Some say that Claudio Arrau, one of the greatest piano players of all time, could read music before being able to read words. This is a lesson to take to heart: piano playing, whether you choose acoustic or digital, requires you to listen, understand, and immerse yourself in the music before you sit down and play.
What else can you do to improve your practice and performance on the piano? Acoustic piano players need to follow some rules, while digital piano players have a few different ways of becoming live artists. Today we will bring together the best of both worlds and see some tips and ideas on how to channel your inner pianist faster and better.
Only for Beginners: Understand the Difference between Acoustic and Digital
This is a very long conversation to have, but we will keep it short. If you are just a beginner and you want to learn to play piano for fun, you will probably get by easier by starting on a digital piano. You can buy a high-performing piano under $1000 that comes with 88 weighted hammer action keys, pedals, and 264-note polyphony. Consult the reviews on brands, makes, models, sound, performance, size, weight, and connectivity.
When you realize you want to become a piano player, you can switch to professional digital pianos or even acoustic ones. For practice and learning, here are the main things to look for in an affordable but high-quality piano:
- Dual mode – if you intend to learn with the help of a teacher;
- Weighted keys – important for giving you the feel and the sound of an acoustic piano;
- Pedals – to get used to classic pianos;
- Built-in metronome – you will use to enhance your performance;
- The full range of sounds of an acoustic piano.
Such tips will mostly benefit beginners. If you do play a piano on a regular basis, let us move on to the tips and suggestions you can apply to grow as a pianist and improve your skills.
1. Exploit the metronome to its full potential
The metronome is there to help you keep the tempo. Play with the metronome to identify those pieces where you tend to slow down or rush up – those pieces where your tempo goes astray need more practice.
- Play with the metronome and without the metronome when you rehearse a piece. Adjust the speed to challenge control and master the tempo. Rehearse until you get the tempo right in the absence of the metronome.
2. Use the pedal creatively
The greatest performers of our time know exactly when to ride the sustaining pedal and when to balance their finger work with a slight touch of their foot. Beginner piano players tend to overuse the pedal.
- Try to play your pieces without the pedal; surely, the sound will seem a bit unnatural at first, but you need to master your finger work.
- One good idea is to practice at half-speed without the pedal, as you will have to think of the next note. In time, you will achieve a smoother finger legato.
- Once you are confident in your creation of beautiful sounds, slowly use the right pedal in short amounts to get clean, crisp sound.
- Focus and understand how the right pedal changes the sound of ends of phrases, rapid passage work and chordal passages, practicing them with or without the pedal, until you feel when to press and when to rely only on your fingers.
3. Practice slowly and in short passages, daily
If you practice slowly, you will get a better understanding of each note, tone, and sound that you create. When you practice on a digital piano with weighted keys, keep in mind that the volume depends on how hard to strike the keys. Velocity is something to look for, but practice slowly, to allow your brain to decode the music.
Practice in short passages as well – understand what your fingers do, how the pedals work, what key to strike and when. Imagine you are learning to dance – let each step sink in, coordinate in the bigger scheme, lead you to the next logical step, offer room for creativity and improvisation.
Play daily and make sure each time you play, your piano is ready to take you where you want to arrive. This is important for digital pianos as well. Make sure you do a sound check, verify the cords, amplifiers, and speakers to work properly and do a sound check to see if the sound is clear and at the correct volume.
4. Engage in physical exercise
No matter what piano you play, you need your body in perfect shape. You will move fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, legs, and back quite a lot. Piano experts recommend you control your movements, as they can produce harsh sounds, but never get a rigid stance while you play.
Smooth, flowing, natural piano playing means that you should engage in physical exercise to improve your body’s flexibility, resilience to tension, fluidity, joint mobility, and finger speed. When you play the piano, your shoulders should be down, your wrists relaxed and your arms moving in a way that allows your hands to fly over the keys.
In order to achieve, improve and enhance your music-body coordination, specific physical exercises will do wonders for your performance.
5. There is no room for mistakes
Do not allow yourself the “privilege” of making mistakes. If you do not like something, stop and repeat it until you get it just the way you want it or the way it is supposed to be. Letting a mistake go can become costly over time and some errors may be hard to fix.
If you make the same mistake, it is clear that you need to approach the piece from a different angle and practice it until you get it right. When you start making mistakes during the practice, stop. Your brain may be tired, you may have something on your mind, or you are burning the steps of music learning too fast.
Do something else in this case to relax and rewire your brain and resume tomorrow.
- Take notes of your mistakes and put them into a journal. You will have a clearer perspective on what you need to work on more.
Advice for Parents
If you are a parent reading this, you should know that talented children need to practice their pianos and take their lessons seriously – but do not overwhelm them. While everybody understands that music exercises a child’s brain and makes one of the best hobbies in existence, if performance is what you need, you should refrain from pushing the child into a frenzy. Kids need to focus on their talent, but they also need to play, have friends, laugh, sleep, and have little cares in the world.
Advice for Seasoned Piano Players
Many seasoned piano players tend to forget to make the acquaintance of their performance piano. If you do not play your own piano during the next gig, find a way to rehearse your pieces on the piano you are going to play.
For digital pianos, it is mandatory to perform a sound check in advance and make sure the piano you play will respond to you just the way you want it. Make a list of things to check: key action, sounds, tones, volume, connectivity, and so on.
One Final Thought about Improving Your Performance
“Play always as if in the presence of a master.”
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