When you sit down at the piano to begin your daily practice, chances are that you don’t have a plan in place for what you are going to work on. Not having a plan isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can easily lead to you rushing through your repertoire, ignoring half of your technique, or spending a lot of time on something you aren’t meant to be working on at your next lesson.
Practicing effectively doesn’t mean practicing more – it means taking the time before you begin to play to roughly plan out each practice section. These steps to an effective practice session will help you to get better results from the same amount of practice time, and can improve your playing dramatically!
1. Look Over Your Piano Teacher’s Notes
Your piano teacher writes down notes about what you need to be practicing for a reason! Even if you think you remember everything she told you to do, it’s important to look over the list – it’s quite possible that you are missing something! Looking over this list will remind you of everything you need to accomplish over the week, and will help you to determine which songs and technique skills will require the most work each day. Use this list to make a separate list of the things that you want to accomplish in today’s practice – be realistic and don’t bite off more than you can chew!
2. Begin With At Least Fifteen Minutes of Technique
Technique is very important for getting your hands warmed up, and your mind in the right ‘zone’ to practice. Don’t rush through your technique just to get it done – it’s an important set of skills to have, and by taking your time to learn them properly you will actually be improving your overall playing abilities!
3. Look over your repertoire pieces before starting to play
Now it is time to move on to your pieces. Before you begin each piece, take a few moments to identify areas of struggle, make sure fingering is in place for difficult sections and consider any areas your teacher has pointed out in-lesson. Looking over a piece before you begin to play reminds you of what you are supposed to be focussing on, so that even your first time through a piece is focused on improvement.
4. Use Your Metronome
The rhythms of your piece are some of the most important parts in making it sound its best. Keeping your timing even and your pace accurate for each repertoire piece from the very beginning if you want to improve quickly. Once you learn a song with incorrect rhythms, it is very hard to un-learn – it is much more efficient to learn it correctly the first time around!
5. Perform the Piece
It is common for those learning the piano to think that practicing a piece is just about making sure the notes and rhythms are correct, and that adding in expression is something only done in performance. This logic is flawed, however! How can you expect to perform a piece with expression if you’ve never practiced it that way? Every time you play a piece, even if it’s for the third time that day, play it the way you would perform it for an audience – this saves you from having to dedicate time specifically to adding expression at the very end of preparing for a performance!
6. If you have trouble with a section, STOP and solve the problem
Another bad habit of piano students is continuing to play a piece after making a mistake. When you keep playing after making a mistake, you are teaching yourself to make that mistake every time you play! Over time, this can become a big problem – it’s very hard to change mistakes once you’ve learned them! Instead, every time you make a mistake while playing, it is very important that you stop and go over that section of the piece (paying special attention to why you made a mistake – was it fingering? forgetting the key signature?) until you are able to play it correctly.
By using these suggestions and any other suggestions that your piano teacher has for your practice sessions, you will find that you are able to accomplish much more in a single practice than ever before. You will be learning more in a much shorter time, and your skills will develop much faster – all without spending any extra time at the keys!