How to keep a piano piece in shape

By Robert Estrin

This newsletter article’s subject is about how to keep a piano piece in shape. Sometimes it’s the most difficult thing. You have a performance, and you get everything in good shape. But it can be like a ripe banana. Suddenly the whole bunch is just a disaster and you have to throw them away. Sometimes that happens with your piano music! Everything is going just fine, and then suddenly, you feel like you can’t even play! What can you do about this? It’s a tremendous challenge keeping your music on a high level. Sometimes you can peak early. Everything’s in shape, and then at the performance just two or three days later, everything disintegrates. How can you get things back into shape?


Go back to the score!

One of the most important practice techniques for a piece you have learned, whether it’s a reading piece or a memorized piece, is to go back through the score slowly with no pedal, using the metronome, exaggerating everything. Even if it’s a quiet piece of music, it really doesn’t matter what the piece is, play it with everything over articulated. If everything is fine, great! But suppose you’re playing, and little mistakes are happening. You have insecurity, and the technique isn’t clean. Go back to the score! Go slowly. Take your foot off the pedal, and play incredibly deliberately, almost like you’re practicing scales or arpeggios slowly with raised fingers. By doing this, you reprogram your hands. You also reprogram the sound into your head by playing with the metronome very deliberately with raised fingers.


Play slowly and deliberately.

You’ll instantly know if the piece has gone overly ripe, and has started to show some signs of rot. That’s because when you try to play slowly, suddenly you can’t play it! You’ll be tempted to go back to the beginning and play fast just so you can have the satisfaction of playing through it again. But make sure to take the opportunity to slow down and figure out how to play it slowly and deliberately, whatever the piece is. This is the answer: keep your eyes on the score, play with the metronome, without pedal, and play deliberately. If there are staccatos in the piece, you’ll want to articulate those with the wrist. Exaggerate all the dynamics. Exaggerate every finger that goes up and every finger that goes down so you really feel it. You still have the dynamics, but everything is raised up.


Watch Robert's lesson here:


Don’t depend upon motor memory.

You’ll find that anything that’s weak, anything you really don’t know, will become obvious. Your fingers sort of have a memory all their own. But you can’t depend upon that. After a while, like making a copy of a copy of a copy, things degrade. You’ll find that the music will deteriorate over time, and your fingers don’t really know what they’re doing anymore if you just keep playing over and over and over and don’t go back to the original source: the score. Use the metronome, take your foot off the pedal so you can hear what you’re doing, and watch the score carefully. You will learn so much! It will help to revitalize your music so it stays in shape. You can get music back into shape using this same technique. Let me know how it works for you! I love to read your comments here on and YouTube.