It's now been about two and a half weeks since I started reworking the Hindemith Sonata. Things are going extremely well so far. I believe I have now officially surpassed my college self in the performance of the difficult passages! That is to say that the way that I'm playing those passages now is much cleaner and tighter than the way I performed them nearly 9 years ago. Initially this didn't really make any sense, since I haven't really been playing a lot of "classical" music in the last decade. But tonight I think I discovered exactly why the piece is coming much quicker this time around.
It isn't because I had previously learned the piece; I've changed almost everything about the way I play it, and it really felt like starting over. It's the way I've been practicing. When I was a piano performance major, I had to practice in the practice rooms in the basement of the music hall. SMSU had some decent pianos to work with, but all of the practice rooms were side by side with other practice rooms. You could usually hear all 10 pianos from the surrounding rooms at the same time. The main problem with this, is that you know that they can hear you too. It makes for a very self-conscious practice session. I tended to skip the difficult passages and go straight to the ones that I knew well. It always felt a little like a performance in front of your peers.
Things are much different in my studio. I practice with headphones most of the time. When I started working on this piece, I told myself that I had to keep one truth in my head at all times. That truth is that any time your hands are on the keys, you are teaching your brain something. Simple right? The reason this has become so important to my practicing, is that it reminds me that when I am going over a series of notes- and I hit a wrong note- I have just "rehearsed" the passage with a bad note. If I play that passage 10 times in a row, and hit that same wrong note 5 or 6 times, I have gained nothing by rehearsing it. In fact, I will probably have to practice it twice as many times correctly to try to retrain my muscle memory to hit the correct one. Every key that I hit, is a lesson learned by my brain, regardless of if it's correct or incorrect. I try to spend at least 85% of my practice time playing at speeds where I am able to clear every measure flawlessly. This usually means that at the start of my practice (for the Hindemith sonata) I will set the metronome for 90. I will keep it there for the first two hours, then bump it up about five beats per minute every 30 minutes. This helps to ensure that I am keeping perfect "performances" even in practice.
I'm not exactly sure why I decided to write this post. Many times I write about things that I can't afford to forget, and I suppose this is one of them. My hope is that even if you don't play the piano, these lessons I've learned can be of some value to some of you. But that's probably a stretch. Thanks for reading.
By the way, I can currently play most of the piece comfortably at about 120. The recommended speed is 144. Glenn Gould plays it at about 180...