In my last post I discussed feedback loops in piano playing and their importance in cultivating physical awareness.* Now I'll try to give you an idea of how you can employ these ideas in your practice.I know that the last post might seem like a lot of information to keep in mind, but in practice its not so bad. So, if this is all new to you, here's something to try:
Take a 5 finger pattern, or a *very* small passage of only a second or two in length. For now do this hands alone . . . so pick a hand. Play this passage (preferably from memory) a few times, each time concentrating on the feel of your hand and arm, as well as the tactile feel of the keys against your fingertips and their movements up and down. Get as much "feel data" as you can each time you play the passage.
Now, take your hand away from the keyboard. Close your eyes and try to visualize yourself playing *every note* of this passage. Visualize as slow as necessary to be exact in your mind. Do this several times, and with each repetition try to make the visualization include a very vivid kinesthetic component. Don't go for speed; be patient and aim for clarity. Try to visualize not only the look and sound, but the *feel* of playing this passage in the muscles of your hand and your fingertips (but without actually moving your hand.)
(There is a helpful German word in this context: spielart, which the famous piano technician Franz Mohr explains as "simply the way the action feels to you, or how the action functions under your hands, in combination with what comes *out* of the piano . . ."** This is what you want to visualize.)
Now return to the keyboard and play the passage very slowly. Your goal is to visualize the sight, sound, and *feel* of each keystroke an instant before playing. After you do this a few times, you can work the passage up to speed, while continuing to visualize ahead. After each repetition, STOP, and consider what the play-through sounded like. Was it under your control? Did you get the sound you wanted? Did it "feel" how you wanted or expected? Use this information to make adjustments to the next run-through.
If you're patient with this, you can make this sort of analysis a practice habit. Although I focused here on the tactile component of the process, reflecting on every aspect of playing is a crucial part of effective effective feedback loops. The most effective musicians do this sort of analysis constantly–probably without even being aware of it. If you take the time to build it into your thinking, it will pay off many times over.
*(As a side note, I think more than anything else, its this awareness that allows a good pianist to make instantaneous adjustments necessary for a good performance. This responsiveness also allows, after a lot of practice, for a pianist to adapt quickly to a new instrument.)
**Franz Mohr. My Life With the Great Pianists, pg. 28.
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