8

For an example of what I mean, look at Volodos or Marc-Andre Hamelin -- both well-known for their incredibly crisp and accurate technique.

The answer is NOT to play more. There are some pieces I'm working on (e.g. end of Liszt's Transcendental Etude 10) where 2 years of practicing has not increased my accuracy, and I've plateaued.

Practicing smart is surely better than practicing a lot, but the problem is that the "smartest" way to do this is somewhat difficult to determine, and though there aren't any virtuosos nearby that I know to ask, I would imagine there are quite a few skilled pianists that peruse the Music StackExchange.

Is practicing slowly the best? Medium tempo?

Practicing hours on end for many days? Or only practicing every other day? It varies significantly by activity (for instance, with running, twice a day is generally optimal to become world-class, but the same cannot be said for weight-lifting).

My best guess is that there would be some sort of "fatigue point" while playing piano where it becomes harmful to continue playing, and it would be better to take 30-60 minute breaks to refresh one's mind, but I'm really not sure (otherwise I wouldn't be asking this question).

So please share any advice that has worked for you to increase your note accuracy!

  • possible duplicate music.stackexchange.com/questions/505/… – Sufendy Feb 27 '12 at 9:25
  • Certainly related, but I wouldn't call this a dupe. – delete me Feb 27 '12 at 13:48
  • I have problems with timing accuracy on the piano, and consider learning to play some hand drums. Doing so would make me concentrate on just this problem. – Gauthier Mar 22 '12 at 13:34
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I'm somewhat influenced by the philosophy of Jamie Andreas' guitarprinciples.com -- although please don't take this as a book recommendation, because I haven't read the book!

A lot of what she says, I suspect, applies as much to the piano -- or any other instrument -- as it does to the guitar.

The core of her approach is that we are trying to train our muscle memory to make the movements that produce music. Many of us end up training in a tense way of moving, and that holds back our development. She emphasises the learning of relaxed control.

To that end she advocates practising at very slow speeds at first, concentrating on relaxedness and precision. On the guitar, fret the string exactly in the right place, using no more muscle tension than is required to get a clean sound. I suppose the equivalent on the piano would be to strike the key precisely, with the right velocity, while concentrating on maintaining a relaxed posture on not tensing any muscles unnecessarily.

That's key -- it's not enough to just play the exercise slowly. You must play the exercise slowly while concentrating on detecting and correcting problems with technique and tension.

I infer that she introduces a metronome after this stage, but even then starts at very slow tempos indeed. Only when you can play the exercise with complete precision and with the relaxed control you're aiming for, should you increase the tempo slightly. By the end of the process, you should expect to be able to do the exercise at speed, with precision, and without tension.

  • This is new; I have not heard of this suggestion before. And in fact, this could be specifically what I need as I tend to play in a very tense manner. – Nick Feb 27 '12 at 12:24
  • This sounds right on the money. Pretty much the first thing you want to do when you encounter issues of any kind is to slow down, and it's certainly important for accuracy. – delete me Feb 27 '12 at 13:45
6

This is a question, which according to me, you should ask nobody else but yourself. The best way forward is different at each stage for each person. I may say playing 2 hours for 5 days is better than playing 10 hours for 1 day, but someone else may need just one long burst to get what he needs. If you see among virtuosos themselves, 2 pianists may have completely different playing techniques and learning methods.

So I suggest you make a log for yourself where you daily monitor what you play, how you practice and what change, this practice makes. Now keep trying different learning methods while logging its effects. When you accumulate this information over a period of time you get a good understanding of what works best for you. You can use this to refine your learning methods.

Having said this, if there is one thing that works for all, it is belief. Believe strongly that if you keep working you will surely improve. Never resign thinking you have reached saturation. There is no limit to how much a human brain can learn! There is a difference between mechanically ploughing away on the piano and practicing with a strong intention to improve and conviction that this will happen. This optimistic approach, by itself, can open your mind and take you to new frontiers. All the best.

  • 3
    This is a very scientific and practical method of going about improving -- I like it. However, I am sure there are general practice trends that have a higher probability of succeeding than other trends for most people (assuming similar genetics), and having an idea of what these trends are would improve the convergence time for achieving an optimal practice methodology for myself. – Nick Feb 27 '12 at 12:20
6

Josef Lhevinne, a famous piano teacher and pianist addresses this in his book. There's no secret, except slow practice. Really, just don't play faster or in larger increments than you can manage perfectly. Shura Cherkassky used to sit for hours and make sure that every finger was centered over every note in a piece before playing. I've spoken to Jon Nakamatsu, and he says the same thing. I'd say that's a pretty broad consensus.

1

In my humble opinion, relaxation as mentioned by others. However, playing slowly will not necessarily allow you to play faster later on. So I suggest to do the as mentioned below trying to keep the relaxation of the fingers, hands, and wrists: I would think there are two elements associated with the precision at the piano. One is the cleanness of the note pressing of each finger. For that, practice the independence of fingers using traditional Hannon, Beringer or other similar with exaggerated up and down movements of the fingers, fast speed, and staccato. The objective is to have control of the fingers. Use both hands at the same time and concentrate on the precision of TIME AND between both hands. This will give you independence. Usually, these methods after a while should not be challenging in the precision of the notes, but the cleanness of the sound and timing. With respect to more complicated passages the best I have found is to practice "being there" before. What do I mean by that? While playing for instance an arpeggio, place the fingers above the notes you are going to play and play them simultaneously as opposed to being placing each finger in the position as it time to hit each note. Practice long arpeggios in a similar manner, repeating the placement of the hand into the ideal position and playing all the notes on the hand at the same time. The hand should be moved into the perfect position in a single, fast and crisp movement. Finally, as you strike the notes on the single hand position, the first note should be given, so mentally place your attention on the 2nd and 3rd note you are about to strike once the hand is placed in the ideal position.

Those are the "mechanics" of the learning, focusing on the capacity of the muscles to perform the desired outcome. What about the memorization and coordination of the notes? I suggest playing only 2 notes at a time. Do it FAST with a striking decision, just two notes as if played in a single movement but not simultaneously, one just before the other as close as possible. Your brain should fire the instruction as if it was single instruction. Do it again and again and again. Your brain will associate those two notes as a single instruction to hit those two notes in the right place. It is easier to decouple that into a lower speed later if needed.

I am using the methods described above to practice the 3rd movement of the Moonlight Sonata and I think I am making very good progress so far.

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