By Robert Boer, Director and Teacher of Piano & Music Theory @MusicTutorOnline
Imagine this, I have played the piano since I was 6 years old, and there hasn't been a single day in my life where I felt bored with playing the piano. On the contrary, playing the piano has always given me boundless joy, energy, and inspiration, and has even helped me through difficult times. The piano is one of the most wonderful instruments, and how to practice efficiently is something that has always fascinated me. Over the course of the past 45 years, I have learned a lot. The learning still goes on today, and I am convinced that this is one of the many reasons why playing the piano can provide us with a lifetime of joy.
Having taught piano for over 20 years now, to all ages and levels, has given me a good insight into this matter. It is important to know that everybody learns differently and that no two piano players are the same. However, there are certain aspects that work for everybody and it is those aspects that I would like to share with you.
In this blog post, I like to explore how I can help you get better results in the process of practicing or help you in getting good results faster.
Let me ask you; have you ever felt frustrated while practicing? If yes, why was there frustration? The solution to your answer may have something to do with the way we practice and what we practice.
1. How to practice.
2. What to practice.
3. What can you do away from the piano.
I. HOW TO PRACTICE.
Of main importance is something I like to call mindful practicing.
Many different aspects come together here, however, the main one is to always listen critically to yourself. Don't accept imperfections in sound. If you don't practice mindfulness and simply repeat things for instance, and you are not listening to yourself carefully, imperfections may creep into your playing. It is harder to Re-learn than to just learn new things.
Another aspect of mindful practicing is knowing what to practice and then working on it in a mindful manner. For example, do you know where in a certain piece you always have trouble? It is advisable to then take that part out and work on it, rather than play through a piece from beginning to end and hoping it will get better over time.
Practice slow. A lot of students like to go too fast. When forcing yourself to practice at a very slow speed you develop good muscle and brain memory and will soon be able to increase the tempo and keep sounding beautiful at the same time.
Reduce information. Playing piano involves understanding and processing a lot of information. Sometimes it could be better to not practice too many pieces all at once. Another thing that can work is for instance to take an element like rhythm out and practice that separately by trying to tap the rhythms you have to play with both your hands on the piano lid.
To stay mindful may require you to practice for shorter periods of time. It is better to stay mindful and practice in shorter sessions more often and regularly than doing the opposite. Practicing regularly throughout a week will improve your results dramatically!
Good Posture. It is so important to have good posture while playing the piano. Body, arms, wrists, hands, fingers. I am planning to write a separate blog in the nearby future addressing this topic. Stay tuned!
ALWAYS MAKE MUSIC. Even when practicing scales, for instance, try imagining you are playing the most beautiful music in the world and always put expression into it. Make every note sound beautiful.
Always think beat. I come across so many students who are not thinking beat while playing. This can result in imperfections creeping into our playing. This is another very important part of mindful practicing. I am planning to also write a detailed blog about this topic in the nearby future.
It is also good to have moments away from the piano. Look at the score, imagine the sound, learn about the composers, and listen to recordings. Mental training also involves looking at the score and move your fingers as if you were playing the piano. If you have memorized a piece try playing it through in your head.
I like to end this first chapter with a quote from Pablo Picasso. This quote is so applicable to practicing the piano:
"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it" Pablo Picasso.
II. WHAT TO PRACTICE
Of course first, and foremost, you practice your pieces. As mentioned in chapter 1, it may be wise to not practice too many pieces at once to reduce the information needed to be processed by our brain.
It is important to choose pieces that challenge you and that you like. From an early age, it is advisable to play music from a lot of different time periods to develop a broad taste for different styles. Don't choose pieces that are outside your technical reach. Learning to play music takes time, and through mindful practice, you will get there. Be patient. In choosing excellent pieces suitable for your level, the advice of a good piano teacher may be needed. Another good way is to follow graded music exams that progressively help you go through the piano repertoire and at the same time encourage a broad taste of styles.
Supplement your technical weaknesses with additional technical exercises. Scales, arpeggios, octaves, thirds, finger independence, strength, tone control, etc. It is good to make a balanced selection of some exercises to work on regularly. For this the help of an experienced teacher who knows what you need is advisable. A blog post devoted to technical exercises for the piano is coming soon!
Lastly, practicing your rhythm and ears through rhythm and ear/aural training with your teacher or by yourself can prove to be very helpful.
III. WHAT CAN YOU DO AWAY FROM THE PIANO
Listen to recordings from your favorite pianists from the pieces you are practicing. It will help you develop a good ear and good taste. It will furthermore inspire you. Do you sometimes listen to an awe-inspiring performance and can't wait to get to the piano and practice? Amazing performers inspire and motivate us to become better players.
Do you find it difficult to practice regularly and cover all that is needed during your practice sessions? If your answer is yes, or maybe, setting up a practice log could be beneficial for you. Why? It gives you a clear overview of your practice activities and helps you achieve your goals. It also promotes sticking to your routine and practice regularly. How? Set a schedule that is obtainable for you. Recommended is 5 days a week as a minimum. As discussed above time away from the piano is useful in doing "mental practice". Set a minimum amount of time for each day with 20 minutes being recommended as a minimum. Set goals. What do you want to achieve? What needs work? In a future blog post, I will discuss and give examples of a good practice schedule. For now, a simple calendar with your practice days, times, and goals is already a great first step.
Practice in a mindful manner.
Enjoy the process.
Always make music.
Some things need time, be patient.
Keep your goals in mind.
Stay tuned. More to follow!
Thank you for reading.
Director and Teacher of Piano & Music Theory @MusicTutorOnline