Piano students of all levels benefit from practicing more effectively between their piano lessons. In the end, this means learning pieces faster, acquiring better technique, and playing with better comfort overall. Your piano teacher should give you personalized tips for practicing piano along the way, but here are a few in the meantime:
Practice for a shorter time, but more frequently.
Younger children 4-6yo: aim for 10-25 minutes, 7-10yo: 30-45 minutes, 11+yo 30min-1.5 hours. Try to do this at least 3 times each a week as a rule.
Schedule your home practicing for specific days and times and keep it consistent. One of the most difficult things about practicing a musical instrument is getting yourself to sit down to do it! This way you or your child will be mentally expecting it and not fighting against it.
It’s not useful to practice piano when you are tired or hungry. Try to find a good time after breakfast or lunch or maybe even dinner if it’s not too late. It is necessary to feel fresh and focused to achieve progress.
Make sure you are not sitting too low (your elbow shouldn’t be lower than the level of the keyboard) and not too close to the piano. You should be able to see the entire keyboard in your peripheral vision. Ask your piano teacher for tips on practicing piano with great posture!
Even if you can’t wait to play your piece, you must warm up first, no matter what! A few scales, an arpeggio, or other studies your piano teacher gives you. If playing scales every day was good enough for Horowitz, it’s good enough for you!
If you are just starting to learn the notes of the new piece(s), do that right after the warm up. Learning new music is one of the hardest mental activities and your brain needs to be as fresh and sharp as possible.
Every time you play any passage, strictly follow the fingering in the sheet music and what your teacher notates for you. Changing the fingering during practice is the most common mistake for all ages and the one that causes a huge delay in learning the song.
While it’s fun to try to sightread your entire piano piece to hear how it sounds, most of the practicing should consist of repeating short sections of 1 to 4 measures for about 4 to 10 times each.
With less than 4 times the muscle memory never kicks in, and more than 10 times – the brain loses focus and the time isn’t worth it. Make sure your sections overlap, so always finish on the downbeat of the next measure, instead of on the last note of the current measure.
Learn a section at a very slow tempo so that you can play all the correct notes and fingers. You should feel like you are in total control of what you are doing, no matter how slowly it will have to be.
As you get better and better, start trying short passages at a slightly faster tempo. This will allow you to eliminate the unnecessary hand and arm movements that you might not notice you are doing at the slower tempo.
When the piece is in the final stage, start your practice with playing it at tempo and then go back to slow tempo to work on all the problem areas.
Notice all the dynamic markings from the start and try to execute them right away. It is harder to add the dynamics later when you already know the piece because your system will already have a strong habit of playing without them. You will get used to the way your piece sounds without the specific dynamics.
If your piano teacher is asking you to play with actively raising your fingers up after striking a key, then you should be aware that this is an “old school” style of piano playing. The majority of modern pianists do not really do this anymore. Keep your fingertips close to the surface of the keys to save the muscle work and increase your stamina.
Please, stop playing as soon as you feel any pain at all.
If you ever feel pain in your hands or forearms then most likely you are doing something wrong and should change the way you are doing things immediately. You can experience muscle fatigue in your forearms just like you would from a workout at the gym. Any kind of sharp pain can be caused by strenuous and incorrect hand or body positions. Ask your teacher for help! It is actually quite easy to injure yourself by playing the piano incorrectly, so getting tips for practicing piano healthfully from a great teacher is very important!
For most solo piano pieces, getting them to the point when you can play them by memory is always ideal. Memorizing the music gives it the final push that brings your playing to the next level. Don’t start playing without the music too soon. All the performance additions such as dynamics, articulation and tempo have to be memorized as much as you memorize the specific notes. Keep the music in front of you, and if you make a mistake, don’t guess on how to fix it. Look in the music and correct yourself right away.
At the final stages of learning a piece, start your practice time with playing through it without stopping for any mistakes, just like you would have to do at a performance. After finishing, try to remember where you had problems and go to those specific sections and fix them. It’s almost as if you want some mistakes to happen during the run through to realize there the weak spots may be.
The adrenaline that we get in public performances elevates our heart rate and blood pressure, so our body feels different compared to at home practicing. You can partially replicate this feeling by doing some physical exercises right before playing your piece at home privately. Run up and down some stairs or do squats until you start breathing more heavily and immediately jump onto playing your piece. It’s actually fun to do that!
It’s important that you try to play your pieces for as many people as possible before you play it for a larger group of people. Ask your family and friends to listen to you. They would love to do that and you will be getting much better every time you do these small performances.
Follow these tips for practicing piano and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the next Horowitz!