🍂 Fall is a natural moment to rebuild practice schedules and strategies.
In that spirit, here are 10 tips from Composer Keith Snell with some modifications from yours truly. These tips are guides, not absolutes, to be balanced with the player's instincts.
1. Schedule your practice time. Decide how many days each week (I recommend 4 minimum) you will practice. Write a specific time for each day in your calendar to practice, and stick to it, just as you would any other scheduled activity, such as sports practice, a play rehearsal, or a class.
2. Practice without distractions. Silence your phone and put it on "Do Not Disturb." Avoid interruptions from family or friends coming in and out of the room where your piano is located. The more you can fully concentrate on your practicing, the more you will accomplish during your practice time.
3. Divide up your daily practice time. I encourage a focus on repetition of assignments rather than a particular amount of time spent at the piano. Rather than attempt to play all your assignments in one sitting, try working with one assignment at a time (tends to take 5-10 minutes) then returning again in the day to play the rest of your assignments. If you end up wanting to play more in one sitting, you can!
4. Spread your practice time evenly over the week. Do your best to practice the same amount each day. Doing all of your practicing in one or two days doesn't work. Daily repetition is needed to accumulate new skills, and it can't be rushed or learned in one session.
5. Have a plan before you start. Decide (with the help of your teacher) exactly what you will practice each day, how you will practice it and for how long (I typically recommend 3 repetitions). Be specific with your goals for each day and for what you wish to accomplish in the week. But remember - most of your learning happens not while you play, but while you sleep. Lay a good foundation and trust that you'll see improvements the next day.
6. Use your metronome and your App. Music isn't just about being able to play a particular pattern, it's about being able to play that pattern steadily at a particular speed. Always start slowly, at a speed you can play everything correctly. Gradually increase the speed as you become more familiar with the piece. You will learn music more quickly and accurately when you practice slowly; and you will feel more secure and confident with the finished work when you play it up to tempo.
7. Start with scales. Playing your scales (and any other technical exercises) first, not only helps get your hands warmed-up, but it also helps your mind to become focused and concentrated before working on your music. Also, if you put off playing your scales to the end of you practice session, you are more likely to skip it.
8. Isolation and repetition. Find and practice the most difficult measures first. Play those measures slowly and hands separately, before putting them together. Set a number of correct repetitions to achieve before moving on. For example, take two difficult measures and play the left hand alone 10x's, then the right alone 10x's, then the hands together 10x's.
9. Sight read every day. Pianists who are good readers become so because they play new music frequently. The best way to learn to sight read is to read new music every day. The more difficult your pieces become, the longer they will take to master, and you are likely to spend less time reading new music, which can result in weaker sight reading skills. Just take five minutes out of every practice session to read a new piece of music to keep your reading skills sharp.
10. Memorize early and often. Memory is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And, the sooner you start to memorize a piece the more secure your memory will be. Make memorizing part of the learning process. Even with pieces you don't intend to perform, memorize them anyway to help develop and strengthen your skill at playing from memory.
These are all great and will help you make wonderful progress.
You're a human (not a robot) so some days (or weeks/months, if you're going through a tough time) you'll need to go lighter than others.
This can be a difficult balance to find, but it's well worth the effort.
Here's a PDF of 10 Tips for Music Practice in case you'd like to print it to keep it close to your instrument.
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Piano, voice and composition teacher in Portland, OR.