Is Moving on the Piano as Frustrating as Getting Lost in LA?
I encounter the issue of moving on the piano at all levels of playing. Whether it is changing from a C Major 5-finger position to a G Major 5-finger position, leaping to the final chord at the end of Burgmüller's "Arabesque," or springing from the grace notes to the opposite ends of the keyboard at the end of the A section of Chopin's Étude, Op. 25, No. 5 ("Wrong Note"), the problem is the same. The move is hard and you have to practice it. But, some practice methods are more helpful than others.
I like to equate moving on the piano to driving to a destination. Let's say I'm going to visit a friend in LA. Before I start driving, I figure out where they live. I'll take different highways depending on if they live in the Westside, DTLA, or even Riverside. Once I know where I'm going, then I can plan a route. Because let's face it, getting lost or stuck in traffic in LA is frustrating and terrible! I also like to know a few more details about what the place looks like to confirm that I'll be in the right spot. Who really likes knocking on someone's door to realize that it's not who you're looking for? All of these steps seem very obvious when traveling, but somehow they escape our brain when playing the piano.
Here's the classic mistake when learning a new move: picking your hands up from the old position, searching for the new keys while your hands are in the air, maybe playing a wrong note or two along the way, and finally finding your position and playing the correct note(s). I call this the wandering method. You are only really practicing searching for keys and being lost. You are not practicing the movement from point A to point B.
This is how I recommend practicing moves:
Know where you going and how to get there. Just like driving — you have to have an address and plan a route. (This is frequently the step that is missed by students.)
Know the notes for which you are aiming. Write them down if necessary. It's like knowing which friend you're going to visit.
Know how to get to these notes. Are they close? Is it as simple as putting your 1 where your 5 was, or do you need to travel an octave? Which fingers are you going to use? You have to give yourself directions just like you'd use directions to get to a friend's house.
Know what the new position is going to look and feel like once you're there. What's the shape of your hand? Is it next to any black key guideposts?
Aim for the new position.
Before you leave the old position, visualize what the new position looks and feels like.
Imagine the sound of the new notes.
Aim with your eyes, and then move.
Play the keys with confidence.
If you practice playing timidly, then you will always be unsure of the move. Whereas if you nail the move just one time, you know that you can do it again and you just need to work toward consistency.
If you missed the move, examine why first and then try again. Your goal is a high batting/moving average. You want to practice playing the move correctly more times than incorrectly. So, if you missed the move 5 times, then I suggest that you slow down and try to play it correctly 10 times.
Try the move with your eyes closed. This will test if you've really memorized and mastered the move.
Pro tip: Use the black key guideposts to check in before you actually depress the keys. I do this subconsciously. In the Chopin Étude example, the right hand jumps to a high B. How do I know that I'm going to play a B? Because I can feel the group of three black keys just below the B. Try checking in with the black keys sometime and see if it helps!
After reading this, which way are you going to choose to practice moves? The old way that includes being frustrated and getting lost. Or, the new way with a clear route that will lead you to confident mastery.