Sunday, September 1, 2013


I've just finished reading a wonderful little book whose message parallels my own philosophy. The book is Mastery by George Leonard. Mr. Leonard is an aikido (Japanese martial art/spiritual practice) master and uses aikido for many of his examples. But the philosophy applies to any area of life that one wishes to attain mastery, from sports, to the arts, to virtually any task, any job, any career, and, perhaps most importantly, to personal relationships.

We would all probably agree that our society tempts us with instant gratification at every turn. Even more problematic is that we seem to expect constant and rapid successions of greater and greater rewards -- the next promotion, the bigger house or car. Movies, products advertised on TV, new technologies, even some "inspirational" speakers, promise that the excitement of the next experience around the corner will surpass anything and everything experienced previously. If our lives don't go from one peak experience to another we may feel we are missing out, or that there is something wrong with us. We are told to have goals, to write them down, to do everything to achieve our goals in the quickest possible time, and once they are achieved, to set new, even more ambitious goals. We are always living for the future and are rarely in the present.

But most lifelong pursuits don't pan out like that. Every athlete or musician or novelist who attains any degree of mastery knows that there are long hours in the gym, at the piano, or at the desk, doing largely the same things we did the day before. While we would like to see the improvements, the new levels of mastery, come fast and furiously, the opposite is usually true: there are periods, sometimes long ones, where we seem to be on a plateau. It feels like we repeat the same practice day after day, work on the same techniques, but the mastery of it eludes us. Then, often unexpectedly, we wake up one day and find we are able to do the new skill with ease. We are elated. A breakthrough!

And then comes another plateau.

My students all experience this, as do I. We work on a piece of music, using the best possible methods of practice we know, yet for days, maybe weeks, it seems to go nowhere, to be stuck. One is tempted to give up, or at least move on to a different piece. But if you truly love the music, and the experience of playing the instrument, you will just keep going, practicing it again, day after day. We need to come to realize that we will have greater peace, greater satisfaction, if we practice for the sake of practice, and not get obsessed with goals. Of course there are milestones along the way -- learning a piece by memory, playing it for a group of friends, playing a concert or recital. But even after the triumphant recital, the path of learning and mastery resumes. There is no end to that path -- it goes on forever.

If we are only working towards goals, we may feel a great deal of frustration when the improvements don't come according to the schedule we desire. And we are missing out on an important element of mastery and self-development, which is to not only accept, but to embrace, the plateau. This was, for me, the best take-away from the book -- to love the plateau. Of course I would love to sight-read through a Chopin Etude and master the technique in a day or a week, but I know this won't likely happen. Instead, I just enjoy my daily "visits" with it. For quite a long time now I have accepted the plateau; now I will see if I can learn to love it.

Our piano practice needs to have the highest level of energy, alertness, awareness, and listening that we can muster. We need to make sure we are not just going through the motions because we think we are on a plateau. But see if you can take the attitude that you are on a life-long path of mastery; you may experience greater joy and satisfaction. Be grateful you are on the path, not just looking at it from the sidelines.

Here is my favorite passage from the book:
"Goals and contingencies... exist in the future and the past, beyond the pale of the sensory realm. Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present. You can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it. To love the plateau is to love the eternal now, to enjoy the inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishments, then serenely to accept the new plateau that waits just beyond them. To love the plateau is to love what is most essential and enduring in your life."

Sunday, June 30, 2013


Poly-rhythms (also called cross-rhythms) are two differently-based rhythms being played simultaneously. The most common poly-rhythm is a duple-based versus and triple-based (normal eighth notes or sixteenth notes versus triplets, for example). Other poly-rhythms you might encounter are five against two, five against six, etc. In Chopin and Debussy, for example, virtually every type of poly-rhythm you can imagine is to be found, which is one of the elements giving this type of music its free and flexible sound and feel. But you'll certainly find it, albeit less often, in Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. And most great jazz pianists use poly-rhythms in their improvisations.

Naturally, players of single-line instruments never have to worry about poly-rhythms, as long as they can play their own line and not be thrown off by a hearing a different rhythm in other instruments playing alongside. But pianists have to learn to master this challenge since poly-rhythms will need to be played between the two hands.

Over the years I have heard and read a great deal of advice from teachers regarding how to learn to master poly-rhythms. Most of it involves what I would call the "cheater" approach: find the common denominator, go slowly, and just make sure each hand's part comes out mathematically where it should. For example, two against three would mean you divide in 6 "beats" and play one hand on the 1st and 4th, the other hand on the 1st, 3rd and 5th. In this example you'd be hearing notes on beats 1,3,4 and 5, which could also sound exactly like a quarter, two-eighths, quarter. It's metrically correct but doesn't sound the way the poly-rhythm is meant to sound. Many people can eventually learn to do it this way. However, you are not really training yourself to hear the two lines of music independently; you are hearing them combined together. This is a problem if you have to play one line very softly and one louder: if you only can really hear them combined together you can't play them at different dynamic levels. It's also a problem because you can't do any rubato (nuances of time) which is essential in music, especially the kind of music where you are most likely to find these rhythms (again, Chopin and Debussy are two great examples). The "cheater" approach would be next to impossible in unusual rhythms such as two against five (which I am encountering now in learning  Debussy's L'isle Joyeuse). The "cheater" method will not result in beautiful, fluid, melodic lines.

Instead, you have to take the path that may take a bit longer initially but will have more musical, and long-lasting, results, which is learning to "hear in stereo," as I like to call it. When you can truly hear the rhythms independently, your brain will essentially get re-wired to be able to play them and you'll never lose the ability. Here's the process:

Start out by tapping with your hands on a table or the closed lid of the piano. Tap what I will call the "unit," which is essentially a beat, in both hands (they are doing identical rhythms at this point). Then divide one hand, let's say the left hand, into normal eighth notes, so it is dividing the beat into two, while the right hand continues with just the beat. Then return to the unit/beat for a few times, and then have the right hand divide in three (triplets) while the left hand continues with just the beat. Keep alternating which hand divides, and returning to the unit/beat in between often to keep reinforcing the unit, which helps you hear how to divide it. Keep alternating, back and forth, until it starts to become easy. At first you may even have trouble doing this step, as one hand will unconsciously want to imitate or fit in with the other hand. Don't try to use a metronome or "cheat" in any way. Just keep doing the process using your own listening skills. It's like the proverbial rubbing your stomach while patting your head (which I have my students do!). At first you can't but eventually the brain figures out how to do it. It's really all about what is happening in the brain.

When you can alternate successfully, then you just let the hands try it together. The process could be like this:

  •           the unit (hands together)
  •           RH divides (LH does unit)
  •           unit
  •           LH divides (RH does unit)
  •           RH divides (now you're skipping the step of reinforcing the unit)
  •           LH divides
  •           RH and LH together, each in their own rhythm
When this begins to work for you, switch hands (do threes in the hand that did twos before and vice-versa).

After tapping becomes easier you can try it on some notes. For example, if the RH is doing triplets, playing the notes C-D-E-F will give you a triplet, ending on the next new beat (which will be F). You must always end on the next beat, so you have a full unit to divide. The LH, doing eighth notes, will do C-D-E, giving you one beat, ending on the next new beat (which will be E). Do the same process you did with tapping, letting the hands alternate as to which one divides, and put them together in the end. The notes themselves may have some dissonance but just listen for the rhythm and don't worry about the notes. Then reverse the hands, as you did with the tapping. 

Chopin wrote several Etudes for the purpose of mastering this technique. The Opus Posthumous Etude in A-flat is a great one. But I must emphasize the importance of mastering poly-rhythms with the tapping or with simple notes before you attempt a whole composition. If you play this etude, or any similar piece, with the "cheater" method, it will sound very stiff and ungainly.

If the concept of dividing the beat is unclear to you, read my post entitled "Rhythm"(October 2010) and see how I approach learning rhythm. 

I believe that if the brain and ear (the auditory cortex) can "hear" it, the hands can play it. Skip the cheater method and try this elegant approach.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Warming Up

Pianists often ask if they should warm up their muscles before playing or practicing. Traditional teaching often has students playing scales or other "finger exercises" before starting to play their pieces. I disagree with that approach. Read my posts on exercises and you'll see why. To summarize here: we need to be using our whole physical mechanism -- hands, arms, torso -- not just fingers. We do many activities during the day that use our hands and arms and we do not generally warm up before them. If you are using your body properly, rather than putting all the strain on the the smallest muscles (the fingers), you do not need to do warm-up exercises.

If the weather is cold or you are in a cold room and your hands are physically cold, then yes, you should actually warm them up (run under warm water, hold over a heat source, or put on gloves for a short while). But doing scales or exercises when the hands are literally cold would be the worst thing for them.

I have what I believe is a far better method of "warming up" or getting ready for playing. I call it "energizing." I'll describe it here and you can try it for yourself, but I feel it's most effective if you have a teacher actually leading you through it, because it involves a fair amount of imagery work.

Here it is:

Sit at the piano and close your eyes (keep eyes closed during the entire process that follows). Become aware of your torso, especially the shoulders, and let them drop and relax completely. Become aware of your buttocks and legs and let everything relax. Let your face and jaw relax. (If you've every done yoga or other such disciplines, this will all be familiar to you.)

Now let your arms just float up to a comfortable place, somewhere around mid-chest level. Let them just feel suspended in the air. Move the arms around slightly to make sure you aren't holding them tighter than necessary.

Put your attention on the space between your pointer and index fingers (2nd and 3rd). Put the attention on this space in both hands simultaneously. See if you can "feel" the air space between them. Or you can imagine a wedge of some very light foam between them. Or you imagine tiny electrical currents passing between them. Whatever imagery works for you. If it is working, you will start to feel a tingling sensation in the fingers. You are becoming aware of the energy coursing through them.

Now do the same thing, again in both hands at once, with the index and ring fingers (3rd and 4th). Take your time, see if you feel the energy before moving on to the next fingers. Use the same imagery for the ring finger and pinky (4th and 5th), and then the thumb and pointer (1st and 2nd). Your hands will feel electric with sensation.

Lastly, imagine a current of air under the palms, like a current of air a bird might soar on. Let your arms move gently around in space as if floating on this current of air.

Open your eyes but try to keep the sensation going. You can immediately go to playing any piece of your choice, or you can just improvise a simple melody and/or chords. Something lighter is preferable at first versus something that starts immediately with loud or demanding passages. If the imagery has worked for you, you will feel a heightened sense of touch. Your hands and arms will seem to know exactly how much pressure to apply to get the exact sound you want. After this energizing process, try playing as soft as you possibly can, and see if you don't get a very precise yet soft sound that may elude you at other times.

If this doesn't work for you the first time you try it, don't give up. It make take a few times to sensitize yourself. Try it again every time you sit down to play. I've never encountered anyone who doesn't get something from it. The more you do it, the less time it takes to start getting the "buzz" in your hands.

If you feel tense at any time during your practice session, or you feel you are not getting the sound you want, stop and repeat this energizing process.

In the age in which we live, when so much more is known about the body and the mind-body connection, and there are so many wonderful methods of achieving greater body awareness (yoga, tai chi, Qi gong, Feldenkreiss, Alexander Technique, to name a few), it seems such a waste to be using such old-school, brute force methods such as scales or Hanon or Czerny to warm up. The energizing process I've described here will help give you a physical and mental alertness, without tension, that is necessary for playing that is fluid and beautiful, and that will not cause any strain or injury.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Coaching vs. Teaching

When I was a student at Manhattan School of Music, I had a teacher who had been a fairly famous pianist at one time. A student was considered, by most people I encountered, to be very lucky to have the chance to study with him. He was a kind and wonderful Austrian gentleman and certainly a very accomplished pianist, and for a time, at least, I adored him. But he didn't know how to teach (something I only realized towards the end of my four years with him, unfortunately). I'm not sure he really enjoyed teaching but he did it out of necessity as his own career in concertizing had waned. Possibly he enjoyed his few most talented and advanced students (I was not one of them!) who already played so well, that all he felt he had to do was help them with "finishing touches."  (The problem I noticed, however, with his students as well as students of other teachers, was that the students tended to start playing too similarly to their teachers, instead of finding their own styles or interpretations. We could often identify who the student studied with just from hearing his or her playing.)

What I needed, however, was a real teacher, someone who could help me with technical challenges. When I played I had fatigue and pain, and I did not believe that was just something to get used to or "muscle through." If I stopped practicing a piece for a week I could no longer play it. These and many other issues continued to plague me after years of lessons.
Many pianists who are quite accomplished do not necessarily know exactly how they do what they do, especially in the realm of technique, and therefore cannot help others. (Like athletes, they may have an innate physical talent that enable them to accomplish certain feats somewhat effortlessly.) In fact, much of the instruction I was given on technique I now know to be quite wrong, or at least wrong for me. There is not just one way of doing things; a lot may depend on the size of your hands, your particular body type and musculature, and other factors. (Even things like fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles, a factor in many sports, may play a role.)
During the lessons he sat several feet behind me so he could not even see what my hands and arms were doing. How could he possibly help me with technique if he didn't even see what I was doing? He had a one-size-fits-all answer to technique: hours and hours of particular technical exercises. Those exercises caused me pain and fatigue and did not increase my technique in the long run. Yet he had no other solutions for me.
If I had been at the point where my technique was more advanced, perhaps I could have benefited from his vast knowledge of the piano literature. He could have possibly helped me with "interpretation" of my pieces. This is what I would call "coaching," essentially fine-tuning an otherwise high level of playing.

Thankfully, after I graduated from the conservatory, I found what I had been seeking: a real teacher. His name was Joseph Prostakoff. He didn't concertize (he said he couldn't deal with the nerves) but his first love was teaching. He had mostly advanced students and mostly students like me -- pianists who knew that what they had learned was not necessarily right for them and who were seeking something completely different. (Several well-known pianists who had significant physical problems and even injuries had gone to Prostakoff to learn new ways of playing.) It's not an exaggeration to say that I learned how to play the piano all over again, from the very basics of how to use my body, arms, hands, and fingers, right down to the physics of how the sounds are produced. He sat next to his students at the piano and his eyes and ears were on "high alert" to pick up the slightest unnecessary tension or strain in our bodies, the rhythm off by a fraction of a second (due to improper technique), the minutest variation in dynamics which was not intentional (again due to improper technique). And most important, he had a vast array of ways to deal with all of these problems. He always said he did not teach interpretation; instead, he wanted to give the me the tools to say what I had to say through the piano. I remember after we had worked on a particular passage, and I had played it with a freedom of technique and phrasing and a beauty and power I had not had previously, he winked and said: "You see, it's not because you understand Beethoven any better, but because you changed what you did physically." He was not against thinking about or exploring different interpretations, but what he made me realize is that you can't just slap "interpretation" (especially if it is not authentically your own) onto a faulty basic structure, like a coat of paint to hide the flaws underneath.

This is what I would consider to be real teaching. It would be finding the way to play which physically enables you to achieve the sounds you want. (If you've read my posts on technique, exercises, and so on, you'll see this is why I advocate never playing mechanically; it trains you to use technique and movements that don't produce the sounds you ultimately want.) It does not matter how brilliant your "concept" of a piece is, if you don't have the tools to physically produce those sounds.

I often see "Master Classes" offered with some pianist/teacher, and students flock to them (often at very high prices!). Most of these would be what I would call coaching. You could go to one and the teacher might tell you to play a passage louder, while another might tell you to play it softer. One might say you need more rubato and another may say need less. You are receiving their interpretation, which may not sound or feel at all authentic for you. Interpretation is just that: highly individual. There are certainly some pianists and teachers who are so brilliant and so perceptive it would be worth hearing their insights. But don't confuse coaching with teaching. If you are studying with a teacher who tells you to "learn the notes at home" so that the lesson time can be used for "polishing" or "interpretation," you have someone who wants to coach, not teach. If you are studying piano with someone but you feel your playing is not really growing, that you have problems which are not really being solved or even addressed, or you don't quite feel that you are 100% yourself at the piano, you may have a coach when what you need is a teacher.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Power of Music

In this post, rather than discuss specifics of learning and playing the piano, I want to share two inspirational stories with you. Both illustrate the extraordinary power music plays in our lives.

I recently read the book entitled The Secret Piano, by Zhu Xiao-Mei. It is the true story of a young woman's life in China during the 1970s and 1980s. Zhu Xiao-Mei touched her first piano at the age of three. Her mother played and they had a piano in their tiny apartment in Beijing. The family was already experiencing adversity due to the regime of Mao. It was thought to be bourgeois to own a piano and the family kept the piano a secret. Nevertheless, Western music was still allowed, and Zhu attended the Beijing Conservatory. But soon after, the Cultural Revolution swung into full force. Gradually they were no longer permitted to play Western music. Musical scores were burned. Professors were humiliated, beaten, forced to clean toilets. Some committed suicide. The students, including Zhu, were sent to labor camps far away from their families. At these camps they endured brutal conditions, deprivation, disease, and brainwashing. They were forced to spy and inform on fellow students who did not conform to the Communist ideas. Zhu describes how the lack of any music in their lives was one of the worst forms of deprivation. She and other students tried to find ways to secretly bring music back into their lives. At one point, amazingly, she was able to smuggle her piano, sent from Beijing, into the camp, and hid it in a freezing room, where she would go to play whenever she could. They risked punishment and death, but the need for music to fill the soul-crushing routine of the camps was stronger than their fear. Zhu was in the camps for over five years. Although she survived, her youth had been stolen from her.
As the Cultural Revolution thawed, she was able to return home to her family and found her way back to playing the piano. Eventually she was able to emigrate to the U.S., where she had to clean houses and babysit to make her way. She did whatever she needed, including a marriage of convenience, to allow her to stay in the U.S. and study piano. She longed to see Paris, and decided to move there. Eventually she found friends and influential musicians there who believed in her. She was able to make her first recording, of Bach's Goldberg Variations, to concertize, and to buy her own piano. She still resides in Paris.
The book is a moving account of how her deep love of music and her desire to play, against all odds, kept her alive and sane.

The second story is from a film, for which I have only seen the trailer, entitled Landfill Harmonic.

Cateura, Paraguay, is essentially a city built on top of a landfill. Many residents work as recyclers and scavenge through the landfill in search of sellable goods. In an area where musical instruments would cost more than a house and would be out of reach for all who live there, one man uses his carpentry skills to make full-size cellos and violins from scrap metal and wood. Orchestra director, Luis Szaran, and music teacher, Favio Chavez, have taken these recycled instruments and created The Recycled Orchestra, an entire orchestra made from trash. The film shows how trash can be transformed into beautiful-sounding instruments, but more importantly, it shows how music has transformed the lives of human beings. Music brings hope to the lives of children whose future might otherwise be spiritless. Landfill Harmonic is subtitled "The World Sends Us Garbage. We Send Back Music." It releases in 2014.

Please watch the trailer here:

Both these stories make me reflect on the times when I don't feel like practicing, or I choose to watch TV instead. Or the times when I grumble that I don't play as well as I would like to, or that the pieces are so difficult! I hope I never take for granted the presence of music in my life and the freedom to pursue my life as a musician.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Playing from Fake Books

Among my many students (most of whom are adults), some play exclusively classical music, some play exclusively pop and/or jazz, and many play both. In my previous post (Feb. 2011) entitled "Bridging the Great Divide," I discuss the benefits of playing multiple styles. I encourage that philosophy among my students and I practice it myself.

Here I'd like to elaborate on the benefits of learning to play from Fake Books (also sometimes called charts or lead sheets). For those of you unfamiliar with this: there is nothing fake about Fake Books. They are simply a method of writing out a piece of music (usually a song, but not always) where the melody is written in standard notation, and the harmony, or chords, are written in symbols. The player learns what these symbols mean and puts the two elements, melody and harmony, together. The chord symbols seen in the fake book give the basic information, the idea being that the player puts his or her own interpretation into the song by the arrangement made of those chords.

There are several benefits of incorporating this method of playing/learning into your skill set.

1. It is a great way to learn harmony and theory. Why learn about harmony from a dry book on the subject when you can learn it by playing music that is fun and beautiful? When you learn to read from chord symbols, you must learn how every type of chord is constructed. This means basic triads, 7th chords, 9th chords, even 11th and 13th chords (when you get more advanced). More importantly, you learn them not just mentally, but your hands learn to find them, fast, and to move smoothly from one to another. You learn first to play them in root position, and later in all possible inversions, and later in different types of arrangements, such as broken chords, and different "voicings" (how the chord tones are split between the hands). When you start to see and hear how chords progress, that is, move from one to another, you learn a great deal about musical structure. While this is not the entire body of what is called musical theory, it is, nevertheless, a huge component of it.

2. You can apply your understanding of chords to classical pieces. I find this skill so valuable, in learning pieces quickly, in memorizing, in accompanying (when you may have to sight-read a new piece and play the essential elements but not necessarily all the details). Virtually every piece of music in the classical world is based on chords (yes, even polyphonic music, which appears to be individual melody lines woven together, makes chords as the result of their melodies). For people who don't understand chords, any piece of music must just seem like a lot of random notes. When I play classical music I always know what chord I am on -- it has just become second nature and I barely have to think about it. When it is very complex, I take the time to analyze the chords and often write the symbol into the music. I can't stress enough how much easier it makes it to learn, and especially to memorize, a piece.

3. You are freed from the tyranny of the written note. I find it so surprising, and a bit sad, that so many pianists can only play something if they learned it from the written page where every single note was given to them. So many people who "play the piano" can't get through a simple song such as Happy Birthday if they didn't have written music to learn it. As you know from previous posts, I stress the importance of playing by ear, and that also means learning to harmonize songs. When you play from a fake book, it's true that it is still a written form, but the idea is that you learn to make your own arrangements, put your personal stamp on the song. This means a bit of improvising, playing that comes directly from your heart, mind and body. As we know from history, the great composers were all great improvisers. The improvisations of Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and many others, are legendary. We need to incorporate some of that spontaneous outpouring in our playing. Fake books can help us do that.

4. It is fun, and perhaps that's the best reason of all! I recently gave a Valentine's Day concert where I played 28 wonderful songs about love, from such great composers/songwriters as George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rogers & Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Lerner & Loewe, Randy Newman, and Joni Mitchell. Some I learned from written-out arrangements, some from Fake Books (so the arrangement was my own), and some were completely by ear. I had fun doing it and the audience loved hearing these familiar songs, even without their lyrics.

If the idea of playing from Fake Books is new to you, I urge you to give it a try. While it is possible to learn a great deal by reading about chords, it is best if you can find a teacher to help you through the process.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Get Physical!

People who don't play an instrument perhaps don't realize how physical, how athletic, it is. Great musicians may make it look easy, but anyone who plays, especially at a high level, knows that there is intense physical activity going on. Pianists spend thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of hours, working on technique, to develop the speed, power, and coordination necessary for much of the piano literature.

However, there is a tendency to draw a distinction between technique -- the physical side of playing -- and "expression" -- the artistic side.  Some people believe you can practice technique without expression and it will still be of benefit. That is why most teachers will give you technical exercises which are not meant to be beautiful pieces of music. I don't do this, and I believe practicing in this way does more harm than it does good.

The reason for this is simple: when someone plays beautifully and expressively, there is something physical they are doing which makes it sound that way. While you must start with the intention to play beautifully, that intention has to translate into something you do physically to achieve the sound you desire. Therefore, if you practice a piece of music purely to master the technical aspects, and do not infuse it with your full emotional involvement, you are doing something physically that you do not intend to use later when you play "expressively." What could possibly be the point of practicing in a manner in which you don't intend to ultimately play?

Another problem is trying to approach the music too intellectually, separating the mental from the physical.  Some musicians spend a lot of time trying to decide on, or develop, their "concept" of the piece. There is no doubt that a Beethoven Sonata, for example, has great depth and requires a fair amount of understanding of music to truly grasp what is going on. However, just because you decide on your concept of the piece does not necessarily mean you can translate that into physical movements which will create the sound you want. You may wish to phrase it in a certain way, but if your movements are jerky, or you play with too much emphasis on the small movements of the fingers (as opposed to large movements of the arm which blend the smaller movements into a long phrase), you won't get the phrasing you want, regardless of your "concept."

I am not advocating being a dummy and not thinking about the music. However, in a contest between the mind and body, the body will always win! (It's a survival mechanism). I have been reading a great deal lately about our "animal brain" and how it rules a lot more of our actions than we care to admit. I believe that how we move, our day-to-day ordinary walking and so on, is governed by that animal brain, and our movements when we play the piano are no exception. However, we can communicate with the animal brain and change how we move, but it has to be done with very subtle methods. Most people just practice and play the same way, over and over, and don't fundamentally change anything. With my own playing, and with my students, I try to do things which give the body the experience of doing something differently, and the body will often be able to pick it up, sometimes rather quickly. For example: do you want to play an ascending scale or arpeggio very rapidly and smoothly? Try playing a glissando and then immediately play the scale or arpeggio, to give the body the experience of a long fluid movement. This is called "transferring." (See my previous post on Creative Practicing for more on this subject.) The reason why this works, I believe, is that you have communicated with some very deep part of the brain that controls movement. You've given it a taste of a new way to play, and the body, as I often say, "wants to do what it just did," so it essentially copies the coordination from the "easy" part to the "harder" part. I want to underline, however, that it still must be with emotional involvement, meaning that you still feel emotionally connected to what you are doing. Otherwise, as mentioned, the physical movements will be different than what you will need when you want to play expressively.

If you try to tackle technically challenging music head on, so to speak, by just playing it over and over, you may win the battle but lose the war. You may play the music with some degree of speed, power and accuracy, but it may not be beautiful. If you approach it as a "difficulty" to be overcome, the body responds with different movements than it does it you approach it as something easy and natural. That is why I say "don't practice the difficulty." Try to find ways to make the body experience it as something easy and fun. Another way to do this is to create a fun little improvisation similar to the phrase you are working on. Then immediately play that part of the piece and you will be amazed at the result. When my teacher, Joseph Prostakoff, first introduced me to this approach, and I expressed amazement at how well it worked, he would say, "You see, it's not because you understand Beethoven any better, but because you changed what you did physically!"

Try to approach playing your instrument as just that -- PLAY. No one ever gave a gorgeous performance that didn't feel physically fun and exhilarating to them while they were playing. While music certainly transcends the physical, the sensation of physical pleasure is a good place to start. Try not to over-think it. Always be emotionally invested in it. And do get physical!