The Most for the Least

Question: I’m lazy :). How can I improve my playing the most, with the least work? -S.T.R., Indiana.

Dear S.T.R., I see you’re not too lazy to ask! To answer your question, 90% of the students I’ve worked with over the years (in the last two years, over 30 students, from 10 countries) showed immediate benefit from two simple activities: dancing and singing.

Dancing means any whole-body movement; thus, walking is dancing, but “conducting” and tapping your foot are not. At a piano festival in New York City, a student played Schumann for me. The fingers were accomplished, but the listeners were not involved. I said, “Try playing so I can move to it”; and she played again, with me helping by walking in a dance-y sort of way where she could see me. (If she recorded herself, she could do the playing and the dancing.) A gasp from the auditors testified to the improvement in her playing. One listener, with 15 years’ experience of master classes, said he’d never seen such a big change for the better from such a simple instruction.

Singing: Most of us sing pretty expressively (not to be confused with having a good voice :)). We can use this to make our playing more expressive. Record yourself as you sing a phrase or two, and keep recording as you play the same phrases. Listen to the recording. If you find the singing expressive, and the playing sounds like the singing, go on to the next passage. If you don’t like the singing, work on it first; then make the playing sound like it.

The one problem with dancing and singing is that some players won’t even try them. How can we tempt them to do so? Your suggestions welcome!



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