I’m going to share my best learning secret for piano students right here. It’s a simple trick which works on two basic principles.
♥ The first is that the brain is a computer which operates with amazing precision.
♥ The second is that fully 90% of those dazzling arpeggios and scale passages dancing off a concert pianist’s fingers are being played by rote. The performer is relying on something I call “body” memory. If you were to stop him at any point and ask him what the next note is, most musicians won’t be able to tell you. That’s because their fingers are moving automatically over those keys.
It is this “rote”playing which requires the oft-quoted “eight months” preparation for a formal full length recital. Ideally of course the good musician will intimately know the structure of the music, but that body memory will carry him through very fast or intricately fingered passages.
Most students when they begin lessons will quickly run into a familiar problem. They play the piece several times and each time they reach a certain note, they play it incorrectly. They become quite frustrated with themselves and often either they or their teacher will circle the offending note to make it more visible. But often the problem continues.
“Why do I always miss that f sharp?” they complain.
Well the answer is simple. Their body memory is working against their brain. And it’s this collision which is causing the problem.
Let us assume that when Mary begins to learn a new piece, she misses that F sharp on the second line. She stops and corrects it. Chances are overwhelming that with the next repetition, she will also miss it. But this time, she’ll be faster at correcting it. By the third repetition, she misses it again but her correction is almost simultaneous. But she’s exasperated. WHY can’t she remember that dratted F sharp?
Here’s what’s happening.
Mary has played the note a total of 6 times. 3 times wrong and 3 times corrected, Her brain, which is a computer, is now befuddled. Is it F or F sharp? The raw data is equal for both.
Now to add to this confusion, Mary’s fingers have hit 3 ordinary F’s. And they’ve stretched up 3 times to hit the correct black key, F sharp. Her fingers are equally confounded.
So how to clear up this mess and shorten the time and the frustration of learning a new piece.
It’s easy. You have to SLOW DOWN. Don’t play a note until you are sure it is correct. Think about it first. By allowing yourself to think you are learning. And much more importantly you are NOT playing a wrong note. By not playing that note wrong, you are helping your brain/computer establish the correct note much more quickly.
After three repetitions, preceded by a few seconds of thinking, you will find that the correct note is coming much more quickly each time it is played. And although you may not be aware of it, your body memory is being formed and your fingers are beginning to automatically reach for the correct note. This is the secret.
If you try to learn the usual hit and miss way, you will learn much much more slowly. Three wrong notes have to be corrected …. which makes six repetitions in all. And you still have three wrongs for each three correct. If you think BEFORE playing the note instead of AFTER playing it incorrectly, you will learn so much more quickly. And it takes less time to think and then play correctly than it does to correct a wrong note.
Try it and see why I am the HappyPiano Professor. It’s my very best trick!
And here’s a great chart to print out for yourself or your students. Just as a reminder.