By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Today’s Piano blog features the ideas provided by Veteran Piano Teacher, Dawn Ivers, of Kansas, in her blog, Broken Arms & Sprained Wrists. Ivers runs a successful piano studio in Kansas and was recently featured in her local newspaper, McPherson Sentinel. See Iver's article on tips for handling stage-fright (featuring ideas from my blog, How To Turn Your Nerves Into Good Energy.)
Yikes! What do you do about piano lessons when you (or your child) have an injury like a broken wrist, a sprain, or jammed fingers? Is it best to take a break until the injury has healed? Or would it be best to press on with piano practice and lessons?
Piano Teacher Recommendation
I recently came across Kansas Piano Teacher, Dawn Ivers’ blog about this on her website, dawnspiano.com. Of course, performances would obviously need to be postponed, unless the program consists solely of one-handed repertoire.
But I wholeheartedly agree with Ivers’ recommendation to press forward with both practice and lessons. Why and how are the important questions to ask.
Why Should You Continue Piano When You Have An Injury
Stopping piano practice when you have an injury risks the loss of momentum with your piano progress. It’s challenging to get your groove back if you’ve sat it out for more than a week. Our muscle memory, not to mention our brain’s recall, suffers from inactivity during gaps in time.
Absence Makes Learning Harder
This issue was never more apparent to me than during my years as a public school music educator. Students returning to music class after winter, spring or summer break had glaringly forgotten large chunks of information, musical and even social skills.
This is why the first several weeks of public school music classes were spent on review and hands-on immersive practice. Moving forward without these refresher activities caused more frustration for students and decreased successful learning in the music classroom.
Fortunately, with piano lessons, the student or parent of the student has the option of moving forward despite an injury. The critical point is how you focus your piano practice to accommodate the injury.
How To Practice Piano Is Key
If you’re dealing with an injury, fortunately, there are lots of ways to move forward while working around it. In her blog, Ivers offers no less than eight piano practice strategies for continuing musical progress while accommodating an injury.
Often, budding pianists get in the habit of relying on two-handed playing, leaving other weaknesses unattended. The healing period for an injury provides a great opportunity to strengthen those areas.
Ideas For One-Handed Piano Practice
In her blog, Kansas-based piano teacher, Dawn Ivers suggests practicing sight-reading, one-handed duet practice with a partner, pedal practice, technic and solo pieces for one-hand, and honing scale and musical theory while building improvisation skills through one-handed practice.
Duet Practice Helps Sight-Reading & Rhythmic Skills
I agree with Ivers focus on using the opportunity for duo playing. In my piano studio, I often honed in on a piano student’s sight-reading, rhythmic, or technical skills by having them play one hand while I played the opposite part. This is a great way to have the student focus on developing better notation reading skills, or to provide more practice for those struggling with maintaining fluency with rhythm.
By playing duets with the piano teacher and only having to play with one-hand, the student’s technical skills may be addressed. This works particularly well when the teacher guides the student with a slower practice tempo.
One-Handed Improvisation Opens Creative Expression
I often found students more engaged when providing the chance to improvise in a duet. One strategy is for the piano teacher to provide a simple, harmonic progression while the student is assigned an allotted key signature and a specific range of notes and/or fingering.
The student practices improvising in this manner, learning from limitations with the use of specific form, fingering, rhythmic or melodic phrasing. The restriction of having only one hand to practice takes the pressure off the student. I have found that many students open up more creatively with this type of stress-reduced activity.
Forging Musical Comprehension Through Music Theory
Ivers also recommends more time spent on games and exercises to develop musical theory expertise. Often, time runs out during a piano lesson before the piano teacher can fully address the student’s musical theory needs. Using the injury healing period to work on those music theory topics is time well spent toward greater piano mastery.
Assigning music theory worksheets or other theory-based work throughout the week gives the student the chance to build their musical understanding. As the student grasps theoretical aspects, he or she expands musical comprehension on multiple levels, contributing to a greater performance mastery, and a deepening confidence.
Students Tap Self-Expression Through New Approach
Ivers also points out the opportunity to develop musical composition abilities while a student’s injury heals. This is a great way to encourage students to try something new, engage their personal interests and encourage self-expression.
Lessons could be spent teaching compositional aspects and allowing the injured student time to learn more about notation, intervals, chords, scales, fingering, form, key analysis, melodic phrasing and rhythmic patterns.
Lastly, Ivers suggests taking time to work on rhythm and sight-reading. This is one of my favorite ideas, as students can solidify understanding and better grasp rhythmic and meter issues when the focus is narrowed to the use of only one hand.
If you or your child has an injury prohibiting piano practice with one hand, consider these suggestions as encouragement to continue musical progress throughout the healing period. For more information from our featured piano teacher, Dawn Ivers, her piano studio and informative blog, click here.
More tips on effective piano practice can be found in my blog on left and right hand coordination here.
Let me know in the comments below if you found this blog helpful or if you have more piano practice tips!
CLICK HERE for a list of piano and music-making resources I use and recommend.
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In my PIANO blogs, you'll find ways to overcome boredom, get past musical and mental blocks, explore the creative process with piano, and improve musical progress through piano teacher recommended best practices and effective piano practice tips.