Sorry it’s been awhile, but the semester’s recitals are over, so let the writing resume! Let’s talk about accuracy:
Let’s face it, accurate playing is important. And let’s be honest, when we tell students “the audience didn’t notice,” we’re lying. Big time. Audiences DO notice! They might not recognize that a particular note was incorrect, but they can sense that something was a bit off. A wrong note has a psychological effect on the performer, too. When a performer misses notes, it eats away at their confidence, and that’s definitely something an audience can detect.
Accuracy is both mental and physical. The brain has to tell the hands what to do, and the hands have to be able to pull it off. When working for greater accuracy, you have to be focused both mentally and physically. Here are a couple of quick exercises you can do with your students (or yourself) to improve your accuracy:
1) Aim For a Small Target
Piano keys are huge, especially the white ones. They’re 7/8″ wide and almost 6 inches long! If you want to be accurate, you need to do better than just hit the right key, you need to hit it in the right spot. Something I’ve noticed in many students is that they tend to always play the ends of the keys. Even when black keys are involved, they’ll pull their hands away from the fallboard at every opportunity. This results in more motion, which means more room for error. If you want to be more accurate, you need to be more efficient, so make sure you’re playing each key in a spot that makes sense.
2) Pretend the Keys Have Braille on Them
Time to let my Matthay training show through: when you play the piano, the tactile feedback you get from the keys is important. If you were walking down a dark hallway at night and couldn’t see, what would you do? You’d feel the wall as you go. Even if it’s a perfectly straight hallway in your house that you’ve walked a hundred times, you’d still hang on to the wall. Why? Because without the wall touching our hand, we feel lost.
It’s the same at the piano. If you’re not feeling the keys, you’ll feel lost. If you do feel the keys, and I mean really feel them, then you’ll always feel secure. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, so here’s a quick exercise you can do at the keyboard: pick a passage you have trouble with, practice it slowly, and pretend you’re reading Braille written on the keys. Let the tips of your fingers feel the texture of the keys below them.
You’ll be amazed how much we take sight for granted and ignore our sense of touch when playing the piano. Try this – sit down and play a D Major scale with your eyes closed. If it feels strange, it’s because you’re relying too much on your sense of sight. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re using your eyes instead of your fingertips to find the keys, you’re missing out on a valuable ally in the fight against inaccuracy.
I love playing Add-a-Note. When a passage sounds or feels sloppy, spend 5 minutes playing Add-a-Note, and you’ll be a thousand times better. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you’re practicing a C7 arpeggio, ascending, RH. Play the C. Good. Now Add-a-Note:
When you stop on the E, make sure it’s a High Quality E. Good hand shape, nice relaxed arm and shoulder, feel some flexibility in the wrist. That’s it – a High Quality E. Practice the CE several times until you can reliably play the E with Real Quality. Your finger makes contact with the key in just the right spot (see #1!), you feel the key beneath your finger (see #2!) and get just the right sound. Excellent. Now…Add-a-Note:
Same procedure applies.
Same procedure applies, but this is a bit trickier because we have to use our stupid fourth finger on a black key. (Those darn things are narrower!) Don’t worry, you can do it! Spend some quality time to achieve that High Quality Bb. Got it? Good. Now Add-a-Note!
And so on and so forth. Practicing like this is going to feel painfully slow. But trust me, once you do it, you’re going to be AWESOME. I’m serious. Spend 10 minutes of a 30 minute lesson doing this with a student on a scale they’re having trouble with. People will think you’re a crazy, inefficient, pedantic, obsessive-compulsive ogre of a teacher. And they’ll be right. But your student will NEVER MISS, and all the naysayers will be jealous of how fantastic your student sounds.
And finally, my favorite Jack Nicklaus story. (I like it so much I’ve probably told it on this blog before, but it bears repeating, so here goes. Don’t worry, it’s short.)
Jack Nicklaus (famous golfer) was once asked how he was able to putt so well. His putting style looked a bit strange, but somehow, the ball always found the bottom of the cup. His advice was one sentence:
“I’ve never missed a putt in my mind.”
It works on the piano, too. Happy practicing!