Successful Practice

Successfully Playing The Piano At Home



At first young children need their parents to help them with playing the piano at home through the entire session because they haven't learned what it means to practice something yet. It also often prevents them from playing incorrectly. Most students need someone to sit on the bench with them until they are about age eight and in the room with them until about age 10 when they may be able to play the piano at home alone. Noise, distractions, siblings, etc. will not be of any help. Quiet Zone! There is no substitute for a positive, encouraging attitude.


Have Realistic Expectations

You can make as many errors as you like: they are gone instantaneously and you can try it again as many times as you wish. Be gentle with yourself. Piano study is not supposed to cause stress; it's supposed to release it! Don't expect to play perfectly. It very rarely happens, even to concert artists (teachers too)! Even when you know a piece well, you'll miss at least 5% of the notes. Don't sweat it! Do the best you can and enjoy!


Divide Your Practice In To Parts

Divide your practice session into parts. I suggest something like 20% of your time on technique and theory, 60% on literature, and the last 20% on fun-anything you want to play. Don't forget the fun! It is O.K. to buy music not used in the lessons. It is O.K. to make up your own tunes. It is O.K. to improvise and experiment. You don't always have to start at the beginning; the middle and end are just as important. Starting with and learn the most difficult part first and then move on to the easier parts.


Set Goals For Each of Your Practice Sessions

Your goal should be reasonably small, focused and achievable for one sitting.

If you think you have accomplished your goal, say to yourself, did I play that by luck or could I play it the same way again. Your goal for a particular session may or may not have anything to do with your next lesson. If you give the family a performance, because everyone loves free stuff like free shows and free music, remember not to go back and give it another try after every mistake. Plow through it to the end without stopping.



Research shows that maximum retention occurs if repetition of something newly learned takes place within 24 hours or less. The retention rate is then approximately 90%. If repetition does not occur until 48 hours later (skip a day), the retention drops off drastically. By 72 hours (skip two days), retention is virtually zero and basically relearning must take place. Therefore, playing the piano every day is the most efficient way to learn and retain new things. A great time to play the piano at home is shortly after a lesson! Sometimes playing the piano at home at the same time every day is very useful because most students respond well to routines. Schoolwork is a higher priority and should be done first.

Speed Comes With Repetition

It is better to play something slow but correctly rather than fast or at tempo but poorly. Performance tempo will come with practice time. Select the problem spots in the music and focus on working those out. If needed, use a metronome to keep you at some level of uniform, consistent tempo speed once the rough spots are worked out. This will also help to prevent continuous restarts just because something was missed. Play at a tempo in which you are still in control of the most difficult parts.



The fingering printed in the music is only a suggestion. You can change it if it helps you to play the music more smoothly and musically. Music is usually written and edited by adult males and most piano students are not adult males; so the fingering may work well for the editor but not so great for you.


The Two Commandments of Fingering

1. Thou shalt not hop.

2. If a finger is going to cross, thou shalt use a thumb to do the crossing.


Commandment 1.: If you are playing c-d-e-f-g-a with your right hand, you may not finger it 1-2-3-4-5-5. That is hopping. You will need to tuck your thumb somewhere along the way instead like 1-2-3-4-5-1 or 1-2-3-1-2-3.

Commandment 2.: An example would be fingering step-wise notes a-b-c, 2-3-2. Wrong! Keep the rules in order using 1-2-3, 2-3-4, 2-3-1 or 2-1-2. Cross with your thumb not a finger.

Please feel free to use the same finger to play a repeated note unless two different fingers assist with speedy repetition.


Don't Eat And Drink Around Your Piano

Food and especially liquids are death to your piano!



Motivation is not something the teacher does to the student; it is something that the student does to himself, which is called being self-motivated or self-disciplined. You do not need to practice only what the teacher assigned to you. Once you have that down, you may look ahead at the next pages and practice those too and surprise the teacher by progressing further than what was expected.



If you pay attention to these ideas you will be more efficient with your practice time and thus accomplish more things so you can pass off more pages during your lesson and be able to move on to new things to learn.

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