As performers and teachers we are aware of the connection between concentration and stamina when we experience either short pieces that require intensity and physical stamina like etudes (Chopin's op. 25 no. 11 for example) or tiring passages and figurations (like the "Pathetique" sonata by Beethoven), or long composition that require also full concentration and intensity (like the "Waldstein" Sonata by Beethoven, especially the third mvt.).
Students in my class have been complaining recently of "losing concentration" quite often, not only in practice sessions, but also in performances. Especially when they have to play long programs. Performances like these need plenty of stamina and concentration . At the same time it may be very difficult for a young student to play a Clementi sonatina through with mental stamina and concentration.
But what about the inspiration? and enjoyment?
Barenboim said once wisely in a class: you should not let the music control you - you have to control the music.
Since playing the piano is not only physical action and involves listening, planning phrases and harmony changes, anticipating change of forms, etc, how is it possible to combine all these elements in one performance? Is it possible to control all in once?
In order to combine all these elements and reach our main goal in performance- enjoying and controlling the music -we have to:
1. Warm up properly. Most of times we start to practice without a good physical and mental warmup. There are days we need longer warm up and there are days that we can shorten it . Anything can work- scales, etudes, passages, Bach preludes and fugues (Chopin's favorite warmup) and more. Warm up is also useful for our awareness of body behavior (breathing!)
2. Get the right tempo for each day of practice. Every day we have different energies, concentration levels and listening habits. Today I can practice very slow and tomorrow I will try a medium or under tempo, then tha next day will choose 4 different tempi. Liszt emphasized very much the change of tempi in practicing.
3. Plan the daily practicing. Decide whether to practice small fragments or passages, or long sequences, how many "fields of music" we want to cover each day, and how many times we wants to practice each segment/sequence/passage/.
4. Make a full separation between practicing and run-through. Many of us play right after practicing a long time. It is not very helpful, since the body and mind are tired, and most movements become automatic (compare it to an auto pilot for example)
5. Find the most comfortable positions in each minute of playing. in order to allow natural breathing, natural movements and positions on the keyboard.
6. Stay positive throughout the whole process. Whether it is a short passage, one movement of sonata or a whole concerto, the more negative and critical thinking during playing, most likely that the concentration and stamina will go away quickly.
Off to practicing session for a concert in 2 weeks…