Whenever I begin teaching online piano lessons to a new student I always ask them to keep a pencil at their piano. Well this seems like common sense, it’seasy to forget the many ways a pencil can can be utilized to have the most effective practicing or taking piano lessons. Here are some powerful tips to with just a pencil to help you get the most out of your practice
1. Write in fingering
I would much rather my students write in all the fingering for every single note in a piece rather than be uncertain for any single note, because incorrect fingering is very dangerous and can quickly lead to bad habits. One of the goals of online piano lessons is to increase technical proficiency, so we always know which finger should be used in any given musical situation. This is why scores that have suggested fingering pre-written can be helpful, as can technical exercise books like Hanon and “the Practical Guide to Piano.
When you're learning a new piece, play it through from the beginning, and stop any time the fingering isnt crystal clear. Write in the fingering for the difficult notes and repeat the section correctly. Avoiding early mistakes will save countless hours of practice down the road.
2. Circle measures that are difficult
Simple enough. When you practice a piece, play through the difficult measures over and over at a slow tempo, with hands separately, then together, in order to master these difficult bars. After this, you can play the piece all the way through.
3. Write in dynamics and expression.
This includes such details legatoes, staccatoes, retardandos, rubato, and much more.
One thing that's interesting to note is that music of the Baroque period often had far fewer dynamic signs than later periods. In fact, one may look at a Bach Concerto and see almost no dynamic or expressive markings. This can be thought of as an interpretive choice by the composer, suggesting the musician should experiment to see what the music calls for, but it is also a result of the fact that the instrument of the day for many composers, the clavichord (and later the harpsichord) were not dynamic instruments, in the sense that every pressing of a key produced the exact same level of loudness. In other words, no matter how fast you struck a key, it would produce the same level of loudness.
Therefore, when we practice these pieces using dynamic modern instruments, such as the piano, it is especially useful to write in dynamics which are appropriate to the piano.
4. Take notes about what other musicians might be doing if you're playing it an ensemble
For example, if you see a fermata on a rest, you can make a note about who you should look to for timing. Or if you need to follow the dynamics of a particular section of the ensemble you can say, make a note to pay attention to that section. Little details about how musicians interact can help glue a performance together in small but noticeable ways.
5. Number the bars and keep track of where you are in the piece
This is especially useful if your rehearsing with other musicians. The fastest and surest way to communicate where you are in a piece is to count the bar numbers. For example, if I'm reviewing a certain passage with a student, I will say "Let's begin in bar 36.". That way, we can quickly navigate to the correct section in the score.
If you have any other cool ways of using a pencil to help your piano practice, let me know! If you're interested in signing up for online piano lessons, click here.
Mr. Malek has been teaching with San Jose Piano Lessons for over 10 years. Having played on live TV and in competitions, and with experience teaching students, he is a musician at heart and loves to write about piano in specific.