Posts tagged practice

Brahms Rhapsody in Eb Major Op.119 No.4

I once watched a suspenseful movie… can’t even remember the title. Very interesting concept (bear with me) where these kidnappers would take high profile people, drug them. When they came to they were in some sort of maze with a map of the maze in hand only the map didn’t lead to a way out. It made people delirious to the point of confusion and exhaustion. After a week they were then drugged and put back into society. Bizarre concept, i know but here’s where it got interesting- when this group of kidnappers wanted to “take out” one of their victims, they would simply show this person the same maze map and (in the movie), they would die of heart failure at the thought of the extreme conditions they were in.
Why do i tell you all that? Well… i had a similar incident happen with my mother. Y’see… back when i was 17, i had a very short time to prepare a Brahms rhapsody for a piano competition – 2 weeks to be exact. “Attainable” i thought…”i just need to practice upwards of 5 hours per day for the next two weeks”. Hmmmm doing full-time highschool, i calculated that i could do 2 hours before breakfast, 1 after school and 2 in the evenings. The clock struck 6AM and i started into this song. For those of you who may not know the piece… here it is:
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Well… that song at 6AM led to my Mum coming down the stairs in her nightgown. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?” she asked. “Why yes it’s 6AM… Mum i only have 2 weeks of this”. So (hahaaaaa) for the next two weeks my Mum bolted outta bed every morning at the sound of this. It became the standing joke in the house… kinda like the movie, if i ever wanted to raise her blood pressure, i only needed to play the first line and she would come racing down the stairs, rolling pin in hand… hahaaa ohhhh the power… lol. Just want to remind her that i DID win the competition ūüėõ

How Xbox Helped My Piano Practice

Long before Nintendo, before the days of Sony, before Sega, Collecovision… my dad had invented the Xbox. No seriously. He’s now 86 years of age and well… truth be told he showed me his first Xbox when i was about 5 years of age. Early 70’s… he was WAY ahead of his time… only this “X” box was a chart. OK pictured is the ACTUAL chart from when i was a kid. Call him crazy but these charts are memories of accomplishments for him. Here’s how it works: each time practiced meant one X in the box. Oh THAT kind of Xbox… ya ya… you thought my Dad actually created THE Xbox? Really? Well… not the electronic one anyway. But he DID make the Xbox charts with ruler, pen and paper.

So today i present to you Xbox next generation. Click on the tab above that reads “Free Resources” and there you will find practice charts for Canada’s own technical requirements by grade. Even if you don’t work with a graded system, they are still a fabulous systematic way of working through grade level technique. And so each scale, chord or arpeggio has a row of 25 boxes to be filled in. Remember: practice makes permanent. Enjoy!

Piano Practice – Positives Come First

We all know these teachers… they’re the top of their class, the ones that get results, the festival winning teachers, the ones who are usually quite difficult to get in with.¬† Well i had one of these teachers who was considered “the BEST”.¬† Sadly, music became a bit of a chore… it became snapping rulers of “an-i-ma-ted a-lli-ga-tor” 16th notes at 120 bpm.¬† If you study advanced music you know EXACTLY what i’m talkin’ about.¬† The general rule of thumb seemed to be, however “If it’s fixed, it doesn’t need mentioning”.¬† To-Do lists then became the focus of piano lessons… as it should be.¬† The work still needs to get done right? Well…needless to say – a dozen more years and a diploma and a degree later i started teaching on my own.¬† I was hired by a really small college to do part of the music program.¬† I distinctly remember one piano student… forever burned into my psyche. ¬†I was 21 years of age. Who would’ve thought this one encounter would change my teaching for the next 20 years?¬† I remember her finishing a piece… some Chopin etude.¬† I started in “Right.¬† Ok well let’s get on to what needs fixing”.¬† She started to cry :(¬† Obviously something was wrong.¬† I am sensitive to student’s feelings and so i asked her what was wrong.¬† She turned to me with big tears and said “Is nothing right? Every time i play it’s just another list of fixes, of refinements”.¬† My heart sank.¬† Had i grown so calloused and inherently taken on the methods given to me? Had i missed the forest for the trees? The enjoyment of music and the positive reinforcements¬†not mentioned and the ‘job’ of music was only in my crosshairs?

I sat for a moment.

I was taken back.

I decided to change my ways.¬† I apologised.¬† I promised myself that before any To-Do list came out of my mouth, positives would come first.¬† That day my teaching became “Ok first off, this is what i like about what you’re doing…”¬†then i would start¬†into heavies.¬† Whether teacher or parent, it’s a good reminder to offer¬†LOTS of praise.¬† At the same time the words “critique” and “critical”¬†have become smeared together in this present age.¬† I welcome critique.¬† Anything constructive to better my playing… i’m all ears.¬† The careful balance as i see it is to remain a critical thinker without becoming¬†critical.¬† We need to grasp the enjoyment of music first… the¬†enriching part of music to our souls above¬†and beyond any task at¬†hand.

With that in mind… check this out -> Protege of Oscar Peterson… a little bit of Tom and Jerry :) Just for fun…

Click on the picture for the youtube video. Cheers.





Piano Practice… Until It’s Done

Vancouver Island, Canada

So… i’ve had many students… MANY who have asked… “Well, how long do you want me to practice this for?”¬† To which my usual answer is “I dunno… ’til it’s DONE!”¬† Self explanatory right? Or so you would think… Seguay

Recently i’ve taken up trail running.¬† When i first started running only about 5 years ago on a treadmill, i thought 15 minutes was a breakthrough for me.¬† No sooner had i been doing that when i realised that i should have a goal.¬† Victoria (located on Vancouver Island), the city where i’m located has a 10Km race every year where THOUSANDS of people… like 14,000 run.¬† I thought… hmmm this would be a decent goal.¬† Knowing that this was an outdoor race, i switched from treadmill to outdoor running.¬† After running outdoors, no one could PAY me to go back indoors to run.¬† Victoria is on an island where there are beautiful boardwalks with ocean and mountain scenes.¬† Why would i even consider doing anything different?¬† I then started mountain trail running.¬† Most recently i did a three hour run/hike with an ultra marathon runner.¬† “Ultra” runners run through forests, scale mountains etc.¬† I thought i knew the meaning of endurance until i did this.¬† At one hill, this lady running ahead of me¬†just kept plodding.¬† I had this overwhelming feeling¬†somewhere between exhaustion and¬†vomitting¬†that i thought… this is CRAZY!¬† Only problemo… we were halfway around the¬†run.¬† So stopping wasn’t an option.¬†

Summit view

By the time¬†we got back to the parking lot my thoughts had changed to…¬†“Wow let’s¬†do that again!”¬†Funny though… you don’t often enjoy the fruits of the labour until you push through the difficulties.

Back to piano…¬†i have this motto that¬†i ALWAYS get raised eyebrows from.¬†¬†I was recording in a studio this last week… a musical marathon of sorts writing and recording for World Vision.¬† At the end of one late session (until almost 1AM) i turned to the engineer on the project and said “Well… you can’t love it ’til you hate it”.¬† He¬†laughed.¬† But the sentiment is true.¬† Until you knuckle down and learn how to press PAST the easy stuff… press PAST the¬†fun… press PAST the feelings of “DANG IT!¬†MY FINGERS DON’T WORK LIKE THAT” and continue on to strive to completion,¬†you’ll never¬†become proficient at the instrument.¬† Being a professional is one who¬†puts aside feelings if not momentarily to accomplish the goal.¬†

There¬†have been MANY times i’ve recorded under the gun, played in bands, finished¬†scoring for some project… or even… for that matter, practiced as a kid some Rachmaninoff prelude for festival.¬† It’s all the same… endurance to the finish line.¬† And once completed, you can then enjoy the fruits of labour… you can love it after you¬†“hate” it.

The Reason I Play the Piano…

On¬†a recent¬†flight home from Toronto, i decided to take a few days in Winnipeg and visit my parents.¬† They’re still living in the same house i was raised in.¬† It’s quaint and everything seems much smaller (as i grew¬†to be the tallest in the family)… even my parents are shorter than ever! hahaa… Anyway, i had forgotten about the conversations that happened not during dinner but after.¬† In this hustle bustle world of instant everythings, i presently throw all the dishes in the dishwasher, press start and walk away.¬† Not so in my parent’s house where they’ve never owned a dishwasher.¬† Post-dinner conversation led into doing-the-dishes conversation.¬† As we laughed and reminisced, i finally said to them “Y’know why i play the piano today right? Well… after dinner as a teenager Dad would always say ‘Who’s practicing piano and who’s doing the dishes?'”¬† Hahaaaa as a teenager, if you have a choice between cleaning up or playing the piano, my vote was always practicing.¬† I’d like to think that i somewhat enjoyed the piano when i was growing up but truth be told, it was part of the daily regimen… the fabric of our lives back then.¬† And without the technology of the dishwasher in our house, i learned escapism at the piano.¬† SMILES.

Practice Practicing the Piano

Without fail i’ve had this conversation at least ONCE with¬†each of my¬†students.¬† It pertains to HOW to practice.¬† It’s not enough to just start arbitrarily playing through a song, the student needs to be shown HOW to actually go about learning the nuts and bolts of practicing.¬† To do this, i usually find the closest book available and i say to the student, “Ok i’d like you to repeat word for word what i am about to tell you.¬† Ready?” (They ALWAYS nod their heads in agreement)… “Here goes”

In the fleeting seconds of final memory, the image that will become Burma is the sun and a woman’s parasol.¬† He has wondered which visions would remain – the Salween’s coursing coffee flow after a storm, the predawn palisades of fishing nets, the glow of ground trumeric, the weep of jungle vines.¬† For months the images trembled in the back of his eyes, at times flaming and fading away like candles, at times fighting to be seen, thrust forward like the goods of jostling bazaar merchants.” (1st paragraph from The Piano Tuner – EXCELLENT book BTW)

I then turn to the student and say “OK let’s hear it”.¬† 100% of the time they give me a blank stare.¬† Some start to laugh, some start to look worried… and then i explain that human beings learn in bite sized pieces.¬† If i were to say the same quote “In the fleeting seconds” – have them repeat that and then move to “of final memory“, the student would remember the words right? Now join the two together.¬† Do you see where i’m going with this? Learn an entire song? Forget it.¬† Learn 2 bars at a time? Now we’re talking.¬† We need to teach students to be brilliant at the small stuff – the short sections.¬† I tell them “I’d rather have 4 bars done for next week – 4 bars you are completely genius at rather than slosh through the entire song”.¬† Time and again i remind them of this analogy and the ones who get it will grasp the art of practicing and excel.

PS – if you haven’t read the Piano Tuner, it’s a FABULOUS novel! Get it!

Practice Makes _________?

Writing lines

If you had to fill in the blank, invariably the answer would be Practice Makes PERFECT.¬† But i would have to contest that answer.¬† What i believe to be the TRUE answer is: Practice Makes PERMANENT.¬† I’d love to take credit for this phrase but it’s not original with me but rather with a teacher i studied with.¬† I adopted it as one of my favorite lines in piano teaching, however because what i have come to realize is that what you focus on will eventually become habit.¬† If you learn the song with the wrong notes, the wrong timing or (heaven forbid) wrong fingering, trying to undo the work already done is doubly hard.¬†

So in my first year of college, my roommate was on the basketball team.¬† One time he walked into the room and exclaimed “OK that was the dumbest practice i’ve EVER been to.¬† We got all dressed into our uniforms and instead of practicing, we closed our eyes and imagined ourselves making baskets”.¬† I laughed when i heard his words.¬† Visualization is necessary in ‘setting the record straight’.¬† I have found that quite often in my own practice i need to encorporate ‘Auralization’ (now that word i will take credit¬† We at times need to listen in our ‘inner ear’ to correct part of the song that is in error.¬† I remember practicing a Brahms piece many years ago and i was struggling with a certain part in the song.¬† Because half of the time i practiced¬† it incorrectly, when i stopped and ‘listened’ how the song SHOULD be played, i continued to hear my mistakes in my head.¬† And from that moment on, i discovered that it’s not WHAT we practice but HOW we practice.¬† Practice does make permanent and truly, more emphasis should be placed on methods of practicing with students to prevent habits that quite possibly will last a lifetime.

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