The Practice Routine

Developing the curriculum

I'm going to test the keyboards' playability across the three main domains of musical prowess: fundamentals, sight reading, and playing by ear. Fundamentals is the ability of the pianist to play musical patterns. Sight reading and playing by ear are how the pianist determines what to play given the input of written or sounded music.

When choosing the exercises to practice, I take a couple things into consideration. I value exercises that are popular, as I don’t want to practice things that are wildly different from what is standard. I also want content that is somewhat diverse so I can exercise and evaluate different skills. Varied content will help ensure that there aren't blind spots in my assessment.

Fundamentals

For the fundamentals I chose to practice scales and arpeggios, Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises, and Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Musical Patterns.

It was an easy decision to choose scales and the arpeggios, as they the most standard set of exercises. I’m going to be practicing major, melodic minor, harmonic minor, and natural minor scales in two octaves, and major and minor arpeggios.

It was also easy to choose to practice Hanon. It is a very popular set of exercises, and Hanon will help me determine how difficult it will be to achieve finger agility on the LIK. Unlike scales, the LIK will have no transpositional advantage. Almost all the exercises in the book are in the key of C major, which should make it comparatively easier on the traditional keyboard. 

The last set of exercises by Slonimsky is one that I find fascinating. It is a collection of musical phrases and scales, many of which Slonimsky generated with a mathematical approach.  Because it wasn't written for the TK, as the Thesaurus could expose technical limitations on either keyboard. 

Sight Reading and Playing By Ear

Sight reading and playing by ear are difficult to find exercises for as they have the unique challenge of being unrepeatable. The second time sight reading a piece of music is easier than the first as it is more familiar. The same can be said for playing by ear. It is unfair to compare two keyboards with the same music. For parity, the content must be new.

EarMaster 7 is software that addresses this problem. It generates music from predefined parameters that can then be sight read or played by ear. This allows me to practice music with a rough level of difficulty that is completely unique. The software isn’t perfect (I would like to practice sight reaing with chords), but it’s what I’m going to work with for the moment.

Method of practicing

I will practice each set of exercises for the same amount of time (and thus each domain of musical prowess for the same amount of time). But I won’t force myself to practice the same exercise for the same amount of time. This will allow each keyboard to improve at its own pace. I’m going to alternate the order I play the keyboards if I play both on the same day. This is to avoid a potentially confounding variable.1

I have broken up each exercises into a set of incrementing difficulties. For fundamentals this means increasing tempo. I created increments from metronome markings, which increase the speed by about 2-4%. Sight reading and playing by ear have more complex increments as the the ambitus and largest intervals can change as well as the tempo. 

An imperfect, malleable practice routine

There is content that I would like to assess that this is missing from the curriculum. Notably, I’m not going to be practicing chords at all. I also will want to compare the keyboards using real songs, etudes, or solos in the future.

Changing the exercises midway through the experiment will complicate the results. The rate of improvement is best measured with increments that both keyboards practiced (as it removes the confounding variable of increments of varying difficulty). Switching exercises will all but ensure that there are increments left unpracticed on one of the keyboards. 

However, I do not think that this will spoil the data from the experiment, and it is better than the alternative of an immutable curriculum. The content of the practice sessions will eventually have to change to accommodate my improvement as well as initial mistakes in choosing content. Instead of a static and unimprovable practice routine, we'll have a dynamic practice routine with imperfect results.

The curriculum

After all this deliberation over what I would practice, here is the schedule I came up with:

  • 5 minutes of scales and arpeggios
  • 5 minutes of Hanon
  • 5 minutes of the Thesaurus of Scales and Musical Patterns
  • 10 minutes of sight reading
  • 10 minutes of playing by ear

Edit from 4/29/19: And I never actually practiced that curriculum. I changed the curriculum for my first practice session, and after a few sessions I have settled with this schedule:

  • 15 minutes of scales and arpeggios
  • 15 minutes of Hanon
  • 15 minutes of sight reading
  • 15 minutes of playing by ear

I have been practicing more than I planned, so I now play each keyboard for an hour. I am also not practicing the Thesaurus. Although it is one of the more interesting exercise sets, I realized how little time fifteen minutes is (let alone five), and concluded that I should put this time towards scales and Hanon instead.

Conclusion

I chose exercises to asses fundamentals, sight reading, and playing by ear with popularity, and diversity in mind. I recognize that the chosen content isn’t perfect or complete, so I expect the curriculum to change throughout the experiment. And just a few practice sessions in, it already has.

I am using this Airtable to keep track of all my improvement. You can find all the exercises and increments there. You can find the recording for any practice session here. You can also keep track of my practice sessions from the practice session section of this site.

  1. There is a potential confounding variable in the order that I practice the keyboards when I practice both in the same day. If I always play the LIK first and the TK second, the LIK might benefit from my mind being fresh, or the TK might benefit from me being warmed up. I am going to keep track of each time I practice both keyboards in one day, so I can alternate which I play first.