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Piano Practicing: Re-doing and Refining

Studying piano, playing through the great piano literature, requires revisiting, re-doing and refining our work. This undertaking should not carry a value judgment that what preceded was poor or inadequate. Those adjectives do not belong to the process of learning. After all, we do not fault babies for crawling before walking because we realize it’s the natural flow of growth and development.

For me, revitalizing a piece with a fresh and enlightened perspective is what draws me back to the piano each and every day.

On this note, I sat down at my Steinway this morning and decided to re-record Robert Schumann’s first Scene from Childhood, “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples.” Promising myself to step back and listen attentively as well as objectively to each playback, I would discern as best I could what needed improvement.

After spending about 45 minutes playing so many consecutive 2:05 timed segments, (approx.) I realized that I was throwing a subtle accent on each quarter note following the dotted-eighth 16th figure that permeates this composition, and it was distorting the melodic line. The accent was not necessarily obtrusive but I quickly realized that I needed to shape down the quarter note to obtain what sounded better. To de-emphasize that bothersome note I used a subtle wrist dip, so I would enter the key more slowly, and that’s where the physical side of playing intertwined with the sound image. (what I had underscored in my blog on Weight Control and Voicing.)

The review process also involved self-analysis, muscle memory, and decisions about voicing.

The other plaguing part of the tableau, was a crescendo at part B that sounded premature and not swelled in the way I wanted. I heard a poke on the G in the treble clef that made me cringe.

But having at least defined what I thought needed revision, I proceeded to re-record and play back.

In truth, I was cutting myself some slack because of my piano’s regulation issues. The perception that some notes were not having good let-offs made me continuously compensate to an unreasonable degree in terms of weight application into these more unresponsive keys. The piano’s irregularities in the touch/feel universe required a personal psyching out process that posed challenges.
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Finally, despite an individual piano’s quirks, re-playing and revising the interpretation of a piece as many times as needed, is part of the learning curve. Realizing its value and keeping a positive, self-nurturing attitude allows fresh ideas to filter in, enlarging one’s musical perspective.