Fixing My Piano Sloppiness

Photo by Julia Jin.

February 23, 2019

This week was reading week, and it was quite the quiet week for an out-of-province student like me. Most of the people I know headed back to their families in various locations about Ontario, leaving the University of Waterloo campus and residence a rather still place devoid of the usual crowds. Of course, that meant that certain facilities became available for much more of the time, should a certain student still on campus wish to use them.

I’m referring to the various pianos about campus, though there’s a few other places which are bound to be less packed during the week. As of writing, there’s a piano in a few of the residences, one in the basement of the Quantum Nano Centre, one in the Student Life Centre, and many in Conrad Grebel University College. Whenever I was tired of studying or just passing by, I’d drop in for an hour or so to play.

I’ve started carrying sheet music in the pocket of my coat. In the past, I’d often arrive at a piano and realize I had no sheet music on me, and therefore no way to learn a new song short of reading it off a phone, which completely breaks up the flow of the music. When I tried carrying sheets in my binder, I wouldn’t always have my binder on me. Now, with a couple folded or rolled up pieces in my jacket, I’m ready to practice wherever I go!

I hadn’t played a lot of piano since coming to Waterloo, so playing a few hours each day this week really brought out a notable issue with my playing: it was really sloppy. The faster paced pieces with lots of big chords and pedaling were especially so. Every few bars or so, my fingers would slip on some keys and play a wrong note or no note at all. A wrong note gets buried when there's enough going on in a piece. It wouldn’t be too obvious to a non-piano player, and I haven’t played for a piano teacher in quite some time. I guess I must have habituated all the sloppiness, since it really was embarrassingly bad.

Once I considered the problem consciously, I decided to take a look online for a remedy to my poor playing practices. After browsing through several forums and guides for learning piano pieces, I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t ready to play those pieces at the tempo that I was playing them at. I think it was quite stark realization, since I’d been playing them at that speed for a long time. The advice I found was simple but effective: practice more slowly.

The dogma I’m following when practicing or playing now is: if I’m hitting a wrong note, then I’m playing too fast. I’ve been trying this method out for several days, and it has helped. I guess I had the tendency to rush and try to play a piece too fast when I was first learning it. I'm still rushing a little sometimes, but hopefully the tendency will fade with time. I have a few pieces to clean up, and it will take some time to bring them to where I’d like them to be, but I’m happy to see some progress. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is the piece I’m currently working on, and it’s one of my childhood favorites. I’m definitely going to take the time to learn it properly and do it justice.

My own takeaway from all this is speed isn’t often the first thing to focus on when trying to learn something. No long moral here, because at the end of the day, this isn’t a collection of fables, but a blog. See you next time, reader!

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