Piano performances

My grade 10 exam is coming up :S This really has me questioning my abilities. I feel like I am learning more in this final year than I have learned in all the other years learning piano combined. Of course that’s not true, but just now I am learning how to practice to become a real professional, which is basically the pinnacle of piano playing.

As for my experiences, I’ve found a few things that would benefit any piano player trying to improve his/her level:

1. Play for others

Playing at senior centres, for instance, is a wonderful opportunity to do this. It not only lets you share the joy of playing music, but you will also try that much harder to practice well and play perfect every time (the more you succeed, the more this becomes good muscle memory! :0)  ), which can make your practicing so much more effective.

2. Video tape yourself

This can be almost as useful as the first one – in fact, if you don’t get feedback from your audience, this is even better, because you can then watch the tape and notice a lot more things for yourself. Weird curling of fingers, too fast/too slow, not enough flow of melody… these all become apparent on video. The trick is to pretend that you are taping as if you wanted to put the video on youtube – making you try to play as well as possible.

3. Practice slowly

LivingPianosVideos on youtube has a lot of great advice as far as memorization and good practice goes (see this video for how to memorize: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeDEI0dGW_w) and I totally agree with his advice, that you should practice the exact dynamics and rests and rhythm that the piece is supposed to have when fully learned. If you think “oh I’ll add that in later”, then you are actually practicing the wrong dynamics and rhythm – and this is getting in your muscle memory, which will be insanely hard to get rid of after.

I suggest something further; practicing with the metronome, every piece. Even rubato, even jazz, even waltzes. You have to be able to play plainly and precisely before you can learn how to stretch and bend the music. If you get too used to playing just the “bent”-way then you may start losing control of playing it “plainly”, without all those dressed up rhythmics and sostenutos.

Another thing I suggest is playing pieces that normally use the pedal, without the pedal. so often, I gradually forget to hold notes for their full value because the pedal holds them all for me. The pedal should be used when you have an impossible legato stretch, or a note that you can’t keep holding, or to connect the base in waltzes. But it should not be relied on just to make it sound like your finger is still on the key when it’s not – this just makes bad control of form and messes up your technique.

4. Memorization in random places

As for memorization, I do think that LivingPianosVideos has the best possible method one could ask for – I however did not learn that when young, so I basically grew up on muscle memory. I could be playing a piece for months and still have barely any clue of what I’m really playing – my mind wanders off, lost in the melody, while my hands do their routine on the keys. This worked okay, except that I would often lose focus, and when I had to perform in front of someone or in a new place, I would get nervous and try to start remembering the notes and then realize I can’t, and start internally freaking out.

I’ve tried going back and relearning some pieces with the LivingPianos method – this works pretty well. But another method I find equally good (if you are like me and learned songs by muscle memory because no one taught you a better way), then take the notes somewhere away from the piano and try to learn them there. The kitchen works best in my opinion, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the piano, so if you can correctly remember the notes there, then you pretty much can anywhere. First, try to imagine you are at the piano, and imagine your fingers hitting the keys of the song. If you cannot remember, check the notes, then try to visualize it again, without looking at the notes. Since your hands instinctively know where to go, this method I find is quite easy. Subconsciously, you probably already know the notes – by learning them in your conscious memory too, this bond becomes strengthened and connected to the finger memory.

5. Feeling over perfection

One last thing – when you are playing for people, it is more important to be able to play with feeling than to hit 100% of the right notes. Yes, the right notes are important – hitting too many bad ones would break the melody’s flow – but if you do not have feeling, then there cannot be any flow at all. One of my best performances at the senior centre was when I did have some errors, but I was feeling the music so deeply, it reached my audience, and they were moved as well.

If you are new to performing, I would recommend watching your pedal use – don’t overdo it – and don’t try to play too loudly, even if the piano sounds weaker or a lot quieter than the one you normally play on. The sound carries throughout the rest of the room – you wouldn’t want to make your audience deaf. 😛

Well that’s pretty much everything. 🙂

And remember – be open to honest critique from your listeners! It will broaden your experience and you will be able to improve on things that a wide range of listeners points out to you. Not everyone is right, of course, but everyone deserves some consideration of their opinion. Most people will just give compliments – but really listen for the critique, because it is what can help you move forward. Don’t let it get you down. It is just one person’s opinion, and there may be some truth to their words.

Perhaps to be really able to accept compliments, we must first be able to smile in the face of a negative comment and say “thank you for your feedback”.

Dream house

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what kind of house I’d like once I get one…. not because it’s time for me to worry about such things, but well, one can dream 🙂 and maybe if I have a good idea early on it’ll be easier.

Big houses are amazing. They feel like palaces. But I don’t think I could live in one. It would feel too empty. As long as there’s substantial place to move and walk, I really wouldn’t mind having a small house… one that feels like it’s right out of a fairytale, perhaps it used to be a goblin’s cottage or something. (Would have to be a very tidy goblin by my standards :S)

There are, however, a few things that I would remain insistent about…

1. A cat. 

A lovely, fluffy cat. Any house is suddenly that much cozier with a furry feline prowling all over the place, annexing the couch and any comfortable surface as its own. Cats are the acme of happy, and “just in time” – sitting on your homework just when you feel like your head will burst, sashaying in front of the TV just when you’re becoming a zombie from it, demanding your attention… I think people should pay more attention to their cats. If we keep pushing them away saying “no I’m busy I have to finish it, I don’t have time to play around and pet you” then well, what will we do when one day the cat is gone? Won’t we miss its soft fur and wish we had savored a few quiet evenings with the warm body on our laps, listening to its purr and stroking it? There are moments when you just have to drop everything and cuddle.

Once, my family stayed in a little bed and breakfast a few hours from Ottawa. Actually we stayed in many, but I remember this specific one because we were greeted by an utmost adorable cat waiting at the door, just begging to be petted. This is the kind of welcome-experience I think everyone should have 🙂

Our own cat is a little strange… If cats have nine lives, then I maintain that ours was in her past ones; an opera singer, a bird, and a dog. If you ever hear her miaow you won’t need to ask me about the opera singer. I added the second one to the list when I found her sitting nonchalantly on the top shelf of our dresser, where even I can barely reach… does that cat own a tiny unfodable ladder or something? 😛 My best guess was that she secretly learned to fly.

I’m pretty sure many cats used to be dogs in their past lives… does anyone else have a cat that runs to you as soon as you signal, or if you call its name? One that chases little objects you throw around the room and brings them back to you? (mind you that last one was mostly when she was more kitten-like) … No?… Anyone?…. :O

2. A piano

This picture is perfect, because my first thing on this liste goes with pianos perfectly 🙂 A purring audience that lies lazily on the couch and absorbs the sweet sounds of Chopin’s Valse, or Rachmaninoff’s prelude… Maybe it is just sleeping, but the atmosphere is just so much “warmer”.

A harp could work too. But I think I prefer pianos. I may be biased since I play the piano myself. But anyways, these majestic instruments give a home a really classical and sophisticated air.. visions of steaming hot cups of tea, ballroom dance balls, handcrafted curtains, and exquisite paintings come to mind. Well that’s just what pianos make me think of, at least when they’re in good shapes. It makes the house feel like if it had a voice, the walls would talk in british accents.

I thought about adding soundproof walls, because if it’s a small house then the piano might bother people who want to sleep, or watch tv, or focus on work… but then who would be there to listen? Soundproof walls could be a possibility for anyone who wants them. Me, I would want the piano on the top, or second highest (depending on how many stories the house is) floor, perhaps in a spacious room that has elegant couches and beanbag chairs and perhaps a rocking chair – the sitting room, I suppose. There could be bookshelves around, or a coffee-table with magazines, or a chest of board games. Or perhaps a working desk. I had always found listening to classical music beneficial when I work – there are no distracting lyrics, and the sound is very soothing (as much as I love pop and electronica style music, there is no comparing to classical). There have even been studies done that show that classical music increases mind clarity, ability to focus, and brain activity. (I’ll try to dig them up from my bookmarks and post the link here).

On second thought, I think I’d want the desk in my room, or in an office. Maybe a circular room, like a witch’s tower? ;D (oh yeah – my imagination is having the time of its life).

3. A balcony

Ahh yes, a balcony… Any piano players reading this, have you ever dreamed of playing on a little island surrounded by small, lapping waves, feeling the soft breeze? (assuming you are not stranded there). If I had a balcony, and I had nice neighbours, I don’t think I could resist one day opening the doors and pushing it out so it’s just outside, on a warm autumn or spring day, and playing the Romeo and Juliet theme, or Tchaikowsky’s Concerto in Bflat Major, or perhaps Oscar Peterson’s Land of the Misty Giants. I would, of course, be terrified of the balcony falling with the piano’s weight, and worrying about bothering others in the neighbourhood, but this is one of my most dreamed of fantasies. It’s the next best thing, at least, to being on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean.

4. An old wooden (carved) chest.

Every once in a while, I walk into Ten Thousand Villages to see what new merchandise they have, and every time I’m there, I see this one beautiful, intricately carved wooden box. It has curled flowers and leaves all over it, with a few gold-colored metal decorations along the edges. This box is amazing. I imagine opening it and finding century old secrets, or forgotten jewellery, or lost love letters. It is empty every time I actually open it, of course, but it’s just the aura it gives off (I do hope boxes can have auras). It would be the kind of box that I’d put random knicknacks in- things that I pick up from under the couch while vaccuming, or small souvenirs, or old letters from friends, or simply memories from the old days.

I’ve thought of a new sort of journaling, using a box – each day, put something small in itto remember this day by. It could be a letter, a small drawing, a note from a friend, a photo, or a scribble about a funny thing that happened, or a rock you might have picked up on your evening walk. The goal would be for each object to be special somehow- this would not only give you a great delight in digging through the box ten years later, but also make you try to make each day the best it possibly can, and “carpe” each “diem”.

5. An (air-popping) popcorn maker.

          

This really shouldn’t be important enough to be on the list. But wow, do parties come alive when you pull out the popcorn maker xD. (I actually have no idea, I’m just rambling).

That is actually all I could think of. Certainly, my list will grow over the years.

What would you want in your dream home? 🙂

Aside

I made a Happy! :3

It’s this cat’s name from the anime Fairy Tail….

 

Here’s the original:

Image 

And voila my creation!

       Image

 

Minus the wings, haha.. I duno how I’d pull that off xD

This was for a friend’s birthday! I think the name is quite fitted the cat, or even just cats in general, since they always look like they’re grinning 😀

Happy cat!