How to Achieve Fluency in Playing
This topic about playing with fluency or achieving the fluency of playing that one wants is suitable for all Teachers and students alike.
How many of you have even have a student play a piece with frequent stumbles and hesitations, even though they can play much better than that?
This can happen to students of all ages and levels.
Why does this happen? What is going on when this happens?
A lack of fluency in playing can be caused by a number of reasons:
1. A lack of familiarity of notes in the piece
2. A lack of proper technique required to execute the piece. eg. Running passages, fingering issues
3. Playing at a tempo that is too fast for the student’s ability at the present moment
4. Not seeing the bigger picture. Looking at only one note at a time and not able to see the complete bar, termed Tunnel Vision.
It is quite easy to identify reason number 1 ( lack of familiarity of notes) and number 3 (playing at a speed that is too fast to handle at present), these reason are self-explanatory, as it boils down to one and only one reason; Lack of Practice.
Number 2, (lack of proper technique) is also identifiable, as the student will be playing with awkward gestures and movement to manoeuvre the passage.
Number 4 (not seeing the big picture and only seeing one note at a time), this is a slightly more tricky one which I want to discuss as it is not an obvious fix like the rest.
How do you know if a student is experiencing tunnel vision?
You have eliminated number 1 to 3 from the list above and you know they have the ability to play the piece, you also know they know the piece enough to play it well, and you can tell that the student has been practising, and you feel that the tempo chosen is appropriate. When the technique and practice is not a problem, then it must be a problem in how the student is looking at the music, using the process of elimination.
The student seems to be focusing on only one or two notes at a time, instead of looking at the big picture.
How then can we help the students to eliminate this perception of reading?
First thing is to explain to the student that you suspect he is playing and focusing on one or two notes at the same time.
Encourage and help them to see the bigger picture. Examine the music together to look for the overall shape of the melodic line, analyse if there are any patterns in the music that can help them to remember. Some passages might have similar notes, so using these notes as anchor notes without having to move their hand positions all the time might also help.
Mark these elements in the music together.
Instead of focusing on only one note at a time in the line, encourage the student to allow their eyes to scan the whole line as needed. With all these knowledge to help them, ask the student to play the piece again.
Was it a more fluent performance? The student should feel more relaxed as they practice this more often and feel a sense of ease as they start playing the piece more fluently.