February 2016 MTNA e-Journal

Reflecting What’s Right In Your Playing: An Introduction To Mirror Practice
By Michael Clark

Recent neuropsychological and physiological research reveals that mirror practice techniques are an effective means for learning motor skills. In this article, the author reviews research related to “mirror” practice and offers suggestions for application using excerpts taken from advanced piano repertoire. Studies in which participants practiced a task with one hand and subsequently attempted that task with the other hand reveal strong occurrences of inter-manual transfer, the transmission of motor skills between the limbs. Participants experienced the greatest degree of inter-manual transfer when they practiced mirrored versions of the intended motions. Other studies demonstrate humans also possess a natural tendency toward in-phase, symmetrical movements. Anti-phase or parallel motions will involuntarily shift to in-phase motions as their frequency of repetitions increases. For pianists, these findings indicate that practicing with one hand can improve the skill of the other hand (and the skill transfer is maximized when practicing under mirror conditions) and practicing hands together with mirrored motions capitalizes on the body’s natural tendency toward in-phase bimanual coordination. Incorporating these practice techniques at the piano requires the inversion of musical patterns over one of the keyboard’s two axes of symmetry: D or A-flat. Virtually any passage can benefit from mirror practice, and those that are short, stay in one harmony, or follow a pattern will be easiest to conceptualize. Excerpts from Beethoven’s Sonata in A-flat, Op. 110, Ginastera’s Sonata No. 1 and Schumann’s Aufschwung illustrate how a variety of textures and figurations can be addressed through mirror practice. Equipped with this information, pianists can confidently expand their practice toolbox to include this scientifically sound and experimentally proven practice technique. Read More.

 

A National Survey Of University-Level Group Piano Programs
By Margaret M. Young

Although undergraduate music majors are required to develop piano skills, many recent graduates have not attained the level of keyboard competency necessary for their careers. The purpose of this study was to gather information about university-level group piano programs and the piano proficiency exams—a common method of assessing keyboard competency. A questionnaire was distributed to group piano teachers at institutions accredited by NASM (N = 997), which collected demographic information, school characteristics, descriptions of participants’ group piano program and proficiency examinations, and their proposed purpose for undergraduate piano study. In total, 265 teachers completed the study. The results showed that, while the skills tested on the piano proficiency exam are similar, the way in which students demonstrate these skills varies greatly. Additionally, the institution at which participants taught affects the way in which the piano requirement is fulfilled. Ultimately, group piano programs in this country might benefit from developing national standards of keyboard competency to be applied at all institutions of higher education. Read More.