“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.”Elton John
Music is a gift, as is the ability to create music yourself. And maybe your goal is to deliver a flawless performance to a packed audience. Or perhaps you’re happiest in your living room, content to play only for yourself.
Whatever your piano goals, practice is the difference between achieving success and remaining stagnant. And unfortunately, practice tends to be one of those activities which gets a bad rap.
This is especially true for anyone who has taken piano lessons from a young age. Many parents and piano teachers mistakenly believe forcing kids to practice is the secret to musical success.
Unfortunately, forcing kids to practice often ends in fighting and resentment. Even worse, kids begin to associate the piano with negativity and eventually give it up entirely.
And even if you didn’t take lessons as a child, you may be somewhat mystified when it comes to practice. What is the best way to practice? Does it only mean countless repetitions? Are there secrets to making piano practice more effective and exciting?
These are the exact questions I found myself asking. My piano journey started at the age of 7 and led me toward a baccalaureate degree in music. To this day, I continue to be fascinated by the topic of piano practice.
And I’m constantly searching for the best piano practice techniques. If you’re also looking for ways to upgrade your piano practice, read on!
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“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”Benjamin Franklin
Mindful, inspiring piano practice starts with preparation away from the piano.
Select the Ideal Time
Start by deciding when you will practice. Try to pick a time when you’re at your best, physically and emotionally. As a busy working mom, I realize this is NOT always possible. Just try your best. Then commit to this time by blocking it off in your planner.
It’s also ideal if you select a time with few distractions. Again, my experience as a mom who works full-time contradicts this ideal. My practice sessions are typically peppered with requests to fix toys, wipe tushies, and the occasional work call.
Between being forced to practice when I’m fatigued and the perpetual interruptions, tailoring my expectations has been a necessary part of the journey.
And honestly, the lack of progress due to factors outside my control is frustrating sometimes.
But I’ve learned to be reasonable and give myself grace. I’ve also started planning by taking a few minutes to clarify my practice session. Planning sessions involve setting goals for what I will accomplish today, tomorrow, and throughout the week.
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Upgrade your Piano Practice by Setting Goals
Start by listing all the different pieces you’re aspiring to learn. Then brainstorm every little thing that needs improvement in each piece. Now is the time to unleash your love for the details! Nothing is too small to write down.
Is the fingering in measure 34 awkward? Or are you having trouble nailing the trill at the end of that Chopin Nocturne? Do you forget to breathe when you play and, therefore, tense up? Maybe you’d love to work on memorization but have never taken the time before.
List each area where you are seeking improvements.
Once you have it all down on paper, it’s time to figure out a schedule. Consider your time constraints. Remember to be realistic about your time and ability to accomplish goals in a single session. Being practical is especially important if your time constraints are similar to mine! It always feels better to cross everything off a small list than to leave things unfinished on a larger one.
Although time is a crucial factor in the preparation phase, there’s another equally important factor at play; a factor that can also make or break your practice sessions’ effectiveness.
It’s All About Balance
You will find that some piano practice goals are more straightforward to accomplish than others. For example, memorization may require more brainpower than correcting the fingering in a trill.
Therefore, it’s essential to organize your goals by time and consider difficulty. How challenging is each one? And how can you arrange them to maximize your practice time?
Consider tackling one larger goal per day and throwing in one or two smaller ones to balance your session out. Or you could save the more complex tasks for days when you have fewer distractions.
To truly upgrade your piano practice, stack the more challenging task(s) at the beginning of your session, after your warm-up. Organizing your routine this way ensures you’re at your best and can effectively process the practice.
It can also be helpful to do several short practice sessions during the day instead of one long one. Personal experience has taught me that my brain grasps information better in shorter sessions than in longer marathons.
Block off time each week to prepare for the upcoming week’s practice sessions. By taking time to prepare and set goals, you will soon see your piano playing improve dramatically!
Another often overlooked way to upgrade your piano practice is to warm up at your session’s start.
I know what you’re thinking. Your practice time is limited as it is. Why spend extra time on anything that isn’t a specific goal?
And the answer is that the warm-up is the ideal way to get your mind in the right space. It’s the perfect opportunity to set your intention for practicing.
Warming up also gives your muscles time to adjust to the upcoming session. Whether it’s a Chopin etude, Rachmaninoff prelude, or your favorite pop song, playing the piano requires a certain degree of physical dexterity. It’s the combination between brain and body that ultimately produces a particular sound.
Therefore both the brain and body must be prepared for the session to succeed.
And there are so many distinct ways to effectively warm-up. One of my favorites is to simultaneously play and sing whatever strikes me as fun or appealing at the time. I have found that accompanying myself kicks things off in an entertaining way and makes my entire practice session more enjoyable.
Keep It Fun!
As someone who adores classical piano, I recognize that sometimes, I take myself and my playing way too seriously. On those days when I’m either dreading practice or simply not feeling it, I like to make sure the warm-up is fun! Oddly enough, one of the ways I do this is by singing.
Although you won’t see me headlining Broadway any time soon, I dearly love a catchy show tune. And I’m a sucker for anything by Matchbox Twenty. I especially love accompanying myself because it stretches my brain and keeps practice entertaining.
It brings back the simple joy of creating music my way.
On other days, I warm up by playing scales or various exercises to work on technique. You may also consider pulling concepts out of the pieces you’re working on to use as a warm-up.
The possibilities are endless, so see where your creativity leads!
If you’re looking for inspiration, check out some of my favorites., , , ,
Upgrade Your Piano Practice Through Memorization
Before studying piano in college, I admittedly had done very little memorization. It was somewhat of a foreign concept. And it was incredibly intimidating at first.
It wasn’t until after college that I became genuinely interested in memorization. Don’t get me wrong. I did plenty of memorizing in college but never truly embraced it.
After college, I took a job in a completely different field that I didn’t particularly care for, and playing the piano became my escape. Ironically, although I no longer had access to the college practice room grand pianos, I was more motivated to practice than I had ever been.
At that point in my life, memorization became more of a game and less of a graduation requirement. It’s interesting how much more appealing something becomes when no one is forcing you to do it.
And I suddenly realized how memorizing a piece of music could make the piece a part of you in a way that reading from a score can’t. Musical expression, phrasing, and dynamics suddenly come alive as all your focus goes toward playing instead of the sheet music.
Although memorization takes practice in and of itself, it’s absolutely worth it! And in my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to instantly upgrade your piano practice!
Memorization Tips and Tricks
Whether you aspire to perform a Rachmaninoff concerto someday or whether you want to impress your friends, memorization is a tool that can close the gap between dream and reality.
And although it may seem difficult at first, there are a few tips to make the process a bit smoother. The first is to start with songs well below your playing capability. Memorization is a tricky skill to learn when you’re also struggling with technique and artistry. And if it’s a piece you can sight-read correctly (or nearly so) at first glance, even better!
The second trick I use is to memorize one measure at a time. And there are many times when I don’t even start at the beginning of the piece. Sometimes it’s beneficial to start either at the very end of the piece itself or the beginning of a particular section of the piece.
If you always memorize only from the beginning of the piece and you have a memory lapse (which is, by the way, completely normal!), it can be difficult to start again mid-piece. But if you are constantly working to build your memory starting at various places throughout the piece, picking up anywhere will be easier.
The third tip for those new to memorizing music is to keep your memorization sessions very short. I’m talking about a maximum of 5 minutes. Learning new skills, especially memorization, requires a great deal of focus. If your sessions are too long, your brain can quickly become overwhelmed, and memory lapses can take over, stalling progress and leading to frustration.
If you would like to start incorporating memorization into your practice sessions, make sure you check out this post.
It’s Your Turn to Upgrade Your Piano Practice
Whether you’ve now resolved to prepare for practice sessions in advance or to starting memorizing your music, I genuinely hope this post has inspired you to upgrade your piano practice! As someone who has played the instrument for upwards of 20 years, I can assure you that your desire to practice will ebb and flow at times.
It’s normal to go through periods in your life when you’re so motivated to practice that it’s difficult to peel yourself away from the keyboard. And it’s just as normal to have others when you couldn’t feel less compelled to sit down at the bench.
It’s easy to show up when your motivation is high, and you feel like practicing. But continuing to show up, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing, is the mark of a true musician.
Motivation comes and goes, but you can also instantly upgrade your piano practice by creating foolproof systems to get you closer to your goals. For more on setting goals and creating habits, check out this post dedicated to the topic. I guarantee you won’t look at either goals or habits the same way again!
Although there are seasons in life when you may learn piano independently, there are others when getting instruction from a teacher is key to continued improvement. If you’re currently searching for a teacher, make sure you visit my resource page for online teachers with current openings in their studios. This list includes a diverse range of teachers with diverse backgrounds and specialties, but all have a passion for teaching and helping students accomplish their goals.
And if you’re searching for a complimentary program for your classical piano training, don’t miss out on the ProPractice course created by Dr. Josh Wright. It’s absolutely the best and most thorough instruction on a wide variety of pieces from the classical piano repertoire. If you’ve never heard of the course, click here to read about my experience and the reasons why you’re missing out by not investing in this incredible resource.
As always, I would love to hear from you! Drop a comment below with your thoughts on this post. Where are you on your piano journey? What are the best ways you’ve found to upgrade your piano practice? And what are your struggles with learning piano, either independently or with a teacher?
Until next time, stay healthy, stay safe, and never stop learning!