Preparing a Piece for a Concert

Question: I am a late learner (75), probably grade 2 or 3. I am to play in a concert in 3 weeks’ time. I will play the first and third movements of Clementi’s Op. 36, No. 2, which takes about 10 minutes. I can play it at high speed, 3/4 speed and without any particular mistakes but always make at least 4 or 5 different mistakes despite playing it at least 3 or 4 times every day. Do you have any suggestions to improve this for a concert performance?

– Dr. Colin Gardner (Zimbabwe)

Albert’s reply: My understanding of your question is that you’re making fairly random mistakes rather than the same mistakes over and over. Mistakes tend to be not random, however – most of the time we make the same mistakes over and over. This is another way of saying that mistakes are learned.

It’s important to work on the fundamentals at each practice session. The most important fundamental of effective piano practice is accuracy. Accuracy means practicing without mistakes! There is only one way to achieve accuracy, and that is through concentration. If you are attempting too much too soon – as indicated by mistakes – it means that you are not yet able to concentrate on all the components of the music you are learning.

The solution, as always, is to simplify. The first and primary way to simplify is to practice slowly. You should not attempt to play fast until a few days prior to your actual performance! Even then, nearly all of your practice should be slow.

I also always stress the need to practice the hands separately. You will be amazed at how much this simple method will improve your learning of your music. Especially the left hand needs to be practiced by itself, since it is all too easily forgotten.

If you do discover a mistake, stop and “zoom in” on that passage. Practice it several times hands separately before putting it together, again slowly.

Finally, an important practice strategy is to play only at a tempo at which you can play absolutely note-perfectly. This method forces you to slow down as well as to concentrate intensely. If you make any mistake whatsoever, start again from the very beginning of the piece! (Obviously, this is a practice strategy for learning to play slowly and to concentrate; it is meant to test your mastery of a piece and is not a learning strategy per se.)

I wish you much success in your performance!

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