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Mise en Place at the Piano

Let's begin our series on practice suggestions for the adult learner by preparing the piano practice space.

Mise en place (French pronunciation: ​[mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) is a French culinary phrase which means "putting in place" or "everything in its place". It refers to the setup required before cooking, and is often used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift. (Wikipedia)

I was the queen of multi-course meals for years, not intentionally, but just because everything seemed to finish cooking at vastly different times. Oftentimes my children were full before those chicken juices ran clear. (I’d like to take some credit here for their later shifts to vegan diets.)

Imagine your perfect meal -- whatever you love most -- shared with your special person, at your favorite restaurant, outside in the summer, with soft music in the background and a gentle ocean breeze, complete with a bottle of your choice wine. Heavenly.

Who knew this experience could be created in a place akin to Hell’s Kitchen, which is only a couple of swinging doors away from your white linen covered table? Yes, that meal took careful planning and real work.

Chances are, the music you want to learn to play so you can "relax" does as well.

I learned recently that one of the first things young chefs are taught at culinary schools is the art of mise en place. It’s vitally important that this preparation process becomes as natural as the cooking itself. If you want to play piano so that your heart can sing along, you may want to bring mise en place to your piano practice routine.

Things you should always have in place before you begin

If possible, quiet space.

Your printed weekly practice plan.

Pencil and heavy duty eraser

Timing assistants: Speakbeat app, drum beats app (for swing beats), metronome

Your books, sheet music, possibly other apps


Quiet Space

This is a luxury we may not have at every point along the way. If it's possible for you, eliminate noise and distraction, including TV, radio, background music, etc. If this isn't possible, you will need create quiet space in your mind.

Your weekly practice plan, printed out or written into your journal.

It’s important to keep your task list at hand. If you’re my student, I will have given you a detailed practice plan so that you only need to follow the plan, in order, and as suggested. Following these plans also helps you learn to structure your own practice time, of course. If you are an adult learner working independently, I most recommend working with apps that can evaluate your piano playing and give you feedback. Simply Piano is an example of a good app for beginners.

Pencil and heavy duty eraser

Never pen. Piano is like math class.

Timing Helpers

We’ll discuss this issue of practicing timing in more detail later on, but for now suffice it to say you will need help with timing. Everyone does, and you are no exception. I will add your own counting voice to the trio of options mentioned above. (Notice I said counting voice, but not counting in your head.)

Books, sheet music, printed scales and chords.

I’ve been teaching for many years and still, at least once a week, I have a student tell me they don’t have their scales “with them.” I don’t even know what to think about this. It puzzles me. Adults need to view their scales and chords. Don’t work from memory, for the most part. Aside from technical facility, your reading skills will come along much more naturally if you use the printed score. I don’t want to even imagine these students aren’t playing the scales which are assigned. This cannot possibly be the reason why their scales are not “with them.”

Books, sheet music: seems pretty obvious, but this is mise en place class so we will include them.


Don’t forget this important addition to your practice space. We all have this little alter ego that I call the Self-Sabotageur. Let’s call her Sab. Sab will try to convince you there are other, more pressing things for you to do. She can be super persuasive. Use the notepad to jot down her thoughts. She’s like a child, very insistent. Reassure her by writing down all those things she tells you while you’re trying to practice. Sab reminds me of everything I may have ever forgotten: dog needs fed, humidifier is out of water, she thought she heard the phone, she needs a cup of tea, the plant is dying from needing new potting soil. She has such a way of making me feel bad. The notepad helps us both.

Do you already have these things in place? What might you add to our list? Do you know Sab? I'd love to hear your thoughts on our Student Forum Group.

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