In the corner of my current practice area is a large, full-length mirror. It is not an expensive piece of furniture; it is a cheap wall mirror that cost under $20.
Many high school and college practice rooms these days it seems come well-equipped with both pianos and wall mirrors, so I think that people are already familiar with the notion of practicing in front of a mirror.
What may not be so familiar is what to look for. A mirror can be a great tool for some, but for others it can be a mystery or worse, a source of frustration.
A tool for observation
I recommend to look for nothing when first using a mirror. The point in this exercise is just to observe and if possible, do so without making any judgements.
I think it is an important first step to look at what you are doing and catalog those observations either mentally or into a journal. Writing these observations down can be particularly helpful over time. It also makes for good material to talk about during private lessons.
A tool for change
Small observations over time can allow one to detect patterns, which in turn lead to more interesting insights.
- Why do my shoulders go up when I play high notes?
- Why do I furrow my brow when shifting from low to high?
- My left hand looks a little awkward, maybe I should hold it like this…
Insights can lead to probing questions.
- Do I need to move my lip like that?
- Do I look calm and relaxed?
- Do I look intense and focused, or spaced-out and dreamy?
Staying in the zone
In my own mirror practice for example, I look for two basic things: a relaxed body posture, and a focused look in my eyes.
Sometimes after a long day at work, I catch myself zoning out when practicing. One look to myself into the mirror changes that. A look that says “come on, wake up, we have work to do” usually does the trick.
When to walk away
For some people I would offer a final note of caution. A mirror can be a great tool for observing and changing practice behaviors but for obsessive personality types especially, using a mirror may trigger negative thoughts and behaviors.
This being the case, it may not be a bad idea to put down the horn, walk away for a while and think more deeply about what is going on inside.
While a mirror is a great tool for looking at exteriors, it does very little for a deep-rooted issue that might be buzzing inside your head.