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Be Prepared

Image by Calsidyrose via Flickr

How did you fare with Hurricane Irene?
Did you receive warnings of its potential severity? Did you take them seriously?


Amherst residents received voice mail messages from both the Town Manager and the CEO of the electric company. They warned that we could be without power for at least a week. The local paper published a list of steps to take in advance of the storm. The governor of Connecticut set a time of midnight on Saturday as the end of a reasonable preparation window.

I took the following actions:

  • gratefully accepted the loan of a flashlight from my Saturday student
  • shopped for food
  • thought through the scenario of having no electricity
  • went back to the store for food that required no microwave, stove, or oven
  • filled several water bottles
  • filled the bathtub with water in case it was needed
  • took candles and matches out of the cabinet
  • closed and locked all the windows
  • was home well before midnight on Saturday
  • charged my cell phone

The storm

My neighborhood “got lucky.” We had:

  • some rain, but no deluge
  • some flooding, but not in my apartment complex
  • no electrical outages
  • the phone worked
  • even the computer worked!

Everyone I know was prepared for worse.

What can we take from this? And what does this have to do with learning music, anyway?

Well, how about preparedness?

When we think through most things that could happen during a performance, we can ensure that they will be less likely to bother us if they do, in fact, happen.

  • The piano could be less than wonderful.
  • The pedals could be badly regulated.
  • The bench could be the wrong height.
  • A light could blow out.
  • The room could be too cold or too hot.
  • A phone could ring.
  • A door could slam.
  • One of our fellow performers could start rushing or dragging.
  • A baby could cry.
  • Someone could cough.
  • A draft could blow the music around.
  • Our page turner could be less than competent:
  • Sometimes s/he will wear fragrance.
  • Sometimes s/he will miss a turn, or be late or early.
  • Sometimes s/he will be in our way.

How to learn music as well as possible

We can practice for various scenarios, rather than just getting through the music.

The most helpful thing I have found is to have reliable fingerings marked in the music.

As soon as the fingerings are there, I get them “into my hand.” This means being able to feel intervals in my hands and always arriving early to the next place, whether that be a new hand position (pivoting with the thumb) or jumping to a new range on the keyboard.

Practicing at various tempi, including “too slow” and “too fast” is crucial. Even if I am practicing a solo program, the acoustics at the performance venue are an unknown. Being able to adjust immediately helps me as well as the audience.

My piano happens to be a Baldwin, which doesn’t repeat notes extremely well. That turns out to be an advantage! Very often, the performance piano has a faster return, so repeated notes are suddenly much easier.

The Boy Scouts

You know what they say, “Be Prepared.”

Many thanks to C.I. for suggesting this topic!

To what lengths do you go when learning music? Do you practice as though your life depended on it?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


Learning a new piece? New program? Heading back to school? Looking for teaching ideas? Then this is the perfect time to read “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer!”

Goal-oriented Practice

August 2011 review by pianist Robert W. Oliver

When You Buy a Piano

How to Maintain Your Piano

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