Spring is one of the most beautiful times of the season: plants are starting to grow, flowers are blooming, the sunshine is becoming stronger and birds start singing earlier and earlier. Nature starts waking up and ‘smiling’ at us, and the same is happening with people; we feel that there are more new possibilities, new beginnings and, in general, life becomes ‘sweeter’ and happier, in comparison with the dark and cold months of winter.
However with regard to piano practice, many people feel that they would rather spend more time outside (whilst the weather is so beautiful) and less time inside, which in turn affects their daily piano regime. Many start feeling guilty for not practising enough.
Also this time is the time for holidays, Easter and Pesach, or just family time together. This is the period when we start thinking more about our lives, relationships and family matters. During these days it is very popular to do spring cleaning in the house, getting rid of ‘stale’ habits and banishing the darkness of winter. The good news is that you can do the same with your piano practice routine: learning new pieces, practising in a different way, start doing new piano warm up exercises; all these can contribute to rejuvenation of your piano practice.
Below are some tips that will help you to do just that:
Drink a glass of fresh water (ideally with lemon or cucumber) before your practice, in the mornings or afternoons or even early evenings
Drink a glass of herbal tea (with honey or lemon, according to taste) before your late evening practice.
Do a few stretches before you start:
Stand with your feet parallel, a hip-width apart, engage your inner legs, draw your abdominals inwards, align your lower back (which often means bringing your hips slightly forward, to avoid creating a big curve in your lower back), keep your shoulders relaxed (lower them if necessary) and slightly back if your shoulders tend to turn inwards, stretch through your arms, as if someone is pulling your fingers down to the ground, make sure that your neck is not protruding forwards (if it is, you can end up with a lot of problems in your upper shoulders and neck, and even experience headaches and problems with vision).
Take a deep breath, inhaling all the way from your diaphragm, while lifting your hands over your head along the sides of your body, then start slowly breathing out whilst bringing your hands to the original position in the same way.
Keep thinking of maintaining your alignment (which means don’t feel sloppy).
Repeat 3 times.
On the 3rd time, instead of returning your hands to the original position, bring the palms together over your head on the in breath and, on out breath, slowly bring the hands together down through the centre line of your body.
Then take 2 breaths whilst keeping your hands firmly against your naval: palms pressed together on the level of your diaphragm.
This simple stretch will revitalise your body and help you to concentrate.
Choose a brand new exercise routine.
I am a big advocate of doing exercises, as you can improve your playing dramatically by working separately on technical issues. Identify up to 3 of the weakest areas of your practice (scales, thirds, octaves, etc) and choose exercises that will help you to tackle these. Amongst my favourites are Clementi-Tausig ‘Gradus ad Parnassum’, H. Berens ‘Training of the left hand’, M. Long ‘Le Piano’ exercises, some pages from Chopin and Liszt etudes (it is absolutely fine to use those as exercises) and, of course, Piano-Yoga® exercises, as they promote not only the stretch but the strength in the fingers, especially in the bottom parts (proximal phalanx), and therefore allow you to do all the other exercises much more efficiently.
Choose at least one new piece. I think it is very important always to work on something new, and especially during the spring. I love variation form, as then you feel that you are not just working on one piece, but on many different pieces. Some of the great examples are Beethoven Six Variations on ‘Nel cor piu non mi sento’ WoO70, Beethoven ‘32 Variations on an Original Theme’ in C minor WoO 80, Schumann Abegg Variations Op.1, Schumann Pappilons Op.2 or Mendelssohn ‘Variations Sérieuses’ Op.54 to name just a few.
Record yourself playing one of the pieces that you are working on and then give yourself a day’s rest. Afterwards listen to the recording with the sheet music and a pencil and pretend that you are listening to someone else’s playing and giving them a lesson. Mark all the places, with details and nuances that you think need improvement.
Set-up a goal. I think it is very important to know why you are learning to play the piano, whether you just want to learn it for yourself or you are more ambitious and you’d like to do some public performances or/and take some exams. Your goal can vary from ‘memorising a piece of music’ and ‘performing in public’ to ‘establishing a practice routine’. Whatever you do, decide on the goal and when you intend to achieve it. This could transform your practice, as it will give it direction.
Get professional advice. If you are not having lessons at the moment and practicing by yourself, it is a good time to see a professional musician (whether a piano teacher or a performing musician) to get some tips and advice, even if you cannot take regular lessons. If you are already taking lessons, consider signing up for a master class or a workshop, as it is always good to hear fresh new opinions, even those different from your teacher’s.
I always encourage my students to play at festivals and masterclasses, as not only do they get the experience of performing in public, but they also gain professional feedback which is sometimes different from mine, but is always useful.
And finally… Set up a date for your ‘public’ performance. Even if you are the most shy person in the world, it would do you a lot of good to play in front of someone else, as this is where your knowledge and skills will be tested. If you manage to keep your cool and play swimmingly through this, then you have learnt well what you have been working on, but if not, it means, that you still need to continue work on what you have been doing. And if you are an experienced player, then sign yourself up to an interesting performance opportunity, such as a local festival or masterclass.
Alternatively, you can make a recording that you can then give to all your friends and family as a present! Maybe for Christmas? This will force you to be really thorough in your playing and practising.
Enjoy your practice
& happy Holidays!