Things don’t typically go as planned— my three-time a week at 9 AM practising plan among them.
However, I’ve stuck to the hour a day commitment for three weeks now, relaxing a bit about my schedule, just making sure it gets done —in the morning. Showing up is the main thing. Once I walk up the stairs, the next hour of playing is given.
Every day has started with drums. Drum sticks on a practice pad. This helps calm my brain, empty it of wandering thoughts and clearing it for focus. It also helps my drumming! Whatever I’ve been pondering up to that point in the morning goes into park, on to the back burner, off to the side, percolating, while I focus on right left right left, in some combination. I remember to breathe, to relax, to have fun doing it.
The piano requires a different approach. It’s an instrument I know, one upon which I’ve practised for years, and so know how the practising is ‘supposed’ to go. As I go through scales and arpeggios, broken chords and Hanon, I’m also breaking some old patterns. I don’t have to spend the whole time on one scale. Today, I did 4 or 5 scales, 4 octaves, 2 octave splits, in thirds and tenths, then plowed through arpeggios using the cycle of fifths.
This is not revolutionary stuff. However, releasing the old requirement to stick to one scale day after day, has been important. The flow is better now and I’m listening for fluffy notes—those times when my fingers aren’t quite precise enough to hit the key squarely.
One note at a time—full and complete and precise and heard.
I’ve opened up the Grade 9 book. Didn’t spend much time on it when I was 13, so there are lots of pieces I haven’t played at all. It’s and easy sell. The pieces are easy enough that I can learn them in a few days and interesting enough to provide a challenge—speed, expression, mood, colour.
Bach‘s Prelude in C- is my current best friend. It’s such a training and requires a precision I’m looking for in pieces right now. It trains me, leads me, teaches me. I listen. I’m beating my old practice patterns out of myself and Bach insists better than most. For once, I’m really learning a piece, bar by bar, listening, looking, watching my fingers, paying attention to the line, the interweavings. It’s going deeper. I’m going deeper, insisting on precision and right notes and right fingerings— not just letting everything slide under.
I have to breathe more, practising this way. I have to relax my shoulders, sit squarely on the bench, start again, go slower and enjoy it. The going slower. How many times did I hear “Slow Down!” when I was a kid. I say the same things now with my students. It really does work.
I have no expectations or aspirations — yet. Right now it is enough that I play, and practise and repeat and slow down. It is enough that I do this for three hours a week— and find myself able to do it without difficulty. It is enough that I play up and down the keyboard, using all the things I know. I DO want to get better. Not just on the piano.
My hour ran out today without improvising and without playing unusual scales or learning something jazz. I have to watch that I don’t make practising the classical stuff an excuse for not improvising and chopping away at something new.