Welcome to Living Pianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I have a special treat for you! Today’s video is about how you can solidify your musical performance. Sometimes you practice a piece and learn the whole thing, but when you perform it, you just can’t count on it coming out the way you want. Maybe sometimes it comes through in practice, but you’re afraid to play for anyone because it’s not dependable. Sometimes your performance comes out well, sometimes it doesn’t. What can you do about that? In this video I’m going to show you how to overcome those insecurities!
How do you approach a new piece of music?
A few years ago I made a video about how to practice a new piece on the piano. I chose a piece randomly. The first thing I did was to read through it. Then I started learning it from the beginning. I practiced in front of you, showing you exactly how I approach a new piece. You can reference that video here. In that video, and in my general practice, I start from the beginning of a piece. I start with a very small phrase, just a couple of measures. I look at just the right hand and figure out the notes, then the rhythm, the fingering, the phrasing, and finally the expression. In other words, looking at all the details to get that one little phrase memorized. Then I do the same thing with the left-hand. I learn that same little phrase, notes, rhythm, fingering, phrasing, and expression with the left hand. Once I get that memorized, I then put the hands together and get that memorized. Then I go on to the next section in the same way, connecting as I go.
What can you do after you’ve learned a piece of music and you have it memorized, but it’s still not really solid?
Let’s say you learn a piece of music, but you don’t feel 100% confident in your performance. Maybe it was solid at one point, but it’s kind of deteriorated over time. What can you do about that? Well, I have an answer for you! Today, once again, I’m going to show you how I practice. I’m going to practice the Liszt Sonata in B minor which I’ve been working on. We just moved here to the Waterloo Arts District in Cleveland. We finally have air conditioning here! It’s been tough making videos because it’s been very hot. So I decided that I would relearn this piece. I couldn’t find my scores, so I have my father’s old score. It’s tattered, but it has all the notes in it!
When you’re practicing, have the music handy, and of course your trusty metronome. Start from the beginning. In this case, I won’t start from the very beginning because the beginning is slow and there’s nothing technically oriented. I’m going to go ahead and start from where the fun begins! I will check with the metronome when necessary. I won’t necessarily use the metronome throughout, but any time there’s any insecurity with tempo or if I need to do metronome speeds, I want to have a metronome handy. This is a great way to practice. I’m going to play slowly and securely with no pedal. I’ll have the score handy. If anything isn’t right in the pocket, I will stop and reference the score.
You may notice how I don’t just work to the point of getting trouble spots to sound O.K., but to be able to play in a relaxed manner. Try stopping just before a place you miss to give yourself a moment to relax. Then, incorporate the memory of the relaxation right at that point, so when you’re playing up to speed:
It’s like having an infinite amount of relaxation in a speck of time.
Another essential technique is to practice in chords wherever possible to reveal the harmonies and discover the best fingering. Also:
Divide difficult passages into manageable chunks of music.
Then you can put the small sections of music together. But you can feel like you are starting over at each new chunk of music, again fostering playing in a relaxed manner. My father used to say:
Through strength comes relaxation.
There’s a lot of truth to that. Years ago when I first studied the Liszt B Minor Sonata, I didn’t have the strength I have now. I had to sometimes contort my body in order to negotiate some of the most difficult sections of the piece. But over the years, the combination of increased strength, along with practicing relaxing at strategic points has made playing the piano a much more fluid experience. I hope this demonstration of how I work will help you in your practicing!
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