Part of being mindful in our lives is taking the time to think about how we will begin and end things. When I take a trip with friends, we sit together on the first day, to talk about how we want to spend our time together, what we want to do, and on what days we will do them. At home, some of my best days are those in which I sit for 5 minutes first thing in the morning and write down my intentions for the day.
The beginning is the most important part of the work – Plato
Musicians also benefit from taking time at the beginning of a piece to think about how they will play it. Here are some suggestions for how to start a new piece:
1) Listen to your piece. Have your teacher play it, listen to it on Youtube or buy it on iTunes. Think about the rhythm, melody and dynamics. Listen to it until it becomes comfortably familiar to you. Like a close friend!
2) Identify the first section of the music. Working with small sections of music helps you to learn it better and faster than playing it from beginning to end.
3) Look at the notes of the right hand first. Clap and count the rhythm. Write the counts under any tricky rhythms that are giving you trouble.
4) Play the right hand notes while observing the fingering and rhythm – just take it a couple of measures at a time. Move on only when you get the notes, fingering and rhythm correct. (If it’s a popular song, sing the lyrics as you play the right hand melody.)
5) Repeat steps 3) and 4) with the left hand.
6) Put your hands together a couple of measures at a time. If you can’t maintain the rhythm and fingering, separate the hands again.
7) Move through the piece bit by bit. Learn each section thoroughly before moving on to the next section. Keep it slow and steady so that you learn it correctly.
8) Record yourself playing so that you can hear where the problem sections are. DRILL on the notes or chords that are giving you trouble. (Professional musicians spend hours working on difficult passages, so why wouldn’t we?!)
9) Take breaks every 15-20 minutes and have a drink of water, take a walk, or play something else. We remember better and more deeply when we take study breaks.
10) Each time you come back to the piano, think about the sound and emotion of your piece. Hear the melody in your head. Think about the rhythm. Breathe deeply and play at a slow and steady tempo. As my teacher Mildred Portney Chase said, play with love (for the music, for the world, and for yourself 🙂 )
11) Listen for what is correct, not just what is wrong. Celebrate your learning and your perseverance! Hear the beauty of the music as you play. Enjoy the process.
With love and music, Gaili
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