Practice in Perspective

The Fermata Series

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful.
And then it’s amazing again.
And in between the amazing and the awful,
it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.
Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful,
and relax and exhale during the ordinary.
That’s just living: heartbreaking, soul-healing,
amazing, awful, ordinary life.”

L.R. Knost

Hands up if your first thought, reading this quote, is that Knost’s observations about life equally apply to piano practice? That was certainly my first thought when, having posted this quote three years ago on social media it reappeared as a “memory” this week.

And one of my friends similarly wasted no time before commenting, “this is an excellent description of my average practise session”.

So let’s revisit the quote, substituting practice for life:

“Practice is amazing. And then it’s awful.
And then it’s amazing again.
And in between the amazing and the awful,
it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.
Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful,
and relax and exhale during the ordinary.
That’s just practising: heartbreaking, soul-healing,
amazing, awful, ordinary practice.”

Is it a surprise that some days everything goes well at the piano, while other days nothing seems to work at all? Sometimes we clearly see where we are going, other times we can barely make out the shapes through the mist.

With this in mind, we perhaps need to question our perspective on practice each time we sit down at the piano, understanding that there will be unpredictable ups and downs, beyond our control, to which we need not attach special blame or emotion.

When I launched Pianodao some four years ago, I wrote:

I continue to observe that many of the problems and issues that I and my students grapple with have very little to do with our pianism and musical understanding, and far more to do with our physical limitations, tension, mental state and internal beliefs… The work of a piano teacher can sometimes have as much to do with helping our students to address these issues as it does with conventional pedagogical content.

There are plenty of great places to find tips on how to practise, but I believe we first need to understand that, regardless of technique or strategy, our practice experience is likely to vary considerably from one day to the next.

It’s crucial that we don’t jump from self-evaluation to self-condemnation.

Recognising this basic point helps us to approach practice with a more healthy perspective, alleviating the stresses and frustrations that can blight our daily satisfaction at the piano.


Fermata Series

The Fermata Series offers short reflective posts, and a chance to PAUSE.
Read more from The Fermata Series here.


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Practice Resolutions

Featured Image: Wolfgang Lonien

Guest post by Liz Giannopoulos

As the New Year begins, my thoughts turn to my practice routine, and I’m full of good resolutions about what, when and how I will practise.

The new term also provides an opportunity to reflect on my students’ practice habits and how I can encourage them to commit to regular and effective practice.

Continue reading Practice Resolutions

More Breathing at the Piano

Piano Qigong Exercise

In my article about Breathing at the Piano, I shared some tips and simple exercises to help you reconnect with your breathing while playing.

Breathing at the Piano was warmly received. I have heard from, and worked with, many players who found the simple exercises helpful – even revolutionary for their playing. If you’ve not already printed off and tried the FREE exercises, please check them out before going on.

The aim here is to help players easily check in with our breathing when at the piano. To understand the importance of this, please read about “Awareness in Breathing” in my article What is Piano Qigong? and refer back to my article András Schiff and Natural Breathing for more background.

In this article, I will now build on the foundation of the exercises and ideas previously shared…

Continue reading More Breathing at the Piano

Get Set! Practice Chart

Guest post by Karen Marshall

Here is the Get Set! Practice Chart   DOWNLOAD

“… for student, teacher and parent partnership …”

The Get Set! Practice Chart is a simple practice record designed to support communication between students, teachers and parents. I’ve used it for over two years now, and it’s been the most ‘filled in’ chart to date!

As a teacher I have gained some excellent insights into what my students have enjoyed and found challenging each week, and it has really helped me to focus lessons on their needs.

The chart includes:

  • practice focuses for the week ahead
  • a daily practice log for students to fill in
  • a list of questions for the student to complete during the week
  • comment spaces for teacher and parents
  • two staves to jot down any musical notes

The practice chart is free for anyone to download. I hope you find it as helpful as I have!

And remember – there’s loads of other FREE Get Set! Downloads available here.

Very best wishes, Karen Marshall

Karen, Heather and Collins Music want to thank all teachers for their support for Get Set! Piano and apologise for the delay in getting this out to you. Many thanks also to Andrew Eales for hosting this on the Pianodao site!

Is Mindfulness relevant to piano playing?

Guest post by Doug Hanvey

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Doug Hanvey from Portland Oregon as a guest author on Pianodao. Doug is a highly qualified and experienced educationalist and teacher of both piano pedagogy and mindfulness. Here he discusses the link between the two…


Continue reading Is Mindfulness relevant to piano playing?