Sometimes, you don’t have very long to get to know the piano you’re going to perform on. So my main concern is really to get to know the instrument as quickly as possible. I basically take the instrument through a range of dynamic extremes from pianississimo to fortississisimo. I want to understand it. And tame it. That’s the most important thing for me — to develop a relationship with the instrument.
Renegade, improvisational classical pianist Gabriela Montero’s new album Baroque is out on EMI Classics. Find out more at gabrielamontero.com .
As far as my fingers are concerned, of course I warm up before I give a concert. But I don’t do Hanon, Czerny, or any of the other storied technical exercises many of us were forced to do. In fact, I always hated them. Those exercises make you like a robot. The whole point of music is to be a communicator, not to just play the notes as fast and as perfectly as you can.
So instead, I play the piece I’m going to perform, slowly. I’m extremely interested in phrasing and coloring — exploring the different sounds I’ll ultimately project. When you practice slowly, you can be much more detailed in your approach to tone production. That eventually translates into a wider range of colors when you play a piece at full speed. It’s really a diligent kind of work. I feel like I’m crafting something, piece by piece.
Really, my approach to warming up is a four-step process anybody can do, regardless of the keyboard or genre of music they play.
· See the instrument you’ll perform on. Whether it’s a piano or a digital keyboard, get to know it. The more you understand its quirks and capabilities, the more expressive you’ll be at performance time.
· Touch the instrument slowly and deliberately. Play the music you’ll perform at a greatly reduced speed, accentuating dynamics and tonal colors.
· Listen to recordings that inspire you. It will find a way into your own playing and help develop it.
· Improvise over pieces you already know. Even if you’ve never done it before, attempt to create your own music and melodies over familiar songs. Breaking out of your regular routine will change your life — it sure changed mine!