21 Nov Piano Teacher in Kensington
The objective of these posts that are written by your piano teacher at Kensington Piano Lessons (Piano Studio in Kensington) is to present the best known methods for practicing piano. For students, knowing these methods means a reduction in learning time that is a significant fraction of a lifetime. It also means an increase in the time available for making music instead of struggling with technique.
Many students spend 100% of their time learning new compositions. Because this process takes so long, there is no time to practice the art of making music. This sorry state is the greatest hindrance to acquiring technique, because making music is necessary for technical development. The goal here is to make the learning process so fast. You piano teacher in Kensington aims to allocate 10% of practice time to technical work and 90% to making music.
How do musicians “make music”? Whether we compose music or play an instrument, all music must originate in the artist’s brain. We can certainly shut our brains off and play the piano from rote memory after enough practice. That is absolutely the wrong way to make music because the level of the resulting music will be low.
Many pianists have the misconception that the expensive concert grand produces its own sound with its characteristic music. Because of that they think that we must train our fingers for learning to play the piano.
But the human brain is far more complex than, and superior to, any mechanical contraption in terms of musicality. The brain doesn’t have the limitations of wood, felt, and metal. Therefore, it is more important to train the brain than the finger muscles. Any finger movement must originate as a nerve impulse in the brain.
The answer to the above question is what we shall call Mental Play (MP) in these posts. MP is simply the process of imagining the music in your mind, or even actually playing it on an imaginary piano. We shall see that MP controls practically everything we do in music, from the learning process (technique) to memorisation, absolute pitch, performance, composition, music theory, interpretation, controlling nervousness, etc. It is so all-encompassing that it is not possible to devote one post to explaining it. Rather, we will discuss it in practically every post in our blog.
MP is what made Mozart (and all great musicians) what he was. He is considered to be one of the greatest geniuses partly because of his MP abilities. The wonderful news is that it can be learned. The sad historical fact is that too many students were never taught MP. Although, if you are a “talented” musician, you somehow had to magically pick it up yourself. Your piano teacher in Kensington can help you learn mental play.
Start learning Mental Play early
Mental Play should be taught from the first year of piano lessons and is especially effective for the youngest youngsters. The most obvious way to start teaching it is to teach memorisation skills and absolute pitch.
MP is the art of controlling the minds of the audience through the music you play. Therefore it works best when it originates in your mind. The audience views your MP ability as something extraordinary, belonging only to a select few gifted musicians with intelligence far above the average person.
Mozart was almost certainly aware of this and used MP to greatly enhance his image. MP also helps you to learn piano in a myriad of ways. Your piano teacher in Kensington will demonstrate it throughout these posts. For example, because you can conduct MP away from the piano, you can effectively double or triple your practice time by using MP when a piano is not available. Beethoven and Einstein often seemed absent-minded. They were preoccupied with MP during most of their waking hours.
Mental Play should be used to compete successfully
Thus MP is nothing new. Not only the great musicians and artists, but practically any specialist today, such as athletes, trained soldiers, businessmen must cultivate their own MP in order to compete successfully. Your piano teacher in Kensington believes that every one of us does it all the time!
When we get up in the morning and quickly go over the planned activities of the day, we are conducting MP. The complexity of that MP probably exceeds that of a Chopin Mazurka. Yet we do it in an instant, without even thinking about it as MP, because we have been practicing it since early childhood.
Can you imagine what disasters would happen if we never had a mental plan for the day? But that is basically what we do if we walk onto a stage and play a recital without MP training. No wonder performers get so nervous! As we shall see, MP is perhaps the single best antidote against stage fright – it certainly worked for Mozart.
2. What is Piano Technique?
Piano Practice Methods
We must understand what technique is. Misunderstanding technique leads to incorrect practice methods. More importantly, a proper understanding can help us to develop correct practice methods. The most common misunderstanding is that technique is some inherited finger dexterity. It is not. The innate dexterity of accomplished pianists and ordinary folk are not that different.
This means that practically anyone can learn to play the piano well. There are numerous examples of mentally handicapped people with limited coordination that exhibit incredible musical talent. Unfortunately, many of us are much more dexterous. However, we can’t manage the musical passages because of a lack of some simple, but critical information. Acquiring technique is mostly a process of brain/nerve development, not development of finger strength.
Piano skills can be learned in a short time
Technique is the ability to execute a zillion different piano passages. Therefore it is not dexterity, but an aggregate of many skills. The wondrous thing about piano technique, and the most important message of these posts, is that piano skills can be learned in a short time, if the correct learning procedures are applied. These skills are acquired in two stages:
1. Discovering how the fingers, hands, arms, etc., are to be moved;
2. Conditioning the brain, nerves, and muscles to execute these with ease and control.
Many students think of piano practice as hours of finger calisthenics. It is because they were never taught the proper definition of technique. The reality is that you are improving your brain when learning piano!
Benefits of learning piano correctly
You are actually making yourself smarter and improving your memory. This is why learning piano correctly has so many benefits, such as success in school, the ability to better cope with everyday problems, and the ability to retain memory longer as you age. This is why memorising is an inseparable part of technique acquisition.
You piano teacher in Kensington thinks that you must understand your own anatomy and learn how to discover and acquire the correct technique. This turns out to be a nearly impossible task for the average human brain, unless you dedicate your entire life to it from childhood. Even then, most will not succeed. The reason is that, without proper instruction, the pianist must discover the correct motions, etc., by trial and error.
You must depend on the small probability that, as you try to play that difficult passage faster, your hand accidentally stumbles onto a motion that works. If you are unlucky, your hand never discovers the motion and you will get stuck forever, a phenomenon called “speed wall”.
Most beginning piano students haven’t got the foggiest idea about the complex motions that the fingers, hands, and arms can perform. Fortunately, the many geniuses who came before us have made most of the useful discoveries (otherwise, they wouldn’t have been such great performers) leading to efficient practice methods.
Misconception about technique
Another misconception about technique is that once the fingers become sufficiently skilful, you can play anything. Almost every different passage is a new adventure; you must learn it anew. Experienced pianists seem to be able to play just about anything because:
1. They have practiced all the things that you encounter frequently;
2. They know how to learn new things very quickly.
There are large classes of passages, such as scales, that appear frequently. Knowledge of how to play these will cover significant portions of most compositions. But more importantly, there are general solutions for large classes of problems and specific solutions for specific problems.
3. Technique, Music, Mental Play
Develop musical habits
If we concentrate only on developing “finger technique” and neglect music during practice, we can pick up non-musical playing habits. Non-musical playing is an absolute no-no at all times because it is one form of mistake. One common symptom of this mistake is the inability to play the lesson pieces when the teacher (or anyone else!) is listening. When an audience is present, these students make strange errors that they didn’t make during “practice”.
This happens because the students practiced without regard for music, but suddenly realised that music must now be added because someone is listening. Unfortunately, until lesson time, they had never really practiced musically!
Another symptom of non-musical practice is that the student feels uncomfortable practicing when others can hear them. Piano teachers at Kensington Piano Lessons know that students need to practice musically in order to acquire technique. What is right for the ears and the brain turns out to be right for the human playing mechanism.
Both musicality and technique require accuracy and control. You can practically detect any technical flaw in the music. At the very least, the music is the supreme test of whether the technique is right or wrong.
Don’t separate music from technique
Kensington piano teacher will show throughout these posts that, there are more reasons why music should never be separated from technique. Nonetheless, many students tend to practice neglecting the music and preferring to “work” when no one is around to listen. Such practice methods produce “closet pianists” who love to play but can’t perform.
If students learn to practice musically all the time, this type of problem will not even exist; performing and practice are one and the same. We will provide many suggestions in these posts for practicing to perform, such as video recording your playing from the very beginning.
Music must originate in the mind
Many students make the mistake of thinking that the fingers control the music and they wait for the piano to produce that gorgeous sound. This will result in a flat performance and unpredictable results.
The music must originate in the mind and the pianist must coax the piano to produce what s/he wants. This is mental play, introduced above; if you had never practiced mental play before, you will find that it requires a level of memorisation that you had never achieved before – but that is what you need for flawless, authoritative performances.
Fortunately, mental play is only a few steps beyond the memorisation procedures in these posts, but it accomplishes a giant leap in your musical capabilities, not only for technique and making music, but also for learning absolute pitch, composing, and every aspect of piano playing.
Technique, music, and mental play are inseparable
Thus technique, music, and mental play are inseparably intertwined. Piano teachers at Kensington Piano Lessons believe that once you deeply involve with mental play, you will discover that it doesn’t really work without absolute pitch. These discussions provide a firm basis for identifying the skills we need to learn. These posts will provide the practice methods needed to learn them.
4. Basic Approach, Interpretation, Musical Training, Absolute Pitch
Critical role of teachers
Teachers play a critical role in showing students how to play and practice musically. Our piano teachers at Kensington Piano Lessons are world-class professionals.
For example, most pieces of music begin and end with the same chord. It is somewhat mysterious rule which is actually a result of basic chord progression rules. An understanding of chord progressions is very useful for memorising.
A musical phrase generally starts and ends with softer notes, with the louder ones in between. When in doubt, this is a good default principle.
This may be one reason why so many compositions begin with a partial bar. The first beat usually carries the accent and is too loud. There are many books that discuss musical interpretation. We will encounter numerous pointers throughout these posts.
Piano training of young children
Musical training is most rewarding for the very young. Most babies exposed frequently to perfectly tuned pianos will automatically develop absolute pitch. This is nothing extra-ordinary.
Nobody is born with absolute pitch. It is a 100% learned skill. The exact frequencies of the musical scales are arbitrary human conventions. There is no natural law that says that middle A should be 440 Hz. Most orchestras tune to 442 Hz, and before it was standardised, there was a much larger range of allowable frequencies.
If you do not maintain absolute pitch, it will be lost later in life. Your piano teacher in Kensington can start training of young children around the ages of four to five. Early exposure of youngsters to classical music is beneficial. Classical music has the highest musical content among all the different types of music.
Some forms of contemporary music can detract from musical development by interfering with brain development.
Most of us are musical
Although you need to be musically gifted to compose music, the ability to play the piano is not that dependent on the musical brain. Most of us are more musical than we give ourselves credit for. Your teachers at Kensington Piano Lessons believe that it is the lack of technique that limits your musical expression at the piano.
We have all had the experience of listening to famous pianists and noticing that one is different from the other. That is more musical sensitivity than we will ever need to start playing the piano. There is no need to practice eight hours a day. Some famous pianists have recommended practice times of less than an hour. You can make progress practicing three or four times a week, one hour each.
Total music education
Finally, total music education (scales, time signatures, ear training (including absolute pitch), dictation, theory, etc.) should be an integral part of learning to play the piano. Each different thing you learn helps all the others. In the final analysis, a total music education is the only way to learn piano.
Unfortunately, the majority of aspiring pianists do not have the resources or the time to follow such a path.
Your piano teacher in Kensington designed these posts to give the student a head start. You will learn how to acquire technique quickly, so that you can consider studying all the other helpful subjects. Students who excel in playing the piano almost always end up composing music of their own. Studying music composition is not a prerequisite for composing.
Some teachers frown on learning too much composition theory before starting to compose your own music. That can prevent you from developing your individual style.
What are some unique features of the methods Kensington piano teacher describes here?
1. These methods are not overly demanding. Older methods required students to commit to a dedicated lifestyle to fit the piano instruction. These new methods give students the tools to pick a specific procedure, that will achieve a defined objective within estimable time limits. If the methods really work, they shouldn’t require a lifetime of blind faith in order to achieve proficiency! Your piano teacher in Kensington can help you to practise using these new methods.
2. Every procedure of these methods has a physical basis (if it works, it always has one; the past problems in piano pedagogy have been in identifying the correct explanations); it must further contain the following required elements:
a. objective: what techniques to acquire, i.e., if you can’t play fast enough, you can’t trill, you want to memorise, etc.,. then do: i.e., practice hands separately, use chord attack, memorise as you practice, etc.,
b. because: the physiological, psychological, mechanical, etc., explanations for why these methods work – HS practice makes difficult passages easier and
c.. if not: problems that arise, if we use uninformed methods. Without this “if not”, students can pick any other method – why this one? We need to know what not
to do because bad habits and wrong methods, not insufficient practice, are the main causes of a lack of progress.
4. These posts present a complete, structured set of learning tools that transports you with minimum effort into the Magical Kingdom of Mental Play. Bon Voyage!