Practicing piano well is a far cry from just playing through our pieces. To learn effectively, our practice really needs to be systematic. Here are a few rules for effective piano practice.
Learning music requires our full attention. Practice while your concentration is at its peak. A corollary to the rule of focus is to avoid practicing when your mind is fatigued—this risks doing more harm than good.
Create a space for learning music that is as distraction-free as possible. Clear your workspace. Disable notifications on your phone or place your phone in airplane mode.
Have a clear goal in mind for each bit of practice, and focus intently on that goal. The term “deliberate practice” was coined by cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson. Deliberate practice is a virtuous cycle of clear goals, focus, and feedback.
Music is about sound. Always listen! It’s possible to switch off your ears and move your fingers, but this is counterproductive. Challenge yourself to hear every line and every note.
Practice in small “chunks”
Reading a whole passage of music over and over again is not an effective way to learn it. Less is more. Focus on one small “chunk” at a time. If that is too difficult, select an even smaller chunk until you can play it flawlessly. Put chunks together and gradually they’ll become bigger as you learn your piece.
Practice hands separately
Hands separate practice is by no means just for beginners. Our “muscle memory” (more accurately motor memory) can really be divided into three types: the memory of the left hand, the memory of the right hand, and the memory of the hands together. Make each type of motor memory equally strong.
Write in your fingerings
Another rule of practice that is not just for beginners is writing in your fingerings. (It’s worth stressing writing in your fingerings!) This significantly speeds up learning and aids your memory. The rule is: You should be able to look at any note of any piece you play and immediately know which finger plays that note. If it’s not obvious straight away, write in your fingering.
Solve musical problems away from the piano
Many musical problems are best solved away from the piano. Working out rhythms, for example, is a perfect opportunity to abstract from playing the keyboard; instead tap and count until the rhythm is secure.
Important musical details are often hiding in plain sight. When we play the piano in every moment of practice, our minds are occupied with the intricacies of playing. Take a step back and analyze the music. Notice harmonies, pitch and rhythmic motives, the form of the piece. Even if you can’t yet label everything, it still helps significantly to stop and notice musical events.
I hope these tips will help make your practice sessions more productive!
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