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Topic: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas  (Read 671 times)

Offline ranjit

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Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
on: March 06, 2021, 06:15:16 AM
I've come up with a few more ideas over the past few months. I'd love to hear what you think about them.

Here is my previous list of ideas: https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=66348.0

1. Technique follows from force of will: This might sound strange, but try and imagine yourself playing a difficult technique, at tempo, to the point where you can, as far as possible, see in your mind's eye the sound being produced. Observing performances by professional pianists can help with achieving this. Once you have this clarity, attempt to execute the technique, at tempo (don't practice slow as it will distort the aural image). It feels like "willing a sound into existence", and I've found it to often be very effective. This also would partly explain why some people never acquire certain techniques -- the will to produce the sound needs to be there in the first place. It is easy to give up on something thinking that it is too difficult, and hoping that other "easier" work will eventually translate automatically to mastering the difficult thing, but it doesn't seem to work that way.

2. Play it slow after you know you can play it fast: This is partly in continuation of the previous point. I've found slow practice to be much more effective when you "know" that you can basically play it at the required tempo if you have to. This frees you up to think of all of the minor details, and possibly makes it easier for you to find out which details need to be focused on in the first place, because you can imagine (or play) the piece at the desired tempo to check whether they would work.

3. When implementing changes to a piece of music, try and orient your mind in a way that the change becomes "self-evident": I've found that this is the only way to permanently effect the change. Note that "self-evident" is different from an intellectual understanding. You need to figure out an angle from where it is inevitable that the modified way is the "correct" one. For a trivial example, you might think of a certain figuration in threes instead of twos, and those threes automatically suggest a natural fingering which you subsequently apply.

4. To overcome speed barriers, try and get your mind into a state where you are concentrated and literally thinking "faster". Playing something exciting which ramps up in tempo can be a good way to get into such a state. Note that here, I'm talking about speed 'barriers', not about the polishing stage. I've mentioned this quite a few times recently, and I still believe it's true. Often, playing something faster is like learning to gallop instead of walk -- there's no way to get better at galloping by walking, you need to either keep trying to gallop, or consciously improve individual aspects of the galloping motion. Walking with a faster metronome marking won't cut it. Also, when you are extremely focused, time seems to pass more slowly. Try and use this for improving speed by going on for short bursts of time while very concentrated, and trying to subjectively feel time pass by you in slow motion.

5. Playing something faster than intended is a good way to aid memory and observe the structure of a piece: It's like fast-forwarding an audio cassette -- you end up thinking more about the bigger structures.

6. Listening to music right before you sleep is surprisingly effective: Try to get the music looping in your head. It will drive you mad, but your learning rate will increase dramatically! ;D

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #1 on: March 06, 2021, 08:05:58 AM
1. Technique follows from force of will: This might sound strange, but try and imagine yourself playing a difficult technique, at tempo, to the point where you can, as far as possible, see in your mind's eye the sound being produced. Observing performances by professional pianists can help with achieving this. Once you have this clarity, attempt to execute the technique, at tempo (don't practice slow as it will distort the aural image). It feels like "willing a sound into existence", and I've found it to often be very effective. This also would partly explain why some people never acquire certain techniques -- the will to produce the sound needs to be there in the first place. It is easy to give up on something thinking that it is too difficult, and hoping that other "easier" work will eventually translate automatically to mastering the difficult thing, but it doesn't seem to work that way.
For the vast majority of people it will be like chasing the wind and a deep pit to waste a lot of time. Observing professional pianists is good but I don't like the idea of mimicing movements or even the sounds they produce. One needs to come to conclusions about their own two hands after a lot of training, to try and take a short cut by simply copy pasting the idea from what you see from others just doesn't leave you with a full understanding of what you are doing. It might be a good idea to notice the economy of action in good pianists and that might encourage one to make their movements less hectic and conserve their energy or be inspired by particular sounds they create and wonder why you cannot produce the same. Simply trying to play something at tempo if you cannot control it will leave you with estimated playing and muscular memory which needs to be chipped away and remodelled. It just leaves one with a lot of extra work and often with work that simply cannot be solved effectively. For a few though it might prove interesting grounds for initial experience.

Developing with easier pieces allows you understand the process of learning pieces better. This can be difficult to understand when one only has themselves to look at. To simply give up easier pieces and stubbornly work on difficult pieces is something a number of people attempt and there is a high failure rate and even higher propensity to invest excessive time. Those few who might gain grounds doing this kind of activity should not encourage others to do the same because if you actually take a large sample space of developing pianists and try such things you will not see good results. It is good to take difficult pieces and work on them them but they should not be a major focus of ones piano studies. Yes they can act as a catalyst to ones progress but it does little to sharpen ones practice method, reading skills and a larger overall understanding of musical language which should be at a high priority.

I find if I have to talk about technique in great depth with a student in a lesson then the situation is a failure. Playing the piano is really not about technique, it can seem that way but we don't need to approach it in this manner. Sure some people only want to play the piano because they want to play difficult works, if that is their passion good on them, but this is not the only journey one can and should take with piano music. Creating music and art is what we want to be doing, not being overly concerned about technical problems we cannot solve efficiently.

I grew up playing the piano, before the age of 3 I would play on it, but not in the actual sense of playing the piano to create music that occured after the age of 3. I never thought about technique at all, not one bit. This freedom of thought really effected how I learned at the piano, it was about creating pleasing music, yes I liked doing acrobatics on the keyboard but it never was in the forefront of what caught my attention at the piano. I didn't listen to recordings (which is all too easy these days and videos, I very rarely saw videos of other pianists back before the internet!) and consider I must learn this piece bcause it is very difficult and it will impress others and I must prove myself! If I heard something nice I would want to learn it but it had nothing to do with difficulty and all to do with if I liked the piece or not. My music journey always has been about creating music first and foremost. You do get a lot of people these days who approach the piano absolutely the polar opposite, it is all about techcnique and exactly what your fingers are doing and to prove that you can play these difficult pieces, prove to who, for what point, what about the music?

I guess today we are bombared with all sorts of great music performances, video and audio all around us, this really has a hidden negative effect on developing pianists though I feel. It just makes people want to jump the gun, skip ahead, not take a personal journey through music. They see some great performance and that is all they want to achieve. They approach piano as a technical challenge and the expression is added on top once the priority of technique is solved. Unfortunately the shakey technique rarely contains any solid mastery of musicality and is just mediocre sub par playing albeit with difficult notes.

2. Play it slow after you know you can play it fast: This is partly in continuation of the previous point. I've found slow practice to be much more effective when you "know" that you can basically play it at the required tempo if you have to. This frees you up to think of all of the minor details, and possibly makes it easier for you to find out which details need to be focused on in the first place, because you can imagine (or play) the piece at the desired tempo to check whether they would work.
So let's say you take your time learning the notes then instantly push yourself to play at tempo if I am understanding you correctly here. This is of course possible with small parts but certainly not the whole piece. One also has to be wary of estimating their playing when doing things too fast, it is really a waste of time playing something fast and in an uncontrolled manner, it just leaves you with more work at the end and having to modify or sacrifice poor muscular memorized movements which could be avoided with slower tempo methods or fragmented fast practice (which is a mix of slow [eg: pauses] and fast movements [at tempo of greater]). It may bring interesting results for developing pianists who have little experience with difficult movements and want to experience much without bothering about complete mastery, but this certainly isn't something you want to do constantly.

3. When implementing changes to a piece of music, try and orient your mind in a way that the change becomes "self-evident": I've found that this is the only way to permanently effect the change. Note that "self-evident" is different from an intellectual understanding. You need to figure out an angle from where it is inevitable that the modified way is the "correct" one. For a trivial example, you might think of a certain figuration in threes instead of twos, and those threes automatically suggest a natural fingering which you subsequently apply.
This is fuzzy to me, I feel you need to give some examples or explain yourself in more depth.

4. To overcome speed barriers, try and get your mind into a state where you are concentrated and literally thinking "faster". Playing something exciting which ramps up in tempo can be a good way to get into such a state. Note that here, I'm talking about speed 'barriers', not about the polishing stage. I've mentioned this quite a few times recently, and I still believe it's true. Often, playing something faster is like learning to gallop instead of walk -- there's no way to get better at galloping by walking, you need to either keep trying to gallop, or consciously improve individual aspects of the galloping motion. Walking with a faster metronome marking won't cut it. Also, when you are extremely focused, time seems to pass more slowly. Try and use this for improving speed by going on for short bursts of time while very concentrated, and trying to subjectively feel time pass by you in slow motion.

In my mind speed barriers do not exist it is lack of control which limits speed. So it is about control not speed. If you can completely control a piece you can play it at any tempo even if you have never played it at those tempos before. Appropriate slow controlled practice will generate any fast tempo. Any attempt at increasing tempo when control is not complete will produce ineffective movements and if that becomes memorized it becomes inefficient muscular memory that can be very stubborn to correct and often requires itself to be sacrificed later down the track. It may also produce an incorrect idea as to how to actually play something technically challenging as it is filled with uneconomical movements and inaccuracies.


5. Playing something faster than intended is a good way to aid memory and observe the structure of a piece: It's like fast-forwarding an audio cassette -- you end up thinking more about the bigger structures.
In fragmentation it is helpful and is used in practice methods to acquire mastery over tough sections. There is little need to play entire phrases in fast forward although it is a product of complete control. Some pieces of course are written in such a way that going much faster than tempo is highly problematic.

6. Listening to music right before you sleep is surprisingly effective: Try to get the music looping in your head. It will drive you mad, but your learning rate will increase dramatically! ;D
If I study something that was difficult I will go through the patterns in my head and tap the fingers while I am going to sleep. That is annoying though it doesn't help you sleep lol. It does help post practice improvement though, I tend to do it whenever I've worked on something alien. 
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Offline ted

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #2 on: March 06, 2021, 09:02:26 AM
... Creating music and art is what we want to be doing, not being overly concerned about technical problems we cannot solve efficiently...

Just about says it all for me.
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Offline ranjit

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #3 on: March 06, 2021, 10:14:47 AM
Observing professional pianists is good but I don't like the idea of mimicing movements or even the sounds they produce. One needs to come to conclusions about their own two hands after a lot of training, to try and take a short cut by simply copy pasting the idea from what you see from others just doesn't leave you with a full understanding of what you are doing.
I think that watching professional pianists can provide clues on how to perform certain movements and play efficiently. However, that's not quite what I meant -- it's about getting yourself into a place where you stop having that self-doubt, that voice in your head which keeps saying that so-and-so technique is difficult or impossible. Even a recording can do the trick -- I find that I have to sometimes trick myself into thinking it's "easy" so that that mental barrier can be overcome. Of course, that does not mean that any technique will follow immediately. However, I find that the mind starts subconsciously working on the problem if you approach it in this manner, and after some months, you can suddenly have an epiphany -- oh, this is the movement which would make that sound I was trying to get back then!

Also, note that this basically does not take much time. You listen to it, and then just try to play it immediately, without hesitation or wondering about the consequences. In this case, you don't try and repeat the technique ad infinitum until you get it. In a sense, it is like making a blind leap on the keyboard (forgive me for the abstract analogy). You think about where you want your hand to go, and then just make the leap of faith. The same holds here -- imagine what needs to be done and what sound needs to be produced, and just attempt it immediately, at most a couple of times. As is the case with leaps, I believe this is pointless if there is hesitation. I think that this eventually increases your confidence, that you can play something on the piano if you can imagine it. When you place your hands on the keyboard and attempt to play what you just imagined, the immediate feedback the piano provides gives you an idea about whether your intuition was correct or not, and you tend to remember it for the future.

Simply trying to play something at tempo if you cannot control it will leave you with estimated playing and muscular memory which needs to be chipped away and remodelled.
I'm not quite sure how this works in general, but it helped me to generate some kind of internal compass for technique, by just trying out things left and right, irrespective of difficulty. However, I agree that it's important not to blindly drill something which is way above your level. Maybe it's just a difference in approach -- I was thinking about deconstructing the motion in a way so that I could figure out the individual things I needed to master. In a sense, there are certain "fundamental" motions at the piano, and once you gain a strong intuitive understanding of those, I feel that you can attempt to play a wide range of pieces. To put it better, I think it's a good idea to try everything out, but not for too long, and then keep subconsciously thinking about how one would go about producing certain sounds. Then, periodically test that intuition. I hope this makes sense, it's a bit of a weird idea to put into words.

Also, now that I think about it, it's a bit more complicated than what I wrote -- what I meant to say was to keep observing piano playing, and keep testing out things which seem that they could be "theoretically possible". For example, in the first few months, I felt that the Minute Waltz could have been "theoretically possible" to play, but Chopin op 10 no 1 certainly wasn't.


Developing with easier pieces allows you understand the process of learning pieces better. This can be difficult to understand when one only has themselves to look at. To simply give up easier pieces and stubbornly work on difficult pieces is something a number of people attempt and there is a high failure rate and even higher propensity to invest excessive time... they can act as a catalyst to ones progress but it does little to sharpen ones practice method, reading skills and a larger overall understanding of musical language which should be at a high priority.
Yes, but I'm not referring here to constantly use this method. By its very nature, it is somewhat "instantaneous", like a pop quiz. It shouldn't make a considerable dent in one's practice time, maybe not more than around 15 minutes a day.

I find if I have to talk about technique in great depth with a student in a lesson then the situation is a failure. Playing the piano is really not about technique, it can seem that way but we don't need to approach it in this manner. Sure some people only want to play the piano because they want to play difficult works, if that is their passion good on them, but this is not the only journey one can and should take with piano music. Creating music and art is what we want to be doing, not being overly concerned about technical problems we cannot solve efficiently.
I think I have been thinking more about technique than musicality, because I have some sort of strong internal direction when it comes to musicality -- I just imagine how I would like something to sound, and play around with it. On the other hand, technique is not as intuitive, and takes time to develop. I have a tendency to listen to a piece of music and imagine all sorts of crazy possibilities for transcription, playing four different things all at the same time on the piano. But to execute that, the technique required would be at the level of a Liszt transcription, which is not something easily attained, and one of my ultimate goals is to be able to do that in real time.


I grew up playing the piano, before the age of 3 I would play on it, but not in the actual sense of playing the piano to create music that occured after the age of 3. I never thought about technique at all, not one bit. This freedom of thought really effected how I learned at the piano, it was about creating pleasing music, yes I liked doing acrobatics on the keyboard but it never was in the forefront of what caught my attention at the piano. I didn't listen to recordings (which is all too easy these days and videos, I very rarely saw videos of other pianists back before the internet!) and consider I must learn this piece bcause it is very difficult and it will impress others and I must prove myself! If I heard something nice I would want to learn it but it had nothing to do with difficulty and all to do with if I liked the piece or not. My music journey always has been about creating music first and foremost. You do get a lot of people these days who approach the piano absolutely the polar opposite, it is all about techcnique and exactly what your fingers are doing and to prove that you can play these difficult pieces, prove to who, for what point, what about the music?
If I think more deeply about it, my natural tendency to want to have a million things going on at once in the music (which is a valid artistic preference! ;D) is what propelled me to attempt to learn difficult piano techniques in the first place. For some reason, I wasn't thinking about people who wanted to learn all of those difficult pieces just to show off. Honestly, what inspired me to learn piano in the first place was listening to piano renditions of orchestral movie scores (such as those by John Williams) which had multiple moving parts (for example, see the Jurassic Park theme arranged by Jarrod Radnich), and I think that's still where my heart lies. I used to think that I wanted to learn those difficult pieces partly to prove myself, but now I realize that it was the desperation where it wasn't clear at all if I could ever manage to achieve that level starting as an adult, which prompted me to prove to myself that it was possible, but the reason for that desperation was because I wanted to create that music in the first place.

I think that in some sense, while I did attempt difficult pieces on occasion, I never truly jumped the gun. It's just that the route I took was not traditional, by arranging dozens of songs for the piano, and my arranging techniques, voicing ability, etc. progressively got refined over time. So there was a context for everything -- I knew what I was doing, how the chords worked, why I was voicing certain things over others, etc. I find that many people don't appreciate fast music because things whiz by very fast, but I am perfectly comfortable understanding music going by at that speed, which is possibly why I like Cziffra so much, because that speed for me feels "just right".

Many people simply try to get raw speed or power without understanding the context, and I see where you're coming from as a teacher. I realize it's something which I don't usually consciously think of when I think of technique -- I imagine a person who is quite musical, but just can't get their hands around pieces they can't play. So much for projection!

So let's say you take your time learning the notes then instantly push yourself to play at tempo if I am understanding you correctly here. This is of course possible with small parts but certainly not the whole piece.
I am referring to playing short snippets, not the whole piece. Let's say a 5-10 second snippet. I used to use synthesia for this because it was just faster and more apparent for me (so I could just load it into my mind immediately which I couldn't do with sheet music), but I suppose one could use sheet music as well.

It may bring interesting results for developing pianists who have little experience with difficult movements and want to experience much without bothering about complete mastery, but this certainly isn't something you want to do constantly.
I agree that . I'm not talking about just playing at tempo here, it's a very particular kind of mental conditioning I found useful, to remember the notes, imagine how one would play it as vividly as possible, and then "trust fall" into playing it.

In my mind speed barriers do not exist it is lack of control which limits speed. So it is about control not speed. If you can completely control a piece you can play it at any tempo even if you have never played it at those tempos before. Appropriate slow controlled practice will generate any fast tempo.
From a beginner's perspective, things like tapping five fingers in succession very quickly and evenly within a span of milliseconds can be very daunting and it certainly isn't something which happens immediately. Once you gain those required coordinated movements, then yes, you can play at whatever tempo you wish within the range in which those movements are controlled. However, in the beginning, it can seem impossible to get that "finger dexterity" in the first place. And I find that the only real way is to just do it. This may be from a more adult perspective than a child perspective. For someone who already has a lot of the required motions, this point may seem trivial, but I am still struggling with them, especially in the left hand. As late as last year, my left hand refused to "cooperate" in a lot of situations, and it still isn't where I would want it to be.

I do agree that slow practice is essential, but I think that pushing the envelope occasionally is necessary to actually achieve fast speeds (again, I've heard this may be different for children). I tend to alternate between slow and fast.


If I study something that was difficult I will go through the patterns in my head and tap the fingers while I am going to sleep. That is annoying though it doesn't help you sleep lol. It does help post practice improvement though, I tend to do it whenever I've worked on something alien.
It is my go-to in a crunch situation. If I'm not able to focus, forcing myself to try and memorize the sheet music away from the piano is also helpful because it requires so. much. concentration. It worked pretty well for me today -- I was worried I would never get something memorized, and I basically finished it in a day.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #4 on: March 06, 2021, 10:32:13 AM
This is fuzzy to me, I feel you need to give some examples or explain yourself in more depth.
Suppose you have internalized a certain fingering for a passage, and you would like to change it. Then, you have a mental representation of how it goes. Just attempting to memorize a new fingering doesn't really work that well. Instead, I find that you kind of have to think of some sort of intuitive rationale using which the new fingering becomes evident. It's very hard to explain. It's like you remember the certain 'bounce' a new fingering has over an older one, or the specific way your pinky plays the top note of a melody, and try and internalize that sensation or 'intuitive logic' instead of the fingering itself, so that the fingering feels like it follows as a natural consequence of that fragment of 'intuitive logic'. Then, when the actual section comes up, you think of the 'intuitive logic', not the individual changes that need to be made. But the individual changes are made automatically, because they are encapsulated by that 'internal logic'. And by doing this a number of times, I find that you can effectively rewrite a previously stored memory, because you rely on the sense of 'inevitability' of the new way of playing to ensure that you don't resort to the old way.

It's ridiculously hard to explain over text.  :-\

Offline nw746

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #5 on: March 06, 2021, 10:33:32 AM
Playing the piano is really not about technique, it can seem that way but we don't need to approach it in this manner. [...] Creating music and art is what we want to be doing, not being overly concerned about technical problems we cannot solve efficiently.
Honestly I would argue the opposite, that playing the piano is entirely about technique. Without technique you cannot hope to create "art" or musical expression in general. Even in pieces that are slow and relatively simple to play (e.g. Schumann's Notturno op. 6 no. 2, currently on my list) perfect control of the hands and fingers is necessary if you want to bring out large and small scale phrase rhythm, tone colour, dynamics etc.

Quote
If you can completely control a piece you can play it at any tempo even if you have never played it at those tempos before. Appropriate slow controlled practice will generate any fast tempo.
It's possible that this is true for some people who have naturally flexible and easy to control fingers and hands. I will say that in my personal experience this never works. Completely controlling a piece at a slow tempo requires completely different hand movements and positions from completely controlling it at a fast tempo (not that I've ever achieved the latter). Also I think at least for some of us, our bodies do not obey us most of the time.

For example right now (I've been away from the piano for about four or five weeks at this point) I'm thinking about this piece and trying to play the right hand at speed on the counter.

I can get my fingers to make all the correct movements up to about 80 BPM. After that it falls apart. This doesn't seem to change regardless of how much time I spend on it. The tempo marking of 100 BPM is a significant lowball of the actual tempo (since this is an "instructive edition") which would probably be around 120, by analogue with similar pieces by the same composer for which he supplied metronome marks. It doesn't seem to matter how much I try it at 80 BPM; when I set the metronome to 90 or 100 I lose control of my fingers. There has to be a way to learn something like this starting at 120 (or whatever the actual tempo is) since all I get when I practice it at 80 and then try it at 120 is significant muscular tension and occasionally wrist pain.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #6 on: March 06, 2021, 11:14:22 AM
Honestly I would argue the opposite, that playing the piano is entirely about technique. Without technique you cannot hope to create "art" or musical expression in general.
Of course you cant just flail your hands at the piano and hope it creates music there has to be some degree of control. The problem I find these days however is that people are obsessed about technique and they devote all their attention to it. This is a problem imho.

It's possible that this is true for some people who have naturally flexible and easy to control fingers and hands. I will say that in my personal experience this never works.
One needs to know how to play controlled movements at slower tempos and what it means to play something with control. If you have zero experience in this actually occuring perhaps you simply need someone to guide you through that process in a clear manner. I am yet to come across anyone who does not generate great speed from controlled playing.

Completely controlling a piece at a slow tempo requires completely different hand movements and positions from completely controlling it at a fast tempo.
It is not completely different and in fact there is a strong connection. Of course you can get away with doing movements which have no place during faster tempos but that is not to say you cannot play slowly and respect what you would do if you played faster.

For example right now (I've been away from the piano for about four or five weeks at this point) I'm thinking about this piece and trying to play the right hand at speed on the counter.

I can get my fingers to make all the correct movements up to about 80 BPM. After that it falls apart. This doesn't seem to change regardless of how much time I spend on it.
The problem is that you are doing it away from the piano. You need to use the piano to give support to the fingers, it is much harder to play the passage without a keyboard and just tapping on a surface. You also need the sound to guide your movements, there is no point in feeling each and every strike in isolation to sound.
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Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #7 on: March 06, 2021, 11:16:11 AM
Suppose you have internalized a certain fingering for a passage, and you would like to change it. Then, you have a mental representation of how it goes. Just attempting to memorize a new fingering doesn't really work that well. Instead, I find that you kind of have to think of some sort of intuitive rationale using which the new fingering becomes evident. It's very hard to explain. It's like you remember the certain 'bounce' a new fingering has over an older one, or the specific way your pinky plays the top note of a melody, and try and internalize that sensation or 'intuitive logic' instead of the fingering itself, so that the fingering feels like it follows as a natural consequence of that fragment of 'intuitive logic'. Then, when the actual section comes up, you think of the 'intuitive logic', not the individual changes that need to be made. But the individual changes are made automatically, because they are encapsulated by that 'internal logic'. And by doing this a number of times, I find that you can effectively rewrite a previously stored memory, because you rely on the sense of 'inevitability' of the new way of playing to ensure that you don't resort to the old way.

It's ridiculously hard to explain over text.  :-\
yyy.... no.... lol i dont know...lol
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Offline brogers70

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #8 on: March 06, 2021, 04:23:50 PM
It's possible that this is true for some people who have naturally flexible and easy to control fingers and hands. I will say that in my personal experience this never works. Completely controlling a piece at a slow tempo requires completely different hand movements and positions from completely controlling it at a fast tempo (not that I've ever achieved the latter). Also I think at least for some of us, our bodies do not obey us most of the time.

I personally have a similar experience to you, and I think it is hard to generalize. My previous teacher never emphasized speed and always said that you just need to get the right, comfortable, efficient movements and speed will come automatically. When I started with her, that seemed true. My technique was very tense and aiming for speed just made it more tense. When I focused on making better motions and staying relaxed, a certain level of ease and speed did just come automatically. But then, once I was relatively free of tension, that approach stopped working. The changes in motion that I needed to make to increase efficiency were smaller than they had been at the beginning (because at the beginning my technique was awful) and therefore, harder for the teacher to describe. Now in the pandemic, without a teacher for the moment, I've found that aiming for speed, by doing short bursts on fragments of a piece, really teaches me what I need to change about my motion in detail; it just makes it physically clear to me in a way that trying to design the most efficient motion in the abstract, even with a teacher to help, did not.

The thing is. Everything is individual. Now I work on pieces on fragments and bring them up to tempo that way, and it works well for me. I don't have a problem getting a vision of the whole piece as a result of working that way, but that may be because I've done lots of music in my life and that aspect of things comes pretty naturally. So for somebody else, it might be a big mistake to break up pieces into tiny bits and work on the bits separately. Anything good can be overdone, or applied in the wrong way at the wrong time.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #9 on: March 06, 2021, 07:58:52 PM
I personally have a similar experience to you, and I think it is hard to generalize. My previous teacher never emphasized speed and always said that you just need to get the right, comfortable, efficient movements and speed will come automatically. When I started with her, that seemed true. My technique was very tense and aiming for speed just made it more tense. When I focused on making better motions and staying relaxed, a certain level of ease and speed did just come automatically. But then, once I was relatively free of tension, that approach stopped working. The changes in motion that I needed to make to increase efficiency were smaller than they had been at the beginning (because at the beginning my technique was awful) and therefore, harder for the teacher to describe. Now in the pandemic, without a teacher for the moment, I've found that aiming for speed, by doing short bursts on fragments of a piece, really teaches me what I need to change about my motion in detail; it just makes it physically clear to me in a way that trying to design the most efficient motion in the abstract, even with a teacher to help, did not.
I have had a similar experience, and what I've found is that people who suggest that speed comes automatically with control (the few Masters degree holders in piano I know have said the same thing) tend to have started to play the piano by the time they were 5 and have had a solid education during their childhood. I feel like the required dexterity is often attained unknowingly before they are 10 or so with the guidance of an excellent teacher. I've heard many adults complain that they just can't achieve the required dexterity.

From my personal experience, I think it is something which probably needs to be worked on consciously especially as an adult, but which can be done. It's kind of like learning to run for the first time. Once you know how to do it, you never forget it. Someone who learned it before they were 4 probably has no recall that it was a skill that even needed to be learned in the first place.

I remember the first time fast arpeggios in the right hand actually clicked for me -- it was only about two years ago. Once that happened, by and large the suggestion that one can play it fast if they can play it slow and controlled has mostly held true. However I think it wouldn't have been the case before that point -- I'm pretty certain I would have just endlessly struggled with it and hit speed barriers if I was only focusing on control.

Offline dogperson

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Re: Some more "unconventional" practice ideas
Reply #10 on: March 06, 2021, 11:31:35 PM
IMO, playing fast still must be controlled: even articulation, no ghost notes, phrasing and dynamics intact... without that, speed has little meaning other than not sounding clean
 

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