By Graham Fitch
This past Saturday, I embarked on a brand new venture – an interactive workshop on The Practice Tools, using technology to maximum advantage.
Sponsored by Casio Music UK, we hired a large conference room at the Victoria Park Plaza Hotel in London, which was set up with 15 Casio CDP-S100 digital pianos – and a Grand Hybrid GP-500 on the stage. Delegates were easily able to get to this central location and arrived not only from the UK but also from Europe to take part in the day.
We met at 9:30 for welcome tea and coffee and started with an introduction to Casio’s range of pianos by Chris Stanbury, and then moved on to our introductory session – a demonstration of how to use The Feedback Loop as the basis for all we do in piano practice.
There followed four sessions, aimed at the intermediate to advanced player as well as piano teachers. Each 60-minute session was divided up into three segments – a presentation from me on a particular topic, a breakout session where each delegate was able to plug their headphones (provided by Casio) into their own piano and try out the practice techniques I had just demonstrated, then a Q&A session where people could ask questions or give feedback. I provided practice worksheets for each topic, but the practice during the breakout session was not restricted to the repertoire extracts I had suggested – people brought their own music and practised what they wanted.
There were many benefits to this format.
People got to try out very specific practice tools immediately after an explanation and demonstration, so that they could experiment with them while they were still fresh in the memory
Questions and further explanation or demonstration could be offered immediately, so there was no confusion
Nobody needed to play in front of the group unless they chose to, so there was no performance anxiety or nerves whatever associated with the workshop
The first session was all about slow practice, how to use ultra-slow practice speeds to hear and feel every single atom and molecule of the phrase so that nothing slips by our radar. Practising slowly is really quite challenging, and the mind and ear need to be fully engaged to derive the benefit. The second session was all about various ways to bring a piece up to speed (when not to use slow practice) with a special focus on up-to-speed chaining (using The Feedback Loop to correct errors and to refine and finesse). I had the feeling this was an especially important session for those who had struggled with fluency and coordination when playing at fast tempos.
After an elegant lunch, when we were able to chat and socialise a bit, we had a session on controlled stops – how to use the Floating Fermata in our practice to plan ahead and digest the music in our heads before laying our hands on the keyboard.
The final session was all about managing repetition in practice. I demonstrated many different ideas to the group who seemed very keen to try some of these out in the breakout session.
After tea, we ended with a 60-minute wrap-up where we gathered around a piano and had a mini-masterclass on aspects of practice as well as technique. By that time, everyone seemed well and truly nourished and probably slept very well that night!