How to Polish a Piano Piece to Perfection

There are different stages to learning a piano piece. Polishing or "putting the final touches" on a piece is the final stage we work through before performing it.

This stage is where we see all the benefits of our accumulated days, months, or even years sometimes on a piece and it can be very rewarding. This stage also gives us the opportunity to go back over any sections that are weaker than others to make sure that we perform every section of the piece as close to perfect and what we want to do with it, as we can.

This lesson will show you the most important ways to make sure you are finding any mistakes and correcting them properly so your piece is as good as it can be.

The video portion of this lessons happens to be more of a discussion about this rather than working at our keyboards and I will go more in depth about each one of these topics, so make sure you watch that in the final step to help reinforce what we go over here.

The first thing that you need to do to polish your piece is...slow down.

Step 1: Practice the Piece Slowly

Yes, slow down. You hear this all the time because it's one of the best things that you can do to find mistakes that you might be missing and actually be able to fix them.

At this final stage we feel that we can play everything correctly up to tempo, but don't fall into that trap because if you don't slow down you will miss mistakes and you won't be able to practice them effectively enough to make a difference.

Next, you want to go to the professionals.

Step 2: Listen to a Professional Play the Piece

Utilize the internet to find recordings of several different pianists playing the piece that you are polishing.

Listen to how they get through specific passages that you may find challenging and notice what they do that might be different from what you are doing. Also, notice how they use dynamics and articulations to bring out the musicality of the piece.

Pick things that you like in the different examples that you listen to and work on adding them into your own interpretation of the piece. It's like having a sort of lesson with the professional if we listen in the right way and observe how they handle things.

Next on the list is a pianists' favorite tool...the metronome.

Step 3: Practice the Piece With a Metronome

This step is what you usually hear as soon as you hear "slow down" when you are perfecting a piece. Interestingly, it's the same thing that you hear when you first start learning a piece as well!

The two go together and support each other in making you play better.

You don't have to always be playing at a slow tempo when you bring out the metronome - use it at any tempo; the important thing is to use it.

Ideally, we use the metronome to increase our tempo, especially in a faster passage with many notes, such as 16th notes. Doing this helps us to play faster but we hardly notice the difference when we move the metronome up just a notch or two at a time.

So, slow down, play slowly with the metronome, and then increase your tempo with the metronome to really help accuracy.

Next, we're going to use a different type of recording than we did in Step 2.

Step 4: Record Yourself

That's right...you now need to listen to yourself play as if you were sitting in the audience instead of at the piano as a performer.

This is an amazingly helpful tool in helping us hear mistakes that we didn't realize we were making, and see how well our musical expression is coming through.

Sometimes we're listening to our playing from our own heads instead of "out there", that we don't really hear what we're playing. Recording ourselves is the best way to hear in "real time" what we're really playing.

The next step will free you from your sheet music and let you just play from the heart.

Step 5: Memorize the Piece

When you memorize your piece, you eliminate one area of distraction and you are able to focus much more on really playing from the heart.

There's something magical that happens when we can tune inwards, watch our hands, not have to turn pages, and just listen to ourselves create and perform. That magic that we as performers experience carries over into the audience and makes their experience of the music actually deeper and richer.

We need that music in the beginning almost like training wheels on a bicycle. But as we grow and get better at playing the piece, it's very beneficial to start playing as much of it as you can without the music and to keep increasing the amount that you can play for memory each week.

Remember - memorizing the piece is really knowing the piece in-depth and fully...it makes it yours.

Next, let's practice all of this together.

Step 6: Come Practice With Me!

Usually, we go to our pianos at this point in the lesson but this video involves more detailed discussions about each of these topics because they are so important and play such a vital role in perfecting a piano piece.

If you are polishing a piano piece right now, try working these tips into your practicing - even if you can only do a couple a week - because you will really see a difference in how your piece sounds <---- especially when you listen to the recording of yourself!

So:

  • Slow Down
  • Listen to recordings of professionals playing the same piece to get some fresh ideas
  • Use the Metronome
  • Record (and listen) to yourself
  • Memorize the piece

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