The guiding principles for practising piano exercises well

When I made the plunge to start taking piano lessons at the age of 29, my ultimate dream was to be able to play ‘Ballade Pour Adeline’ and ‘Beauty And The Beast’. 

Lame, I know, at the time I did not dare to expect too much. 

In what seemed like a miraculous coincidence I was asked to learn the two songs about 6 months after showing up for my first lessons. My dream came true early. 

But I knew I was not going to be able to play the songs after one or two lessons. I realized from the moment I signed up for piano lessons that this was going to be a long term commitment - littered with obstacles and hardships, with many hours seated on the piano bench practising piano exercises.

To be able to play songs on the piano like I have always dreamt of doing would require me to lay the building blocks of the piano technique needed. Dreams do not work unless you do.

Since then I have progressed to Mozart, Beethoven and Bach - piano songs with more notes to play with higher degrees of difficulties which demands lots of hand manouvers, swift leaps and long jumps. 

Not being born as a prodigy, the only way I could have come this far was by practising. With some experience I have accumulated from practising the piano, here are a few guides to help you practise piano exercises well enough to improve by leaps and bounds.

Guide #1 for practising piano exercises well: Coax the sound out of the piano

I had been studying Mozart’s Sonata K545 for about 4 months. I had learnt by heart every note, ornament and accents in the piece and yet when I played, the song did not reveal itself. The true rhythmic sense of the piece continued to elude me for the longest time.

Frustrated, I knew I had to go back to basics. The first thing I did was; instead of worrying about playing every note perfectly I focused more on actually listening to the music the song was intended to create. 

I concentrated on coaxing the proper sound out of the piano according the rhythm it was composed while enjoying the music with my ears. 

Being obsessed about hitting the correct keys while staring at the piano score, anxious about missing a beat and getting the timing perfect was making my piano playing flat. I was typing on a typewriter instead of coaxing the music out of the piano like I was supposed to. 

The second basic thing I knew I needed to do was remind my fingers to always play legato. Somewhere along the way while struggling to decipher the notes and figure out the song and also due to the level of difficulty I had neglected legato playing. I returned to practising the piano exercises by Hanon completely legato. Once I was done with Hanon only then I revisited the sonata by Mozart.

Sometimes when confined in a windowless room without the avenue to test your creation and challenge its concept and make comparisons you can not know if you are right. 

My piano teacher played this song for me many times so that I can remember it well enough to render it to her satisfaction. I was also advised to listen to the CD so that I can absorb its true rhythm. 

But I resisted because the CD rendition is always perfect and it overwhelms me. After 4 months, once I have memorized the notes and abled to play the whole song ( without sounding anything like Mozart ) was I confident enough to listen to the CD.

By comparing it with my playing, I could improve on the parts where my play was sorely lacking the correct rhythm. Since by then, my fingering and knowledge of the notes in the piece was already good, listening to the CD had the effect of making me more confident when I executed the melody on the piano. Now I regret not listening to it sooner. Continue reading part 2 of 'The guiding principles for practising piano exercises well'.

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