Using Practice Time Wisely

Question: Albert, with little time to study every day, do you think it’s wrong to wake up, sit down and study a piece or is it necessary to do at least a half hour of exercises such as Czerny, Hanon and Cinq Doits?

– Daniel Avzaradel (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Albert’s reply: Everything depends on the amount of practice time, the music you play and your goals. In any case, the hands respond best only when properly warmed up, so piano exercises can be used not necessarily as such but primarily for this purpose. It is not only the case that only when sufficiently warmed up are the hands able to play fast music requiring fast articulation – the subtle articulation and dynamic shading required for slow music can only be properly executed once the fingers are sufficiently warmed up and flexible.

Moreover, I find that warming up the hands simultaneously warms up – sensitizes – the ears. On the other hand, I also find that many students switch off their ears while performing Hanon or piano scales which they use as warm-up exercises. They are almost always played purely mechanically, with monochromatic dynamics, unvaried articulation, the fingers divorced from the listening apparatus. Instead, continually seek to play so-called exercises in new ways, with new dynamic shading and shaping, new articulations. This will broaden your musical expressive palette.

In short, if you have, say, an hour of practice time I recommend spending the first ten minutes or so warming up both the fingers and ears, especially if your hands are cold. If you have 90 minutes of practice time, the first fifteen or twenty are well-spent on piano exercises. If you have two hours or more, thirty minutes is by no means too long to spend on scales, with the possible addition of other exercises, including arpeggios.

Generally, the bulk of your practice time should be spent learning and memorizing music. Once the technique of learning music has been established in addition to piano technique, you’ll find that very much can be accomplished with even small amounts of concentrated practice time.

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