Ten Ways to Polish a Piano Piece
You have decided or been asked to perform a piano piece, and you will likely be one of several performers in a concert. Most likely you will want this to be a memorable occasion … a POSITIVE memorable occasion. 😉
There are ways to polish for a performance that are fun and productive. Here are 10 of my favorites…
1. Sit down in a comfy chair, away from your piano, with some milk and cookies, and read your piece of music like a detective novel. As you scan the music with your eyes, you may feel your fingers automatically playing the notes like an ‘air piano’. These are the parts you really know. Make a note of them, they need hardly any more practice.
2. Get up from your comfy chair and walk over to the kitchen table. Prop up your music with something like a recipe book holder, and see if you can play any of the music on the tabletop. Feel free to hum along while you are tapping your fingers on the table. Note the parts that are easy to do this way. They are parts you really know and don’t need further work.
3. Take your music to the piano and put your metronome on half speed or slower. Play along with the metronome in a relaxed fashion taking care to play every note Without Any Tension… Without any tension... Try this both hands separately and hands together. Isolate and focus on the technical parts of the piece for extra repetition.
4. This one is really fun. Close your music and play through it as fast as you can. The goal is to get as many notes right as possible. STOP when you think you are going to mess up. What I meant to say was, stop BEFORE you think you are going to mess up. Take a big breath and dive back in. Make a note of where you stopped.
5. Play through all the parts that weren’t easy to play on the tabletop (#2). Play them slowly and relaxed with lots of deep breaths. Here is the detective part… figure out where there is extra tension, or if there is a chord you don’t like the sound of. That is one of my biggest problems. Sometimes I just don’t like the sound of a chord and my hands refuse to learn it. It’s quite subconscious. I’m either playing a wrong note or I don’t understand the musical tension the composer is trying to create. Either way I need to become friends with it, or it will continue to trip me up.
6. If your piece has pedal, play through it with your foot taped to the floor. NO PEDAL. See how musical you can make it sound without blurring the sound with pedal. We often add too much pedal and doing this exercise allows us to see where it is really needed and where we were just using it to cover up a tricky spot.
7. Another fun one. Play through your piece with reverse dynamics. If it says forte play piano, if it says crescendo then decrescendo, if it says to ritard then speed up. You get the idea. It’s Opposite Day!
Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
8. Our new familiarity with online communication (Facetime, Zoom, etc.) gives us a bigger audience to practice our performance with before walking on stage. Call up a friend, or family member to listen to your first attempt at playing for someone else. Do you have an elderly relative in a care home? Arrange to play for them. Often the caregivers have access to an iPad or tablet, and they love this!
9. Pull out your smartphone and find the voice recorder. Turn it on to RECORD and play your piece. WARNING! It is hard to listen to yourself on a recording BUT steel yourself and do it. Often, we don't sound as good as we think we do and that’s OK. How this helps (when you actually listen to it), is give us good information. Information to work on and information to come to our piano lesson with. Now here’s the really hard part… ONLY RECORD THE FIRST TIME you play your piece. Just like a performance, there are no take-backs. Put on the recorder, start to play and don’t stop until you finish. Learning where we mess up is valuable information. Go back and redo #5 with this information.
Finding Peace in your Piece
10. Play your piece like a MEDITATION. When we meditate, we are open and aware of the world around us as an observer. I often feel full of gratitude when I meditate. 😊 Performing a piece (when you are prepared) is the ULTIMATE meditation. We don’t know what is going to happen. The room is new, the audience is new, often the piano is new, and we are going to experience a piece of music in this concert, with us at the helm. Practice being in this heightened state of awareness as part of your polishing. Meditation is in the NOW. It doesn’t dwell on what has just happened, or what might be happening in a future moment, or what someone in the audience may be thinking, it is focused on the NOW. When you take this state of presence to your audience, you are both in for a treat!