[1.III.14.4] Practicing Musically

What does it mean to play musically? This question can only be answered by application of the myriad micro-rules that apply to specific passages of specific compositions; this is where a teacher can show you what to do. Incorporating all of the musical notations and markings into the music will build a sound foundation. There are some general rules for playing musically:

  1. carefully connect each bar to the next bar (or measure, or phrase). These bars/measures do not stand alone; one logically flows into the other and they all support each other. They are connected rhythmically as well as conceptually. This point may appear to be trivially obvious; however, if performed consciously, you might be surprised by the improvement in your music.

  2. there must always be a conversation between the RH and LH. They don't play independently. And they won't talk to each other automatically just because they were timed them perfectly. You must consciously create a conversation between the two hands, or voices.

  3. "cresc." means that most of the passage should be played softly; only the last few notes are loud, which means that it is important to start softly. Similarly, for other indications of this nature (rit., accel., dim., etc); make sure that you have reserved space for the action to take place and don't start the action immediately, wait until the last moment. These "expression tools" should create mental illusions; for example, if you ramp up a cresc. gradually, it is like climbing up a slope, whereas if you wait till the last moment and increase it exponentially, it is like being thrown up in the air, which is more effective.

  4. strive more for accuracy than expressive rubato; rubato is often too easy, incorrect, and not in tune with the audience. This is the time to use the metronome to check the timing and rhythm.

  5. when in doubt, start and end each musical phrase softly, with the louder notes near the middle. It is usually incorrect to have loud notes at the beginning; of course, you can also make music by breaking this rule.

Musicality has no limit -- it can be improved no matter where you are on the musicality scale. The terrifying part of this is the flip side. If you do not pay attention, you can develop non-musical playing habits that can keep on destroying your musicality. This is why it is so important to focus on musicality and not only on technique; it can make the difference between becoming a performer and a non-performer.

Always listen to your own music (when practicing) and mentally lead the music using MP -- that is the only way it is going to attract the audience's attention. If a mistake occurs, don’t get depressed because the depression will make it harder to play well. On the other hand, if you get a good start, the audience will be drawn in, and the music will feed on itself and the performance becomes easier. Thus playing becomes a feedback cycle of leading the music using MP and listening to the actual music emanating from the piano, and they must support each other.

Many students hate to practice when others are around to listen; some even think that intense piano practice is necessarily unpleasant and punishing to the ear. These are symptoms of common misconceptions resulting from inefficient practice methods, and a sign of weak mental stamina. With correct practice methods and musical play, there should be nothing unpleasant about piano practice sessions. The best criterion that you are practicing correctly is the reaction of others -- if your practice sounds good to them, or at least it doesn't bother them, then you are doing it right. Musical practice improves mental stamina.