The Practice Tools – Volume 3

I would like to thank you for your support with my ebook series – I am very pleased with the uptake and have had lots of great feedback. It is good to know that the publication is assisting you in your practice! The beta launch period is now over, we have done some minor edits and updates to the publications, and all existing customers will be upgraded automatically to the new versions. The full version of Part 1 is now available at £9.99 for all three volumes. Volume 3 will be available for £2.99 until May 31 as a special offer to existing customers. Please note that you do not need a PayPal account to purchase the publications, simply click on “buy as guest” to use your debit or credit card to make a purchase via the secure gateway. For further information on how the publications work and what devices are supported, please see the FAQ on the Informance website.

Volume 3 (New!)

Buy Volume 3 now for a special introductory price of £2.99 until 31st May (Full price £4.99) or click on the button below for a free preview.

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Special offer bundle – Part 1 (All three volumes)

Buy Part 1 of Practising The Piano (three volumes) for over 30% off the full individual prices.

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Volume 3 is the final part on the practice tools. There are several more volumes to come – on technique, aspects of performance (memorisation, how to deal with performance anxiety, etc.), style and interpretation, pedalling, and quite a bit more that I’m still formulating.

Here is a brief breakdown of the contents of my new volume:

  1. Measuring Distances. As soon as we progress beyond the nursery slopes of piano playing, we have to learn how to move across the keyboard. To the casual observer, watching a professional pianist moving accurately from one position to another (often at breakneck speed) is one of the most impressive aspects of piano playing. In this chapter, I demonstrate three powerful tools that allow us to measure very precisely the distances involved in leaps. I have labelled these tools Quick Cover, Springboarding and Selective Landing.
  2. Tapping. Tapping techniques can significantly improve skill, coordination and facility in chord playing as well as in octaves and double notes. Tapping can also be applied to passagework.
  3. Legato Practice. Touch, the way we manipulate the keyboard to produce the sound we want, is central to the pianist. It is a large part of what makes one player sound so different from another. In this chapter, I look at why we might choose to practise legato a passage that will eventually be played staccato. Also, I demonstrate how to use a legatissimo touch as a practice tool for making precise measurements in passagework that requires constantly adjusting hand positions, where the hand needs to open and close frequently and rapidly.
  4. Inventing Exercises from Pieces. There are pieces that contain passages of technical difficulty that require special attention, a type of practising over and above the routine use of the other practice tools. We might need to find creative ways to solve problems by getting into the habit of making our own exercises based on the material from the piece. These exercises tend to make the passage harder or even more challenging than the original, so that when we go back to the original, it feels easier. Sometimes we need a multi-pronged strategy involving very many different approaches to practising. In this chapter, I look at the study editions of Alfred Cortot, discuss the technique of “looping” and give sample exercises from the repertoire.
  5. Practising Away from the Keyboard. There are stories of famous pianists who claim to have learned a new piece away from the piano on an aircraft or a train, and then walked on stage and performed it without ever having practised it. While some of these stories may be apocryphal and others exaggerated, I am convinced this is a possibility when borne of necessity. When I was a student, I had teachers who extolled the virtues of practising away from the piano. In those years I was reluctant to consider this a part of my practising – surely proper practice of any value has to mean fingers busy at the piano? Nowadays I think such practice is completely indispensable. Without a thorough understanding of the music’s structure and message, how are the fingers supposed to know what to do? The mind has to be one step ahead of the hand, always. We can practise away from the keyboard in many different ways, with the score and without, and for several different purposes. In this chapter, I look at the following ways of practising away from the keyboard: analysis, developing an interpretation, memory work, correcting errors and refining motor control, concert and exam preparation.
  6. Objective Practice. Practising and performing are two distinctly different activities, a fact that even advanced pianists do not always appreciate. A lot of what goes on in practice rooms produces minimal or unreliable results. This has as much to do with instant gratification (the desire to play through the piece too soon) as it does with a lack of know-how (knowing exactly the steps that need to be taken during the practice time). Objective practice has to do with making the distinction between practising and playing through (or performing). In this chapter, I address: the need build firm foundations, how to delay gratification, the distinctions between practising and performing, marking (or mapping out), cleaning a performance (removing cosmetically-applied rubatos).
  7. Transposition. When we transpose, we take music originally written in one key and play it in another. Vocal accompanists and repetiteurs need to develop the skills to do this virtually at sight in order to accommodate the different voice types and the vocal ranges of the singers they work with, but transposition is also a valuable practice tool for the solo pianist, for two main purposes. Firstly, we can use transposition to build and test the aural and analytic memory for those pieces we need to memorise. Secondly, we use transposition for refining motor control and coordination in difficult passages. In this chapter I look at both these ways of using transposition.
  8. The Uses and Abuses of the Metronome. The metronome has been an essential piece of equipment for all musicians since it was patented by Johann Maelzel in 1815. It has two main uses – as a reference for finding a specific tempo and as a practice tool to help you play in time. The benefits seem obvious – if you can play strictly in time with the device then you will know if you’re able to play up to speed. It will also alert you if are speeding up or slowing down. But can the metronome actually improve your rhythm, or does it merely cause you to play mechanically with a strict and unbending beat? In this chapter, I look at how to use the metronome, the advantages and disadvantages of using it, and other ways of helping us to play in time.


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