Practicing ….

Is practicing your instrument happen just at your instrument?

I remember reading how Glenn Gould said he got to the point where he didn’t have to practice? Was he really not practicing? No, it meant that he was practicing on a different level.

I remember being told that Vladimir Horowitz once said that his best practicing happened with a cup of tea and a pencil in his favourite armchair.

Mrs. Davis (who’s students included Queen Elizabeth II) would hand her students a sheet of music, a pencil and a big fat eraser and tell them to figure out the fingering away from the piano. In fact, her students weren’t allowed to touch the piano.

Sooooo when older students tell me they don’t have as much time to practice. I always share them these stories plus my own experience.

When I was a piano performance major at Trinity Western University – I was waitressing and teaching full time. I didn’t always have time to just sit and practice but I did have my hour and half transit time back and forth from university. So I would use my long bus rides to practice. Armed with my sheet music, a note pad, pencil, eraser, and highlighters – I’d hit the books as they say.
So how did I use them?

Dynamic Markings were labelled by different colors – Red loud blue soft etc. I came up with a color pallet so I could easy recognize them when playing. I didn’t have to think – it just happened.
Chord Progressions – I would analyze the music so I could see where the composer was going – often especially with Bach, if I could memorize the progression so it would be easy to play. I wouldn’t have to “remember” the notes because there were only so many possibilities. Later on in performance if I had a memory slip, the chord progression would save me because even if I played it slightly wrong it would be pretty close because I knew where I was going.
Programming – I would look at the bigger picture of the piece – where was the composer going and how. Often composers will repeat certain sections etc. This way, I knew where s/he was going and when so nothing would take me by surprise.
Research – I would make trips to the library (google wasn’t quite as easy back then lol) and research the composer and period when the piece was composed. I would find everything I could about the composer and the piece. I would then use my bus time to read all of that material and takes so I wouldn’t forget.I f the composer is still alive, I would try find his/her email to ask advice and tips. Over the years, I have found that composers love hearing some performers and will even ask for a ruff recording so they can share more tips etc. Several times now, when they knew I was going to play their pieces in a recital – composers would list my performance on their website. Do a little detective work – it’s flattering to a composer to receive an email from a student asking advice. It will pay off 😊

Soooo hope this helps you understand that you can practice away from the piano and get quite a lot done. Oh that and air playing – it works 😉