There’s more than one way to skin a proverbial…. 

This very short practice session, of John Ireland’s beautifully scrunchy Month’s Mind, was one from today when I had a spare few minutes during a day otherwise full of relaxing, cleaning, tidying, and generally not being terribly musical.  It’s hard to resist a quick practice with an empty house at my fingertips though, and because I knew I didn’t have full focus today, I decided to look at the piece from a different angle.

Those of you who have followed The Practice Project so far, or who are students familiar with my practice teachings, will already be aware of my firm belief that improvisation, creativity, and generally ‘mucking about’ with music is an excellent tool to understanding structure, melodic lines, harmonic progression, and musical narrative.  This video shows very little of the original notation being played as written, and there is a large section near the end where I learned the left hand notes and flow by splitting it between both hands then jazzing it up somewhat.  Whether this was out of sheer Sunday laziness or out of genuine musical creativity, I’m still not sure, but it worked, and I learned this section far quicker than if I had sat down and rigidly fixated on the score.  And in the flippant mood I was in, I doubt I would have had the boredom threshold for that anyway…  (and talking of flippant, anybody else hear a Clannad theme running through one of the sections? Herne the Hunter? Harry’s Theme? Anyone? It drove me to distraction whilst practising and I still can’t place it.  And that distraction was a minor one (ahem, bad pun, I blame late Sunday evening writing) compared to the the time I spent figuring out some really interesting harmonic displacement between treble and bass, where the bass chord is heard in the following beat in the treble, a sort of phasing of harmonies.

But it is these moments, these unintended distractions, which are the ones which can end up giving me the most joy when practising, as it is often here that the real depths of the composition can be really discovered during periods of free experimentation)

All of which neatly demonstrates that there’s more than one way to practice.  And practising the written notes exactly as they are written all the time (or slower) is probably the most tedious and useless method of practising ever devised.  The entire point of practising is to learn, and the point of learning is to discover and engage.  From this statement alone, we as teachers should be encouraging our students to be more creative in their practice, and less concerned about ‘doing the right thing’ or playing things correctly a certain number of times.

Because I don’t know about you, but I’d be bored out of my tiny little tree if I only ever did that.


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