Practise piano songs in small sections slowly to experience and capture the art in the music, apply the pomodoro technique to overcome the tedium of repetition
Czerny exercises to improve my sight reading. Hanon exercises to strengthen the fingers, develop agility and flexibility. Then move on to practicing a composition such as Canon in D. Such is my piano practice routine for the past year or so. Done in about thirty minutes, ideally everyday although I would miss practice on some days and for an extended time occasionally. I try to get the routine back on track I soon as I can.
Apart from taking the small and slow approach by practising a limited number of exercises selectively and only a bar of a composition at a time but with intensity and attention to detail, I list-up the tasks I wanted to accomplish with clear aims set. For example, grasping the rhythm of the bar shown in Image 1 below taken from Canon in D. The aim was only to grasp the rhythm. Tempo and tone were ignored to be worked on as separate tasks later.
There are hundreds of different arrangements in a set of Czerny and Hanon exercises. For the past year I have limited myself to practicing only two of each. For the same reason I only try to learn 1 new bar of Canon in D at a time, it is to gain a deep understanding of the sound, patterns in the arrangement of notes and reproduce them as accurately as I could. Aiming for a well-rounded performance with tempo, tone, articulation, and rhythm solidly harmonized.
Different is this approach compared to how I used to practice. Before, I rushed through every exercise, tried to subdue as many bars in a composition as I could in every practice session because I had to show progress being made to my instructors. Due to the pressure I put on myself, I learnt to play many piano songs, developed a decent enough technique but have always felt I that I was not getting more of the art in the music. While I had some sense of their presence, what I seek is total domination of a compositions’ artistic image, heart, and soul to go along with my re-production of its sounds.
Days are spent on 1 bar to acquire the proper rhythm. I took a longer time because I would go over every note, symbol, and notation carefully and repeating them until I am confident enough to move on to the next task. The next task being work on the tempo, then the tone. Despite the repetition of practicing the same bar over and over, I have learned to take pleasure in discovering the nuances in a single bar and playing them correctly.
Applying a custom modified pomodoro technique to my practice sessions helped with overcoming the tedium of repetition. The pomodoro technique recommends focusing on a task for 25 minutes and taking a short break, then returning to the task for another 25 minutes. I modified it to focus practicing on a bar of a composition for 10 minutes then practice on something else that is easier such as a Hanon exercise for 10 minutes.
Hanon exercises are mostly drills that strengthen the fingers, build agility and flexibility in them. Not much analytical thought is demanded, by design they are purely mechanical exercises. Afterwards I would practice some of Czerny’s exercises to improve my sight reading. They offer a refreshing change in the rhythmic pattern to distract me for a while from the composition I was learning without being too complex.
Through the varying of the intensity in the content of the exercises ranging from light finger exercises to sight-reading simple rhythmic patterns I have been able to maintain my passion in a learning a composition in short increments slowly, 1 bar at a time. Progress has certainly been at a snail’s pace but the art in the music no longer eludes me.