Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Post-Vacation Practice Sessions

It's good to be back from a refreshing vacation, where I touched a piano nought but once during a whole week! Believe me, this can be healthy once in a while. Since a new performance and teaching season is upon me, I will share how I like to get back in shape at the keyboard after some time away. I hope this will be helpful for all pianists, but especially for those students who may have had quite an "extended" vacation away from the piano.

After a long time away from the piano (this means a week or more), I suggest the following:

1) Keep playing sessions SHORTER than usual. Use 10- or 15-minute practice blocks separated by periods of rest. Example: If your typical practice time is one hour per day, just do a total of 30 minutes each day in three 10-minute blocks.

2) Warm-up periods should be LONGER and tempos SLOWER than usual. Revisit scales, chord progressions, Hanon exercises, Philippe exercises, etc. Keep them well under your faster speeds for at least a few days, if not a week.

3) Do some sight-reading. Your musical mind will also need to get back into shape in addition to your hands and fingers. Try to read through some potential repertoire for the upcoming year, or look at some unfamiliar pieces at a level down or two.

4) Memorize something immediately. In the interests of continuing to get your mind back on track for the upcoming year of learning and memorizing, make it a goal to memorize something immediately from the first practice session. It could be as little as two measures of the opening of some new piece. The amount memorized doesn't matter; what matters is exercising your memory right away and committing to the process. Memorization should be an ongoing activity, not just something you do only when a piece is close to performance readiness.

5) Re-examine your technique. The first few practice sessions after a long time away can be wonderfully interesting and full of unfamiliar sensations. Take advantage of this transitional time to experiment with how you approach the keyboard physically. Your "good" technique will be a little rusty, but you may have also let bad habits fade away into the background due to the time away from the piano. If tension has been an issue, try to focus on being completely relaxed in your wrists, forearms, and shoulders throughout your first few sessions. You may discover new ways to reduce fatigue, or how to voice lines without force, or how to keep your fingers in better contact with the keys. The possibilities are endless.

6) Enjoy yourself and LISTEN. Don't be judgmental or overly critical when you are first coming back to the piano. You must have faith that your relationship with the instrument will come right back in due time. But don't expect it to be 100% the first day, or even the third day. I prefer to avoid a purely technical focus during the initial sessions and instead work more on phrasing, dynamic range and expression, and other interpretive possibilities. This way I have a good time making music first, so that my ear is engaged from the start. I realize that this may seem to contradict #5 above, but it really doesn't. Just to clarify things: What I am trying to avoid is the repetitive technical practice that one needs when polishing a piece to performance level. You don't need that right now; wait until you your transitional return to form is over. It might take only a few days or more than a week - everyone is a little different. Patience and acceptance are good virtues to abide by during your "recovery" period!


Pam said...

That picture looks pretty!! Where did you go? :-)

Joshua Nemith said...

Hi Pam! That's actually not my picture; I got it from the web at a public domain site. But I did make it to Rehobeth Beach in Delaware, where it can look a lot like this picture. (My folks still live in Dover.) ;-)

G. Kevin Nemith President & Agency Leader for CNC Insurance/ Pfister Insurance Hilb Group MidAtlantic said...

Josh, it was nice seeing you at our place. Your blog looks good. I will check it out frequently. Good luck with the orchestra. Please keep in touch. Cousin Kevin

Joshua Nemith said...

Thanks for stopping by, Kevin. It was really good to see you (and so much of the rest of the family) last week after so many years. Be sure to keep me posted on any of your own musical adventures as well.