Learning piano songs is about practising the mind to gain clarity. Concentrate on short sections of a phrase, initially focusing on playing one hand at a time
There is a lot to do in delivering a song on the piano. Articulating with emotion, hitting the right notes, stepping on the pedal and much more. As you mature as a pianist these actions become instinctive. Especially playing a song that had been thoroughly practised. To arrive at that level of proficiency deliberate practise and awareness of its processes is necessary.
For example, when playing the phrase shown in Image 1 below taken from Canon in D. I wanted to inject some emotion in expressing it, but found it challenging to connect the notes seamlessly. After several attempts, it was still disjointed. Tone sounded uneven. Timing was off.
Lack of clarity in the mind was the cause. I used to think it was technical deficiency. So, I practised hard putting the fingers to work until they ached. As a result, improvement could be seen the next day or two. I realize now that it was not technique that got better, or the fingers became more agile, through repeated practise the mind unfolded to clearly see the notes in the phrase in their proper place thus able to guide the hands and fingers towards the keys accurately.
This insight changed the way I approached piano practise. Instead of demanding progress from my body (fingers, hands, wrists, arms, feet and etc) through ‘hard work’, I let the mind take its time to absorb elements of the music, i.e. the arrangement of notes in the phrase, tonal quality and emotional content.I did so by even if for only 30 minutes, be at the piano and play (with mistakes and all).
Wrinkles in the performance will be ironed out by the mind in time, needless of pushing the body too hard. Use the mind to compliment the fingers. As it gains clarity, it can better guide the fingers. Resulting in improved accuracy.
Clarity in reading the notes in the treble clef separate from the bass clef, leads to improved accuracy in practising hands separately. The mind focused on the treble clef allows the right hand to land on the keys with precision. The mind focused on the bass clef allows the left hand to do so. As it gets sharper through intense concentration, putting them together to play both hands together are made to be less disorienting.
It is a lot easier for the mind to concentrate on a small narrowed field of vision. Therefore, practise both hands together in short sections. A phrase can be broken into shorter sections such as shown in Image 2 below.
Rhythm could be absorbed one at a time once a polyrhythmic phrase is isolated into their smaller components. I have discovered that when I am practising on the rhythm of a small group of notes, the nuances appear to be more apparent. Such as tonal quality and the different ways they are affected by every different way the keys were touched. Thus, enabling me to enrich the musical quality of a song beginning from its tiniest elements. As a result, listeners experience piano songs that are beautiful as a whole as they are beautiful in every detail.
Practising the piano is more about practising the mind than the body (fingers, hands, wrists, arms, feet and etc) to gain clarity. Concentrate on a small area by breaking a phrase into shorter sections. To maintain clarity in the mind, initially focus on playing one hand at a time before playing with both hands together. For example, absorb the rhythm in the treble clef and execute with the right hand first. Then proceed to absorb the rhythm in the bass clef and execute with the left hand and finally practising both hands together.