“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


What is sight-reading?


Sight-reading is just that: sit down, open the book, and play the piece–as we say, read the music at sight. The goal is not to play perfectly. The goal is to capture as much of the music as possible without stopping.

Many piano students spend all their time learning pieces and none of their time sight-reading. When they finish lessons and become busy with other parts of life, they find that even though they might remember a piece or two from a recital, their reading skills are too poor to learn new music. Over time, they may lose their piano skills completely. Don’t let that happen to you!

Sight-reading requires a whole different set of skills than what we use when learning a piece for a recital. And sight-reading has to be practiced–every single day. There are tricks to becoming a good sight-reader. Make a mental check list to help you. For example, here’s a cartoon you could use.

I have a cat named Pod. Sometimes she jumps up on the piano, so I shout: “SCAT, POD!

If you can remember that, you’ll remember to go through the sight-reading checklist before you play:

Signaturestime and key
Clefs: bass, treble
Accidentals: flats, sharps
Tempo: The title or tempo marking may describe the mood.

Patterns: big patterns, like overall structure; little patterns, like repeated measures, familiar chords, scales.
Odd things: a big leap, a double-sharp, a strange chord, an unexpected rest, or anything that only happens once.