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Live Streamed Piano Recital with Murray McLachlan

A new piano recital series has been launched in Stockholm this fall. The first recital, with pianist Peter Jablonski took place on September 15 and today, you can hear British pianist Murray McLachlan play live from The Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Read more >>

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Author Topic: How to concentrate when playing the piano?  (Read 2863 times)
kimi.
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« on: October 29, 2009, 03:58:39 PM »

Hi everyone,

I've been having problems in concentrating during practice times; it happens that I end up using the piano as a vehicle for day dreams.. I've got no distractions around - it's just me and the piano. I've tried practising in short sections like 30 mins, but still can't focus at all. This is frustrating especially when I'm trying to learn a technically demanding piece - I cannot get further than the first page.

Does anyone else have this kind of problem?
Any tips for increasing concertration?

Any help would be much appreciated  Wink
Thanks
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Karli
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« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2009, 04:46:57 PM »

Yeah, sorry, that's one of the problems of the world that is *completely* not solvable, so, you're pretty much on your own with it.  Okay, that's a joke.  But, seriously, think about the fact that much of the world resists lucidity in general (drugs, alcohol, etc.) ... as a matter of fact, lucidity can seem downright scary at times, can I get an amen ?

When it comes down to it, it's actually not a pianistic problem so much, but a human/personal one.  However, sometimes it's just a matter of knowing what to concentrate on and then being willing to direct one's attention there and not resist it.  Give yourself more specificity.  For example, let's say you use a particular harmony/chord as an aural landmark, something you listen for ... let's say a V7 chord right before it leads to I at a cadence.  Don't just tell yourself to listen for the chord, be even more specific, like listening for the leading tone to resolve up to tonic.  You can actually break down everything about what you are playing into really specific "tasks" and you have to learn how to concentrate on those alone, first, and then how to concentrate on a few together and such.  And, if all else fails, I have been reminded recently of something one of my first more serious teachers told me, she would say : "since you have to think about something, think about the rhythm/beat."
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go12_3
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« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2009, 05:13:42 PM »

Kimi:
How about just playing for 15 minutes and then take a break.  I know when there
are *things* in my life occupying my mind and then cannot focus upon what
I'm playing, I relax and let the music flow through me and then the concentration
will come.  It usually depends upon the day or if I get enough sleep and rest.
Sometimes I can play for an hour straight with concentration on a good day!  lol
Also, find what part of the day you have the best concentration.  It could be
morning, afternoon, or evening.  For me it's in the morning, or whenever
I feel I can focus upon my pieces I'm working on. 

best wishes,

go12_3
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slobone
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2009, 09:02:44 PM »

Crank the metronome up four notches -- you'll start concentrating right away.
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electrodoc
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« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2009, 12:03:23 AM »

A good question!

First, we have to recognise that the mind will seek distraction whenever we are doing something repetitive. The mind like to be active and if it gets bored it will seek some other distraction. So how can we focus it?

Set definite goals. Not only to master a particular technique or to memorize a specific section but to pay attention to more musical factors such as careful phrasing, dynamics, careful pedalling, use of slight rit or cresc. Should any specific notes be given slight emphasis - and so forth.

Now take hands separately and concentrate on listening to these various factors. Really concentrate of listening to what you are playing and try to obtain exactly the effect you want. It pays to give special attention to the left hand as careful phrasing is often neglected here.

Then put the hands together at a slow tempo, again paying particular attention to the desired effect.

It might be helpful to record some of your practice in order to be able to listen with greater objectivity. By giving the ears and the mind specific tasks the concentration should become easier.

Hope that this helps

Best wishes

Electrodoc.
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lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2009, 12:16:28 AM »

Sometimes studying in a different place can help. At home there can be so many distractions, if you put yourself in a place where you can do nothing else but practice piano you may find it easier to disipline yourself.
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antichrist
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« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2009, 07:34:16 AM »

play some pieces that you love
and don't be too serious
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kimi.
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« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2009, 11:21:09 AM »

Electrodoc, thanks a lot for your advice. I think you're right - my mind really gets bored most of the time or I don't have enough patience to focus. I also think it's much easier to concentrate on specific bits rather then try to focus on the whole thing and just end up repeting it endlessly.
I will try concentrating in phrasing of the left hand in the Chopin Impromptu I'm learning..

I've noticed sight reading at the beginning of practice sections helps to get me focused. Does anyone know any exercises that can help in this way?

Cheers
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oxy60
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« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2009, 04:30:15 PM »

Maybe music isn't your bag.

The very act of playing should "silence the voices in your head."  Music should be so engrossing that it becomes the "voice" that distracts from other tasks. Every musician I have known thinks about music all the time. When we start to play, the rest of the our world falls silent.
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jbmorel78
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« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2009, 10:00:04 PM »

Maybe music isn't your bag.

The very act of playing should "silence the voices in your head."  Music should be so engrossing that it becomes the "voice" that distracts from other tasks. Every musician I have known thinks about music all the time. When we start to play, the rest of the our world falls silent.

I'm very sorry for posting without answering the question (which I will try to do later this evening), but I must say that I think you should be ashamed of yourself for this comment.  It is reprehensible that you would offer such destructive words to someone who asks sincerely for advice.

Until later,
Jean-Baptiste Morel
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myriadwhims
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« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2009, 11:19:59 PM »

Here's a couple ideas for you:

1.  Remove competing distractions. 

Meaning, finish everything you have to do first during the day.  This means completing homework, taking care of bills, making a phone call, whatever.. I tend to practice at the end of the day, and only after I've had some time to wind down, eat a snack, pet the cat, and smoke a cigarette.  Especially if you are an adult or student with a heavy workload, it's OK if music isn't at the top of the attention pyramid.  Part of being an adult is making priorities, so if your attention constantly wanders to a specific task/problem, don't beat yourself up.

2.  Add a little pressure

Set a shorter time limit for practice and force yourself to work more quickly.  Having a teacher is also a big motivation (for me at least), because when you have to pay for lessons, instinctively you want to get the most out of your money.  Also the pressure of completing weekly assignments can help push practice ahead of daydreaming.

3.
 
You mentioned as well that you tend to daydream especially when you're working on a techincally challenging piece.  You could back off the heavy stuff for awhile and focus on some nice short pretty pieces.  For example, a few months ago I started the Revolutionary Etude... A page into it, I realized that it would take far more work than I originally thought, and I knew that I lacked the concentration to complete it in any meaningful amount of time.  So, I set it aside and instead focused on some nice Preludes by Chopin (No.3,4,7).  Not only were they far easier, but in the case of No.3, the technical demands were very similar.  Now I have three great pieces under my belt and feel much more confident about tackling the Etude. 

Hope this helps!
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birba
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« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2009, 06:24:26 PM »

I'm very sorry for posting without answering the question (which I will try to do later this evening), but I must say that I think you should be ashamed of yourself for this comment.  It is reprehensible that you would offer such destructive words to someone who asks sincerely for advice.

Until later,
Jean-Baptiste Morel
I totally agree with you.
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scottmcc
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« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2009, 11:40:23 AM »

have you looked at what pieces you are trying to learn critically?  were they picked by your teacher as a "learning exercise," or out of a method book because they were the next piece in line?  or are they pieces of music that you truly love?

find a piece that is a challenge for you, for which you really have to work to play properly.  It must be something you are absolutely passionate about though.  Now devote yourself to learning this.  Spend the majority of your time with the piece away from the piano, dissecting the score, analyzing the structure, reading about the history of the piece, devising fingering strategies, etc.  Now spend short focused bursts at the piano practicing the technical hurdles.  Once those are mastered, record yourself playing and listen to it critically.  Mark on your score where you made mistakes or where you didn't express things the way you wanted. 

It's a lot of work, but it'll keep your mind occupied.
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slobone
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« Reply #13 on: November 04, 2009, 08:42:23 PM »

Another suggestion for improving concentration is to always have a specific goal in mind. Don't just sit down and start playing the piece (although that's OK once in a while).

For example you could say, I'm going to work on the left hand part on the top of the second page until I can play it at the right tempo without any mistakes.

Or, I'm going to work on the melody in this section until I've figured out how to make it really "sing". Where is the "summit" of the melody, where are the secondary peaks and the valleys.

Or, I'm going to decide what the pedalling should be on this page.

While you're playing, try to tune in to the feedback your body is giving you. How does it actually sound coming off the piano? How do your fingers feel as they move around the keyboard?

In other words, keep your mind engaged by always paying attention to what you're doing and knowing why you're doing it.
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Karli
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« Reply #14 on: November 04, 2009, 09:12:41 PM »

Another suggestion I just thought of, which I am very surprised has not been mentioned by anybody at all already, is to be really specific about what you are doing, like concentrating on the LH or something, or any particular aspect of the playing.  And, make sure you practice in an environment that is conducive to your concentration, as well as considering the time of day when you might naturally concentrate best.

Best wishes,
HI  Grin Cheesy Shocked Kiss
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artsyalchemist
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« Reply #15 on: November 04, 2009, 11:58:46 PM »

This is something that has boggled me for the past year or so..especially when there are other things going on in your life; piano tends to take the backburner.  The best I can tell you to do is to be as specific as you can in your goals.  Also, make sure to take breaks often so that you can fully focus on your playing.
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slobone
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« Reply #16 on: November 06, 2009, 03:54:06 AM »

Another suggestion I just thought of, which I am very surprised has not been mentioned by anybody at all already, is to be really specific about what you are doing, like concentrating on the LH or something, or any particular aspect of the playing. 

Guess you didn't read my post immediately above yours...
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rc
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« Reply #17 on: November 06, 2009, 02:40:50 PM »

In other words, keep your mind engaged by always paying attention to what you're doing and knowing why you're doing it.

I like this summary.  My first thought was that it sounds like a case of lost motivation.  Routine is good, I like routine, but sometimes it gets half-numb as the reason for the routine gradually slips from the mind.  It's good to remind ourselves from time to time why we're doing this.  Getting back in touch with the original motivation can help keep things fresh and keep us from digging too deep a rut.
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slobone
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« Reply #18 on: November 07, 2009, 05:14:50 AM »

I like this summary.  My first thought was that it sounds like a case of lost motivation.  Routine is good, I like routine, but sometimes it gets half-numb as the reason for the routine gradually slips from the mind.  It's good to remind ourselves from time to time why we're doing this.  Getting back in touch with the original motivation can help keep things fresh and keep us from digging too deep a rut.
I agree. If you find your mind wandering a lot while you're practicing, you're doing something wrong. Either you're playing too slowly or you're not listening to yourself.

Another possibility that hasn't been discussed is to take a break from the keyboard for a bit and really study the score. Look at all the markings the composer has put in -- phrasing, dynamics, articulation, tempo, pedalling, even the little prose poems (for Debussy and Satie).

I recently did this with a Brahms intermezzo, and I was surprised to see how many markings I'd completely overlooked as I was learning "the notes". Putting them back in made all the difference in the piece.
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mila5405
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« Reply #19 on: November 17, 2009, 09:55:34 AM »

I agree with slowbone crack up the metronome. It will help you concentrate better. Also dont work with to long an difficult pieces without guidance from a teacher.
/Mike
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