Friday, January 14, 2022

Friday Practice Links

Here are some links to articles on practicing that might enliven your time in the practice room:

Tricky Corners: Tension Breaks - Melanie Spanswick on how to build small moments of release into your playing, using as an example the Chopin Black Keys etude. Why this is important:
Students often find the concept of tension breaks challenging. What do I mean by this expression? Most pianists understand the idea of tension and release; we need a certain amount of tension in our bodies to play a note or a group of notes, but the second (or millisecond) the note or notes have been played, we must adjust immediately by releasing that tension. If we don’t, and we continue to keep fingers/wrists/hands/arms taught or rigid, then tension builds and, after a certain amount of time (or a certain number of notes), the pianist will become taught and tight. If this is allowed to continue for too long, the player could eventually become injured. Pain and discomfort often follow this type of unsatisfactory way of playing the piano. Therefore, it is crucial to, firstly, become aware of this type of tension and comprehend how it feels, and, secondly, know how to alleviate it.

Where Simplicity Misses the point: A Practice Perspective in Omnifocus -  Kourosh Dini is a doctor who writes about using Omnifocus in his work, including his practice strategies at the piano. When practicing, Kourosh puts together a list of specifics he needs to work on, curating the larger list into one he uses that day. This is a useful way of keeping track of what needs to be practiced and what's in progress for the current day:

It is arguable a very simple list. However, there is a complexity behind the scenes. Each of the tasks have a different repeat frequency, catering to the practice schedule I want for any individual piece. I can always increase or decrease those frequencies.

A Practice Strategy That Could Potentially Be Twice As Effective As Regular Practice?  - Recent research on varying the parameters of a task shows that being forced to make subtle adjustments can help to jump-start performance improvements. Noa Kageyama looks at how these results might play out with our own practice sessions:

It appears that we have the ability to boost our learning if we a) wait for the new skill to consolidate a bit first, then b) return to the skill and try to achieve the same (or higher) level of performance, but force ourselves to make adjustments by using a different bow, different mallets, piano with lighter/heavier touch, etc. Something that makes the task slightly more challenging and forces us to explore a wider range of the possible motor movements available to us.

I've noticed over the years that the pianists who have the most flexibility in adapting to an instrument were either students at music schools and freelance collaborative pianists, because they are forced to practice and perform on many different instruments, potentially dozens in a single week. 

With the rise of online learning, I fear that playing on only one instrument might genuinely hinder pianists once they are forced to make adjustments on another instrument in performance. The old model of practicing on one or more pianos and playing lessons on another, then playing concerts on yet more unfamiliar pianos builds a strong ability to adjust to different circumstances with instruments and performing spaces. 

1-2 years of playing on a single instrument might yield some unpleasant surprises when the opportunity arises to perform in a large hall and unfamiliar piano. When I judging a competition late last year I observed that many pianists play with a noticeably smaller sound than required in performance - they're unfamiliar with the experience of filling a large room with their sound. 

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