My Practice Routine

Question: Hello Albert,

I often read about practicing on your website, and you write a lot about how to practice efficiently, and how you get the best results. But if someone (like me) tries to focus on all the things you tell us on your website, it can be kind of hard to keep everything in mind. And another thing is, that your website isn’t the only one with tips and so on.

I don’t know if it is a pianists’ secret, but if you have got no problem with it, I would like to know what your basic “practice-timetable” looks like, sort of like an inspiration to write my own plan.

Have a nice weekend!

– Alessandro

Albert’s reply: You want me to give away my practice secrets for free?! 😉

Actually, practicing is so extensive a subject that I’ll need to dedicate a whole course to it, though I’ll be happy to offer the essential details of my basic practice regimen here.

I like to warm up both my fingers and my mind with scales. I play parallel major/minor scales in four octaves and proceed chromatically. I often start with G major, with the G below the bass clef staff being the lowest note. I play G major, then G minor and proceed upwards from there: A-flat major and G-sharp minor, then A major and A minor, and so forth up to F-sharp major and F-sharp minor. I play each scale using the so-called Russian pattern, in which the hands play both in parallel and contrary motion. Here is an example:

I always play all major and minor scales each time I practice them. I play each scale at least twice, and if a scale is uneven or insecure I keep practicing it until I can comfortably play it evenly. I pretty much always use the metronome when practicing scales, since evenness of rhythm (as well as of dynamics and articulation) is of the utmost importance.

If my fingers are in need of further warming up, I like to practice scales in double thirds:

Double thirds are among the most difficult aspects of piano technique, and as such this exercise is for very advanced pianists only. I do have my own way of practicing them, but since this is such a specialized and advanced topic it is best saved for private lessons or an advanced course.

After warming up I proceed to practicing repertoire. Most of the time this involves learning new music. It is important that the mind be fresh when learning music, which is why I make a point of doing so as early in my practice session as possible. I’ve written plenty about the learning process elsewhere, so there’s no need to go into too much detail here.

What is important is that I learn small sections of music, first hands separately and then hands together. I practice slowly, always carefully choosing fingering and expression in advance. I write down my fingerings clearly. My rule for fingering is that I must know exactly which fingers play which keys immediately upon looking at any measure. The goal is total clarity. If there is the slightest doubt about which fingering to use for any note or chord, I write down those fingerings. I memorize the harmonies, counterpoint, visual appearance of the score, sound and hand shapes. I practice to reproduce exactly the sound I want, each and every time. In short, nothing ought to be left to chance. This is the way to prepare for a performance of any sort.

As for time, I generally practice in two-hour blocks. I always time my practice sessions and I keep track of daily totals. I schedule five-minute breaks, but most of the time I skip them because my mind is happily engaged with the music I am practicing. If your time is used effectively and you work with full concentration, four hours a day can be sufficient, even for a professional pianist. (I often practice more, and sometimes less than four hours a day.)

As with any skill, self-discipline is the key to improving at the piano. Self-discipline is in fact the magic formula for all self-improvement!

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