Besides loving the song and the movie, I also used Runnin’ Wild in BOOK 2 because it has a simple right hand melody, which gives the piano student the opportunity to focus on the numerous left hand major and minor triads. This sheet music helps the student to really learn the notes of the chords, and to get used to intuiting the distances between each chord. While later in BOOK 2 the student learns chord inversions which reduce some of that hand movement, students still need to practice the skill of finding chords quickly, until those distances becomes more instinctual. Here’s why: if you develop a strong sense of how far to move your hands between the keys, you won’t have to look down at your hands as much. That means you can play faster and more accurately, and you won’t lose your place as often. Here is the original sheet music for Runnin’ Wild from Upper Hands Piano: BOOK 2 which you can click to print:
Another great way to practice Runnin’ Wild is to find a key amongst these seven versions that works for your voice, and sing along as you play. Singing and playing is a great way to boost your brain power, increase your focus and improve your rhythm, and it’s also great for training your ear.
I recently heard author (of Eat, Pray, Love) Elizabeth Gilbert speak about creative work:
Everything that is interesting is 90% boring… and we are in a culture that’s addicted to the good part, the exciting part, the fun part.
I laughed out loud when I heard her say that. It’s so true! It is incredibly difficult dealing with the tedium of practicing something challenging, day after day…but the willingness to work through that tedium is exactly what separates the artists from the quitters. What can really help us become more productive is a system or structure of accountability. If you are a piano player, please read my post called Have a Plan, with lots of suggestions for getting your bottom to the bench.
Luckily for me, piano students usually require teachers to make sure they are playing correctly. Good teachers also act as trusted mentors, helping students to stay on track with consistent practicing. An effective mentor guides without dictating; s/he offers you the wisdom of experience while also listening to and respecting your voice. Director Steven Spielberg famously said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” A mentor or teacher should hold high expectations of you, and question and challenge you in a positive way. The ideal piano teacher is open to the styles of music you want to play, and helps you address your challenges. Give your piano teacher permission to level criticism when s/he sees you going astray, or not taking your piano studies seriously. Teachers should also acknowledge your progress.
Another great means to accountability is playing the piano for and with other people. My students and I hold aPiano and Poetry Partythree times per year to share music, and support each other’s progress. It is wonderful for me to see my students making more time to play before a performance. The anticipation of performing gives us that extra edge of motivation to practice. As a result, the pieces we perform are the ones we remember the best, even years later. If you don’t have recitals or performing opportunities with your piano teacher, you can seek out other ways to get social with your music. There are lots of meet-up groups and open mics for musicians that want to play for each other, and pianists can get together with other instrumentalists such as guitarists, flutists, violinists and singers to jam on a few tunes.
Ultimately, however, you must make yourself accountable to your values and your vision. Plan your practice sessions at the beginning of each week, allocating the minutes (or hours) in your calendar. Establish a structure for practice and stick with it. When you need to miss your practice session for an extended period of time, such as for a vacation, write your intention to leave for the appointed amount of time and resume your practice when you return. Take yourself seriously; keeping aligned with your creative objective even when it is incredibly difficult is an act of self-love and a sign of healthy self-worth.
How to you hold yourself accountable to your creative practice? Please leave a comment! It is great to share ideas 🙂
This post has been excerpted and edited from my upcoming book called Passion Practice: A Playbook for Overcoming Obstacles to Creativity, which will hopefully be available in the fall! I will be giving 10 copies away as soon as it is in print, through Goodreads and Amazon.com. I’ll keep you posted!
I just finished reading an interesting book called Practice Like This: 35 Effective Ways To Get Better Faster by Jonathan Harnum, PhD. It’s a book about practicing in general– sports, games, painting, music, cooking, etc.– but the author is a trumpet player, so his practice strategies are all applicable to the musician. In the coming weeks I will share what I think are the most valuable practice tips for us piano players.
As a passionate foodie, I was immediately attracted to Harnum’s use of the chef’s term, Mise en place. Mise en place is a French culinary phrase which means “everything in its place.” It refers to the set up required before preparing a meal as well as the organizing of a kitchen.
My daughter runs an amazingly delicious Mediterranean restaurant in the Hamptons area of New York called Calissathat features an open kitchen (above left and center) and its fast food sister restaurant near Grand Central Station called Amali Mou (above right). I find it fascinating to watch the chefs as they create their gorgeous meals. Though they are feeding as many as 250 people at any given time, everything they need seems to be at their fingertips. As Harnum writes: “When things get hot and heavy in a busy kitchen, there’s no time to hunt for your cracked pepper or your sharpened paring knife.”
A good chef, baker or cook knows that in order to be efficient and focused, they must assemble all of the tools and ingredients they need before preparing a tasty dish.
A kitchen must be clean, and well organized
so that the chef knows where everything is and feels inspired to work her culinary magic.
Likewise, says Harnum, for a musician: “If you adopt the mise-en-place approach in your practice, you can toss off a quick practice session with no setup time.”
As pianists, we don’t always have a lot of choice as to where we can put our pianos, but they should ideally be kept in a place where we can readily sit down and play for 5 or 10 minutes. It’s best to keep your instrument in an area where you will constantly see it; people whose pianos or keyboards are in basements or converted garages tend to practice less, because they simply forget about it! On the other hand, if a piano is in the same room as a television or another popular family entertainment feature, our playing might be prevented or interrupted, and the practice opportunity is lost. If your piano is in a living room or den, you might want to consider purchasing a small keyboard with headphones that you can keep in your bedroom and play anytime.
Most importantly, we must put our mobile phones away.
We can’t focus when we are hearing the bells of incoming messages and seeing the flash of our latest instagram LIKES. A good strategy is to put the phone in another room with the sound off. If you know that you only have a certain amount of time to practice, set the timer to ring in 20 or 30 minutes and forget about it, just as you might do while meditating.
Using natural light or a piano lamp with a full spectrum or soft light bulb instead of harsh
LED light also creates a more inviting learning environment. A vase of flowers or herbs (mint is easy to grow and makes a refreshingly fragrant bouquet), and candles (beeswax aren’t smoky) make your playing space feel special. I love playing the piano at night by candle-light. Music-themed or other pleasing artwork on the walls can also be inspiring.
One important element in creating the feeling of a sanctuary or sacred space is to clear our piano area of clutter; when I moved music books and sheet music to a file box next to the piano instead on top of it, the piano area looked much more appealing. Clearing clutter from our pianos, helps to de-clutter our minds.
Before you start playing, you might consider keeping a pitcher of fragrant cucumber water near (not on!) the piano to stay hydrated in between pieces. And if you might get hungry, put a small bowl of raw almonds, walnuts or pecans close by so that you can have a quick snack without needing to wash your hands.
Likewise, we piano teachers need to take stock of our studio space, with the goal of providing a clutter-free, quiet, and calming environment, conducive to the joyful expression and creation of music.
If you’re like me, you love making new year’s resolutions. The year ahead is a clean slate, filled with possibility, and it’s important to me that I feel that I keep growing, keep improving, keep learning. Musicians form short-term goals to improve our skills; we practice playing a difficult musical passage smoothly, our exercises, memorizing a short piece, or learning the minor 7th chords in all 12 keys, etc. But all makers of art also need to resolve to develop an enduring plan for maintaining the good practices we cultivate while working towards our creative goals.
To maintain a music practice, we might speak in terms of intentions rather than goals. Life coach/authorJennifer Louden writes that the word intention comes from the Latin “intendere” which means “to stretch toward something.” Louden suggests that while a goal drives you toward a future outcome, an intention helps keep you in the present:
The goal feels positive, but closed, almost a should, and it doesn’t inspire the imagination nearly as much as the intention, which feels open-ended, expansive, encouraging….
Instead of, or in addition to setting a goal such as, “I will learn this piece in 60 days,” you might want to form an intention, such as, “I am folding piano practice into my life at least four days per week,” or, “I am exploring improvisation in my piano studies thisyear,” or “I am going to halt negative self-talk by celebrating my accomplishments,” etc.
Write down your intention. Then come up with a structure to support it. You can adjust your expectations and intentions as you go along, but a written intention and structure acts as a roadmap. For example, if your intention is to become a better note-reader, your structure might be to open one of your piano books and play one random line a few times each day at the beginning of your practice session, and to draw random notes on lines, spaces and ledger lines on manuscript paper, then write the letters next to the note heads, four days per week. You might also make some flash cards for the ledger line notes you consistently have trouble reading. Whatever your intention(s), find a structure that you can embrace. Setting unreasonable expectations is counter-productive.
When you have to leave town and won’t be able to practice, set an intention to put practice aside until you return, and name the date that you will resume your practice routine. That way, your travel becomes part of your intention, and not an aberration.
When days or weeks pass in which you didn’t fulfill your intention, let regrets go. Start fresh the following week doing your best to reinstate your structure. This isn’t about perfection, it’s about process. Keep it light and enjoyable. Intentions are about how you want to live your life. Your intentions are driven by your values. A little guilt is ok if it keeps you aligned with an intention, but don’t let yourself slide into shame and self-recrimination.
Be brave enough to live creatively…. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You…get there…by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: Yourself. –Alan Alda
I hope you are enjoying new found resolve in 2018. I took a long, wonderful trip in December/January, and though I was missing playing my piano and working with my dear students, I was still learning as I listened to a lot of music with wonderful exotic flavors. I also journaled during the trip. You might consider keeping a music diary or journal, recording your thoughts and feelings about playing the piano, or writing about your successes and challenges, and especially writing about a practice technique that is working for you (i.e. playing before bed, or leaving a difficult piece and coming back to it after a walk, etc.)
If you missed my last blog post and would like to see/hear what I saw/heard in Morocco and Tunisia, click here. I hope you are enjoying a beautiful winter’s day wherever you are.
I love your comments; please share any piano practice intentions you are forming for 2018 so we can support you!
I think it overstates a few things, such as its assertion that for an advanced pianist …the weaker hand is strengthened to the same degree as the stronger one. Even very experienced pianists would probably say they have a weaker hand, but certainly playing with two hands does hugely impact “brain balance.” PET scan researchhas repeatedly shown that playing the piano stimulates multiple parts of both hemispheres of the brain.
We know that the primary reason that piano playing is such an amazing brain workout is that it requires intense multitasking; we must read the notes, observe the fingering, count the rhythm, listen to the music, press the damper pedal, play with emotion, and so much more! And I have seen first-hand that the multi-tasking skills we cultivate at the piano are put to use in other parts of our lives.
I had never considered, however, the idea put forward in this article, that experienced piano players turn off the part of the brain that offers stereotypical brain responses. It makes sense that playing the piano with expression gets us into the habit of expressing ourselves more authentically, in general. Although the word “authenticity” is sometimes overused, I think that it’s an important concept worth considering. Dr. Brené Brown (author, research professor) has this to say about authenticity:
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be, and embracing who we really are…..Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to let ourselves be vulnerable.
I love the idea that playing the piano can lead us to living a more authentic life. And it certainly makes us feel extremely vulnerable at times!
The aforementioned article also touts the virtues of improvising. As a jazz musician I improvise all the time. Sometimes my habit of improvising doesn’t turn out so great when I improvise on recipes in the kitchen…. But for the most part, I find that my willingness to improvise helps me to be more flexible and adaptable in the world. If you are interested, check out my blog posts about improvising here:
Have you noticed any changes in the way you think or act since starting piano lessons? Does multitasking at the piano keyboard help you to multi-task in other areas of your life? Have you noticed increased attention and focus since playing (or in the hours after playing) the piano? What impact has playing the piano had on your life? By the way, how is your 10-Minutes-A-Day pledge going? I welcome your comments and observations!
You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks. ― Winston S. Churchill
Today while I was studying for my Psychology of Aging class, I realized that I had forgotten to take my calcium supplements a half hour ago with my lunch. On the way to the kitchen I heard the mail arrive and went outside to collect it. Amongst the letters I found a renewal notice for my business license. I walked back to my office intending to pay my renewal fee online but saw an email from a friend telling me about her upcoming gig. It had a link to her Facebook page where you can sign up to attend the event. When Facebook opened I saw that I had a message from an occasional student who wants to schedule a lesson. So I picked up my iPhone to look at my calendar when I saw that it was my turn to play Words With Friends (an addictive phone-app game!)I started to take my turn when I received a text from my daughter asking me to send a photo of my turkey meatball recipe. So I walked to the kitchen to find the recipe, where I found, my calcium tablets….
Does this sound familiar? I am extremely prone to distractions. There are so many fascinating activities to explore, in addition to the many household tasks we must accomplish. I am reading several books and magazines at once, trying to learn French, playing the accordion to prepare for upcoming gigs, learning how to cook paleo, practicing food photography, cleaning the house, exercising, and wanting to watch the new Masterpiece Theater series, Victoria (which I can combine with ironing!) amongst many other activities that tempt me away from my central focus: practicing the piano.
The good news is, that a Northwestern University study found that people who are more susceptible to distractions were more creative! Don’t you love studies that justify and even celebrate our faults?! But it’s still a bad habit, and I am trying to break my stream of consciousness distractibility by narrowing in on just a few priorities this month.
Life is too full of distractions nowadays. When I was a kid we had a little Emerson radio and that was it. — Stan Getz
There are so many demands on our time and attention. Especially for parents of school-age children, who can literally never give enough attention, or get enough done. The writer May Sarton wrote in her book, Journal Of A Solitude,
I hardly ever sit still without being haunted by the ‘undone’. I often feel exhausted, but it is not my work that tires (work is a rest); it is the effort of pushing away the…needs of others before I can come to the work….
But no matter what the demands on our day, we must carve out some measure of time to devote to our music. We can’t make the mistake of thinking that our music practice is dispensable, or less important than everything and everyone else calling our name. Can you handle leaving some household chore undone for a day? Setting up an appointed time to return phone calls and emails, and not checking messages until that time? Limiting social media to three times per week? Scheduling piano practice on your calendar and sticking to it? Turning off your phone while you practice? These are the difficult choices we make every day, in order to progress musically.
It is important to prioritize our to-do lists. Ask yourself if everything really needs to get done today. Or can some tasks wait until you have had your time to sit at the piano and play? If you feel yourself getting pulled in many directions (as I did today), just stop and take a minute to think about what needs to get done now. Find a way to put your music into that equation. And while you are playing, if you start to think about your grocery list, a bill you have to pay, a phone call you need to make, what you feel like eating, some topic you want to google, or last night’s argument, pull your focus back to the piano; the sound of your music, the feel of the keys beneath your fingertips, and the feeling the music evokes…
Next time I go to the kitchen to get my calcium and hear the mail come? I will take the supplements first, then bring the mail in, but look at it after I have finished the task at hand. This requires a lot of will power for me. But will hopefully cut down on me running from room to room looking like a cartoon character!
By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination. —Christopher Columbus
What distracts you, and how do you keep your focus? Please leave a comment below!