Wouldn’t it be great if you could learn that piece faster and it was easier? That’s exactly what can happen for you if you follow these tips. These suggestions are easy and don’t take a lot of time — the best thing to do is let these tips be automatic so when you practice you don’t have to think of them. The most important thing to remember about practicing is keeping your focus. It’s not how long you spend at the piano, but the quality of the time spent that will get you further. It is much better to play something once correctly than many times incorrectly.
Musical Setup. Make sure you have no distractions while you play, including TV, radio, or brothers and sisters making noise. The less interruptions you have the better.
Good lighting is also a bigger help than you think. Make sure you have a light that shines directly on your music, not just an overhead light. Even a lamp on your piano that does not shine light on your music because of its shade is not ideal. Make it easy for your eyes to see those notes.
Proper seating can help you spend more time at the keys. It keeps your back from getting tired. Make sure your bench is at a proper height, and your keyboard is at the right setting too. Ask your teacher for exact measurements. Part of proper seating is how you sit; good posture makes it easy for you to be comfortable while sitting at the piano. Good posture includes keeping both feet flat on the ground, keeping your back straight, elbows slightly in front of your body, keeping the bench back and leaning slightly forward.
Using a Weekly Practice Schedule is a great tool to help remind you of when to practice. Know what times you have chosen for each day of the week and try as much as possible to stick to those times.
Have a sharpened pencil with a good eraser on your music stand. Use this to circle fingering, write in counting, highlight trouble spots, and to analyze your pieces. Pick it up often!
Read Your Practice Plan Carefully. Your teacher works very hard to write down all the helpful hints and tips for each individual piece you get, so reading your lesson plan carefully is a great place to start. You can’t remember everything your teacher said at the lesson, which is why teachers write it down for you. Knowing what to look for when practicing can save you hours of work and make your practicing more fun. Your teacher has had years of practicing and playing experience, so listen to their ideas.
Learn It Right The First Time. Take your time learning new pieces to make sure rhythm, counting, fingering and notes are correct. It is so much harder to UN-learn these things because you programmed wrong things in your mind and fingers. It will also make it that much longer to learn the pieces. Be patient and work slowly at first, then build from there.
A Little At A Time. Work in small sections so you can master a little at a time. Look first for four measure phrases, (and don’t forget pickup measures and notes) and start slowly, and build the tempo gradually. Be comfortable with each section before moving on to the next.
Try working hands separately, one hand at a time. Give more attention to whichever is more difficult. There’s no point in working on something you’re already good at. Have each hand be able to do their thing faster than the piece is actually supposed to be played at separately, and then put them together at HALF that speed.
Slow practice is the key to secure playing. This is especially helpful when you will be playing for a recording or for other people. Always start slow and gradually build your tempo; don’t suddenly jump to a fast tempo. Sometimes it is good to test yourself and see how slowly you can play and how fast you can play a piece, but most of the work is done in slow practice. You can always build the tempo later.
Smooth practice is very important. The listener can easily hear when you speed up for easy sections and slow down for harder ones. You want to keep your piece all one tempo. Playing a piece slower and smoothly always sounds better than fast and out of control. Find a tempo that you can play the whole piece in, not just the easy parts.
Try starting in the middle of the piece. You should be able to pick up and play to the end starting from one of your sections or phrases. This way you know that you know it well. Try playing a section “three times in a row perfectly.” Remember, a pause counts as a mistake. Just because you made it through once doesn’t mean it will be in your fingers the next time.
Playing and Listening. Play for other people as much as possible. Make sure you play a piece you are finished with and are comfortable with (that’s a piece in your repertoire). Play for family and friends when they come to visit; maybe even memorize a piece to play when you are not at home.
Attend as many recitals, piano parties, and concerts as possible. Play in front of larger groups of people who are there to enjoy hearing you play. The more you hear others play, the more that can add to your own musicality.
Listen to recordings of many styles of music. Find out more about the composers, the musicians playing the music, and read any liner notes included with the recording.
If you have a recording of a piece you are playing, listen to it while following along looking at the score. Then try playing with the recording, hands separately and then hands together.
Understand Your Pieces. The more you understand about your pieces, the easier they are. Always look for patterns in music. Many times sections are repeated or only slightly changed.
Understand the hand positions and chord changes to help remember your pieces so you can focus on playing musically and expressively. The more you understand the structure of a piece, the more that piece is a part of you.
Get a musical dictionary. Try to know what all those strange markings and foreign words mean. If you don’t have a musical dictionary, be sure you ask your teacher what they mean and how to play those expressions.
Have Fun. Listen to yourself play sometimes. All work and no play can be dull, so make sure you are enjoying playing too. It’s even better when you can share it with friends and family.
Article © 1999 by Paul Nazzaro