Teaching Piano Students to be “Let Go” Players

Boy-jumping-off-a-cliff1Piano Students Need to Let Go!

Nicholas was playing the Beethoven Minuet in G Major when he suddenly lost his place in the trio section. “Ms. Hall where am I?” he asked. “Second line, second measure” I answered. My student then did something rather strange. He pointed to the measure with his nose. “You mean right here?” he asked again. I have seen this behavior before. This boy doesn’t want to let go of the keys. He is hanging on for dear life as though he may never find them again.

There is definitely a fear among less experienced players that they will lose their bearings on the keyboard. They feel that by being in close contact with the keys they will lessen the chances of making a mistake. It’s kind of like walking on a winding mountain trail, hugging side as closely as possible for fear of falling off of the edge. Just hang on and everything will OK.

But will it? While may or may not increase the chances of playing accurately this overly cautious playing can’t be very much fun for the player or an audience. In the end, this “Hang On” playing is not very musical and it’s not what I want for my students. I want my students to be “Let Go” players.

Playing the Piano is Fun!

I tell my students that in order to be a “Let Go” player you have to let go of the idea that playing the piano is something to worry about. Playing the piano is supposed to be fun! With some careful practice and the right mindset it can be. Let me explain how I teach my piano students to be “Let Go” players.

Right from the start while teaching piano students I teach beginners to lift and relax their hands. We practice playing a note using the pad of each finger and then lifting and gently closing the hand as if picking something up. After that, we work with several notes at a time, and them all five fingers. Playing, lifting and relaxing. I remind my students to relax and have fun. If I see a student getting nervous or hanging on to the keys I have them go back to their simple “Let Go” exercises.

For more advanced players I believe the key is to choose appropriate repertoire and practice letting go. If a piece is too difficult it is natural for a student to become stressed. Stress causes the student to be fearful of making mistakes, resulting in a stiff or “Hang On” style of playing. To combat this I intentionally have my students practice slowly with relaxed arms and hands. I use a “place and play” technique for practicing. This is especially effective for left-hand jumps. It works like this; play a note then go to the next note or chord as quickly as possible, place your fingers on the keys before depressing them. This allows muscle memory to come into play your hand and arm will remember just how far it has to go to get the right notes.

Something else that really helps is demonstrating “Let Go” playing while working with students and having the watch great concert pianists. This way they can see what “Let Go” playing looks like. I point out to them that music is a performance art and performance is about watching as well as listening. How we sound, look, and feel while we play determines the experience our audience will have.

I also make it a point to refer to my students as “pianists” from the very first lesson. I want them to see themselves as real musicians. I let them know that it doesn’t matter if they are playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or a Chopin Etude their job is to make the music they are playing beautiful, interesting and meaningful. Because that is what the art of music is all about.

Read the post, “Love Will Keep Us Together Helping Students Fall in Love With the Piano”

Playing the Piano is About Letting Go!

It was Beethoven who said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant, to play without passion is inexcusable”. Making music is not about perfection. As much as we all strive for the error-free performance, mistakes happen. Sometimes big ones! But playing music is about being human, about connecting with others. It should be something that makes people happy, and that includes the performer.

So, in conclusion, being a “Let Go” player is about preparing the music well and then enjoying the experience of playing the music. Playing the piano is awesome! That’s why (almost) everyone wishes they could. I encourage my students to have fun let go and play!

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