ArT of the Piano: Go for the Goal(d)!!!

How are your organizational skills at your instrument? Do you sit down with a clear practice plan and goals, or do you just throw yourself at your instrument, hoping for the best?

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Like any fun game, our practice sessions need clear rules/structure and ATTAINABLE marker of achievement. Music can be frustrating because our results are not tangible. It's not like painting or pottery where you can physically see the results of a day's work. Music needs some time to settle our minds and hearts before we're ready to share it with others. 

Before each practice session, take a moment to step back and think of what your long and short goals are: when do you expect mastery of the phrase/passage/piece? How can you pace yourself over the course of a week/month so that you can attain your goals? Do you have an idea of how long it will take you to achieve your goal?

Here's a practical example of how I like to structure my practice. Starting from a specific goal like, "I want to master this fingering by Friday," or "I want to have all the notes solid by Tuesday," or "I'd like this piece at 3/4 of final performance tempo by Wednesday," I then schedule my practice around the 15-min practice interval. Here is a sample "hour" of practice:

1st 15 min: NEW STUFF. New material, memorizing small chunks, learning new fingering. 2 min break

2nd 15 min: DIFFERENT new material AND MUSICALITY. Review/polish material from yesterday, harmonic analysis, conducting/singing. 2 min break

3rd 15 min: CLEAN-UP AND HAVE FUN. anything I didn't get done in the last session PLUS old rep and anything fun (improvising, sightreading, playing an old fav). STOP. Wait 10+ min before starting the second hour.

The great thing is, you don't even have to do a whole "hour" in one sitting You could just do the different intervals throughout the day.

Two big keys: variety and freshness. This structure works for me because it's varied and I don't get stuck in one thing. Re freshness: save the big focus items (new stuff, memory work) for when you are most alert. Your brain is freshest at the beginning of every session. 

One more word on goals: Music practice is additive; it builds on itself. We first learn the notes and rhythms, and then we keep adding layers of meaning (harmonic motion, structural analysis, making up a story, refining our technique). The more layers you have, the more security you build. Though we reach certain plateaus of achievement with a piece, we can always add more layers over time. NOTE: every time you perform, you build a security layer by default! (And discover other potential goals for the piece).

Although we may discover perfection along the way, we'll find a lot more joy if we practice to build a strong foundation with lots of layers. Enjoy the little goals on your way to the big one.

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