Falling in Love With Practicing: Gretchen Saathoff’s Goal-oriented Practice

In this book, my goal is to help teachers and students alike make steady progress in learning music.

Gretchen Saathoff’s concludes her introduction to her e-book, Goal-oriented Practice, with this humble yet powerful statement, and it doesn’t take one very long to find out that she delivers on her promise. In fact, it is her humility (“I was not a prodigy”) that endears the reader to her, and thus she easily becomes a collaborator with the student.

Saathoff begins the journey by taking the student through the first steps of setting up the practice environment, offering steady yet subtle encouragement along the way. The opening section clearly establishes camaraderie: “Our longevity as musicians,” “the shoes we wear.” She also avoids technical jargon whenever possible, using everyday words and phrases with which a beginner would feel more comfortable.

Of particular interest to me was the section on warming up. For years I had labored under the notion that I should warm up at least 20 to 30 minutes before beginning practice. In fact, in Rational Principles of Pianoforte Technique, Alfred Cortot prescribes an hour devoted to finger exercises. Saathoff flatly disagrees:

Playing etudes for hours is not necessary from my point of view….A warmup of, say, ten minutes should be sufficient. That is enough time to get used to a piano at a performance venue.

And with the preliminaries dispatched, Saathoff moves on to the most important portion of her book: learning the music.

It is easy to see that Saathoff enjoys her role as a collaborative pianist. As I mentioned earlier, her voice is gentle and encouraging, and the student can’t help but become infected with her enthusiasm for the learning of music. Mindless repetition doesn’t work, she coaches. Set goals for today, tomorrow, and the day after that. Break the piece down into sections, phrases, even measures if you need to. Take a break. And pay attention to the fingering, because that’s where mistakes start – before the mistake happens.

Naturally, she ends with the same, upbeat tone that runs through the entire book: “you will be successful.

As a jazz and pop pianist who is now getting back into classical music, I found Goal-oriented Practice to be an excellent investment. I have used lessons from it in teaching my own students, and all musicians, regardless of skill level, would do well to keep a copy near the piano within easy reach.

For ordering information, visit http://gretchenspianos.wordpress.com/Goal-oriented Practice e-book price $19.95; bound $24.95

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Note: This review was originally published on August 29, 2011 on Tumblr. I have moved it to this blog for the sake of consistency. The text remains unchanged.

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