“I never practice much, because I know some piano tips and special secrets that help me learn pieces away from the piano. It’s a shame you are wasting so much time because you don’t know my wonderful secrets. I’d tell you my secrets, but I can’t. They’re secrets”.
I hate when pianists talk in a similar way to the above quote, boasting that they have secrets that save them hours upon hours of practice time. Many websites also promise secrets that will change your piano playing overnight and make you a great piano player in no time. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, piano tips can be practical and save you a lot of time and agony. They are not, however, a substitute for good, old fashioned hard work.
Piano practice is very much a mental game. If you have an optimistic attitude and avoid some common destructive patterns, you will create a path that will help you get the most out of the hours of practice that lie ahead. Here are some tips that will definitely be of assistance:
- Try not to have marathon practice sessions. For starters, your family will occasionally want to see your wonderful face and you should definitely find time to go to the washroom, have a snack or simply zip outside for a couple of minutes of fresh oxygen. A good solid forty-five minute session is about the maximum that I would recommend before taking a break. By all means, have a few forty-five minute practices in one day if you have the stamina, but have breaks between them. You’ll make fewer errors and won’t exhaust yourself.
- Try not to practice with a ton of errors. Again, your family will appreciate the accuracy in your playing and you will be reinforcing your touch and muscle memory by playing the same patterns with the same fingers. Remember that a mistake is also registered as a memory pattern if it is constantly repeated, so it is best to slow things down a bit and play conscientiously.
- Recognize that rhythmic difficulties are quite common among students, and that clapping or tapping rhythms away from the piano is a great method of speeding up the rhythmic learning process. Piano playing is complex enough without correct timing. You have to concentrate on hand position, technique, dynamics, phrasing, etc. By merely clapping rhythms away from the piano, your mind can focus exclusively on timing and make an aural memory of the rhythm of a sequence of notes.
- Be positive in detecting improvement. If you can’t see improvement from week to week in your playing, look harder. It is most likely there and waiting for you to recognize it. There is a wonderful satisfaction in being able to detect where you have improved. It helps to give yourself a pat on the back and become your own best friend in your practice session. This is all part of enjoying the journey of piano practice.
The worst thing you can do is to sink into a state of mind that makes you say: “I can’t believe I’m so dumb. I’ll never play this stupid piece”. Here’s the preferred mental approach: “This piece still needs more practice, but it is a bit better than last week” or “It looks like I have to play with fewer errors. I may have underestimated the amount of time it takes to get this work just right. I’ll work harder”. This may sound corny to many, but it’s certainly much healthier than calling yourself stupid or putting yourself down emotionally. Remember to always try to enjoy your practice journey though optimism, hard work and smart practicing.
- Piano Instruction: Practicing Chopin’s “Black Key” Etude, Op. 10, no. 5 (Video) (arioso7.wordpress.com)