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Japanese Signs: Construction

Image by RobertFrancis via Flickr

A taxi driver in New York told me that on Amsterdam Avenue, all the traffic lights are synchronized.

Every cab driver in New York knows exactly what speed to drive uptown in order to hit only green lights.

You are probably asking, “What does this have to do with playing the piano?”  Based on a lesson I taught this afternoon, I’d say, “more than you might think.”

Are you a good driver?

As it happened, my student was immersed in homework and forgot about her lesson.​  When I called her, she said, “I’m not in my concert clothes!”  She sings in the chorus, which left campus shortly after her lesson to be videotaped for a TV show.

She dressed so quickly, it’s amazing that she looked so good!  She arrived for her lesson breathless from running.

What happened next probably happens to most of us.  It certainly describes what I do when rushed, unless I am focusing on the process rather than the lack of time.

My student began playing immediately.  She played faster than her comfort level, crashing after two bars.

Isn’t that like a “hurry up and wait” driver?  You know, floor it to get to the next traffic light, then screech to a halt and wait for green?  We could all get whiplash!

How we calmed things down
and saved the lesson

Rather than crash and burn for the 1/2 hour we had left for a lesson, I interrupted in order to slow down the pace.

  1. I asked my student to take a deep breath.
  2. We talked about the importance of looking over the entire piece before playing the first note:
    1. to look for key, meter, and tempo changes
    2. to look for repeats
    3. to make a mental map of how the piece is constructed
      1. repetitions and sequences
      2. similarities and differences in chords (sometimes just one note is different)
  3. We settled on a tempo that could be kept steady (hint:  not fast!)
  4. I made sure my student understood that she will be able to play fast ~ it’s just not the best choice right now.  Having her feel frustrated at playing slowly would not be helpful.
  5. My student played an entire page, hands together, perfectly!
  6. We discussed her success!

What we reinforced

Leave rushing outside the door.​  If you don’t interrupt it, your practice session will be compromised.

When you have less time than you’d like, choose one difficult passage or movement to concentrate on.  Then, if there is time to spare, choose another.

This is not a good time to play in a fast tempo or perform your program.  Having too little time is the perfect setup to learn mistakes, feel frustrated, and crash.  That’s not progress.

Take a minute or two before you begin playing.  When you feel grounded, you will be thinking more clearly.

Chill out, sit back, take a deep breath, and look at the piece first.  If a New York cab driver can slow down, I know you can, too!

When you feel rushed, does fast playing creep into your practice sessions?  How do you deal with that?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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