How to Practice the Piano

With a busy schedule, learning how to practice the piano efficiently is very important to progress.  It may sound strange but practising piano can reinforce mistakes if done inefficiently.

As a piano teacher, I find this practice method (handed down from my own teachers) so invaluable that I teach it to all my students.  It is very tedious at first glance but this is really the fastest way to learn a piece! 

There are many benefits to learning piano so don't give up and keep on practising effectively to get better!

Focusing on objectives is important and also putting your eyes, ears, hands and heart into it!

Tips on How to Practice the Piano

This is what works very well for me.  If you have some good ideas on how to practice the piano, please feel free to share them below!

1. Identify a passage of music to work on in line with the amount of time you have to practice

If I have a short amount of time like 15 to 20 minutes, I would choose to practice one or two phrases.  Something too difficult if my time is short, something I can master in a short while.

If I have more time, I would work on a bigger section, perhaps learning a phrase or two at a time.

2.  Look through the passage to identify key elements

Important elements to notice during practice include:

  • Note pitches (especially any key signature and accidentals)
  • Beat (depending on time signature)
  • Rhythm (that would correspond with the beat)
  • Fingering (especially necessary for legato passages and fast passages)
  • Dynamics
  • Phrasing
  • Tempo markings
  • Any other details

3. Think about how the music should sound

Looking at how the music is written or any other clues like tempo markings or titles of the music, imagine how the composer intended the music to sound.  Keep that in mind.

If you have no idea, you may for a start listen to a good recording of the music.  That would give you an impression of your final objective in learning the piece.

When you have time, listen to many good recordings to find the sound you would like to achieve.  Always listen carefully to your own playing to see how it matches up.

4. Start practising slowly

Even if the final objective is a fast tempo, I would start practicing very slowly and take care of every musical element I identified in point 2.  The more details to take care of, the slower I would practice. 

Be patient and work systematically. Use the metronome if needed.

This is very important to avoid making mistakes.  When making repeated mistakes during practice, these become a habit that is hard to correct later.

5.  Increase tempo little by little

Increasing the tempo little by little is important to take care of all the musical elements in point 2.  Little by little avoids mistakes.  Increase tempo only slightly when there is no more mistake. 

This requires a lot of patience.  So put your heart into it and be happy to make progress bit by bit.

6.  Review

Review how you have done at the end of your practice session.  What sections of the music you have mastered and at what tempo. 

I would play through the chosen phrases or section to hear how much better it sounds than when I first started.  Also, to keep a note of which issues may need follow up next time.

7.  Be steadfast and patient

Follow up at the next practice session and work on some new phrases as well depending on how much time you have.  Keep going through this same procedure until all mistakes are eliminated.  Practising this way is most efficient for me.

Myths on How to Practice the Piano

i. Fixed practice time

When recitals and exams draw near, do whatever it takes to meet every learning objective you have.. even if it means being at the piano after breakfast, after lunch, after afternoon nap and after dinner.

When I have an exam or performance due, I try not to set a fixed amount of time for practising piano!  Rather I focus on meeting objectives for each piece and work till I am satisfied with meeting that goal. What a sense of achievement!

ii. Skipping practice when busy

While it is good to have a set amount of time for practice, try not to skip practice altogether when you cannot meet the full hour of practice for example.

Practising music regularly is very important. Even a focused 15 min a day during busy school exam periods are better than skipping practising altogether for a week. When I first learnt to do that when I was schooling, I was really amazed and motivated by the results!

Think about it. It would give a much-needed breather away from studies while being really productive at the piano at the same time. A small price to pay for big rewards in motivation and success.

iii.  Inflexible practice duration

Think of piano practice time as essential but flexible to be increased as you are learning new pieces, decreased but equally effective when you are having other major commitments and increased when you have more time on your hands.

What to practice?

If you have a reasonable amount of time, practising some of each of the following daily would give a well-balanced session:

Piano technique - studies, scales, arpeggios and the like

Pieces - aim to build a good technique to bring out the style of the piece and put feeling into it!

Sight reading - work step by step and never give up!

Aural - use aural training material like CDs

Starting early practice with sight reading and aural makes it much easier for many students. It will reap significant rewards in music exams as well as overall musical perception.

› Efficient Piano Practice

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