Close-Up: An Interview With Pianist Katie Ritzema

Classical pianist Katie Ritzema joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about her love of piano, the joys of teaching, her approach to practicing, and much more.

Hi Katie, welcome to Close-Up Culture. What are your earliest memories of falling in love with music and playing instruments?

I started taking piano lessons when I was eight. I remember asking my parents if I could take lessons because my best friends in elementary school took lessons. Honestly, I distinctly remember not enjoying piano when I first started. I was rather stubborn and wanted to be able to play whatever I wanted right away. Oftentimes I was quickly discouraged and did not practice very much. I also started playing flute when I was eleven in band class at school. I really started enjoying piano when I was around eleven or twelve. 

What do you love most about playing piano?

I love being able to express different emotions through playing piano. Playing piano helps me process how I’m feeling and show it without using words. I also love being able to share impactful music with others. 

You do a wonderful job of sharing your practice routine on social media. How would you describe your approach to practicing?

I try to be methodical in my approach to practicing so that I can accomplish the most in a short amount of time. I always start with some sort of scales and arpeggios to warm up before working on my repertoire. When working on a piece, especially in the early stages of learning, I break it into small sections and phrases. I work through the phrases slowly, oftentimes hands separately to start, and figure out how I want to shape and phrase and voice the different melodic lines.

After this, I will work on combining the phrases and get a larger picture of the overarching phrases and structure of the piece. Once I am able to play the whole piece, I spend more time looking at larger sections, but still return to the original small phrases to tweak details and help me memorize the piece. I try not to spend my time aimlessly repeating the same thing over and over or playing through pieces repeatedly without any real focus or goal. I usually try to decide which pieces I would like to work on before I start practicing as well. 

What would be your advice to anyone who is struggling to practice?

When I am feeling unmotivated and don’t want to practice, listening to recordings of my repertoire or just of my favorite piano pieces in general is quite helpful. Setting a specific time limit for how long I want to practice (even if it is 15 minutes) also helps me stay focused and power through practice sessions. It is also important to remember to take breaks though and allow your body and your mind to rest. Sometimes taking a day or two off practicing makes the following practice sessions much more effective. 

What has your experience been like creating content for social media?

I started creating content on Instagram a few years ago when I was auditioning for college music programs. I mostly just shared clips of my audition pieces to keep track of my own progress and hold myself accountable. Now I create content about classical music on both TikTok and Instagram. I started making silly classical music related TikToks as a break from practicing, but now I enjoy making silly content (like playing Heart and Soul in all twelve keys) in addition to sharing informational content about my practice sessions and composers I am studying.

One of my favorite things about creating content for social media is connecting with other musicians around the world that I would not otherwise get to interact with. 

You have a lot of experience now as a teacher. How do you find the process of teaching others, and what have you learned about yourself from doing it?

I have been teaching piano for around six years now and I absolutely love it. It has been eye-opening to see how differently people learn and a challenge to accommodate each student’s learning style. I use the Piano Adventures method books when I teach, which I have found to work very well with all students. I work with a lot of kids, and something I try to emphasize to them is that it is okay to make mistakes and that it is part of the learning process. Many of my students are perfectionists, which is not a bad trait, but I work to create an environment where they feel open to asking questions and making mistakes as they learn.

I also try to make my lessons interactive and fun: especially with young kids, we will practice concepts like basic rhythms by jumping or skipping around the room to various rhythms or making up their own songs on the piano using them. Overall, teaching has made me a lot more patient with myself and my own learning. Sometimes, I find myself able to give an abundance of patience to my students when they are learning new pieces or skills, but I don’t allow myself the same attitude when I am practicing on my own. Teaching has helped me recognize the importance of enjoying piano, not playing just to play. 

What are your hopes and ambitions for the future?

I am currently in college working toward getting a Bachelor’s in piano performance and music history. I would like to continue to graduate school to study piano and/or musicology, and I would eventually like to teach piano/music history at a college or university. I would also like to continue teaching private lessons and have my own studio. I plan to continue creating content on social media and would love to connect with many more musicians. More than anything, I want to continue to share my love for music with others. 

Follow Katie on Instagram – @thepianoplayer_

Check out Katie’s TikTok – @katiepiano8

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