Saturday, October 02, 2010

Practising the piano

I have this distant memory of reading (or hearing) about Beethoven and practice and that his idea was that you shouldn't practise stuff that was there just for the sake of practicing, you should practice with 'real' music. I'm probably paraphrasing it all wrong, and it might not have been Beethoven (!), but anyway, I've just begun reading the biography of Mike Nock that's come out, and on page 201 it says this:

Regular practise and playing was how Nock developed his facility and touch on the piano, and regular practise was something he had done since he first began playing: "You need to practise a lot so that your hands will work. It's a certain mania - music is a mean mistress..." Nock's piano practise was focussed on music-making rather than facility for its own sake however, and his days of playing Hanon and Czerny were long past:
"The whole purpose of practising is to expand. Scales are a waste of time, which is why I say each pianist has to come up with his or her own exercises. Why should you play through Hanon? Playing stuff like that has a certain value, but it is also very negative in that you are not playing music. At least if you play some challenging patterns or licks of your own, you might be using these in your music. There are people who do use Hanon when they play jazz, but they sound like they do. I never do more than a few minutes of technical exercises."

Now I'd agree that scales after you reach a certain level of attainment are probably a waste of time, but in the intial stages of learning to play, they're valuable. In later years, the work put into them means that your hands naturally follow certain paths without your brain having to think it through all the time.

On the other hand, I know what he's saying about Hanon and Czerny. Their exercises are mind-numblingly boring; they take a movement on the keyboard and hammer it to death up and down the scale. Instead of making their exercises interesting, which they could well have done, they went for the most obvious approach, and have probably put off more young pianists than any other composers. And what are they both remembered for now? Being the writers of tedious exercises; any other achievement they may have made are forgotten (for instance, the fact that Czerny published at least a 1000 works for all kinds of instruments).

The book about Mike Nock is called, Serious Fun: the life and music of Mike Nock. It's written by Norman Meehan, who's also a pianist and composer.
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