patience, patient practicing, piano

Patience and Practicing

I rarely write what is characterized as a fluff piece, a filler blog that meanders around the powers of positive thinking and related platitudes. Such flighty commentary often sounds time-worn and replete with cliches.

Yet, I have to admit that in my own cosmos of practicing and learning, having all-embracing “PATIENCE” frames my most fundamental pathway to musical progress and development. (Naturally, this paradigm filters down to my students, who are consistently reminded that their journey is taken in “patient,” incremental baby steps.)

In so many words, Patience is my mantra that I spread far and wide with the fervency of a musical missionary.

But putting Religion aside, I have observed through decades of teaching, that many adult students have a particular, self-inflicted time line for learning a new piece to their level of “expectation.” They nip the word “patience” in the bud, setting a preconceived deadline for the type of achievement they have subjectively determined.

Perceiving pages of notes, many crowded with double and triple beams in fast tempo, they resist the very slow temporal framing that magnifies all the necessary details in the score. Add in a need to practice with separate hands that comports with this mega-lens view of a composition. So through this parceled undertaking, it takes PATIENCE to unravel the many dimensions of learning: fingering assignment, meter, articulation, harmonic analysis, structure, phrasing, dynamics, mood, character and more.

Finally, without PATIENCE underlying a learning experience, a student cannot begin to ENJOY the PROCESS of engaging with a new piece.

And here’s where PATIENCE is wedded to gratification in the present. It is NOT delayed gratification as is commonly assumed. The JOY of exploring in the here and now; breathing into notes that are relaxed in time, so that they are “felt” from their inception through their decay, and how they relate to notes that precede and follow them, is made possible by a SUSPENSION of time, where it does not exist with limits, but instead has its own temporal inner space.

I guess, I’m somewhat influenced by my Eurhythmics teacher, Inda Howland when I laud these timeless metaphors that she well- integrated into her life as a musician and teacher. And if there was anyone who had a wealth of “patience” it was this treasured Oberlin Conservatory icon.

To summarize and integrate the ingredients of “patient” practicing by way of a video representation is difficult, since many adult students have traveled through many months of practicing a particular piece, realizing that there are always more enlightenments on the horizon at each learning juncture.

In this particular sample, one of my pupils, who has “patiently” worked on the Beethoven Bagatelle, Op. 119, No.1 for several months, if not a year, is sculpting, shaping lines with the added dimension of wedding words to phrasing in a SINGING frame. At least as this lesson unfolded, the best prompt to improve the contour of a particular phrase was to seize upon a few choice words with the added ingredient of Harmonic rhythm to clarify the contour of a phrase to final cadence.

I’m reminded here of the impressionable delivery of pianist, Irina Morozova when she made words and music the theme of the video I was privileged to make and circulate. (The link is included below). This approach is inevitably part of a progressive unraveling in the learning process that I referenced earlier. (As it happened I was studying this very piece, Chopin’s Nocturne in Eb, Op. 9, No. 2, and it brought some “new” revelations that I was open to absorb without a defensive, boundary imposed attitude.)

When the student is patient, he/she is open to these new awakenings, transformations, re-assessments, and refinements that are the keys to musical growth and development.


A second lesson sample where patient examination of phrasing, harmonic rhythm and choreography apply.


Music and Words: The window to learning the Chopin Nocturne in Eb, Op. 9, No. 2 (Irina Morozova)

The gift of Irina’s “patient” practicing:

Eurhythmics, A whole body listening experience

adult piano instruction, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Lara Downes, music study and ripening, patience, pianist, piano, piano blogging, piano learning, piano study, piano teaching, San Francisco Classical Voice, Stephen Hough

Pianist, Stephen Hough talks about growing a piece over time

Stephen Hough

In this excerpt from Lara Downe’s San Francisco Classical Voice interview with Stephen Hough, the universe of growth and musical ripening is explored.

Lara Downes: Your teacher, Gordon Green, was a great influence and inspiration to you, and you’ve quoted him as saying to you, when you were a young student: “I don’t care how you’re playing the piece now, what I care about is how you’ll play it in 10 years.”

Is that still true for you? As a deeply spiritual person, how do you experience the balance of making personal effort, and also just waiting for the revelation part of that learning process?

Stephen Hough: With this business of searching, I feel that I’m still very much a beginner. The idea of being patient for 10 years is not something that comes naturally to me at all! But I do think that it’s important for us to develop this kind of patience. It’s almost like farming. I mean, if you want to grow beautiful fruit, you do have to let the trees grow. You can dump chemicals on them and get them to produce very quickly, but if you want delicious fruit that’s going to grow season after season, even beyond your own lifetime, there’s a certain sort of time that simply has to pass, and I think it’s the same with learning music. We can learn a piece of music very quickly, but we have to be aware that it’s going to get so much richer over the years..

– See more at:

I applied Hough’s philosophy to a lesson on Bach Invention 13 in A minor. What I’d extracted from Hough’s poetically framed response, centered on the quality of study from the very start with its continuum of stages. If learning was quick and haphazard, it would not grow and blossom over time.

Naturally, as I taught an adult student last night, front and center in my mind, was laying a solid foundation in the early learning phase of a new piece:

1) Fingering had to be decided and solidified. (not a dice throw experience from one playing to another) It had to be a “musical” fingering that realized a phrase’s shape and contour. Sometimes replacing a thumb with an alternate finger at a cadence could make a qualitative difference. This applied to a segment in Bach Invention 13 in A minor where the student’s choice of a thumb instead of finger 2, forced an undesirable accent.

2) Rhythm, note durations, etc. needed specific attention.

3) Slow, separate hand practice with a framing pulse, factored into foundation building that would be the best bank deposit for future musical growth. It “banked” on good fingering choices and an awareness of context: what was happening structurally and harmonically to frame the learning process. (Included was a recognition of SEQUENCES)

Context reinforced each learning stage, and CONTOURING or SHAPING LINES was part of this phase, using singing as an aid to phrasing with equal attention to dynamics.

4) Spot practicing: Where finger trapping or redundant glitches occurred, making a conscious effort to work through specific measures that needed extra focus and attention became another solid, interest bearing bank deposit for optimum musical growth. (It’s opposite was meaningless repetition)

5) FRAMING ALL OF THE ABOVE was Hough’s PATIENCE mantra, that for me, was his most resonant theme.

Bundled into such wisdom, was an avoidance of tempo charging, or driving the learning process at a rate that failed to preserve quality in the present in order to insure ripening in the future.

Stephen Hough on the Practice of Practicing

Excerpt from a Masterclass (Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody)