I came back from my business trip having kept up the ol’ blog, but dropping pretty much everything else. That’s okay, it’s hard to follow a schedule when you’ve got that whole ‘job’ thing going on, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself.

It’s time for a shift-up, anyway. There’s about twice as much maths in the schedule as there should be, and probably too much streaming too. For now, I’ll change one of the maths slots to music! Because music is cool, and the weekend slots are nearly never fulfilled because of various obligations. Thursday 9pm will become Music, and Tumbling will be bumped to 10pm.

So what am I going to do with Music? Well, my first thought was to pick up another instrument. I’ve had my eye on a violin for a while now, but the combination of price and general likelihood of it going unused adds up to a non-purchase (I’m looking at you, harmonica and melodica!). I really should work on my piano.. So, why not work on piano?

Piano practice has always been something I’ve had a rocky relationship with. Like everything else that doesn’t provide instant gratification, piano can become quickly demoralising if you haven’t got the right mindset or approach. I’ve spent quite a long time trying to find a method of practising that doesn’t bore me to tears. I was working quite hard at piano last year until I.. wasn’t. Piano has to be practiced fairly early on in the evening, because once it gets late you don’t want to cause a ruckus. While it’s possible to wear a headset, it’s a cumbersome experience and distracts from the learning. This limitation often meant if I got home late because of work, I wouldn’t be able to practice for the day. That was another thing: Practice was daily, but unstructured. I’d start with random scales or exercises, and then move on to working on a piece. The piece practice was equally bad: I would focus on the bits I’d already done rather than pushing through to the more difficult parts. The end result were pieces that sounded great to start with that quickly fell apart as they went on.

So right now, I’ve put aside one hour for practice on Thursdays. This isn’t even remotely enough to get good at any sort of speed. But we’re playing the long game with these things, putting more time as I want. The plan is to have more structured practice sessions to make up for the reduced time: Ten to twenty minutes of Hanon, playing the previously practised exercises at a slightly higher tempo than last time, provided I was happy with the original practice session. Eventually, I hope to have the first twenty exercises down at full speed within ten minutes. Next up will be the scales of some type (major, minor, chromatic) for another ten minutes, followed by either more scales or arpeggios for ten minutes, ending with twenty to thirty minutes of piece practice.

Scale practice is particularly hard to structure, because there’s twelve major scales, twelve minor scales, scales in thirds, chromatic scales, chromatic scales in thirds… The list goes on. If you only give yourself an hour a week to practice, you won’t be able to cover everything at a reasonable rate. But again, maybe that’s okay, because if piano gets the chop I won’t have burned myself on extraneous practice. The plan is to take a similar approach as in Hanon. Four octaves, starting at 60bpm and slowly ramping up higher and higher if the previous practice goes well. Eventually, the ones that are simple will be dropped and the more challenging scales will remain. Again, this will be repeated for the arpeggios and their multiple versions (major, minor, dominant sevenths…).

The piece practice will involve learning a piece hands separately to the point of being able to write it back down on to a manuscript from memory, or at least a very reasonable facsimile! Then, I will learn the piece hands together, and it will all work out and be wonderful, maybe. There’s a vast amount of disagreement out there on whether you should take on a piece ‘hands together’ to start with, or if you should learn each hand separately. Indeed, over-reliance on muscle memory is also argued to be bad, given that if you can’t ‘see’ the music and you suffer a muscle memory lapse, you’re stuck and have to start back at an earlier point where your memory hasn’t faded and hope it falls together the next time around. Memorisation and gradual practice will (theoretically) let you pick up from a mistake from the bar before the mistake was made.

So what’s the first piece? Well, I wanted to ease myself back in with something I could actually see myself being able to play, so I’ve gone with ‘Linus and Lucy’ from The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. It’s so good, and everyone knows it. Afterwards, it’ll be probably a dive back into the classical once I find some exciting pieces that I have to learn. If you haven’t heard ‘Linus and Lucy’, I present it now as a musical ending to this post: