In our practice, we have to always ask ourselves, “what is the problem that stops us from playing well?”
Identify the source, single out the problem, find the solution and drill it.
There might be more than one aspects in that trouble spot. But there is always – and I stress, always– a priority, meaning one biggest barrier over all others.
Figure out what the biggest obstacle is in your playing is the fastest way – and the only way – to improve in your practice.
In the technical aspect, I have noticed that a lot of students have trouble with them palm muscle / hand grip – the muscle control and strength simply non-existent, leaving the fingers feeling wobbly, out of control and unsupportive, like wild children running around unguarded by irresponsible parents (palms). Their knuckles – be them those joining the palm and the fingers, or the first knuckles that help channeling the weight all the way down to the fingertips – are a lot of the times collapsed. Such technical weakness, when not attended to closely and fixed every time during a practice session, is contributing to the imperfections in one’s playing every single second (and note). It is almost ridiculously futile for one to try to understand the music and drill the playing all the while not paying the closest attention to what matters first and foremost – the technique.
I can say playing something “easy” something pop at the piano does not require that much of a solid technique as mentioned above. But, when one is learning the classical repertoire and truly wants to have a solid and reassuring control over the piano, gaining the proper technique cannot be stressed enough. Without a solid technique that can be transferred from playing one piece to another, one’s progress on each piece and in one’s playing in the long run would be extremely slow, leaving the player (and the listeners!) rather frustrating. It is a self-defeating way to learn and practice at all. A great analogy is that one wants to lose weight and keep fit, so s/he is doing a lot of physical exercises, but the way s/he does it is all wrong, all the more s/he is not paying attention to the diet, eating all the possible junk food s/he can find. The time and effort are spent, but there is simply no result! Why? Because s/he is not doing it right! Then s/he is going into a frustration phase, thinking why it doesn’t work, and maybe s/he is just not good enough to become a physically fit person. Wrong thinking! It is the inefficient method that is hindering him/her from progressing at all (there might be a little progress here and there, but it would be very minimal, and such little progress is delusional fading and keeps the candidate going on the wrong path on and on…).
To conclude briefly, piano technique is not just about hitting the right note : it’s about executing the right key (pitch) with the right amount of time (rhythm) at the right timing, with the right amount of force at the right speed, using the right kind of movement/action at the right angle, thereby producing the right kind of tone and volume that you want.
If I can say one word (or three, as my old teacher told me) to my students and you, it is ” technique, technique, technique! ” *
Of course next two are understanding of music and emotional expression… But that I shall talk about in the next (and next) post.
Ask the right question, set the right priority, and find the right solution.
Then drill it to produce success!
*The word (or three) my old teacher gave me was “practice, practice, practice!” – I am not saying practice is not important, quite on the contrary. But when one is practicing eight hours a day, I don’t think it is about practice anymore. In this fast changing world, we better be smart and time-efficient rather than plain diligent like a cow! (Unless you want to run a dairy farm, or become a meat provider).