It’s a well-known fact that playing the piano has been proven to increase IQ, as it develops new neural pathways in the brain in both adults and children. Practicing the piano is integral to learning how to play piano properly and to improving as a musician.
But how do you structure piano practice?
There are ways that you can ensure that you are practicing the piano efficiently and effectively. We will discuss them here.
Make Time to Practice the Piano
We are all busy in our lives, whether we are adults with full-time jobs, or children and youth going to school (and perhaps holding down a job as well). One of the most important things you must do if you are serious about learning to play the piano is to set aside time every day to practice.
You must organize your daily calendar and make sure that you adhere to it. Add “practice piano” to your to-do list. The best way to do this is to set aside the same time every day and devote that half hour or hour to practicing the piano, no matter what. If you end up skipping a day, get right back into your piano practice routine the next day.
Experts recommend that beginning piano students spend 20 to 40 minutes each day practicing the piano. Advanced piano students should practice for 45 minutes to an hour every day.
Structure Your Piano Practice
Decide what your goals are each day when you sit down to practice the piano. Keep a notebook with your daily and weekly objectives. This will help you to focus on the most important tasks. As you achieve a goal, check it off. You will feel a great sense of accomplishment once you have done so.
For example, if you are sitting down to learn a new piano piece, you (or your piano teacher, or the two of you together) might want to come up with the following goals:
- Split the piece up, learning it in parts. Some pianists like to learn the right hand, then the left, before putting the two together, while others like to attack the piece with both hands but split it into lines, bars or sections.
- Remember correct fingering, especially for the difficult parts. Learning a piece with incorrect fingering can derail your progress.
- Take it slow. Make sure when you start out with a new piano piece, you take it slowly. Don’t expect to be able to play it up to tempo right away.
- Note any challenges in the piece you need to focus on. Write these down so that you can measure your progress daily.
- Don’t end your practice session by practicing something incorrectly. If you stop practicing a piece/section of a piece after you’ve played it wrong, that’s what you’ll remember and that’s how you’ll begin your next practice session – playing it wrong again. Make sure to correct your mistake and play that part correctly before stopping practice for the day.
Make Sure to Warm Up First
Just like you must do before beginning to exercise your body, you must warm up before exercising your fingers on the piano. Doing 10 minutes of scales is a recommended warm up to limber your fingers and get the blood flowing in your hands. Yes, they might be boring, but they are necessary before attacking whatever musical piece(s) you are practicing.
Take it Slow
This cannot be stressed enough, which is why I’m mentioning it again here. When you are starting out on practicing any new piano piece, take it slow. You cannot expect to play the music exactly as written, with the same tempo, feel and tone as the musician intended, the first few times you sit down to play it.
If you play music too quickly, your brain cannot absorb this information and just muddles it up.
Approaching a new piano piece slowly and methodically is the answer to long-term success. In this way, you can identify which parts of the piece are more challenging and more difficult for you, and you will know what to focus on in future practice sessions.
Play each section of the musical piece as slowly as you possibly can. Break it up into shorter sections and thoroughly, correctly learn one before moving on to the next.
Repetition is the key when learning how to play a new piano piece. If you keep repeating the hardest sections of a piece, eventually you will be able to play it correctly.
Using a metronome is highly recommended. Unless you’re a purist or traditionalist, you no longer need to use the old-time metronomes, because smartphone apps like the free Metronome by Soundbrenner (free, Android and iPhone) will do the exact same thing. This will help you to keep your practice slow in the beginning and gradually build up to the intended tempo.
If you prefer using the traditional metronome, here’s how:
Understand the Piece
Understanding the musical piece means more than just knowing how to play the notes. You should think about why the piece sounds the way it does and what mood the composer is trying to convey. Try to play that piece with those things in mind.
Think about phrasing, expression, tempo and the character of the piece. Remember to use the foot pedal when necessary, but don’t overuse it. Understanding the piece will become easier the more times you practice it.
Record Yourself Practicing
Many piano teachers also recommend recording yourself practicing the piano, then playing it back to see how you sound. You can simply use your smartphone to record yourself playing, then listen to it. You might notice mistakes you didn’t catch while playing or discover ways you’d like to play the piece differently next time.
You can either record yourself using audio only or make a video, depending upon your preference. A video will show you things you might be unaware of, such as your posture while playing and your hand placement and can be quite beneficial to practice.
Note Your Mistakes and What They Mean
Note the mistakes that you make when playing the piece, and what they indicate. Are you trying to play that section too quickly? Is your fingering off?
Make sure to correct your mistakes as they arise, before moving on, so that your mind doesn’t learn something incorrectly and stubbornly stick with it.
Memorize the Piece
This is not a step that must always be completed, but if you are planning to play for an audience it looks great to others if you have the piece memorized. Once you have practiced the piece many times, you will remember many parts of it anyway, so memorizing the entire thing shouldn’t be that difficult.
Your confidence as a piano player will build as you build your repertoire of pieces you can play from memory.
Once you have successfully learned a piece of music, reward yourself with something you like!
This can be anything within reason that makes you happy (I wouldn’t recommend buying a new car, for example, every time you finish a piece). Rewarding yourself in this way will help maintain your motivation to keep practicing.