Ever desired to become a pro pianist? Studies have shown that you need only three things to make you a great musician – PRACTICE! PRACTICE!! & PRACTICE!!!
But then again, what you practice, how you practice and when to practice is of utmost importance. These will eventually determine how better you would become.
When it comes to the piano practice, there are somethings you must put into consideration especially as it relates to practice routines. I will be sharing 10 practice routines for effective piano playing, which will invariably help to improve the pianist skill level.
WRONG PIANO PRACTICE ROUTINES
Many students/amateur pianist would follow this practice routine:
(a) First, practice scales or technical exercises until the fingers are limbered up. Continue this for 30 minutes or longer if you have time, to improve technique especially by using exercises such as the Hanon series.
(b) Then take a new piece of music and slowly read it for a page or two, carefully playing both hands together, starting from the beginning. This slow play is repeated until it can be performed reasonably well and then it is gradually speed up until the desired speed is attained. A metronome might be used for this gradual speed-up.
(c) At the end of a two-hour practice, the fingers are flying. The student can play as fast as they want and enjoy the experience before quitting.
After all, they are tired of practicing so that they can relax, play their hearts out at full speed. This is the time to enjoy the music!
(d) Once the piece can be played satisfactorily, memorize it and practice “until the music is in the hands”.
(e) On the day of the recital or lesson, practice the piece at correct speed (or faster) as many times as possible in order to make sure that it is in top condition. This is the last chance; obviously, the more practice, the better.
EVERY STEP OF THIS PROCEDURE IS WRONG!
The above will almost guarantee that the students will not progress beyond intermediate level even if they practice several hours daily. For example, this method tells the students nothing about what to do when they hit an impossible passage except to keep repeating, sometimes for a lifetime, with no clear idea of when or how the needed technique will be acquired. This method leaves the task of learning to play the piano completely to the student.
THE RIGHT PIANO PRACTICE ROUTINE FOR EFFECTIVE PLAYING
Having known the wrong routine, what are the right practice routine you should use to get an effective result? Here are the 10 piano practice routine for effective piano playing;
Practice good fingering positions. Relax the fingers and place your hand on a flat surface with all the fingertips resting on the surface and the wrist at the same height as the knuckles. The hand and fingers should form a dome. All the fingers should be curved. The thumb should point slightly down and bend slightly towards the fingers so that the last (nail) phalanges of the thumb is parallel to the other fingers (viewed from above). This slight inward bend of the thumb is useful when playing chords with wide spans. Once you begin play, you may need to stretch the fingers to become almost straight, or curl them more, depending on what you are playing.
The right height of the bench and its distance from the piano is also a matter of personal taste. For a good starting point, sit at the bench with your elbows at your sides and forearms pointing straight towards the piano. With your hands on the keys in playing position, the elbows should be slightly below the height of the hands, about level with the keys. Now place your hands on the white keys. Ensure the distance of the bench from the piano (and your sitting position) should be such that the elbows just miss your body as you move them in towards each other. Do not sit at the center of the bench but sit closer to the front edge so that you can plant your feet firmly on the floor or pedals. The bench height and location are most critical when playing loud chords.
Starting a Piece: Listening
The best way to start the learning process is to listen to a performance (recording). If you are going to become a pro pianist, then you must be a good listener.
The criticism that listening to a piece first is some sort of “cheating” has no defensible basis. The purported disadvantage is that students might end up imitating instead of using their creativity. It is impossible to imitate someone else’s playing because playing styles are so individualistic. This fact can be reassuring to some students who might blame themselves for the inability to imitate some famous pianist. If possible, listen to several recordings. They can open up all sorts of new ideas and possibilities that are at least as important to learn as finger technique. Not listening is like saying that you shouldn’t go to school because that will destroy your creativity. Some students think that listening is a waste of time because they will never play that well. In that case, think again. Listen several times in order to observe and take in everything that is happening in your music. Then, repeat this activity many times throughout your learning process
Study and analyze the piece of music
The next step is to analyze the structure of the composition. This structure will be used to determine the practice program and to estimate the time needed to learn this piece. As any experienced piano teacher knows, the ability to estimate the time needed to completely learn a piece is critically important to the success of the practice routine. Therefore, before you begin a new piece, take the time to make every possible observation you can about the music. What do you expect it to sound like? What is the music trying to communicate or portray? Think through all of the logistical aspects of the music like the time signature, key signature, roadmap, fingering, etc.
Make a solid plan about what you’ll do when you take the music back to the piano. This will ensure that you start learning the music quickly and effectively.
Break the music into small sections
Sometimes it makes sense to play the piece all the way through from start to finish. You might choose to do this first, just to get a scope of the entire piece. But, when you’re ready to get to work, break your music into small, workable sections.
Focus on practicing phrases, whether it is 2, 4, or 8 measures at a time. Other ways to break apart the music would be to work through the A section, the exposition, or until the first repeat sign. Whichever approach you take, find clear starting and ending points in your music.
Practicing slowly is probably the very most important skill to employ at the piano. It’s tempting to want to always play music up to tempo, but the magic happens in slow practice. This is where you gain accuracy, hone your technical skills and train your hands to achieve perfection.
Some people claim that they can’t play their music slowly. They say that when they slow down, they make more mistakes. This is a sure sign that slow practice is crucial! If you can’t play your music slowly, then you’re not playing it well when you play fast. However, if you’re playing it correctly slowly, it will speed up over time and you’ll maintain the same level of accuracy that you had at your slower tempo.
Hands Separate Practice
Acquiring Technique Realistically, 100% of piano technique development would be accomplished by practicing hands separately. Do not try to develop finger/hand technique together as that is much more difficult, time consuming, and dangerous.
Don’t be afraid to split up your hands whenever it’s necessary for your practice. There might be times that you can sight read with both hands with no problems. But, if anything starts to feel too complicated or messy, do some hands separate work. but you remember never to practice with fatigued hands!
Pianists are notorious for forging tempo and rhythm in music. Since you probably have to spend most of your time alone at our piano, it’s easy to have some give and take in the tempo, play rhythms inconsistently and go back to fix tiny mistakes. All of these bad habits can add up to big rhythm problems over time.
If you find yourself struggling to play with even rhythms and a consistent tempo, consider playing with a metronome. If the metronome is a frustrating or intimidating thing for you, don’t worry, you’re not alone! Most people have had to practice how to practice with a metronome. Back up a few steps to an older piece or an easy scale and do some metronome work to get used to how to it.
Find A Good Practice Routine and Stick With It
Sometimes the hardest part about practicing the piano is getting started. It’s easy to get swept up in a busy schedule and not make time to practice the piano.
Make your piano practice be a very deliberate part of your day. Schedule it in just like you would schedule other important activities and appointments.
Remember that goal you set at the start? Hit it, then reward yourself. Psychological research tells us that this “positive reinforcement” is far better for learning and developing good habits than punishing mistakes (“negative reinforcement”). So when a session isn’t going well, don’t be hard on yourself. Keep calm and carry on until you achieve your goal.
It doesn’t matter what reward you choose. An episode of your favorite show, or something as simple as a cookie. However small, it will help to form stronger neural pathways and reinforce the feeling of achievement from every small improvement.
Remember, progress doesn’t happen in a straight line, be patient with yourself.
I sincerely hope this piano routine will help you develop and improve your playing! Drop your comments if it does.
I am Music Estate’s Music Director