By Robert Boer, Director of MusicTutorOnline and Teacher of Piano, Music Theory & Analysis.
Imagine this: I have played the piano since I was six years old, and there hasn't been a day in my life when 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 beautiful instruments, and how to practice efficiently is something that has always fascinated me. For the past 45 years, I have learned a lot. The learning continues 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 essential to know that everybody learns differently and that no two piano players are the same. However, certain aspects 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 practicing or help you get 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 how you practice and what you practice.
1. How to practice.
2. What to practice.
3. What can you do away from the piano.
I. HOW TO PRACTICE.
Of paramount 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 repeat things, and do not listen to yourself carefully, flaws may creep into your playing. It is harder to Re-learn than to learn new things.
Another aspect of mindful practice is knowing what to practice and working on it mindfully. For example, do you know where in a particular piece you always have trouble? It is advisable to take that part out and work on it rather than play through a piece from beginning to end, hoping it will improve over time.
Practice slow. A lot of students like to go too fast. You develop good muscle and brain memory when forcing yourself to practice at a very slow speed. You will soon be able to increase the tempo and keep sounding beautiful simultaneously.
Reduce information. Playing piano involves understanding and processing a lot of information. Sometimes it could be better not to practice too many pieces simultaneously. Another thing that can work is to take an element like rhythm out and practice that separately by trying to tap the rhythms you have to play with both hands on the piano lid.
To stay mindful may require you to practice for shorter periods. It is better to remain mindful and practice in shorter sessions more often and regularly than doing the opposite. Practicing regularly throughout the week will improve your results dramatically!
Good Posture. It is essential to have good posture while playing the piano: body, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers. I plan to write a separate blog soon addressing this topic. Stay tuned!
ALWAYS MAKE MUSIC. Even when practicing scales, 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 many students who are not thinking beat while playing, which can result in imperfections creeping into our playing. I am also planning to write a detailed blog about this topic in the near 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 moving your fingers as if 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 not to practice too many compositions at once to reduce the information needed to be processed by our brain.
It is crucial to choose pieces that challenge you and that you like. From an early age, playing music from many different periods is advisable 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 you will get there through mindful practice. 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. Making a balanced selection of exercises to work on regularly is good. 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 yourself can prove 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, and 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? Outstanding 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 practicing regularly. How? Set a schedule that is obtainable for you. Recommended is five days a week as a minimum. As discussed above, time away from the piano helps do "mental practice." Set a minimum amount of time for each day, with 20 minutes recommended as a minimum. Set goals. What do you want to achieve? What needs work? I will discuss and give examples of a good practice schedule in a future blog post. For now, a simple calendar with your practice days, times, and goals is already a significant 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 of MusicTutorOnline
Teacher of Piano, Music Theory & Analysis