I often think about artificial barriers that many students erect when practicing. Of the adults whom I’ve mentored (and learned from) over the years some have had a formidable line of defense against “hitting” wrong notes.
In many cases they’ve lifted action verbs from the battlefield zone, transferring them to the keyboard conquering turf.
Such an aggressive and unnatural approach that basically ignites gripping tension in the arms, wrists, and hands, inevitably results in hapless, keyed-up repetitions that have no value. Certainly in this “call to charge” mode, students will keep “misfiring” to a point of mental and physical exhaustion.
But why should any player take a hard as nails approach to practicing?
Might it derive from the NO PAIN, NO GAIN, gym workout/weight training paradigm?
From my perspective, a great workout is a mind and body expanding experience minus grimaces and grunts. It’s an emancipation of the breath that feeds the muscles.
Stretching and relaxed breathing, therefore, in synch with repetitions become my specific consciousness-raisers that I transfer to the piano.
Mental prompts aid the physical…
Without doubt, mental imagery plays a significant role in one’s whole attitude toward practicing. Fluidity requires a visceral sense of LETTING GO. The arms need to swing breezily while the wrists like sponges, are pliant.
The hands and fingers flow from relaxed funneled energy down the arms.
If there’s tension anywhere along the spectrum, the player is in opposition to his instrument, not in partnered harmony.
Teacher demonstrations, bundled with pertinent “verbal suggestions” can ameliorate a combative/self-competitive climate, and effectively turn the tide.
In this vein, I’ve observed some remarkable turnabouts in the course of 5 or ten lesson minutes if a pertinent image can filter down to the level of awakened physical/musical awareness. It’s in this touch/tone sensitivity universe that a satisfying co-dependent mind/body relationship ideally exists to nourish practicing and growth.
In the attached video sample, an adult student, although boxed into the Skype screen, experienced a pertinent shift in consciousness as she worked on a C# minor arpeggio. While initially her wrists and hands were visibly filled with tension, I watched a gradual transition to a more relaxed approach that produced an audibly pleasing result.
“springy, spongy, flexible wrists.. hanging hands, hanging arms.”
“Roll toward the black notes that are your center of gravity.”
“Hang wrists and hands off the arms.”
(Revisits of recorded segments between lessons are invaluable for students.)