Recently I ordered a new item of furniture, and when it arrived the delivery man plonked his clipboard onto my piano and there began to do his paperwork. This gesture made me quite uncomfortable, not only because the piano is my workspace and therefore personal, but also because I like to think of it as some sort of altar where certain things simply don’t belong. Those who think nothing of putting stuff on their piano are perhaps less likely to be concerned with the sounds that come out of it.
One of the things that irritates the HECK out of me is when students doodle at the piano during a lesson. My regular students know I will not tolerate this at all. If this happens – horror of horrors – while I am speaking, I will immediately stop until they have finished. “What was that?”, I might even ask. Actually, I sometimes wonder if they are even conscious they are doing it at all. They are probably peppering their daily practice with this brainless doodling, which makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, namely what is meaningless scribble and what is worthy of refinement, repetition and retention. It’s the mindless drivel that gets my goat.
It is hard to imagine a painter placing a brand new canvas on the easel at the start of a working day only to begin by scribbling in a corner until inspiration strikes. The spirit of craftsmanship that I have written about before needs to be summoned up every time we start our work at the piano. We need to be conscious of every sound we make and why, and to allow silences and pauses for thought and reflection to be integrated into our practice. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Theodor Leschetizky’s axiom “Think Ten Times And Play Once” should be at the forefront of our minds always. I recommend asking two questions during practice – “why have I put my hands on the keyboard?”, and “why have I taken my hands off the keyboard?”.
It takes a lot of concentration to practise effectively. Once we let our minds wander, our fingers will soon follow and then we might as well scrap that practice session as far as motivation and real results are concerned. Rein in the desire to doodle and channel it into improvisation as a designated activity, something you might do at the end of your work. There are many books and tutorials out there on this subject. Do a quick google search and you will find materials to help you.
Take a moment to write down your agenda for the day’s practice before you start. Be creative here! Rather than automatically starting with exercises, scales and studies, do something to warm you up and then perhaps intersperse the rest between other activities and pieces, as sorbets between courses.