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How to warm up on an unfamiliar piano?

Discussion in 'The Piano' started by hyenal, Dec 25, 2010.

  1. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    In the last one year I had three opportunities to play in front of the audience. And all the three times I made very unsatisfying performances, while I always had been not that bad at the former public performances. At the early ages I didn't know the stagefright as it's probably the case at the most children. After that periode I hadn't get the chance to play for other people for a while, until I did that on a reliable Steinway several times. It was the grand, on which I always practiced, so I did know the instrument well. Also in the case that I got very nervous for the performance, I could manage to calm myself down, once I began to play on it.
    The recent three times have in common that I had to play on instruments which is unfamiliar to me and also in a very horrible condition. I was also not that nervous before the performances, but after beginning the playing I was frightend how my finger are stiff and not willing to move on the keyboard. Of course I had time to warm up before the performances, but while I was waiting for my turn my finger turned stiff and very cold. And the result was uncountable slips/wrong notes and painful memories about unsuccessful performances.
    I'd like ask you guys, how you warm up on an unfamiliar piano and if you have tips for me and concerning my problem. I have to play once more in such a condition - one of the problems of amateurs I think is that they are often asked to play on a untuned, not well-cared piano - on the January 17th.
    Thank you in advance!!!
     
  2. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    I think the best way is with slow, deliberate, even somewhat exaggerated five-finger exercises that modulate through all keys, or some I. Phillip Exercises for the Independence of the Fingers. I would never do anything taxing. Treat yourself like a thorough-bred race hourse before the race, teasing yourself with restricted movement. It should go without mention that you should practice performing, not just the works themselves. There is little you can do about an instrument that is not suitable ... except use it as an excuse. :wink: Prior to his performance as a student before Anton Rubinstein, Josef Lhevinne threw his hands into the snow to wake them up. :eek:
     
  3. andrew

    andrew Member Piano Society Artist

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    That's the worst situation, having to wait your turn (for example, amongst a group of students). I would suggest that while you wait you occasionally use the thumb and first finger of one hand to sequentially massage the two segments of the other thumb and the three segments of the other four fingers, then swap hands and massage the other hand's thumb/finger segments. I'm not medically qualified (doubtless the previous poster will be able to raise more light on this!) but it should increase circulation and reduce the chance of your fingers turning stiff. I suspect that the shock to the hand in the Lhevinne example below also increased circulation.

    Re warming up on the piano itself, it's probably better to steer clear of problematic passages in what you're about to play unless you're mentally strong enough that it won't bother you if you mess them up. In the ideal world there are no problematic passages in anything you're bringing onto a concert stage, but I suspect that's true for only a small percentage of pianists. I would recommend playing chords at varying levels of volume so that you get as much of a feel as possible for the sound you're getting out of the piano. Then maybe a few scales, arpeggios, or other exercises. Chromatic scales are a good way of spotting any unevenness in the action on a piano which may not have been well-maintained (good luck dealing with that should it occur, it can be very off-putting). Personally most of my warmup is devoted to improvisation, but I've done that since I was a child and thus that is my chosen way of familiarising myself with an instrument and relaxing.

    Oh, and p.s. : check the pedals. You would not believe the number of times I've been at a rehearsal and there's been something loose, they need oiled, whatever!
     
  4. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    Good advice! Yes, rubbing the fingers as well as just using a hand warmer of some kind (like hikers/campers may use) will increase circulation. When we warm a part of the body in excess, the arteries dilate to allow more blood to come and absorb the heat and disipate it through the skin and elsewhere (just like the cooling system of an automobile engine!). Regarding Lhevinne's singular warm-up technique, I chaulk it up to absolute ignornace of physiology and absolutely astonishingly gifted ability and techinique. Far better to use a bucket of very warm water. In general just moving the fingers by repeated flexion and extension would do very well too.
     
  5. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    It seems to me that there are three separate issues here:

    1. Making sure your body is warmed up and ready for action.
    2. Making sure you are in the right mental state to perform.
    3. Getting used to the instrument you're going to be playing.

    From what you describe, I think 1 and 2 are the important things for you. Most likely it's number 2: cold fingers are one of the classic symptoms of nervousness. It's hard to say more without a bit more information.

    Can you tell us more about those three previous experiences? In what ways was the piano different from the piano(s) you usually play? What repertoire were you performing? Were you at all worried about the technical demands of the piece, or memorisation? Were the performances especially important to you for any reason? What exactly were you doing while waiting to play?

    Do I understand you correctly: you have only played in public three times during the last year? It takes a lot of experience to get these things right. My first twenty public performances were terrifying; it was only later that I started to enjoy it.

    Trust me, it's not only amateurs who have to deal with bad pianos ;-) On January 17th, will you be playing a piano you've played before? Exactly how bad is it? If it's just out of tune, then it shouldn't affect how you play: it's your listeners who suffer! But if it's uneven, or too heavy or too light, or doesn't have a good tone quality, then you need to be ready to adjust your playing.
     
  6. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thank you very much all of you! I'm slowly figuring out, how ignorant I've been about the right warm-up :oops:

    @Eddy: Just teasing oneself before the performance is a good idea! It would be a very good way to prepare oneself for a performance, especially if you are an experienced performer or you are familiar with the condition on which you have to play. The I. Phillp's exercises are unknown to me, so I'll try to find them in IMSLP.

    @Andrew: I'll surely try out your suggestion about the finger moving/massaging during waiting for my turn! The other concrete suggestions are also very appreciated!! And wow, improvisation as a warm-up! I'm not talented at all in it.

    @hanysz: Hi, welcome to PS and thank you very much for your kindly obliging reply!
    I'm a PhD student of the philosophy and have a young baby, so actually have no time, to give or to organize myself more public performances :? But you're right in that three performances in a year are too little.
    My main problem with the unfamiliar pianos is that I feel so uncomfortable with the unevenness of actions and mostly too loud volume of them.
    The pieces I performed in the last year were the very pieces I submitted on the Audition Room: Rachmaninov's transcription from Bach's E major violin partita, Bach-Kempff "Jesus bleibet meine Freude", Liadov's Barcarolle. On an occasion I played the preludio from that Bach-Rach as the first piece, messed it up and thought that it was my mistake to play such a difficult piece as the first piece, and after the long waiting for my turn. So on the next time I chose the Bach-Kempff, cause I thought it's an easy piece, but I messed it up, too. Comparing to them, the second pieces were always much better.
    Well... I was eating or chatting with other people there... :mrgreen: All the three occasions are not completely devoted to the music, but I was there to frame meetings/parties musically on the piano. So while I was waiting for my first piece, the other responsible people were greeting to the guests or something like that.
    Could you give detailed tips for me? Thank you in advance!!! :D
     
  7. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Some suggestions:

    1. You need to perform more often! I know it's difficult when you have other committments too, but it doesn't need to be anything that's difficult to organise. Even very informal and casual performances will help you. Talk to your teacher and ask if they have any ideas. Maybe once a month you can invite one or two friends to sit in on your piano lesson, and use the lesson as a practice concert. Or see if there's a local church or community group that would like to have a visiting musician.

    2. You're not playing easy music! Even the Bach-Kempff isn't a soft option--with such a rich chordal texture, it's hard to control the tone quality. My suggestion is that you work on two groups of repertoire. Keep doing pieces that develop your abilities as a pianist, but don't use those pieces for performances, at least for a little while. Choose a second group of pieces that are much easier, maybe things you've studied in previous years. Use those pieces to practice your skills as a performer and develop your confidence.

    3. Don't eat anything for one hour before you perform! When you eat, your body sends more blood flow to your digestive system, which means less blood for your hands, which means cold fingers.

    4. Prepare yourself for different pianos by practising extremes of dynamics when you practice at home. See if you can play the whole piece pianissimo. Then play sections of the piece fortissimo (probably not the whole piece, it will drive you crazy).

    5. Do some visualisation exercises. Sit in a comfy chair with the score, read the notes and imagine what it's like to play on a different piano. Try to hear the sounds in your head and imagine the feel of the keyboard. Think of the problems you'll encounter, and how you'll overcome them. Try imagining that everything's louder than you're used to, but still with a beautiful tone quality and expressive shaping. Imagine that the piano is uneven, but you manage to adjust and make the sounds you want. Or imagine that your fingers are freezing but they can still move and you can still play the piece successfully.

    6. Get a copy of the book "The Inner Game of Tennis". It has a lot of advice about the way we talk to ourselves when we perform, the tricks the mind plays to sabotage us, and how to overcome these problems. Yes, it's about tennis not music, but there are insights that will help any sort of performance. (There's also a book called "The Inner Game of Music", but in my opinion it's more superficial; the tennis book is more useful even for musicians.)
     
  8. sarah

    sarah New Member

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    Very interesting and great suggestions here. I'll throw in my two cents.

    * I've found eating a light meal a few hours before is helpful for me before any playing; Then I eat a banana about an hour before the performance. I swear by that banana. ;) It seems to calm me down somewhat, along with plenty of deep breaths (but not too many to hyperventilate... that has the opposite effect :D ).

    * One of the students I've met at masterclasses and recitals lately really does believe in those chemical handwarmers. He holds it in his hands to keep his fingers warm while he waits. He also brings a few to pass around to the rest of us, too! :D

    *I suppose you know how to use arm weight in your playing, but just in case... ;) When I began to learn arm weight and relaxation several years ago, I found that I could adapt to foreign pianos much better and much more quickly. It seems intuitive to tense up as soon as you touch a new action, but that is a sure ticket for a train wreck. You want to be able to sense any tension and dispel it from the start.

    *For me, a few s-l-o-w, relaxed scales and maybe a part of an easy piece played in a relaxed manner work very well as warm-up material on a new piano.

    * I've found that I do best on strange pianos when I overprepare whatever I'm playing. Dissecting a piece measure-by-measure, numbering the phrases and drawing the numbers out of a hat until I can play any phrase on command, playing backwards, separating voices, and other such almost nonsensical stuff really works for me. :roll:

    I hope your performances go excellently! I wish you many happy performance experiences. :D
     
  9. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Hye-Jin,

    Luckily these days I play and record only in my living room. But when I was studying with my first teacher many years ago, I had to play in countless student recitals--those of my teacher, sometimes as "guest artist" for another teacher, in recitals sponsored by piano teachers associations, or at other organizations and events. In the Greater Boston area, then I could at least be certain that the piano would be either a Steinway or a Baldwin. But nowadays there are more possibilities. But even when relatively new, two of the same brand piano might have a different feel from one to the other. Also the age of the piano can be a factor. And, of course the care the piano has received--action regulation as well as regular tunings--can be a major issue. The acoustics of the hall can be good, too dry or too "live" which might be a surprise affecting pedaling. If one has the opportunity to visit the venue much earlier to try out the piano for a few minutes, that's a gift, but it's not always possible. In my own case, I would walk out onto the stage and somehow always manage to adapt to the piano within the first two minutes or so. But with a bit of osteo-arthritis, that might be more of a challenge for me now. As I recall, both Gould and Arrau used to put their hands into comfortably warm water before playing, which they found helpful insofar as restoring agility. The massage technique above also sounds like a good strategy. I don't believe in using a practice piano, the feel of it might be far different from the hall piano. And practicing on the day of a recital is taboo. Maybe two or three scales--that's it. By then we need to be fully prepared in the repertoire. If we're truly prepared, very little can go wrong. Just my humble opinions.

    David
     
  10. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Each person needs to experiment to find what works for them. I've tried both practising and not practising on the day of a recital, and found (to my regret!) that I do perform better if I practice. But not everyone responds the same way. (Yet another reason why you need to perform as often as possible!)
     
  11. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Sorry for my much delayed response to Alexander (hanysz) and Sarah! When the daycare center which my baby visits has a break, it means that the parents have the busiest time :? And wish you a very happy and healthy new year 2011!!
    @hanysz: Thank you very much for your precious tips! I really appreciate them. All points are very important and very instructive, but it is my mistake with eating which was most striking to me. The light meal, the mental control (I found it a very good tip to imagine an acceptable sound also on a very loud piano!) I will keep on mind for the forthcoming performance. Your advice on keeping two kinds of repertoires would be also very helpful to me. I had never thought about that. BTW I just visited your website and listened to some of your live recordings. I was very impressed how one can give such well controlled performaces in a live situations. Thanks again :D
    @Sarah: Thank you a lot for your lovely comments :wink: and sharing your experiences! A very easy piece as a warm-up and some hand warmer I would try. I agree with your point of over-preparing, too. I cannot say that I have ever overprepared (in your sense) a piece before a performance :oops:, but to perform well on a strange piano one have to do that, I guess.
     
  12. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi David, a happy new year! :D
    Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. Also I saw in a documentary film that Gould uses warm water for his hands before recording sessions. But in many cases I'm not sure if I could reasonably require a bucket of warm water from the organizer of the event where I'm supposed to play :roll: It would be better to get chemical handwarmers.
     
  13. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    ....
    and today was the January 17th!!!
    I'm very happy to say today I finally made a satisfying public performance after three years!!! :D :D
    I cannot say it was perfect, but I enjoyed it and made just a little amount of slips :wink:, and above all I got many sincerely positive reactions from the audience which made me very happy.
    I used many of those methods of warm-up or preparing before the performance which you guys suggested and it did work!!!
    So have many thanks, friends :!:
     
  14. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    Congratulations! Please share what was your program.
     
  15. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Congratulations and thanks for sharing the good news!
     
  16. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thank you, Eddy and Alexander!
    It was a small program again. I played two small pieces (Liadov's Barcarolle and "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" by Bach-Kempff) and a pastor made a reading between them. I had to play on a Yamaha baby-grand, which isn't well maintained at all and is very loud. But on the basis of what Alexander suggested, I tried to imagine an acceptable sound and to like the sound. After that I could enjoy the playing.
     
  17. sarah

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    Congratulations on the wonderful performance, Hye-Jin! I am so excited that everything went well for you. The program sounds very lovely, too. Did you by any chance get a recording? ;)
     
  18. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Sorry, I just saw this now - Congrats from me too, Hye-Jin :!:
     
  19. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thank you, Sarah and Monica :D
    Sarah, I'd like to have a live recording, too, but I knew that the piano there is not that great :roll:
    And your suggestion to "play an easy piece in a relaxed manner" as warmup did work well also at me! :D I sought an easy piece to this purpose and found that I don't have many :roll: Anyway "Für Elise" helped me :)
     
  20. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Congratulations Hye-Jin ! For those of us who don't perform regularly, a live performance is usually fraught with stress or even anxiety. But I guess you were well prepared, having fully mastered the pieces and minding the good advices you got here. Then, if only you keep your head cool, which you did, nothing much can go really wrong, which it didn't.

    Did nobody capture the recital, even if it was only a little bit filmed with a mobile phone ?
     

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