How to Practice the Piano with Purpose
An important aspect of taking piano lessons is the at-home practice routine. Little progress can be made in advancing one’s piano skills solely through weekly piano lessons. Diligent home practice must be a part of a piano student’s life if they want to achieve their musical goals.
However, for the piano student, youth or adult alike, time is at a premium and practice time in limited. For this reason, when you sit down to practice piano, you must practice the piano with purpose if you wish to meet your goals.
As a working mother of six, I certainly understand the hustle of the days. Which is why I'm sharing my top five tips for getting to the piano and having a productive practice session. I encourage you to give them a try and see how they work for your musical growth.
1. Schedule Practice Time
Set aside the time each day to practice. Schedule time on your calendar as you would an appointment. (Then keep the appointment!) If finding time to practice remains a challenge, try “pegging” it to another activity that already happens in your life. For example, practice every day after dinner or the after-school snack.
2. Develop a Plan
Create a practice plan in advance of the scheduled practice time. Each week, I provide my students with achievable goals to attain by their next lesson. Take that weekly goal, and segment it into smaller daily practice goals. (I recommend creating this plan immediately after the weekly piano lessons while the goals are fresh.)
Why do this? In creating a practice plan, the ambiguity of how much time to spend on each element (scales, etudes, or repertoire) dissipates. A practice plan also removes the decision fatigue of what to practice out of the equation. Finally, a practice plan ensures all skills receive attention throughout the week.
For Example: If the week's goal is to learn a 16-measure piece of music, learn 4 measures each day for 4 days, reviewing each previously learned section each day. Reserve the last day of practice to put all the elements together.
Use this editable document as a guide. I have found this tool to be effective for all ages and abilities.
3. Limit Distractions
Give your practice time your full attention. Limit extraneous sounds and interruptions. Turn off or put away your phone, watch, and other intrusive technologies. Focus only on your music. Allow yourself to fully present with your time at the piano.
If concentrating is a challenge for you, start by setting a timer for 5 minutes and practice thoughtfully for that entire time. When the timer goes off, take a break if needed. Stretch, take a sip of water, then dive in for an additional 5 minutes. Over time, you can stretch out these focused practice lessons to longer lengths of time.
4. Get Curious
Listen to yourself while you play, and ask questions while you practice. I know that sounds silly to say to a musician whose goal is to make sound. But more often than not, one can practice music without actually listening to what they are playing.
Ask yourself questions such as:
Did I keep a consistent tempo?
Did I have any pauses?
Was I in the correct hand position?
Did I play the dynamics?
What part what challenging and why?
What could I do to improve those sections?
Take in that information, then alter your playing depending on what you discovered through your curiosity.
5. Focus on Challenging Passages
Decipher the difference between sitting at the piano to play for "fun" versus practicing. Students take piano lessons because they enjoy music and the piano as an instrument. Certainly, playing music already in our minds and fingers is easier. For this reason, students often use their practice time to play through the known parts of their music, neglecting the more challenging passages.
However, playing what we already know is not practicing! To reach the point of playing for fun, we must practice the piano with purpose. As you get curious about your playing, decide to invest time practicing the challenging parts of your music.
Then, choose to enjoy the process of "wood-shedding" the difficult measures. Take delight in overcoming those passages. In this way, even the tedious work of learning piano can become fun!
For a final tip, try tackling the challenging passages first, then leave the easier sections or the run-throughs of your repertoire for the end as a reward!
Enjoy the Process
Hopefully, these five tips will provide you will some ideas about how to practice piano effectively.
I’ve heard it once said, “It’s not practice that makes perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect!.”
I share that quote with this caveat; as we aim to reach our highest potential as musicians, let us not lose sight of the joy of music that is ours to partake in as we hone our skills. Perfection is a fine goal as a musician, but not the only goal.
Don’t lose sight of the joy, beauty, and sheer enjoyment of the learning process and the music experienced during the practice session. If you found these tips helpful are looking for personalized piano lessons online from the comfort of your home, I would love to partner with you to help you grow as a musician!