Formula for the Good, Better, and Best Piano Performance
If you are just beginning to play the piano, there is a way to prepare a piece for performance that could be represented as a simple mathematical equation:
Satisfying Performance = (Understanding the techniques required to play this particular piece) X Practice Time
To achieve a satisfying performance you need to understand fully HOW this piece is played. This is all about body, arms, fingers. Our formula is just simple math — but since this is multiplication, each term makes a big difference.
So technical achievement is entirely proportional to the amount of time you practice. Of course. But without a solid understanding of technique, practice alone won’t help that much: you will probably get frustrated rather quickly, and start practicing less and less. But once you understand the fingering, rhythms, dynamics, tempo, etc., you won’t mind practicing more. And you will start noticing the musical details more too.
Well, how do we develop this understanding? There have been many piano method books published in recent years that could be helpful. These books show beginning piano students how to progress, step-by-step. (I wish I had encountered such books when I was starting out!) However, unfortunately, there is no Ultimate Method Book for you in this world. Because your background and interests are unique, the most effective way to learn, and to reach your personal goals, must necessarily be unique, too. This is where the teacher is required: to evaluate your physical and psychological character, to see your technical level, and then to show you new possibilities.
Once your technique has a sure foundation, the formula needs to move to the next level:
Beautiful Performance = (Knowing the Techniques + Imagination) X Practice Time
You might think “imagination” is too abstract a variable. But “image”, in music, is not really an individual or personal matter: it is not just your own. The feelings involved here can be recognized by all listeners — they are beyond language, race, gender, religion, and even the limitations of time. And, because music is a communication, imagination and understanding come from both sides, performer and listener.
I still remember one performance, by a (not so technically sophisticated) student opera singer. She hadn’t fully developed her voice yet (and I don’t even remember her name anymore), but her performance of “Batti, batti o bel Masetto” from Don Giovanni by Mozart was exceptional. She had entirely become the character Zerlina. The sincerity of her apology (and knowing she will be forgiven using her young and feminine beauty!) was completely authentic. Tears came to my eyes, and I was not the only one so moved in the audience that night.
A truly memorable performance requires a further refinement of the formula:
Memorable Performance = [(Techniques + Imagination) X Practice Time]Intention
So now we’ve talked about technique; we’ve talked about practice, and about imagination. But — intention? Is that too vague, do you think?
Well maybe; but we humans can’t always be described in precisely defined terms anyway, right?
I had the opportunity to be at dinner with Mr. Robert Helps once. He was an extraordinary pianist, and a composer as well. At one point he said:
“Well, if you get a little recognition as a pianist, each time you perform people’s expectation become higher and higher.”
But a pianist is human, too. You maybe had a cold that day, or something interrupted your concentration. It’s not possible to be in the best of the best condition every time. But if you want to be a good pianist, you need the intention to be. Even though critics and audiences are harsh, you can’t and shouldn’t be upset by little details every time. You have to think beyond the moment, about your whole life, past and future. And through all the ups and downs, you have to maintain your ambition to reach the top.”
I have never forgotten this statement, from one of the finest pianists I ever heard.
You can find more about our piano instructor Mikako Endo here.