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38.  Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor from Book 2




Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject


Pupils and parents of pupils will often ask how long they should be practising. Far more important than the amount of time, however, is regularity. It is much better to practise ten minutes every day than an hour and a half once a week. Why? Playing the piano is a training parallel to that of an athlete, a yogi and an academic scholar. All at the same time. The yogi spends hours in meditation to become more aware of what is actually happening right now. The athlete spends hours running, swimming, lifting weights, stretching muscles to enable the body to perform better in particular ways. The scholar spends hours reading and analysing patterns of thought to enable the mind to become clearer about a particular subject. Playing the piano needs the development of all three strands - the listening awareness of the yogi, the physical acumen and coordination of the athlete, the clarity of thinking and understanding of the scholar. The only way to develop these different strands is by regular practise. To begin with each practise session should be very short and focused. * Prepare with thirty to sixty seconds listening meditation and thirty to sixty seconds physical release of tension - especially wrists and shoulders. * Stop practising before you lose focus. I am never impressed by people who say they practise scales for two hours a day as I am very aware that much scale practise comes down to a mere physical auto-pilot way of working without real inner listening. On the contrary, I AM impressed by people who develop intelligent and innovative ways to practise scales and do so for five to ten minutes each day. Some ideas here might be to play one hand legato, one hand staccato - or one hand in duplets, the other hand in triplets - or one hand forte, the other piano. Methods like these demand real focus, real listening, and will repay you handsomely with rewards in real music. Most people who come for piano lessons will have some excuses for why they haven’t practised enough. They will often have meant to practise more - but other things happened and so they didn’t practise! There will often be an undercurrent of guilt or shame about the whole thing - they are concerned that someone is not going to be pleased with them. And yet the person who is really displeased is usually their own ‘inner critic’. The voices in the head which can say one day that ‘there’s no point in you practising that because you’re not good enough to get anywhere’ and then the next day say ‘there’s no need to practise that again because you can already play it’. The fact is that for most of us the inner critic always remains displeased. We need to have a good laugh at them and move on. Let’s be quite clear about this. If you are serious about playing the piano you will need to practise. This is not a moral issue; this is just how it is. If you want to stay alive, you have to eat. If you want to improve your piano playing you have to practise. You have to develop your inner listening, your physical coordination and your structural understanding. In the end, there are no short cuts. Practise, then, must become non-negotiable. Not something that you do when you feel like it but something that you do every day, preferably at the same time every day. To many people this will sound much too proscriptive - but these same people will happily eat and sleep at much the same time every day, so why not practise the piano? Develop a pattern - one which works for you. I now practise Bach Preludes and Fugues in the morning after meditating. A Romanian piano teacher friend practises Chopin every evening after finishing her teaching. Experiment - find out what works for you - and then stick with it. Decide that you will follow this rhythm for say six months and then re-evaluate. Enjoy!