The following are excerpts from the video Piano Practice That Pays Off – Part Three. You can watch the video on YouTube.
Ready to give up when you’ve tried everything to smooth out a rough spot and nothing is working? Well, help is on the way. Stay tuned.
Hi! I’m Dr. Lory. Welcome back to our series. This video is part three.
When a rough spot won’t polish, even after lots of practice, we have to change something.
But, change what? Well, here are three things that could be changed – your speed, the length of the section you’re practicing, or your fingering patterns.
The first thing I change is speed. I slow down. Slowing down allows me to look at the rough spot – note by note. I want to find exactly what is causing the problem. Once I find the problem notes, I can isolate them and use some of the techniques we talked about in Parts One and Two — like jackhammering, uneven rhythms, and different articulations.
But, I’ll do this at a slower tempo.
Another benefit of practicing slowly is that new information can be more easily connected to what we already know. Our brains can compare the new information with the old, can distinguish how they are the same and how they are different, and then more easily store and retrieve the new information.
This is much easier to do when we practice slowly.
How Slow is Slow Enough?
How slow is slow enough? If someone walking by can recognize what you’re playing – then you’re playing too fast. You know, sometimes my students tell me that they’ve practiced something so slowly that even they couldn’t recognize the melody. I tell them, then you’re doing it right.
You can also find your correct practice speed by using a metronome. I’m going to use a common rough spot from the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata, Opus twenty-seven, number two, known as The Moonlight Sonata.
The section I’m using starts at measure thirty-two and ends at measure thirty-eight.
Let’s go through the steps I would take to see how slow is slow enough. My current practice speed is one-hundred-sixty beats per minute to the eighth note.
Did you hear my hesitations? They tell me that I’m playing too fast. I’ll keep slowing down until I can play the passage perfectly.
I will cut my current practice tempo, which has hesitations, in half, to eighty beats per minute as a quick way to slow down.
Wow! That is slow. But, there are no hesitations. And it was perfect.
So this is my correct practice tempo. Now, I will start speeding up until I get to the final tempo.
By the way, a technique for doing this will be covered in an upcoming video.
Using a Metronome
If I’m already practicing slowly enough – or I slowed down with the help of my metronome – and I’m still not making much improvement, then I’ll check the length of my practice section. It just might be too large.
And, this one is. It’s seven measures long.
Practice Section Length
But, how long is too long? If I can’t see progress within several minutes of practice, the section is too long. If you’re not sure, start with a smaller part and build up. Then, you won’t waste valuable practice time.
That’s what I’m going to do here – divide my seven-measure practice section into single measures. Then, I’ll start building them back up – in two-measure segments.
You can do this by connecting measures in groups of two. Then keep connecting measures until they are all back together.
What if my rough spot is still – rough? Then, I look to my fingerings.
To pianists, fingerings are the way we assign a specific finger to each key to be played. And, when we do it right we get fluid playing, efficiency, and the sound we want.
You know, we have ten fingers but there are eighty-eight keys on the piano. So, we have to work really hard to get the right fingers on the right keys.
This is a very important first-step because once practicing begins, we develop habits and long-term memory. And, if we keep changing fingerings, we have to unlearn wrong fingerings and then learn the right ones.
I always have my students start with fingerings when they begin a new piece. Then, they check questionable fingerings with me before serious practice begins.
To keep from putting wrong fingerings into long-term memory, you might want to check fingerings at the same time you are shortening the length of your practice section. If you put that together with a slower practice tempo, you can catch any wonky fingerings before they become a habit.
One more thought on fingerings. The fingerings you chose at the start may actually be right – but they still aren’t the best choice because of the size of your hands, the expression of the passage, or the final speed. The only way you are going to know for sure is when a rough spot pops up, and your first choice for fingering just won’t work. You have to try something else.
Deciding on Fingerings
How could there be more than one correct choice for fingerings?
Let’s look at the fingerings printed in the score. These were chosen by the editor. Are they right? Yes they are – but they are not working for me. There are a few stretches that are awkward and the numbering pattern doesn’t match the pattern of the notes.
I’m going to try another set of fingerings that has a more digestible pattern and closer position changes. Once I make a final decision, I’ll use those fingerings each time I practice.
You might be wondering – how I do find the correct fingerings for me? Good question! If you’re working with a teacher, he or she can help you.
If you don’t have a teacher, your score might have suggested fingerings. Sometimes the editor even gives you two choices. Start with those. You might still come up with your own. And, that’s OK.
If the music does not have fingerings, check out my upcoming video on how to find fingerings that work for you and the piece you’re working on.
Let’s review what we’ve learned in this video.
When little or no progress is being made on a rough spot even with correct practice, you might be:
- Practicing too fast,
- The length of your practice section is too large, or
- Your fingerings aren’t the best choice for you.
I hope this video will help you smooth out your rough spots. In the next video, we’re going to work on speeding up a rough spot that is already perfect.
Remember, what Vince Lombardi said about perfection – Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
Thanks so much for joining me today. If you found this video helpful, click subscribe and check out some of my other videos on YouTube. You can also contact me to schedule live online piano lessons.
Until then, keep on practicing.