Technique and Music

Although it is not easy to define music precisely, we can discuss how to play musically, as done at various points in this book. The relationship between technique and music determines the way we practice for technique. Technique is needed, and is used, to make music; therefore, we must always practice musically. If we concentrate only on developing "finger technique" and neglect music during practice, we can pick up non-musical playing habits. This is an insidious problem because practicing to acquire technique implies a lack of technique so, initially, there is no way to make music. Then, how is the student supposed to practice musically? Of course, you start non-musically. The error occurs when the students forget to add the music as soon as they are able to do so. One common symptom of this error is the inability to play the lesson pieces when the teacher (or anyone else!) is listening. When an audience is present, these students make strange errors that they didn't make during "practice". This happens because the students practiced without regard for music but suddenly realized that music must now be added because the teacher is listening. Unfortunately, until lesson time, they had never really practiced it!

There is an even more fundamental connection between technique and music. Piano teachers know that students need to practice musically in order to acquire technique. What is right for the ears and the brain turns out to be right for the human playing mechanism. Both musicality and technique require accuracy and control. Practically any technical flaw can be detected in the music. At the very least, the music is the supreme test of whether the technique is right or wrong. As we shall see throughout this book, there are more reasons why music should never be separated from technique. Nonetheless, many students tend to practice neglecting the music and preferring to "work" when no one is around to listen. Such practice methods are detrimental to technique acquisition and produce "closet pianists" who love to play but can't perform. Once you become a closet pianist, it is extremely difficult to reverse that psychology. If students are taught to practice musically all the time, this type of problem will not even exist; performing and practice are one and the same. We provide many suggestions in this book for practicing to perform, such as video taping your practices from the very beginning. However, the single most important concept is that of practicing musically.

Why is slow, musical play more effective than fast practice for increasing playing speed? There are three main reasons. The first is that both require the same amount of accuracy and control. The second is that you can avoid picking up bad habits and stress when playing slowly. The third is that you can concentrate on new or efficient motions, relaxation, etc., and practice them more effectively when playing slowly. All these factors conspire to produce a phenomenon called "fast play degradation" in which, one day, you suddenly find that you can't play a piece to your satisfaction although you played it very well (and fast) the previous day. Of course, methods for quickly developing speed are equally important, and are discussed in great detail here. A judicious choice of practice speed, alternating between slow and fast practice, is what enables you to optimize your practice efficiency.