extra repetition it got every time I restarted) and struggle my way through to the end. Do that a time or two or many, and call it a day. I may be dramatizing it a bit in my memory. It probably couldn’t have all been that bad (I did end up a musician, after all…) but it was a lot closer to that version of practice than the one that I had to discover bit by bit, through trial and mostly lots and lots of error.  I didn’t really have a model of what to do at home, and though I had many amazing teachers to whom I owe so very much, I was never taught how to practice. Too often, we as teachers assume that the word itself is self-explanatory. Practice. There is an implication of repetition. There is an admonishment to spend lots of time at the piano. There are circles and arrows and highlighted passages in the music… Continue reading “Beyond the “Do It Again””

So This Is What It’s Like

One of the realities of piano-teacherdom, is that one is left with shockingly little time to play the piano. Day after day, I instruct my students on how to practice. “Don’t just sit and play,” I tell them. Set goals, make a list, use the metronome, repeat small sections! I feel virtuous and teacherly. And then every once in a while, I find myself actually needing to take my own advice. Tomorrow night I will be accompanying at a Benefit Concert for Japan. This has led to a few taste-of-my-own medicine sort of days! One of the pieces I’ll be playing is the Act 2 “Flower duet” from Madama Butterfly. Lets just say that for something innocently marked “Andantino” (and later, an understated “Allegro Moderato”), it is quite a ride. As Cio-Cio-San’s excitement builds, Puccini modulates—every few measures. Then, faithful Suzuki tries to bring Butterfly back to earth and the tempo completely changes—every few measures. Not to mention the joys of playing an orchestral reduction. (Oh why, why do they always assume I have three hands?)

Silliness aside, this really was a great way to practice the way that I tell my students to do it. I made myself write a specific plan in my practice notebook before doing any playing. Get crazy LH 16th note section to MM=72. Check. Figure out how to navigate that one ridiculous page-turn. Done. (I hope!) Keep inching the crazy LH 16th note section toward MM=104. Uh-huh. Remind myself not to clench every muscle in my body. Yes. (Well, that one is a work in progress)

Ultimately, it is nice to know that I can practice what I preach.  (Practice! Literally!) Puccini and I spent some good quality time together these last few days, and I am looking forward to playing the Butterfly Duet tomorrow. The singers are truly wonderful and I just hope to get out of their way and let the music happen (while playing crazy 16th notes at MM=104 in a manner that feels “Andantino”).

And while I spend the day teaching tomorrow, I will give my students the practicing speech with added gusto and authority!