Sunday, February 10, 2019


I have long since found that the times when one cannot access one's instrument are the times when one feels the biggest urge to do so. That, in itself, is not immensely valuable but channeling that enthusiasm into consuming resources and learning theory on the subject, whatever the subject happens to be, can be tremendously invigorating with the added bonus of taking some time off that can help reset some of the technique over and allows for a fresh approach.

In this case, however, I am obviously talking about piano practice but I think this applies to other crafts as well. As I had some time to reflect without access to my piano, I went through some of the notes and mental notes I had of my recurring mistakes. Some of them I'm getting better at and generally do well but sometimes - when tired, for example - I revert to forgetting everything I have ever learned and just struggling to play the correct notes.

Because of that, I figured it would make sense for me to document my most common recurring mistakes and tips I feel I should have framed on my wall as a reminder.

Active Fingers

This is one tip has also been expressed as either "pulling on the keys" or "playing through the keys". It is the sort of cat-like assertion of force from the hand to the keys through the fingertips that helps to transfer the weight of the arm on to the keys. This cat-like motion makes for a solid crisp, singing touch on the keys and is perhaps the most common thing my fingers stop doing if I am not completely concentrated. That being said, I feel it is becoming more and more second nature for me, but I do occasionally revert to them bad ol' habits.

I still do not exactly know what the steps are to reaching the sort of eloquent "brushing" of the keys that is probably just the extremely refined version of how this can look - apparent in the technique of Master pianists. It is probably not something to worry about at this stage, though.

Hand weight and Shoulders

This is a part of the former I suppose, but playing with hand weight and movement with a loose wrist and active fingers is something that is easy to forget, especially if there are lot of fast notes - i.e. it is easy to revert to just trying to use fingers which often results in uneven and inconsistent results.

As for playing from the shoulders for the fortissimo parts, it can also become somewhat lazy. One can try to exert force from wrists, hands and fingers to try to compensate but having the force come from shoulders and proper body weight makes it less tense and requires less effort as a whole... and generally sounds better I suppose.

Arrive early

This is something that I think I still need more practice on in getting it to my head properly. The idea here is to be at the keys before you need to play them as illustrated by this image.
The idea here is to make the conscious effort to perform the movement required to transition to the new position prior to the actual need to play the key. Obviously things like finger legato are not necessarily possible on such occasions, but for passages with jumps, it makes it possible to have the level of control required to play it properly.

For faster passages, the amount of time the movement takes might be shorter or virtually non-existent, but having the separation of movement and playing in the mind helps. When moving from slow practice to performance tempo, this delay on arriving early can gradually become shorter and shorter up to a nearly non-existent break between them, but the mental compartments remain.

Dynamics, Articulation and Shaping Phrases

Shaping is one of the first casualties of being rusty. The playing easily becomes mechanical because playing the correct notes takes up all the concentration, thus rendering the performance (using the widest definition of the word here) flat. For the most part, the biggest dynamics are still there generally; i.e. ff is still played louder but for individual phrases and sections, the overall dynamics are often missing or flat. This also applies to articulation although that rarely goes away completely.


Most, if not all, of the above mistakes are also present when playing tired. The concentration at these times is spent (if present) on correct notes, often failing at that. Whilst not necessarily a mistake in itself, it is worth noting that being tired has a similar effect to not having practiced for a while.

I guess that summarized most of my common technical errors; there are a few that I slack on conceptually and that seems like periodical behavior. An example would be the fact that I do occasionally stop thinking about the music's intent and just go on autopilot trying to play the correct notes. The play becomes mechanical, uninteresting and absent thought, rendering the practice ineffective (or at least sub-optimal) in the first place.

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