I just came back home from Seinäjoki, where I gave a lecture on piano practice at the Sibelius Academy training centre. One of my former teachers, a current friend and colleague, Teppo Koivisto, was giving his annual master class and was kind enough to invite me to speak to his students.
In the heat of summer — it has been unusually hot in Finland lately — we had a delightful session. The students made clever comments, asked informed questions, and, afterwards, the discussion went on with Teppo at a local restaurant.
After speaking with Teppo´s class, I contemplated what it was that made me devote myself to giving lectures on piano practice about ten years ago?
When I started my studies at the Sibelius Academy in the mid-90s, the mentality among the students was very competitive. The secrets of practice were kept tight behind the doors of the studios. If someone knew something, it was definitely not shared. This attitude, most likely, did not come from the teachers; rather, it may have had something to do with the fact that, in those days, many students wanted to give the impression that they hardly practiced at all in order to appear naturally talented.
When another of my former teachers, Matti Raekallio — later a professor at Juilliard and Hannover — suddenly gave a lecture on piano practice within the framework of piano pedagogy, it felt like a revelation to me and many of my fellow students. I remember very well what a tremendous boost his legendary list of practice methods gave us, and how much we discussed it later.
Since my time as a student, I have come to realize that there are at least three good reasons for us all to promote the discussion on piano practice:
1. We all are in the same boat. The more we talk, debate, innovate, and allow ourselves to even be fanatical about practice issues, the more likely it is that the practice culture will flourish. In the end we all benefit.
2. The journey is more important than the destination. Learning is a process. The most fruitful way to improve any skill is to refine the practicing process itself and to not determine beforehand what the exact outcome will be. In this way, the result can turn out to be something even greater than you expected in the beginning of your journey.
As a student, Raekallio´s lecture stimulated me to unravel my metacognitive skills, in essence, — my ability and urge to learn how to learn. That´s why his lecture hit the spot.
One of the best things that a teacher can do for a student is to teach practicing skills. By doing this, the teacher encourages independent thinking and helps students get the best out of the days between lessons.
3. Sharing is receiving. When one exposes their own ideas to pianist colleagues, one can test those ideas against the collective intelligence of other pianists. This leads to improving on old ideas and generating new ones. Therefore, everyone learns.