I am lucky. My pedigree as a pianist is an excellent one, and I have had teachers from the beginning who showed me very clearly how to practise, but not all students of the piano are so fortunate. Is practising an art, or is it a science? It’s both! It cannot be described as an absolute science, because what works for one person will not necessarily work for another, or for the same person at a different stage in the learning (or relearning) of a piece. But I do think it is helpful to make practising as scientific as possible by formulating concrete concepts and precepts while at the same time guarding against dogma. I think I must have vexed my teachers by asking “why?” when they told me what I had to do. I wasn’t being cheeky, I was just very curious as to how it all worked. I still am!
I ran a university practising clinic for a time, which was a voluntary, informal drop-in class for pianists to discuss various ways we might solve problems in our daily work at the keyboard. The room was often packed to the rafters, and there was always much lively discussion and experimentation. Since I had to be extremely careful not to tread on my colleagues’ toes by giving technical instruction, I had to find a way of distinguishing between the technique of manipulating the keyboard (which varies from teacher to teacher, depending on what schooling they offer) and the technique of learning (which should apply to all of us, more or less). I don’t have to be quite so careful about this here, but I would want to stress that just as there are (most probably) very many ways of skinning a cat, there are as many different ways of playing the piano as there are pianists. I do not subscribe to fundamentalism in any form, no one school has all the answers.
As a teacher once said to me: “Never let the good be the enemy of the better”, I am open to your suggestions and ideas and would not like to think that anything is cast permanently in stone.
So where to start? Having done some market research, people regularly ask me how I manage the complex ornamention in the music of Bach and Rameau. How do we do this reliably, skillfully and beautifully given that our modern piano is a vastly different beast from the instruments that this music was written for?
Watch this space…