Young Scholar Aliya Alsafa – quick interview about Piano

When did you start to learn piano?

I started to learn how to play the piano around the age of 3. My family had a keyboard in the living room that I was always curious about, so after a few months I enrolled in lessons. Although I also played other instruments, piano quickly became my favorite and I decided early on to pursue both piano and composition.

How long did you practice piano every day? Did that change over time?

Now I try to practice at least 4 hours every day. Since my repertoire has higher levels of complexity compared to before, I find that it takes greater time to go through each piece in the detail I want to achieve.

Do you still practice every day? What’s your daily practice routine like?

Yes! I definitely practice every day. Playing an instrument is very difficult in that missing a day to prepare can really set you back in progress. Once in a while, I will do lighter days of practice because it is possible to over-work, especially with pieces I’ve been playing for a while. I’m currently learning new repertoire throughout the summer to prepare for lessons next school year. To start, I usually run through technique exercises to warm up my hands and focus. I also practice octave scales because opening up my hands helps me play denser passages and chords with an easier stretch. After technique, I’ll practice my solo repertoire. Since I’m learning many new pieces, a lot of what I’m doing right now is slow passagework at different metronome speeds. Taking the time in the beginning stages to carefully and thoroughly go through music also helps me to secure the memory. After working on solo repertoire, I’ll go through chamber music and other projects.

How do you balance your school work and piano practice? (Please provide some details)

It can be very difficult to balance school work and piano practice, especially around finals week. My high school is across the street from the Juilliard PreCollege, so I’m fortunate to often have access to practice rooms when my schedule is free. I get around 1-2 hours of homework a day, but it’s necessary for me to really focus to get it done. Sorting out what I need to prioritize helps me be more efficient in both practicing and academics. It’s also very important to make sure that there is time to relax in the day.

How would you describe your relationship with piano presently?

I’m absolutely in love with it. This year I’ve been able to concentrate on improvement, so I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made so far. I’ve also had more motivation to practice and work than usual!

What was the most interesting thing during the piano learning? (Please give an example)

The most interesting part of the process involves discovering yourself as both a musician and artist. It was important for me to learn that everyone has an individual musical journey. Trying new opportunities helped me to create routines that work best for me and discover unique aspects I like to bring to the stage. For instance, I allow myself a moment or two before starting performances to really listen to the space around me. This helps me to be more present to the performance experience.

Do you remember any specific difficulty that you ran into during piano practice? And how did you overcome that? (Please give an example)

The motivation to practice can sometimes be inconsistent. To deal with that difficulty, I will sight read through new pieces, change my practice routine, talk to musician friends for inspiration, or listen to pieces I find very interesting.

What’s your favorite piece to play, why?

My favorite piece to play, as of now, is the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. I really enjoy playing this piece because it requires high levels of energy, humor, and character. Another reason I love this piece is because there’s a lot of flexibility in how to interpret the fast passagework. Not every piece has this freedom.

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