Jeremy Denk says he never plays a piece of music the same way twice. Reading that, as a longtime fan of the celebrated pianist, reminded me of an issue I’ve been thinking about for a while: At what point will I have finished learning a composition? Does the finish line come when I have played the music at a consistent tempo?
How to practice piano
For many years, I regarded my adult piano lessons as showtime. Of course my teacher and I worked through the material, but I saw the lesson primarily as a chance to perform work I had accomplished the week before.
After I learned the second movement of the Schubert Sonata in A Major, D664, my new piano teacher, Mark Pakman, explained I would now shift my practice of the Andante into “performance mode.”
I have never been one to do anything slowly. I entered high school at age 12, college at 16, and was a vice president in a male-dominated industry at 30. That is, until I studied Haydn.
I fell in love with the Chopin Nocturne in E-flat Major after I heard the work performed in concert. Five times the melody arched up over an octave, as though calling out.
Several years ago, my piano teacher, Stephen Wu, suggested in his low-key manner that I record myself when I practiced. I allowed a lot of time to elapse before I finally worked up the courage to follow his suggestion, despite his occasional, gentle reminders.