Piano Faculty Lead Practice Panel

Adam Renn Olenn
September 16, 2013
Left to right: Stephany Tiernan, Doug Johnson, and Neil Olmstead give a short seminar on effective practice techniques
Adam Renn Olenn

Piano chair Stephany Tiernan and faculty members Neil Olmstead and Doug Johnson presented a clinic, “Practice Smarter, Not Harder,” on September 16 as part of the Faculty Artist Series. The panel, which was in part inspired by Berklee’s Performance Wellness Institute, focused on both general and piano-specific practice techniques.

Tiernan emphasized the importance of focusing one’s practice goals before beginning. “Choose something you want to accomplish in the hour you have, and focus on that. Turn off your cell phone. That way at the end of your practice time, you feel you’ve achieved something.” Productive, injury-free practice, she said, is a result of paying attention to two things: how you feel and what you want to accomplish.

Tiernan led the audience through a breathing exercise designed to focus both mind and body at the beginning of a practice session. “Breathe in for a five-count, filling your belly up from the bottom like you were pouring water into a glass. Hold it for a three count, feeling all that energy you’ve gathered up. Then exhale over another five-count, letting yourself become empty. Do this two or three times and you’re ready to begin.”

Professor Olmstead suggested that players analyze a piece of music before learning it, both intellectually to better grasp the content of the music, and physically mapping out the gestures and movements needed to perform it. “This not only makes it sound better,” he said, “but it helps you learn it faster.”

“Proper technique,” said associate professor Johnson, “is when the motions correspond perfectly to the music, with nothing extra.” He then demonstrated how a lighter touch with greater velocity controls the dynamics of the piano with a full, rich tone.