I first published this post on top tips in October, 2015. I am republishing it now, with a couple of updates.
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The first of an occasional series of tips – these are quick and easy to read, and I hope they will be useful in your practice.
Top Tips #1: Start Anywhere!
When you have thoroughly learned a piece and you’re getting it ready for a performance or an exam, it’s a great idea to be easily able to start from anywhere in the piece.
Left to your own devices you would probably start in a comfortable place, such as the beginning of a phrase or section. That’s fine, but for a challenge use a random number generator to decide for you where to start.
1. Figure out the number of bars in your piece – let’s say it’s 87 bars long
2. In the Min field, enter 1. In the Max field, enter 87
3. Press the Generate button
4. Play from the bar that comes up – not the bar before or after for convenience but the bar specified, even if it is in the middle of a phrase
There are many ways to do this – make a decision beforehand how far you’re going to play on from the bar you started at. It could be 1 bar, or 4 bars – whatever!
If you have divided your piece into sections, you can use the random number generator for that too.
For details of this approach, click here.
If the bar you land on has tied notes, depress the key(s) silently before you begin. Here’s why…
The New Year has begun and we’re kicking off with a fantastic day of piano-themed events on Saturday 15th January. We had originally planned on holding this day to celebrate the Practising the Piano Online Academy’s fifth birthday in October 2021 but had to postpone. Therefore we’re delighted to be able to reschedule for the 15th at the Fidelio Cafe in central London.
If you’d like to start your year on a high note, join us in person or online or for a variety of inspiring and informative sessions, including a performance workshop with Graham Fitch and three special lecture-presentations by Graham, Masayuki Tayama and Penelope Roskell. Click here for further information or to book your place!
Sessions & content
This event is Graham’s take on a traditional masterclass and is an in-person version of our online performance workshop format. Each performer will have 20 minutes to present a work of their choice (or part thereof) and to work with Graham on specific problems or obtain general feedback on matters such as style, interpretation, technique and practice methods. Please click here to find out more about the format or to watch a video example from a previous workshop.
The afternoon comprises three lecture-presentations. In the first session, “Bringing Baroque Music to Life”, Graham Fitch presents a rough guide to playing baroque music stylistically and expressively on the piano using works by Bach, Couperin, Rameau and Purcell to illustrate. Click here to view an excerpt from a previous workshop in which Graham demonstrates how to explore possibilities for articulation in a work by Handel.
This will be followed by a presentation by Masayuki Tayama on Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Masa will perform and excerpts from a selection of sonatas and discuss influences, interpretation and the development Beethoven’s style. Click here to view a blog post with video excerpts in which Masa explores Beethoven’s first Sonata, Op. 2 No. 1.
In the last session, Penelope Roskell will perform movements from Schubert’s last sonata (D960) and share some insights on texture, voicing, harmony and what she particularly loves about this monumental work. Click here to watch Penelope perform the second and third movements.
Various ticket options for joining us in person or viewing online are available. Please click here for further information and booking links.
Other plans for 2022
We have many other plans afoot and the following are some of the developments that we look forward to sharing with you over the coming year:
Interactive Workshops – A new, interactive workshop format and further additions to our online events programme
Technique – Further installments in our technique library project focusing on improving technique and providing recommendations and guides to popular exercises, studies and regimes
Practising – Ongoing extensions to our materials on effective practising with an index of practice tools and many additional examples in the context of repertoire of varying levels
Learning Pieces & Repertoire – More guides on how to interpret, learn and master new pieces of varying levels in our repertoire library
Sight-Reading – Additions to our existing resources for improving sight-reading skills, including the final part of our Advanced Curriculum
Examination Guides – Resources for the final grades (7 & 8) will be added to our collection of resources for the Trinity examination syllabus and we will also be creating resources for syllabuses from other examination boards.
We will also be making several enhancements to the Online Academy to make it easier to find and interact with content as it’s library continues to grow. These include various navigation improvements and applying new video viewing and online course functionality to selected content. Please sign-up to our mailing list here for news and updates on these and many other developments!
Practising the Piano Online Academy
The Practising the Piano Online Academy is the ultimate online resource for mastering the piano. It features a constantly growing library of over 300 articles, thousands of musical excerpts and hundreds of videos on topics including practising, piano technique and performing from leading experts. Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or on one of the options below to subscribe:
Monthly subscription – Subscribe for £13.99 a month to get full, unlimited access to all Online Academy articles and updates (click here to sign-up for this option)
Annual subscription – Save on the monthly subscription with an annual subscription for £119.99 per year and get free eBooks and editions worth over £70! (click here to sign-up for this option)
Isn’t it frustrating when a piece you’ve been practising for a while and feel like you know well falls apart in performance? It’s one thing to be able to play for yourself in the comfort of your own space, and quite another to perform it in front of others (how often I have heard students say “I can play it perfectly at home”!). Even if only playing for yourself, do you also sometimes feel that your results fall short of what you would like to achieve?
Memorising vs remembering
One common cause of this is that many pianists rely on simply playing a piece over and over, repeating until the physical movements become automatic. When playing for oneself, this creates the illusion that we have successfully memorised the piece when in fact we have just happened to remember it.
Unless we are exceptionally confident when playing for others, over-reliance on pure muscle memory can prove unreliable when under pressure. Much of the problem stems from insufficient preparation – not having built strong enough foundations from the outset when learning a piece and from playing it through too often with scant regard for any ongoing maintenance procedures.
Memorisation for firm foundations
The more painstaking we are about the way we encode (the process of learning, practising, and preparation) the better able we are to decode (the act of performance). Memorisation is an active process as opposed to passively remembering.
To build security, other forms of memory have to be developed alongside muscle memory. These include aural and analytical memory. Here are a few of memory tools that are useful to avoid an over-reliance on muscle memory:
Pattern recognition away from the keyboard, and at the keyboard – Avoid simply playing the notes we read, instead discover the underlying structure of the music in ways that are meaningful to you.
Transposition by ear – The ultimate test of how well you know a piece is to play sections of it (slowly is fine) in two or three different keys. Hard at first, but it gets easier!
One finger – Use just one finger to play a line from memory. You’ll soon discover if you only know the line by muscle memory.
Two-handed arrangement – Make an impromptu two-handed arrangement of the music one hand has to play (do this from memory, of course!).
Wrong hand – Play the notes the left hand has to play but with the right hand (and vice versa). You can use this tool for those problem spots.
In this video excerpt from my online workshop on memorisation I demonstrate how a two-handed arrangement can be used to learn the left-hand of a movement from Bach’s Goldberg Variations:
Memory work helps us learn deeper, more thoroughly and more permanently. Even if you end up playing with the score, or only for yourself, knowing a piece on a deeper level means you’re more likely to deliver a performance that reflects your true potential, giving you (and your audience, if there is one!) a more satisfying outcome.
Free Online Event!
For more tools on deep learning and memorisation, join us on Saturday 11th June @ 17:00 – 18:00 BST (GMT + 1) for a free online workshop. In this revised version of one of our most popular online workshops, Graham Fitch explores the different memory systems and introduces various tools that will help you go beyond simply relying on muscle memory. Whether you choose to perform with the score or not, this workshop will help you ensure that you know a work on a much deeper level! Click here to find out more and to book your place.