The Habit of Practicing The Piano: A Little Goes A Long Way
Developing the habit of practicing the piano with the mindset of “a little goes a long way” enabled me to master an intimidating piece of music. This method can work for you as well!
I delight in being introduced to new music. Thousands of songs have been written for keyboard instruments since their development and rise in popularity starting in the 14th century. Despite my years of experience as a pianist and a piano teacher (and having taken an intensive two-semester college course in Piano Literature), I will never become completely familiar with the vast repertoire of music written for the keyboard instrument. (Though I sure will try!)
I recently taught and coached a student through the learning of a song that was new to me. The piece, June “Barcarolle” Op. 37 No. 6 by Tchaikovsky, is one of twelve short character pieces, each representing a different month of the year. Captivated by the passionate melodies and harmonies employed, I explored the other offerings of the suite. Never having played much Tchaikovsky piano music, I, at once, fell in love. Since then, I’ve made it my goal to learn and perform the entire suite.
Hoping to learn one character piece a month, last January, I began to tackle No. 1, January, “At the Fireside. That project was a bit ambitious for the amount of time I could devote to practicing the piano. So, I expanded my timeline, skipped over the 2nd song in the suite, and moved on to March, “Song of the Lark,” a somber, melancholy song in the key of G minor. (Melancholy songs tend to be some of my favorite repertoire to play.) As the demands on my time increased in 2022, my available time and energy to practice the piano decreased. Sadly, I stalled out on the project.
Taking My Own Advice
Before 2023 started, I recommitted myself to practicing the piano as many days as possible, if even for only 10 minutes each day. I often tell my piano students, “A little bit of practice time is better than nothing.” It was time to take my own advice. I set myself up with a habit tracker and my own student account on the Practice Space App to motivate myself and keep myself accountable to practicing. I still find it challenging to fit in practice time, but these two tools remind me to stick with the commitment I made to myself and my continued musical growth. My practice time usually occurs on my digital piano in the late evening hours, with the headphones on, so as not to disturb my six sleeping children or my basement tenant.
Focused 10-Minute Practice Sessions
When the first of January rolled around, I decided it was time to tackle the second song in the set, February, “Carnival.”
I started by listening to a few recordings while following along with the music.
“I’ll never be able to play this song that fast!” I thought.
Despite that initial impression, I gave it a try.
“If I’m going to learn this song with only 10 minutes of practice time a day, I am going to have to be hyper-focused during my practice time.”
With that intention at the forefront of my mind, each day I sat down at the piano I gave myself a new goal. I started at the beginning, which seems like a logical place to start. My first goal was to learn the first two measures. That’s it.
“Okay, first two measures down.”
Then I tried the next two. “Uh-oh. It’s getting harder.” This time I needed to sort out some fingerings. So, I did that.
That was it. My 10 minutes of practice time were completed.
Consistent Practice Sessions
The next day, I began with those first 4 measures set to a metronome, starting around the quarter note at 72 bpm. That practice session revolved around learning how to play those measures accurately, without any pauses, and in sync with the metronome. When I felt comfortable with those measures, I added a measure, and then another measure, and then another measure.
Bit by bit, I learned how to play the entire piece of music with only 10-20 minute practice sessions throughout January and the first half of February.
While initially working through the notes and fingerings, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever be able to play the song at tempo. However, I trusted the process. Now, here I am, at the end of February, able to perform the song memorized and at tempo!
Applying The Principle
I’ve begun to apply this principle of “a little bit goes a long way” to other areas of my life, as well.
Each night before I go to bed, I read one page out of a piano pedagogy book that’s been sitting on my nightstands for months. I don’t have much spare time to read these days, but one page read each night will eventually result in reading the entire book. Each day the book brings me insights, food for thought, and application to both my personal piano playing and to my teaching. It might take me a year to move through the book, but that’s better than never reading it at all.
The next time you face a daunting task, remember that little chunks of time invested in the completion of a task will produce the results you desire.
I might not be able to learn music as quickly as I once did when my life permitted (and required) four hours of practice each day, but with 10 minutes of practicing each day, I can still accomplish my goals!
And so can you.
For tips on how to make those 10 minutes of practice time even more effective, check out this post 7 Top Proven Piano Practice Tips.