Preparation for exams/concerts - Advice & experiences.

Share your piano experiences with other adult students

Postby 110-1079111554 » Sat Mar 13, 2004 10:42 am

I have been lucky enough to re-discover my love for the piano. I first had about 4 years of lessons starting in my late teens, then I left my teacher, joined a band playing keyboards, worked on a cruise ship etc - all whilst holding down full-time jobs. 3 years ago ( for my 32nd birthday ) my wife bought me a 100 year old Hagspiel grand piano from an antique shop. This re-ignitied my desire to play the piano properly and I found myself a teacher. I have studied and practised extremely hard, and I have now passed all of my grades including Honours (90%) at Grade 8 level. In two weeks I will be sitting for my first Diploma (DipLCM).
I am now in a position to really look at the way I learn & practice, and I am wondering how a professional pianist practices.
I am never sure just how much practice I need - especially for exams where I become very nervous and my technique needs to be very well rehearsed to enable me to cope. My lack of early study has always hampered my sight reading ability, which means that I need a lot of time to learn new pieces.
I would be interested to learn how much other people practice, their techniques & methods, and any secrets to becoming a great player. I have read on a few occasions that concert players practice difficult passages hundreds of times over whilst reading or watching television - I have tried this and it definitely relieves the boredom.
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Postby Mins Music » Sun Mar 14, 2004 1:20 am

Welcome to the board nic! Great to have you here.

I'm afraid I'm not a professional performer, I am a teacher, so the only thing I can contribute is that practise is very personal. One person may progress and succeed with only three repetitions, another may take 300!

To really progress to the best of your ability, you'll need to work out what type of 'learner' you are - visual, kinesthetic, or aural. Of course, each person is a combination of all three, just in different percentages. Whatever is the major percent determines what 'type' of learner you are.
A visual learner finds it a breeze to sight read, because they instantly see patterns in the music - intervals, chords etc. They easily assimilate this visual knowledge and their brain interprets it quickly, sending the signals to their muscles to articulate.
A kinesthetic person, is better off actually writing out difficult passages, disecting the phrases, and going over them again and again until they understand how the music works, experiecne where it fits etc. Sometimes, they need to be physically directed; touched.
An aural learner will progress quicker if they first hear the piece, whether it be by their teacher or from a CD. This means hearing entire work, and then hearing how the melody, how the harmonics, motifs, phrases etc are developed.

Spend a little time working out what type of learner you are. I can think give you a little more advice on how to practise with purpose, goals, and when you know you're achieving.

Of course other factors are involved. Attention span, phsysical fitness for example.

There are threads on how long others practise. Most have said about two hours. Two hours of consistant intensity is about as much as I would recommend. However, increasing your practise time to longer is not out of the question when you are playing very different styles, concentrating on different areas, breaking intensity levels eg, after a mentally draining workout, spend a few minutes improvising. Don't think, just let the body flow and the fingers wander. Then you can get into another intense session.

Playing in front of T.V. reading, etc is like exercising. You're brain is not really focused. You're developing muscle memory - but you need to engage your brain for real progressive practise.
At all times, make sure you understand the WHY of the music, not just the what.

Dr Bill would be the perfect person for you to get 'performer' advice from. If he hasn't noticed your thread, send him a private message asking him to read it.

All the best nic!
See you around the forums.
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby Ursie » Sun Mar 14, 2004 3:29 pm

Hi nic88fiddle (and mins music too) great question. One I was thinking about asking too. I hope Dr Bill does notice this thread as I would like to read his comments also.

I have the beginnings of a programme for a performing diploma and how I spend my precious practice time has been on my mind a lot. I am lucky and do have a very good professional teacher who still performs on occassion so I do get lots advice but I would still welcome the advice of others.

On reading Mins Music's comments I would say I'm probably a kinesthetic learner and don't think I would enjoy learning whilst reading or watching TV (I probably couldn't do it even if I wanted to anyway :laugh:).
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Postby Mins Music » Thu Mar 18, 2004 6:02 pm

For exams, recitals, auditions etc, you need a plan of attack. First you MUST which you probably have already done, highlight the date of this crucial event on your calendar. Then, bring this date forward three weeks. THIS is the date you need to plan toward.

Physically, with a pen and paper, write down EVERYTHING you wish to achieve. Don't just say, "pass exam". We're talking MINOR details - about the pieces themselves, touch, tempo, expression, memory. This alone will take you at LEAST an hour, probably a lot more. If you need to work on one piece at a time, then do so. Consider this a PART of your practise.

THe next part is working at WAYS to achieve the above. Write them down. (Writing things down is very psycologically important - beside the benefit of memory and understanding, it implies commitment. )

Then work out WHEN you'll achieve them. This will take the longest planning. You've got one BIG deadline. That is, the date three weeks before the exam. Why is this a BIG deadline? Because you need your pieces ready for performance. WHY? Because you're going to arrange to give recital. Sit down and write out a list of friends and family who you'll invite to your recital. Now design an invitation, or just write a letter. Send these invites (by post, or letter drop by yourself). Send them all at once. Don't just wait until you 'see' them, and don't just 'tell' them about it.
Okay. You're now committed to this date. You HAVE to be ready because people will be coming to see you!

From now unti then, divide up your time with smaller goals. In that time, arrange for smaller performances. Eg, ask your Mum to watch over your shoulder. Ask your little sister to bounce a ball right beside you. Invite your next door neighbour in and ask them to listen to you (that'll test you!) Ask your boyfriend/girlfriend to sit at a little distance and make NOTES about your performance - even if they know nothing about music.

The point is, don't just let practise happen. Follow a detailed map. You'll feel more prepared and therefore more confident, and ready!!
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby Mins Music » Mon Mar 22, 2004 5:25 am

Check out this great article on preparing for exams. In fact, save it, print it out and read over it often.

http://www.pianos.co.uk/articles/piano_exams.php3
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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