Every practice session on the piano moves you toward success.
But what if you could supercharge your progress and become highly competent years before others do?
It really takes so little to be above average. Just do the little things most people don't or won't do.
If you're reading this on behalf of a child under 12 or 13, help them establish these success habits. They need your input.
Even if you don’t know music, you can help them establish a viable regular practice time. And it’s important that you do so!
You can also help them read (and follow) lesson notes and ask them to play their newest song for you or “teach” you their last lesson.
But most of all, they need you to help them establish a routine.
A little every day is far better than a lot once or twice a week. Thirty minutes three times a week is just 90 minutes per week. Twenty minutes for seven days is 140 minutes a week. That's nearly an hour per week of missed practice... a difference of 43 hours in just one year.
Besides that, here are 15 ways to shorten the learning curve and gain competency faster than you ever thought possible.
1.Set yourself up for success by practicing in a quiet area away from TVs, phones, and general household noise so you can concentrate. If that’s not feasible, face your piano or keyboard to the wall, so you’re less distracted. If you practice on a keyboard, use headphones. It sends a clear message that you’re busy, and cuts down on background noise.
Silence phone and computer notifications, especially if you’re playing from computer sheet music.
2. Set a regular daily practice time. Parents, if your child is enrolled, help them find a time to practice every day (at least 5 to 6 days per week)... just as you help them get their homework and chores done. I consistently encourage them to play at home, and go to the piano cheerfully when reminded.
Your maturity and reminders will help your child develop personal discipline and achieve proficiency. Ideally, the practice time you choose should be a time that you can maintain daily so it becomes part of your (or their) routine.
3. Warm up your hands by running them under warm water for a few minutes, especially in winter. If your hands are cold they’ll be stiff, which compromises finger dexterity. Be sure to dry them before playing.
4. Always practice with clear purpose and full concentration.
5. Shoot for a specific goal or accomplishment... not for a time on the clock.
6. A good time guideline is 20 minutes per day for adults and older children... and 10 minutes for young beginners (under eight), as their songs and attention spans are short. Besides, we want them to want to come back for more.
Quick story... When my daughter was five, she was fascinated with piano. She listened to all my lessons and picked things up very quickly from there. Yet when she sat down to play, I set a timer for 10 minutes, and when the timer went off, she was required to leave the piano. She left for a short time and was soon back at it. This is ideally what we want!
Advanced students will need 30 to 60 minutes per day, given their skill and longer pieces.
7. Break longer practice sessions into smaller chunks... perhaps 20 minutes in the morning or after school and 20 minutes in the evening. Or 10 and 10.
8. Practice every day... and skip the cram session the day before your lesson. J
9. The most productive practice time of the entire week is right after your lesson. Even if it’s not your regular practice time, schedule a practice session right after your lesson every week. It immediately reinforces what you learned. If questions arise during this time, you can email me and ask for further clarification without losing a whole week of practice. The second best practice day is the day after your lesson.
10. Start your music in the middle or end of the piece some of the time. When you always start at the beginning you learn the beginning well. And the end, not so much. As your teacher, I often assign specific measures to practice, in a specific order. We may even start with the end. 😉
11.Practice slowly. You learned to walk before you learned to run. It’s the same with piano. It’s not “practice makes perfect.” It’s perfect practicethat makes perfect.
Go slow as a turtle and aim for perfect practice. You don’t want to learn and reinforce mistakes. If it takes 24 repetitions to learn the piece right the first time, but you instead practice mistakes 24 times, then you’ll have two or three times the work to undo the wrong and get it right. Now you just topped 72 times if not more, to learn it right. And that is definitely not efficient!
12. Count out loud every time you play, till your piece is performance ready. Counting out loud helps you feel the beat and get the rhythm right. Without a correct beat it won’t sound like the song it’s supposed to be. And it’ll hinder you from learning more advanced rhythms. A metronome is also recommended.
13. Pre-observe the piece before you play it. Identify the key signature and time signature. Figure out what flats or sharps you’ll play throughout the piece. Make a mental note of naturals, ornaments, dynamics, slurs, staccatos, and other notations, so you can do your perfect practice.
14. Play your music in sections. If you have a piece that’s 96 measures long, break it up into 4- or 8-measure units. Make sure you play each section carefully with the same finger on the same note each time. It’ll help you be consistent instead of stumbling over notes. It aids muscle memory. And makes it easier to memorize the song. You’ll be amazed at how easy the hard parts become when you do them in small chunks!
15. A great way to get an accurate assessment of your playing is to record yourself. Then listen to your recording as you watch the music. Pauses and missed notes become much more evident this way.
Work with an "A" level teacher, shorten your learning curve, and love playing piano.
Carol Parks is the founder of Allegro Piano School. She calls the OKC area home now, though she's lived all over the country. When she’s not teaching piano, she loves to hang out with family, watch and play sports, go for long walks, travel, or curl up with a good book.