Advances in medical sciences are largely the reason behind this steep increase of life expectancy.* And the purpose of medical sciences is unequivocally clear: to prevent or fix health problems.

*Behind the healthcare system as we see it is the extensive research universities and medical schools do on illnesses and the human body, as well as the pharmaceutical industry that designs drugs to tackle the deadliest of viruses and bacteria that are forever evolving.

When we practice our Chopin or Paganini, we could all borrow the brain of a pharmaceutical researcher in designing “drugs” that tackle the very “bacteria” we may have.

Take this first movement from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Op.15 No.1 for instance. Here, we have a lovely melody, above a triplet accompaniment and a bass line. We would ideally like to have the melody shaped nicely and brought out; the accompaniment quietly in the background where the hand-crossing is smooth; and a supportive and resonant bass line that has a life of its own.

The trouble is that we only have two hands. Practicing hand separately here doesn’t do much justice if it is this voice distinction we are after. So, instead of prescribing slow and hand separate practice, I would design certain exercise, or drugs if you will, to achieve that.

Firstly, I would just play the melody as a single line with my right hand a couple of times, and shape it as nicely as possible with the best possible tone. Never mind the fingering for this step. What we want to achieve at this stage is to teach our ears and our mind what we want to hear from this top line ultimately.

Secondly, I would practice the outer lines, adding the bass line, where I would aim for a beautifully shaped melody that is responsive to the harmony that the bass is providing. I also aim for the right balance between the voices, and the appropriate tone colour for each voice.

Then, I would practice the bass line with the triplet accompaniment. By leaving out the melody, I can focus more on the hand-crossing in the triplets, making sure that the RH thumb does not accent unintentionally. I would also do this without pedal at first, to ensure finger legato where possible, before practicing the pedal with the accompaniment.

Only then would I put all the voices together.

And so, I have designed four “drugs” to fix one “illness”.

And don’t think that people back in 1850 didn’t know this principle of strategic practicing. Chopin wrote his 24 etudes with each highlighting, or an even better word, isolating one aspect of the pianist’s techniques to focus on, be it playing in thirds or octaves.

Once you have a diagnosis, look for a prescribed drug, or several.