If you’re pursuing the piano as a hobby or professionally, you probably enjoy getting to the piano most days and chipping away at your music. Practicing the piano is an enjoyable and fulfilling task. But, if you’re looking to really improve your piano chops, you’ll want to make sure your piano practice is as smart as possible.
The last thing you want to do is spend hours at the piano mindlessly playing your music over and over.
Keep in mind that playing the piano and practicing the piano are two different things. There’s nothing wrong with chilling out at your piano, turning your brain off and just enjoying your music in the moment. But, this type of playing isn’t a true practice session.
Use these 10 tips to make every piano practice session as productive as possible.
1. Make A Game Plan
Just like anything else that you’re trying to accomplish, you’ll find the most success if you have a solid plan. You likely have long-term goals of music that you’d like to learn or skills that you’d like to acquire. This is a good start to making a practice plan.
Be sure to always start each practice session with a plan as well. What are you hoping to accomplish in this practice session? What are specific things you can do to make that happen?
Perhaps you’d like to work on the continuity of your piece. In this case, it would make sense to use your practice time running through your music, stopping as little as possible.
Or, maybe you’d need to clean up some messy rhythms in the middle of your piece. Don’t run through your piece if you know there are some problem areas that need attention. Instead, go straight to the problem area and woodshed.
Are you trying to master the musical expressiveness of your piece? In this case, don’t let yourself obsess over playing all of the correct notes and rhythms and instead focus on what your music is communicating. You’ll find that when you shift the focus from the logistics of what to play to the art of how to play, the notes and rhythms often fall into place.
2. Actively Listen To Quality Recordings Of Your Music
Keep in mind that your brain is like a sponge that absorbs the music that you hear. The more you let it soak up the sound of your music, the easier it is to get that music back out of you.
Make a point to actively listen to the music you are learning.
Active listening is its own unique activity that deserves all of your attention. When you are actively listening for the sake of learning your music, stop all other activity. Don’t try to clean your house, drive or browse the internet while you listen.
Instead, close your eyes and really focus on the sound of the music. Think about the logistics of what your hands might be doing in order to make those sounds happen. Open the score and follow along. Listen several times in order to observe and take in everything that is happening in your music. Then, repeat this activity many times throughout your learning process.
3. Take The Score Away From The Piano And Study It
This is especially helpful when you’re first starting a piece, but it’s also a worthwhile thing to do throughout the learning process.
Before you begin a new piece, take the time to make every possible observation you can about the music. What do you expect it to sound like? What is the music trying to communicate or portray? Think through all of the logistical aspects of the music like the time signature, key signature, roadmap, fingering, etc.
Make a solid plan about what you’ll do when you take the music back to the piano. This will ensure that you start learning the music quickly and effectively.
4. Break Your Music Into Small Sections
Sometimes it makes sense to play the piece all the way through from start to finish. You might choose to do this first, just to get a scope of the entire piece. But, when you’re ready to get to work, break your music into small, workable sections.
Focus on practicing phrases, whether it is 2, 4, or 8 measures at a time. Other ways to break apart the music would be to work through the A section, the exposition, or until the first repeat sign. Whichever approach you take, find clear starting and ending points in your music.
Don’t stop at the first page just because it’s the end of that page.
Playing to the end of a phrase will likely mean you’ll have to stop just before the end of a page or keep playing a few measures into the next page.
5. Slow Practice
Practicing slowly is probably the very most important skill to employ at the piano. It’s tempting to want to always play music up to tempo, but the magic happens in slow practice. This is where you gain accuracy, hone your technical skills and train your hands to achieve perfection.
Some people claim that they can’t play their music slowly. They say that when they slow down, they make more mistakes. This is a sure sign that slow practice is crucial! If you can’t play your music slowly, then you’re not playing it well when you play fast. However, if you’re playing it correctly slowly, it will speed up over time and you’ll maintain the same level of accuracy that you had at your slower tempo.
6. Hands Separate
Don’t be afraid to split up your hands whenever it’s necessary for your practice. There might be times that you can sight read with both hands with no problems. But, if anything starts to feel too complicated or messy, do some hands separate work.
7. Practice Rhythmically
Pianists are notorious for fudging tempo and rhythm in music. Since we spend most of our time alone at our piano, it’s easy to have some give and take in the tempo, play rhythms inconsistently and go back to fix tiny mistakes. All of these bad habits can add up to big rhythm problems over time.
If you find yourself struggling to play with even rhythms and a consistent tempo, consider one of these techniques:
- Play with a metronome. If the metronome is a frustrating or intimidating thing for you, don’t worry, you’re not alone! Many people have to practice how to practice with a metronome. Back up a few steps to an older piece or an easy scale and do some metronome work to get used to how to use it.
- Play with a drum track. Some people are more successful playing along with a rhythm track on a digital piano or on an app. These tracks feel a little more musical than a metronome. You can hear the emphasis on different beats and it might be easier to stick with it.
- Find backing tracks to accompany your music. Depending on what music you’re learning, you may be able to find instrumental accompaniment tracks that go with your music. If your music came with a CD or has the option to download audio files, be sure to check it out and see if it’s something you can play along. Or, check YouTube and see if there’s a backing track for your song available there.
8. Be Consistent With Fingering
As soon as you start learning a new piece, find the best fingering that works for you stick with it. One of the most unproductive ways to practice is to practice something differently every time. When you ignore proper fingering you spend valuable practice time learning your music incorrectly, then you’ll just have to go back and learn it the right way later on.
9. Find A Good Practice Routine and Stick With It
Sometimes the hardest part about practicing the piano is getting started. It’s easy to get swept up in a busy schedule and not make time to practice the piano.
Make your piano practice be a very deliberate part of your day. Schedule it in just like you would schedule other important activities and appointments.
Find an optimal time of your day for piano practice. Some people feel the most mentally alert and clear in the morning and make piano practice a morning routine. Others might find morning to be too rushed and hectic, but enjoy using piano practice as a way to wind down in the evenings. Think through your day and find what works for you.
Short frequent practice sessions are often more productive than longer infrequent sessions. You can’t cram to learn the piano. Just 10-15 minutes of daily practice will take you much further than one hour-long session each week.
10. Know That Progress Doesn’t Happen in a Straight Line
Don’t expect your piano progress to always happen in a forward motion. It’s very common that pianists put in the time practicing and don’t feel an immediate improvement. Just remember that this is a very normal part of practicing the piano.
Acknowledge that all of the time you put into your piano practice will add up to long-term success. But, also accept that the rewards are almost never immediately and sometimes might even feel like, despite all of your work, things are going worse. It’s a frustrating feeling but learning to play an instrument is the ultimate form of delayed gratification. It will all pay off over time
Your challenge today is to choose one of these tips to implement to your practice right away. Bookmark this post and next time you’re in a practice rut, pick one more to tackle. Over time, you’ll become an expert piano problem-solver with optimal practice techniques!
This post was written by Megan, piano teacher and author of Pianissimo: A Very Piano Blog. Visit her website for more piano related blogs for teachers, parents, students, and all things piano!
Check out our posts How Long Should You Practice Your Instrument and 6 Methods for Memorizing Music for more musical tips. And make sure to grab all of your favorite sheet music arrangements at Musicnotes.com!