This week I spent a lot of time encouraging my students to put some extra time into preparing AND memorizing their recital and exam pieces. And I have been thinking about the many ways I as a student prepared for recitals and exams. We did a bootcamp at Christmas and I encouraged them to try some of those techniques but I also started thinking about when I was in university and at the mercy of an open practice room to get in my hours of practice each day. Sometimes it was difficult to get in much extra time, so my teacher talked to me about how I could add some extra efficient and effective practice time in while in the comfort of my own dorm room….by TAPPING my pieces on my desk. We have tried it occasionally in classes/lessons….Sometimes I play or put on a CD of a piece they are working on and they sit and tap it out on the floor and sometimes we just tap it out without music. The great thing is it can be done at home as well and, ironically, trying this WITHOUT listening to the music can be even better for ear training and memorization. If you are looking for some creative ways to get a little extra practice in this week (ie in the car on the way to soccer practice). Try this:
The student plays their piece – but on a flat surface… not on the piano. They tap their way through their piece, playing exactly as they would on the keys, but with no sound involved (don’t put on a CD recording of their piece). They still play hands together, with phrasing, with dynamics, in the same hand positions as they would on the keys, but it is all done on a table top. (If it’s tricky at first they can try one hand at a time.) It will work though and here a few reasons why compiled from my colleague in BC, Andrea Dow, with a little of my own thoughts added in.
1) While there is no sound involved, the student will still “hear” their piece. The human brain is a wonderful thing – and the student will be developing their ear in leaps and bounds. As they are learning to hear their piece without the ability to actually hear it, their memorization of the piece will be much stronger and much faster as they force themselves to commit it to their aural memory. It’s wonderful to watch my kids Tap Practice and then stop abruptly and say “Ooops.. I made a mistake!”.
How did they know they made a mistake when there are no keys and no sound? They know because their ears are connected to their finger movements; and a slight miss-tap with their fingers translates to an off sound in their mind. Your brain is completely engaged during Tap Practice without the distraction of sound… and so learning happens at a faster rate.
2) The only thing they hear is tapping… and so their fluidity improves as they learn to create an even tempo and a sense of underlying beat. Hearing just the rhythm of their piece with no notes attached brings these two aspects to the forefront. When they return to the piano their muscle memory will preserve the evenness they found away from the piano. Phrasing and dynamics are still accomplished through the varying degrees of pressure exerted on the flat surface. Kids who struggle with phrasing find Tap Practice really beneficial as it helps them to “plan out” how hard each of their fingers will push within each phrase, and changes in dynamics become much more well-defined.
3) Kids think Tap Practice is fun! This is one more way of making piano practice a bit more fun. Not only is it completely portable, meaning that your students can Tap Practice literally anywhere (my own kids have tried on the back of a book in the car, on our kitchen island, on the table of a restaurant…be creative) but it’s also enjoyable; my kids love the notion of playing the piano in their mind.
Above all remember:
Practice leads to progress and progress leads to enjoyment!! If students practice, then they will progress. If they progress they will feel a sense of accomplishment and success and this is what will really make them enjoy piano! Ultimately, it all comes back to practice. It’s kind of like Field of Dreams….