The Post Practice Improvement in Instrumental Piano Playing

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Stressing opposing muscles is a major cause of tension, and if a player is not aware of it, prolonged stressing could eventually lead to injury. It is important to learn to control each opposing muscle, such as flexor and extensor independently, just as is important to learn to control each finger or hand independently. In fact, the worst consequence of stress is that it gets you into a fight you cannot win, because you are your own opponent, and funny enough, you are obviously as strong as you are, hence your inability to win. This could also eventually lead to injury because your muscles become stronger than the material strength of body. Lack of training would make some people explicitly turn off muscles; normally, you simply forget about them when you’re done with them. Nevertheless, one needs to relax rapidly in fast finger work, else, the fingers will never get time to rest and in turn, get ready for the next note. An effective exercise for practicing rapid relaxation is to start with one key down and with the same finger, play a moderately loud note. Afterwards, you have to apply a force to both the up and down region and turn it off.

After turning it off, you have to return to the feeling you had at the end of a gravity drop. You will notice that the harder you play that note, the longer it takes for you to relax. Therefore, you have to practice shortening your relaxation time. The good side of these relaxation methods is that after a while, they tend to become part and parcel of you, even while you’re playing notes you have already learned, as long as you give relaxation the needed attention. In Chopin’s teachings, relaxation, gravity drop and avoidance of unnecessary repetitive exercises were important topics.

Post Practice Improvement (PPI)

Basically, there is only a specific amount of improvement you can expect during practice at one sitting, due to the fact that there are just two major ways in which you improve. The first, being the obvious improvement which is as a result of learning the notes and motions, resulting in immediate improvement. This happens for passages that you already learnt the skill to play. The second one is called the Post Practice Improvement (PPI) which occurs as a result of the psychological changes that come with learning a new technique. This, however, is a slow process of change that occurs over weeks or months because it needs the growth of nerve and muscle cells. As you practice, you try to measure your progress so that whenever you feel you are at a point of diminishing returns, you quit and do something else, usually in less than ten minutes.

Magically, you see that your technique begins to improve itself for at least several days after a session of effective practice. Therefore, the next day of practice, you should discover you have gotten better, provided you did everything right. However, the effect of this after just one day does not seem to be very significant, nevertheless, the total effect of this happening over months or even years is huge. Usually, it is lucrative to practice several things at just one sitting and let them all improve simultaneously, while you are not practicing, that is, than making over-practicing just one thing. This could actually damage your technique if it leads to stress, injury or bad habits. You actually have to practice to a certain extent, over and over again for PPI to take effect. But, since we are talking about just a few bars played at speed, practicing for even hundreds of times should take just a few minutes, so do not get frightened if you practice hard, but do not see much improvement immediately. It might be normal for that particular passage, and if you can not find anything wrong with what you are doing, then you have to stop and let PPI take over. However, you also need to relax after making sure that you’ve made enough repetition for post practice improvement because you do not want the improvement of a stressed motion.

There are several types of PPI. It depends on what is holding you back. One of the ways in which the types manifest themselves is in the length of time over which post practice improvement is effective, and this varies from just a day to several months. The use of hand motions or muscles you are yet to use may be associated with the shortest times. Intermediate times of several weeks may be associated with nerve connections like hand together. Longer times may be associated with actual growth of brain, nerve and muscle cells, and conversion of slow to fast muscle cell types. For PPI to work maximally, you must do everything right. Many students do not know the simple rules and can nullify the effect of post practice improvement and when they play the next day, it comes out worse. Incorrect use of slow and fast practice is often the origination of most of these mistakes. Any unnecessary motion or even stress during practice will also undergo post practice improvement and can eventually become a bad habit. The most common mistake students make to nullify the effect of PPI is to play fast before quitting practice, when what they are meant to do last before quitting is to play in the most correct and best example of what they want to achieve, which is usually a moderate speed. Your last play usually seems to have an inordinately string PPI effect. The methods treated in this book are ideal for post practice improvement because they stress in practicing those certain segments you do not know how to play. If you begin to play hand together slowly, and as time goes on, you increase your speed for a long section, post practice improvement proves to be inefficient be wise you do not have enough time to make the necessary number of repetitions.

In addition, the PPI process actually becomes confused because you mix a large proportion of easy material with the small amount of difficult ones and your speed and hand motions are also incorrect. You will notice that PPI is not a new phenomenon if we take a look at some examples. One is a body builder. On the commencement of body building, lifting weights will not give the body builder muscles, on the contrary, he will begin to lose weight. But in the following weeks, the body will react to the stimulus and add muscle. All the muscle growth happens after the exercise. So, at the end of the exercise, the body builder does not measure the amount of muscle he gained or how much more weight he can lift, but instead, he concentrates on whether the exercise produces the appropriate conditioning. What distinguishes this from the playing of piano is that speed and coordination is being developed instead of strength and bulk muscle. Another example is a marathon runner. Running for a mile, as a beginner is not such an easy task. You might be able to jog for just a quarter mile before you need to stop for a rest. After the rest, you will still need to stop after a quarter mile or less to rest again. However, the next day, it is highly probable that you may be able to run a third of a mile before tiring. What you experience there is post practice improvement. This is how marathon runners actually condition themselves to be able to eventually run more than 25 miles.

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The analogy in piano is that playing fast tends to ruin the post practice improvement, whereas practicing simpler material tends to improve it. Post practice improvement occurs mostly during sleep. Just as a car can not be repaired while driving it on a highway, likewise, most of the growth and maintenance of the body can not occur during the waking hours. Therefore, it is during sleep that growth and maintenance of the body occur, and is not only for resting. This sleep has to be the normal, overnight this with all of its major components, especially REM sleep (rapid eye movement). You may not get good post practice improvement if you do not get enough sleep, because we are unlike babies who grow so rapidly. Therefore, the best routine for using post practice improvement is practicing in the evening and reviewing what you practiced the next morning. You should also know that post practice improvement is triggered by cell death, hard practice causes the death of premature cells and the body over-compensates for this when there are excess cell deaths. You might think that even a hundred repetitions can not possibly cause cell death, but in reality, cells are always being replaced and any extra work will definitely cause the replacement rate to increase.

Other basic procedures for piano practice include:

Dangers of Slow Play – Pitfalls of the Intuitive Method Repetitive slow play tends to be harmful when starting a new piece. This is because when you start, there is no way of knowing whether the slow play motion you are adopting is right or wrong and the probability of playing incorrectly is almost perfect, because there is almost an infinity of ways to play incorrectly, but only one proper or best way. And when this motion is eventually speeded up, the student will eventually hit a speed wall. If the student succeeds in overcoming this particular speed wall, it means a new way to play was learnt, and in turn, the old way is unlearnt. The student would have to keep repeating this process for any slight increase in speed until the final speed is reached, therefore, the method of slowly increasing speed can be time wasting. Importance of slow play: This is a very important rule, as it works hand in hand with post practice improvement, and having learnt the dangers of slow play, you know when and how to implement it. Additionally, you should learn how to think ahead of the music when you are playing slowly, because whenever you are practicing a new piece, there is a tendency to mentally fall behind the music and it can become a habit, thus causing you to lose control. You have to think ahead when playing slowly so that you will be able to predict hard notes and you will have the time to take appropriate action.

Tempo and the Metronome: In order to ensure accurate tempo, you need to use metronome to maintain your speed and beat accuracy. You would find out that when you use metronome, you will be able to identify the several errors you make. Weak left hand; using one hand to teach the other: Students who do not practice hand separately will always have a stronger right hand than their left hand. This is because right hand passages are generally easier and left hand passages require more energy and it often lags behind as per speed and technique. Hence, by weakness, technical weakness is being referred to. For passages that one of the hands can play better than the other, the better hand is your best teacher, and when you want to teach your other hand, you can do so by playing the note with the better hand and immediately play the same note with the other hand.

Building Endurance, Breathing: in piano playing, endurance is a controversial term. It originated from the fact that piano playing does not require muscle power, but it requires control. And many students believe that they will not acquire technique until they grow enough muscles. However, a certain amount of endurance is required. As much as building muscles and endurance is important, you also need to find a way by which you can better eliminate stress, and build stamina. This can be achieved by engaging in shorter practice sessions, at the beginning, such as 15 minutes, instead of 30. What you need to build is stamina, instead of muscles. The most efficient way by which you can achieve this is by playing already finished pieces and making music, by practicing the difficult sections hands separately, practicing your breathing exercises and exercises, among others.

Bad Habits: In piano playing, bad habits are considered as time wasters. Most of these bad habits are caused by stress from.practicing pieces with HT that are difficult. Most of these habits are also difficult to determine and the best solution to this is constant practice. Another bad habit is hitting the piano tiles loudly. When this happens, the student equates loudness to excitement. This can be corrected by always making sure you listen to yourself play. It is much harder than it seems because most students disburse all their effort to playing and forgets about listening. Playing so loud results in a harsh tone. There are many more bad habits, but it can be concluded that intense correctional behaviors towards bad habits is essential to rapid improvement. Damper Pedal: It is important to practice playing any new piece without the pedal hand separately, then hand together, until you can play it comfortably at final speed. Students who practice with the pedal from the beginning end up becoming sloppy players and they unconsciously develop bad habits. They will also end up not learning the concept of control. The basic rule is that you do not need to use a pedal if the music does not indicate it. Simply put, the pedal must be played as carefully as you play the keys. Reducing difficult passages: bar by bar rehearsals.

By simplifying tones to the basis of musical notes, it is then understood that a single musical note can be influenced in many ways which by extension with affect the tone. A note can be changed by altering its harmonic content, i.e. playing louder or softer. Another method is the utilization of damper pedals. If you are conversant with music and musical notes, you notice that all the methods stated above affect the timbre of a note primarily but it should also be remembered that a timbre is a functional component of a tone. The timbre of a tone can be modified by the tuner of a piano in two recognized ways. The first one is by altering the tune while the last method involves changing the density of the hammer-covering felts which will in turn produce a brighter tone. By altering the tuner, the stretch or amount of detuning among unisons are thus influenced. To a very large extent, brighter sounds are produced by a large stretch while a piano emitting an ‘ugly’ sound is probably an effect of inadequate stretch.

A very important question that could asked is that can the tone of a note be varied through the effect of the down stroke? The down stroke, being one of the main component of the piano key strokes, is the basic sound-creating movement in playing a piano. It produces the actual sound in a piano as it controls the movement of the hammer hitting the string. Because the hammer in a piano is believed to be in free flight, many instrumentalist uphold that it has a deciding effect in the concept of tone control. This is why people who believe that a tone is uncontrollable argue that only the speed of a free moving hammer matters in the production of a musical note, and this does not influence a sound played at a specified volume. However, the theory of a free moving hammer has not been proved anywhere or by anybody has nay probably not hold as will be shown below. The bend of a hammer shank is a major factor affecting tone. To produce a loud note, the shank is probably bent as the hammer is sent into free movement, by virtue of which the hammer increases in effective mass as it strikes the string. Positive

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