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Play Piano - Avoid the 7 Most Common Piano Practice Errors by Eva Martin Hollaus

Play Piano - Avoid the 7 Most Common Piano Practice Errors by
Article Posted: 08/07/2011
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Play Piano - Avoid the 7 Most Common Piano Practice Errors

Education,Music,Recreation & Leisure
So many people I talk to either would like to play the piano or are playing piano for pleasure, are self-taught and can play a little, write their own songs, improvise; some people would love to play their favorite classical piano pieces, some other young students are taking lessons and would like to complete piano examinations, performances, festivals and even possibly perform publicly and in piano competitions. Well, that is quite a range of desires; simply put, everyone has music inside them and would like to express him or herself more and better. The big question is how do you go about practicing efficiently and developing this precious gift you have inside you without the frustration of not really knowing how to practice the piano? Let me share with you the secrets how to avoid the seven most common practice errors in any style music you are playing, if you are self-taught or are working towards a piano college performance examination! When I was little, the only answer my teachers had for me was, to practice, to repeat again and again until it was - hopefully - perfect; but that did not work! I was practicing and running my head into a brick wall, I was still messing up, or if I could play at home perfectly I made many errors in the lesson or in performance; it was very frustrating for me; I did not know how to reach my goals and practice efficiently, play beautifully, accurately and securely at home, in the lesson and also perform comfortably in public; but I was stubbornly determined to find the answers, I loved playing piano so much; I was determined to succeed. And I had the very best teachers that were available to me, but even they did not have the answers that would resolve my errors.

I can tell you, I have made every single practice error I am going to share with you and how to practice flawlessly instead. If you know a little "how to", you will be amazed at your own progress and speed with which you are progressing. And the truth is, it is so logical and so easy to have a little know-how under your belt. So simple and logic, yet it took me forty-eight years to peel the complications and detours out-of-the-way and I am sharing with you how I address successfully these so common practice misconceptions.

Let's go over the seven most common practice errors and the secrets to unlock flawless and effortless practice progress:

As a piano teacher or student are we not hearing these daily?

1. I just want to learn to play a piece – I do not have time for boring scales or theory

2. Metronome practice? You must be kidding!

3. The most important thing is to get the notes right

4. If you practice and make a mistake, just keep trying, eventually you will get it

5. Only people who cannot play piano need to write in finger numbers

6. Never mind practicing technique or learning theory, just practice a piece until you get it.

7. If I play a piece often enough I will be able to play it from memory.

Practice error #1: I just want to learn to play a piece – I do not have time for boring scales or theory

Let me explain: classical music is based on patterns; they are scales and chord patterns and broken chords patterns (called arpeggios). If you learn these very basic patterns in all keys, you are training your fingers, your ear and mind. I have successfully taught piano playing foundations to many students and amassed over 600 gold medals in various certificate and challenge programs. I can tell you from my first hand experience, if I can convince you to spend 12 weeks practicing one key per week, spending a few minutes a day of dedicated practice, then in twelve weeks you have rehearsed every key. There are only 12 keys. The patterns are identical in each key. Once you have rehearsed the most common classical patterns, once you can play comfortably in all twelve keys, you will be able to learn or create new pieces so much quicker, since you have acquired a piano playing foundation upon which you can build. Many of my students who follow my practice instructions are able to learn advanced pieces after one or two years of piano lessons. Rather than feeling bored practicing scales and chords patterns, you should feel excited that you are able to learn a classical piano playing foundation in as little as 12 weeks, with no note reading skills required. As you are learning to play in all keys you are also setting the foundation for theory comprehension. All I can say – yes, you can do it; it is not difficult and you can also play beautifully. The piano practice habit secret #1 revealed: acquire the know-how to achieve a basic piano playing foundation so all new pieces will be learned quickly, so that improvisations come easily and new original music can be created flowing freely. You will be amazed at your progress once you can play piano in all keys.

Practice error #2: Metronome practice? You must be kidding!

Let me explain: The metronome is a mechanical or digital device that gives you accurate clicks in beats per minute. In these so fast paced and challenging times we need to be efficient in practice. If you never practice with the metronome you may be able to play slowly, moderately fast and fast; however, you have no control to determine how steady you are keeping the beat. You also would never be able to acquire certainty to play in all speeds with good control, relaxed and effortlessly. When you are practicing, most importantly you should pay attention to accuracy playing with the metronome beats and playing a wide range of speeds. You should sound fantastic in all speeds; you are working towards total control in all speeds. Most concert pianists and master teachers will tell you, the most beneficial practice is in slow motion. When you are practicing in slow motion, because the tempo is slow enough, your mind has enough time to pay attention to each detail. You can compare and make certain your memory is accurate; you can shape musical lines and nuances that would get lost if you played in a fast tempo. As you are picking up detail in slow motion, you faster speeds will show better control and definition. Practicing only in a fast tempo would not allow you to add detail. If only fast tempi are rehearsed the performance often sounds inaccurate and rushed. The metronome helps you to slow down step-by-step and then again to speed up step-by-step and you will be amazed at the greater control, accuracy, comfort and musicality. Metronome practice also helps train a steady pulse and that is very important in all piano styles. The piano practice habit secret #2 revealed: practice with the metronome and acquire good control in all speeds.

Practice error #3: The most important thing is to get the notes right

Let me explain: So many times when talking to parents of new students, they want to make sure their children learn the notes. Notes are so easy to learn, it is almost like saying: "I would like to enroll my child in English classes and want to make sure my child learns the alphabet. If your attention is only on notes, then much of the essence of music, the emotional content, the beauty of the music and enjoyment may be missed. I am not saying at all to trade note accuracy for emotion or physical playing agility; I am saying too much emphasis on notes is not helpful unlocking the physical motions that produce an artistic sound. Piano playing is determining the emotions of the music that then determine the physical motion that will then produce the desired sound. Piano playing is not just moving the fingers up and down rhythmically. Actually music is feeling the tune in your entire body and projecting like a sculptor molding and shaping clay or stone into the sculpture; the same way a pianist sculpts and shapes music from imagination via the entire body into the piano into projecting sound. And yes, the notes need to be correct; but if notes were the only things that would be of importance any computer could play better than any pianist. And we all know a computer does not make art. Only a person projecting feeling into physical motions will project an artful musical interpretation. And while attention should be put on the physical motion to play each note, this motions needs to take the sound duration for note into consideration and the rhythm. Greater physical motions will help playing in a steady pulse. The piano practice habit secret #3 revealed: Correct notes are important; but you also need to define the emotional feelings you would like to project into the music and the physical motions through your back, upper arms, lower arms, wrist, hand and fingers like a dancer expressing music or like a sculptor sculpting. The emotion determines the physical motion and the physical motion determines the sound quality. Practicing the physical motion will give you a much more rhythmically secure, note accurate and artistic interpretation of the piece you are playing.

Practice error #4: If you practice and make a mistake, just keep trying, eventually you will get it.

Let me explain: Well, maybe you will not get it, if you practice making mistakes, or as I explain to my students: if you keep bashing your head into a brick wall you will hardly find the door and the way to the other side. What you practice is what you will get; if you practice a segment for 5 minutes and you made errors each time, you just practiced making errors. This practice error is very common. It has to do with the psychology of not giving up and giving in and one's personal pride to not let something get to you and, I can do this, let me just try this one more time, oh I am getting it now, etc. There is nothing wrong with any of these character and tenacity traits, however they are quite inapplicable in practicing piano and they will not get a segment error-free. In order to eliminate a mistake, a very simple principle needs to be understood. The mind simply needs more time to get the right finger on the right key. In other words, you need to slow down. Now, do not suddenly just play super slow and then fast again. No, you need to work your way slower until error-free, then you have set the foundation for your mind and you are training error-free physical motions that are under your control. When learning a piece, it needs to be learned note by note, measure by measure, then section by section and eventually page by page and then the entire piece. Just playing through a piece and hoping for the best has never worked well. The piano practice habit secret #4 revealed: When an error occurs in practice, work your way slower with the metronome until an error-free speed is achieved, then start speeding up again, working each click or every other click using the metronome.

Practice error #5: Only people who cannot play piano need to write in finger numbers

Let me explain: Even J. S. Bach said, playing piano was easy, all you need to do is to place the right finger on the right key (at the right time). I spent most of my Music Conservatory times with this idea: Oh, I can play the piano well, I do not need the finger numbers. And then I could not understand why I made errors in performance, why errors never would fix, and why I would constantly get odd random errors. After all, I had practiced hours and hours, diligently. Yet I did not understand the correlation of lack of decided fingering and mistakes in performance. Today, I am consistently teaching very advanced college level pieces to very young pianists and the secret is, that I determine each finger for each note played; I am checking that the fingering will work with the student's physical ability and size hand and then the piece is learned as a sequence of physical motions of finger stretches and finger / hand contractions. This eliminates guesswork and never-ending uncertainties that the fingering will actually work. This is how some of my nine and ten-year old students can master college level pieces and perform them error-free in competition. The piano practice habit secret #5 revealed: if you spend the time and determine exactly which finger works best on each key, you will be acquiring tremendous certainty playing piano and even difficult passages will become fluent and effortless.

Practice error #6: practicing technique or learning theory is just a waste of time, I rather just practice a piece until I get it.

Let me explain: In my teens I practiced about three hours a day and I was very frustrated with my results; I learned the pieces I needed to learn and I fulfilled the very strict piano examination requirements, but I felt I did not learn fast enough and secure enough and I wish I could learn better so I could play more beautiful music; I persisted in my quest. Only many years later did I realize the connection of learning piano playing patterns (scales and chords in all keys), theory and repertoire. When I see for example a C Major scale in the sheet music I would like to play, I simply see the beginning note and the ending note and I plug in the C Major scale pattern I already practiced. I need to understand theory well enough to recognize which scale or chords pattern needs to be "plugged in". I need to understand that I am looking at a C Major scale to recognize it and plug in the correct physical motion. If you only learn pieces and never learn basic theory or basic technique, each new piece will be a difficult task to master, since every element needs to be learned completely anew. Without elementary theory knowledge you could look at the C Major scale as a sequence of letters needing to be deciphered one by one, rather than recognizing a trained pattern. If you did not now theory you would read C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C; if you knew theory would read C, C Major scale to C and plug in the pattern you are already well rehearsed in. And there are only 7 white keys and 5 black keys, a total of 12 different sets of keys. Once these fundamentals are mastered learning new pieces becomes so much easier and quicker. Within two years of piano instructions following these principles, my students play pieces that are commonly taught after 7 to 9 years. And they perform them very well and very securely. The piano practice habit secret #6 revealed: Once you have acquired a solid piano playing foundation with basic scales and chords motion patterns, practice instructions and basic theory knowledge, you will progress much faster.

Practice error #7: If I play a piece often enough I will be able to play it from memory.

Let me explain: it never worked for me, but that is exactly how I was taught. If I made a mistake in performance the answer always was that I did not practice enough. But I really felt I practiced as much as I could and to tell you the truth, I was practicing much more time than my students are in the present and my students are getting better results than I ever could. But I can truly say, I persisted, I worked my way through all the problems I had and that is the know-how I am teaching. Many of my students turn out to be amazing geniuses with just a few guidelines and in very limited practice time. Now, let's examine the memory secret. Playing a piece many times over only trains muscle memory. Muscle memory as such is one memory channel, but if that is the only memory channel rehearsed it may not hold up error-free in performance. If different memory channels are rehearsed as well there are back up channels and memory will be more secure. What are the different memory channels that should be rehearsed? Playing by ear, hearing the piece, seeing the notes, the note image like a photograph and playing the image that you made from your memory. An example of your memory: Just close your eyes and picture your bedroom, you can see the image with your inner eye. I am certain that almost everyone can visualize how his or her bedroom looks like. Just as you can see your familiar bedroom with your inner eye, you can see the notes with your inner eye like a photocopy and you can hear each note with your inner ear. It just takes a little practice. You should also be able to imagine your arm motions and finger motions and see the fingers play the correct keys in your mind’s eye. This also needs to be rehearsed. Practicing hands separately and hands together, playing one hand with sound the other hand or both hands without sound; defining theory chords and patterns; exact fingering defined. The piano practice habit secret #7 revealed: If you rehearse many different memory channels your performance will be more secure.

The book Play Piano In All Keys Complete Workbook includes fingering charts for all Major and minor keys: scales, chords/cadences and arpeggios, theory explanations and practice instructions. If you practice a few dedicated minutes each day, if you practice one key a week, in twelve weeks you will have worked through all keys including black keys and rehearsed all Major and minor scales, primary chords and broken chords (arpeggios). No note reading is required. Anyone can open the book and start playing immediately in all keys. The fingering charts are labeled with the correct note labels so that the mind absorbs the correct notes labels, keys and fingering. This book contains detailed practice and metronome instructions, the very instructions my students are using to succeed with. The theory explanations have helped hundreds of students pass their theory examination more effortlessly. If you are looking for an effortless way to improve your piano playing ability, improvisation and composition abilities and piano learning abilities; if you are serious and would like to get more accomplished in less time, you have found answers! I hope that sharing my life-long passion and search in music will help you unfold and develop your talent in you! Sincerely, Eva Martin Hollaus Unfold you talent, learn to play piano in weeks not years

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