“Practicing the Piano” Review by Fiona Lau

This is a book that should be in every piano teacher’s library; it’s thorough, clearly laid out and very, very practical.

“I have read several music related books this summer and [Practicing the Piano by Nancy O’Neill Breth] is the most useful one for my teaching. I read it in 2 days and kept making mental notes of new and very useful ideas.

“Breth teaches the piano in the USA, in a private practice and taught piano, piano pedagogy and chamber music at Levine School of Music, Washington D.C. She is also a competition adjudicator and has written the very practical The Piano Students’ Guide to Effective Practicing and Parents’ Guide to Effective Practicing.

“The sub-title to this book is “How students, parents, and teachers can make practicing more effective” and it would certainly be a useful read for all of these, either as a whole read or as a “pick and mix” for specific problems. Breth divides the book into 5 parts:  1. Getting Started 2. The Early Stages of Practicing. 3. Polishing a Piece. 4. Finishing Touches.5. The Practice Triangle. Each section has a logical approach and deals thoroughly with the mechanics of practice; whatever your challenge or level there is an answer here.

“Practicing the Piano is a handbook of practice techniques and it would be very useful for grade 5 plus pupils who are 15 and therefore have the mental capability to read it; it would help them develop that all important independence from their teacher. Parents will find ideas to help their children here, pianists will find out how to make practice effective and piano teachers will find it very useful. If you are a young teacher or a teacher preparing for a diploma the book will be invaluable as it deals practically with subjects such as pedalling, memorisation, preparing for performance and organising practising- in a clear and thorough way and with great examples from the core teaching repertoire. More experienced teachers will find that there are ideas in here to refresh their approach- I found the “mapping the terrain of a piece” extremely helpful and will certainly be using this and several other ideas explained by Breth this Autumn!

“This is a book that should be in every piano teacher’s library; it’s thorough, clearly laid out and very, very practical.”

Fiona LauAugust 2012

See also Clavier Companion’s review

“Practicing the Piano” Review in Clavier Companion

This book contains a collective wisdom of knowledge and creativity that will stand the test of time.

Practicing the Piano: How Students, Parents, and Teachers Can Make Practicing More Effective by Nancy O’Neill Breth

“The subtitle of Nancy O’Neill Breth’s book—”How Students, Parents, and Teachers Can Make Practicing More Effective”—is an attention grabber. Breth believes that each member of the “practice team” (student, teacher, and parent) has responsibilities crucial to the success and long-term development of the pianist; in fact, she devotes an entire chapter to “The Practice Triangle.” That chapter examines parental involvement; teaching steps; effective practicing; and successful methods for student-teacher-parent interaction at the lesson, at home, and through the years. Invaluable! This chapter in itself justifies buying this handbook.

“Moreover, Breth lists more than 150 practice tips and techniques to be used as is, or as a springboard for implementing individual teaching strategies. She states as well that her practice suggestions apply more to the mechanical aspect of piano playing than to interpretation. Her theory presumes that those who learn how to practice in an effective manner will then be free to discover and communicate the musicality of a piece.

“Each of the book’s subject headings is a workshop topic in itself. Throughout the text, the author reiterates the importance of repetition in the practice process, but not the repetition that comes from mindless playing of a piece until-by some small miracle-rote playing kicks in. Instead, her examples demonstrate ways to engage in physical training through drills for the mind as well as through the use of imaginative ideas that can make practice time interesting and even … fun!

“Breth’s tips apply to pianists of all ages and abilities. To whet your appetite, here is a sampling of the subjects covered:

  • First Steps at the Piano
  • Formulating Practice Strategies
  • Position and Mobility at the Keyboard
  • Another Kind of Comfort: Peace of Mind
  • Polishing a Piece
  • Memorizing Music
  • Finding Deeper Meaning

“The author has studied with a Who’s Who of master teachers, including Bela Nagy, Gyorgy Sebok, Josef Gingold, and others. But—and here is the part that I love the most—Breth lists her favorite teacher as her high school piano teacher, Margaret Saunders Ott. Breth says Ott introduced her to “a new world … and continued to encourage and inspire [her] for the next fifty years.” This book contains a collective wisdom of knowledge and creativity that will stand the test of time.”

—Susan See, Clavier Companion, March/April 2013

See Also Fiona Lau’s review