tips for effective piano practice

YOU are the key to your own success.

The single biggest reason why a student does not continue to improve at the piano is improper and inadequate practice. Understanding the difference between practicing and merely playing is crucial to learning to play any instrument. Real piano practice is a striving for perfection and improvement in each piano practice session. Many complex skills are being learned all at once, and learning those skills requires time, patience, self-discipline, and mental focus. Follow the tips below to help make your piano practice more productive.

  • Piano Practice Tip 1: Plan your practice. Practice will be most likely to happen if made part of a daily routine. Have a set time for piano practice each day, allowing for at least the same number of minutes as your piano lesson—30 minute lesson, 30 minutes or more daily piano practice. Use a timer to add structure and prevent fudging. Consistency in sticking to this schedule will help you be prepared to focus and to make the most of each session.
    Be careful not to over schedule your life. You are building a skill that requires a daily time commitment, as well as a sizable financial investment. If you are too busy to make that commitment, you will be disappointed with the return on your investment.
  • Piano Practice Tip 2: Prepare yourself. Are your hands clean? Are your nails trimmed so that you can use your fingers correctly on the keys? You will have greater agility with warm hands. Take time to warm cold fingers before you begin. Avoid the impatience and frustration that can come from hunger or fatigue. Approach your piano practice each day refreshed, alert, and ready to focus on the task at hand.
  • Piano Practice Tip 3: Prepare your environment. Quality piano practice requires concentration. Be careful to prepare an environment for piano practice that is quiet, comfortable, and free from distractions. Turn on the answering machine, turn off the TV, and put the dog in another room. Also, make sure your music is well lit so that you can read it clearly and easily.
  • Piano Practice Tip 4: Approach practice with enthusiasm. The sense of accomplishment after a really good work out at the piano can be extremely satisfying. Each practice should include reviewing and polishing old pieces as well as beginning new pieces. Set small goals to work toward during each session. Reward yourself after a productive session by playing a particular favorite—like dessert after the main course.
  • Piano Practice Tip 5: Analyze the details. You will learn a piece more quickly and play it more musically if you take time to study it a little before you begin. Check on the time signature, key signature, and key signature and time signature changes. Look for repeated note patterns, rhythmic patterns, and sections. Notice the various markings in the music, such as tempo, dynamics, ritardando, 1st and 2nd endings. I would suggest you purchase a music dictionary to keep with you at the piano while you practice.
  • Piano Practice Tip 6: Divide and conquer. When you begin a new piece of music, break it down into small sections and master it as you go. Make sure your sections make sense musically—a phrase, part of a phrase, two phrases. Practice a section slowly until you can consistently play it correctly. As you perfect each section, add it to what you have already learned until you have completed the piece. Sometimes it is helpful to tackle the most challenging measures first and then go back and work from the beginning. I like to work out a particularly difficult piece by beginning with the last section and working backwards, playing thru to the end of the piece as I master each section.
  • Piano Practice Tip 7: Determine to do it right from the beginning. What you practice on the piano is what you get. Repeated mistakes in practice become habits that are difficult to correct later. Save yourself the labor and work SLOWLY thru each new piece, being careful to play only correct notes and note values. Study the fingering. Good fingering will put your hands in position to play the correct notes. How slowly you will need to practice a new piece depends on the level of difficulty. If you find yourself making mistakes, SLOW DOWN to the speed you can play correctly. Then gradually speed back up.
  • Piano Practice Tip 8: Identify and fix the problem. It will not magically disappear by taking repeated runs at it. Discipline yourself to STOP and figure out what is causing the problem. Was it bad fingering, an awkward leap or jump in the music, a missed accidental? Slowly and carefully go over that specific spot until you have played it perfectly several times. Add a few notes before and after the hard place and again play through slowly until comfortable. Gradually increase the speed of this segment until it is ready to be put back into the context of the piece. Take the initiative to correct mistakes yourself at home. LISTEN. If it doesn't sound right, do something about it!
  • Piano Practice Tip 9: Count out loud. Rhythm organizes and makes sense of the notes. Without proper timing you are just playing notes on a page, so if you are struggling, the difficulty is most likely to be with the counting. Be careful that each note gets its full and proper value by counting OUT LOUD while you practice.
  • Piano Practice Tip 10: Limit hands-alone practice and use of the pedal. Playing hands separately can be useful when working thru difficult places in the music, but you also need to coordinate your hands together. Limit your hands-alone practice to short segments.
    Practice the piano without the pedal. You will need to learn to play legato with your fingers and not depend on the pedal to connect the notes. The pedal can be added, if needed, after the piece is learned.
  • Piano Practice Tip 11: Be patient. You are building a skill that you will use and enjoy the rest of your life. This will take time and diligent, consistent work that cannot be crammed in at the last minute before your lessons, like you might do studying for a test.
  • Piano Practice Tip 12: Listen carefully to your teacher and take his or her instruction seriously. Taking advantage of her years of training and teaching experience will give you the most for your investment of time and money.

Each day as you practice the piano, “the discipline required for consistent practice becomes easier as habits are formed and valuable lessons learned. One of these lessons is that hard work and discipline pay off, especially when a performance goes well at a recital, school talent show, or family gathering…” (Sharlene Habermeyer, Good Music, Brighter Children)

Develop GOOD Habits
    Rounded fingers
    Keep eyes on music, not on hands
    Count OUT LOUD