Category: Piano Technique 鋼琴技巧

Five Steps to Effective Piano Practice

How do we practice effectively to improve our piano playing and perform well in concerts and exams?

Here is a simple guideline anyone can follow in every piano practice session.

Five Steps To Effective Piano Practice

1. Tone

Tone is the quality of sound, which is different from the volume of sound (when we talk about “dynamics”, the softness and loudness of sound, the piano and forte).

How do we achieve the different qualities of sound? By applying the right technique. Mastering the varieties in attack, touch and weight transfer is the key to a whole new world of sound. Therefore, working on gaining a solid technical control and variety in technical skills is of tremendous importance.

2. Elements

Sometimes my students say to me, “I don’t know what to do with the piece! I just keep playing it through to make it sound more smooth.” That is not a practice. That is simply playing through a piece.

Don’t know what to do? Find out what the important elements in the music piece are. What is going on in the melody? Listen to the different leaps between notes (“intervals“): a third is very different from a sixth or an octave, and a minor third is different from a major third. Pay attention to the subtle change in the melodic contour and show the nuance in your playing.

In the case of a fugue, where is the subject and what are the elements in the subject? Where are the beginning of the fugal entries in various voices? Are there any motives (melodic /rhythmic patterns) that recurs in the song in different voices/registers? And how about the tonalities? Are there any significant key changes? Or perhaps some special sounding chords (dissonance vs consonance)? It would be good for you to be able to identify the chord nature such as diminished /augmented /minor /major /dominant 7th/9th etc., but the first step is train your ears to differentiate the subtle nuance among different chords and harmony first.

One element many piano students neglect is rhythm. Really try to pay closer attention to execute the correct rhythm, for example, dotted rhythm is very differently than an even rhythm, and triplets or quintuplets need to be treated differently than regular eighths or sixteenths. If you can’t play them, clap them first. It’s about getting the rhythm in your body rather than at your fingers. Sometimes I ask my students to dance or tap to the music (of course I do that with them!) . It’s a fun way to practice and get the rhythm naturally easily.

3. Dynamics and phrasing

In general, it should be easy to show the dynamic changes and phrasing in your playing simply by following the markings on the score. But in order to give a more expressive performance, you need to interpret the piece yourself. Where is the beginning and ending of each phrase? After you have found the melodic sequences and the harmonic changes, what do you do to show them clearly to the audience? An expressive and musical playing can only be done by, on top of all the technical analysis, putting your heart and soul into the music, and that means feeling the music emotionally and physically. What do you feel about the rise and fall in the melody? Do you feel the difference between a rising minor third and a falling octave? How do you feel about them and what would you do to show them?

4. Articulation

Articulation expresses the more delicate nuance of individual notes while phrasing gives life and clarity to each musical phrase. Paying attention to articulate each note is like making effort at speaking every word so clearly that your listener understand exactly what you want to express. And remember, it’s not just if it’s “legato” or “staccato”: there are many ways and combinations to “say” what you want at the piano!

5. Tempo

Having a steady tempo that you can control well under pressure is a major contribution to your success in a performance, a competition or an exam. One thing any piano student should definitely pay attention to is establishing a steady pulse. Again, pulse is not the same as tempo, but without a steady pulse no one can hear exactly what your tempo is!

Sometimes it is wise to take the tempo down a few notches in order to present a well controlled and confident piano performance. And when it comes to a piece at a slow tempo, you might find playing it at a slightly more moving tempo helps the music flow along better. There is no hard or fast rule to the decision at tempo adjustment, certainly it’s best to express the music at its desirable speed (or marked tempo), but it is something a performer needs to think about from time to time. Moreover, even the “desirable speed” can be flexible in some cases (note: maybe not so much for standardized piano exams especially at graded levels): go listen to some recordings of the same piece (say a Beethoven sonata or Bach toccata) by different artists (or even same artist at different periods of his/her career), compare the tempi of the recordings, and you might be surprised just how different each artist’s approach is.

This is just a very general guideline to give you as a piano student some pointers on how to have a more effective piano practice session. But if you really pay attention to start following these few rules, you would be pleasantly surprised by the improvement you make at your piano playing!

Have fun at the piano!

Teresa Wong

Special Offer: Online Piano Consultation Sessions

To celebrate a special milestone with my lovely readers in my teaching and performing career, I am giving away a special promotion for all online consultation sessions, including:

piano diploma programs (dipABRSM piano, ATCL piano, LRSM piano, LTCL piano, dipABRSM piano teaching) –

repertoire advice,

performance improvement,

musical, technical and stylistic awareness,

quick study,

viva voce preparation,

programme notes writing (all instruments),

mock exams;

 

music college audition advice,

competition preparation,

college paper writing help;

 

piano teaching consultation-

ABRSM and TCL exams, and any general issues,

general teaching business consultation,

piano technique issues, music theory exams (grade 5 and grade 8),

music instruction book writing and publishing advice,

general performance improvement.

 

Anything music /piano-related topics!

 

When you sign up between now and end of October 2018,  you can enjoy this offer until December 2018.

(中文) 手腕和手指前臂對齊動作 Part I

Sorry, this entry is only available in 中文.

Short Online Courses for Piano Teachers/Diploma Students

We are now introducing new online courses and taking enrolment until the spaces are all filled.

Here are the courses and short description: 

Course 1. How to prepare your students for diploma exams successfully

Class 1:

General criteria of exam requirement and repertoire choice 

Class 2:

How to choose pieces for your students 

Class 3:

Examples of repertoire choice and general background of genre/pieces 

Class 4: 

Viva voce questions and preparation 

Class 5:

More on viva voce and programme notes 

Student project presentation: examples of repertoire choices and viva voce questions 

(Class 4/5 are subject to change if most of the teacher students are more inclined to prepare students for Trinity exams instead of ABRSM exams)

Course 2. How to improve your students’ technique 

Class 1:

Piano playing and body utilization 

Concept of Body weight and weight transfer 

Class 2:

Application of body weight and weight transfer 

Relation of body weight and weight transfer to arm/hand/finger movement 

Class 3:

More elaboration on class 2 concepts 

Weight training 

Piano techniques 

Class 4:

More on weight training and piano technique

Application and examples of different techniques

Class 5:

Student Project presentation: application of techniques with chosen music examples 

Course 3. How to analyze and interpret advanced repertoire

Class 1:

General background of musical periods

General development of piano/keyboard instruments

Class 2:

Main genres and their characteristics of keyboard repertoire (Baroque and Classical)

Music examples: form, structure and analysis

Class 3:

Main genres and their characteristics of keyboard repertoire (Classical and Romantic)

Music examples: form, structure and analysis

Class 4:

More on genres and examples of keyboard repertoire

More on background and analysis of keyboard repertoire

Performance practice of each musical period in relation to the development and repertoire of the keyboard instrument

How to analyze and prepare a piece for performance and exam

Class 5:

Student Project presentation: application of knowledge learnt in the course with chosen piece of your own

Total Course time

5 hours

Each class duration

1 hour in total: 45 minutes’ lecture + 15 minutes’ Q & A session 

Total fee per course

Original course fee: $3000

Special course fee for early bird enrolment:  $2500 

Deadline for early bird enrolment:  September 8, 2017

Deadline for all enrolment: September 20, 2017

Commencement of courses (Class 1):

Course 1: September 22 Friday 11am

Course 2: September 21 Thursday 10am

Course 3: September 21 Thursday 11am

Note: We might have more course times if there are more students than open spaces in any of the courses and if students are unavailable at the schedule given above. Contact us directly to request more schedule details.

Payment method:

Pay via PayPal or bank transfer to our HSBC account. (Details will be given after  your enrolment – 100% confirmation of your enrolment will be completed after we have received your payment)

We are also organizing a new course to train new teachers to teach Miss Wong’s piano technique method, so that you can train your students to become a more accomplished performer with avid interest in learning music and playing the piano with confidence, control and dexterity! Stay tuned for this course. 

How to perfect your scales (Part II)

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