David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

A tremendous amount of time and energy goes into learning and mastering a piece of music, and one of the most frustrating experiences for pianists is to return to a piece after a while only to find that they can't play it anymore.

Once your piece is mastered, and you feel that it is at the level necessary for a recital or examination, you will need to continue to play it regularly to "keep it under your fingers".  Decide if it is a piece that you would like to keep as part of your repertoire, and put it on your list of pieces that require "maintenance".

Generally, if you play your piece of music about three times each week, it is enough to make sure that you don't forget it.  Ideally, I suggest that you play the piece three times in a row at different speeds.  If the tempo of your piece is 120 beats per minute, begin at 108, then move up to 116 and then finally 120.  It might be of even greater value to have greater gaps between these numbers depending on the piece you are playing.  The various speeds will help with better retention of your piece.

If you had memorized your piece, make a point of playing both with and without the music as you continue to maintain it.

Divide your time at the piano into practice time and maintenance time.  Although you may end up spending more time playing rather than practicing, your practice time should always be your main focus, no matter how long you spend on it.  Make your priority to learn new material and fix problems, and once that is done, you can play to your heart's content.

Playing a piece of music well is a complex process.  A connection is formed between brain, eyes, fingers and ears that defies explanation because it all happens so quickly.  Once the piece is mastered, there is little thinking going on, but there is plenty of feeling.  I am not talking here about an emotional connection with the piece, but rather the feel of the piece under your fingers.  Playing the piano successfully is more about the feel of it than anything else, and many people fail to realize this.

When you forget a piece of music, it is more the feel of it under your fingers that you forgot than anything else.  Maintenance of a piece of music requires regular conditioning of the fingers so that they provide the same results every time.

Don't be discouraged if the piece you learned last year is now a disaster.  It will actually come back to you far more quickly than you might think.  It will certainly be easier to polish it up than it was to learn in the first place.  Also, realize that this happens to almost all musicians.  I say "almost" because there are always those exceptional geniuses who remember everything.

Many people assume that I can perform any piece that I have written  "at the drop of a hat".  After all, I wrote the piece right?  Well they are mistaken.  Some of my compositions I haven't played for several years, and not only do I not remember them, but even playing from music, I might make some mistakes.

This is true of almost all composers and performers - they can forget how to play their own music.  You can bet that this was true with Beethoven too.  He would have had to prepare for the times when an audience member would request that he play a certain favorite piece by practicing them in advance.  I'm sure that on more than one occasion he was asked to play one of his compositions that he knew he couldn't play well, and probably gave some polite excuse.  Although actually, he was rarely polite and probably would have simply ignored the request.

This is an aspect of great pianists and composers that many students never think about.  We always read about how brilliant they were (and of course they were), but we never hear about all the errors they made when they practiced, as well as the times that they made mistakes in their own music, and yes, even forgot it.

Forgetting your music is quite normal, but now you know what to do to maintain a great piece and make sure that it never happens again.

Happy practicing!

David Hicken

All of the concepts that I write about here are detailed in my eBook "Secrets To Better Piano Playing" .  Click the image below to find out more.