Very rarely does piano practice sound like playing from the beginning of the song to the end. And, honestly? Sometimes it doesn’t sound good at all. But that’s what effective practice is about. Getting better at the things we aren’t good at.
And, depending on the student level of playing piano practice sounds very different.
- Lots of exploration all over the piano
- Trying out different: volumes, pitches (the highs & lows of piano), articulations (fancy way of saying the way we touch the keys)
- May be some rote (no music), reminder videos, pre-reading music (the music floats up & down on the page without lines to anchor them)
- May complete a song within one week, or it could take a bit longer.
- Not determined by age, but skill level.
- Still learning basics, but has a good foundation to build on
- Reading music on the staff (instead of the music floating up & down in a wavy line)
- Music is longer & more complex. May take multiple weeks to learn a song, depending on the length.
- Still exploring, but tends to be more about artistry.
- This is where the nitty gritty practice comes in.
- Music is complex & can take weeks to months to learn.
- Focus is on playing accurately while giving it own interpretation. Think technique & artistry coming together in a symbiotic relationship.
What piano practice sounds like
When I was taking piano lessons, especially at the higher levels, there was a certain amount of …. repetition. What may have sounded like the same two measures to my family were in fact small changes each time I played that section.
Nowadays while repetition still has an important part to play in building up muscle memory, there are ways to make it a bit more enjoyable for everyone as they listen. And, lucky for us these ideas are grounded in the science of how we learn.
The secret sauce
“What if you played this section ….?”
This is a question I ask quite a bit in lessons. It requires the student to think as they play each and every time. Versus mindlessly repeating something & learning absolutely nothing.
Mindlessly repeating leads to superficial memory. This is why people who cram for exams typically forget the information shortly after the exam. This is why our children can repeat back what we have said … and then turn around to do exactly what they just parroted NOT to do.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes permanent.
But, what if every single time your child played a small part of their song they changed one small thing?
This is the secret sauce to practice!
Reading music is challenging
Imagine trying to read two stories. At the same time. In the same book. One story is on odd numbered lines. The other story is on even numbered lines.
Would this be easy or hard?
The majority of people would find this very difficult, if not impossible. And, yet this is what students are doing when they read music! Not only are they reading the ‘story’ of each line of music, but they are using their body to demonstrate the story for everyone listening.
So it stands to reason that when anyone plays a new piece or new section, they will miss something or even a few somethings. And, this is where active listening & repetition come in.
What if …?
This is a powerful question for piano practice. And, it requires no knowledge about the instrument to work.
You can change:
- Pitch: How high or low a section is played
- Dynamics: Turn up the volume. Or, turn it way down.
- Articulation: is it smooth, bouncy, with pedal, etc.?
- Rhythm: Make the long notes short. And the short notes long.
- Mood: If it sounds happy, what would make it sound melancholy?
- Melody: It can be as simple as changing a note to creating a variation of the written melody.
- Accompaniment: Fancy way of saying the part that supports the melody. Play the notes in a different order, or place on the piano.
- Hands: Try switching what you play in each hand. Left hand plays the right hand notes. Right hand plays the left hand notes.
- Sections: Try dividing the song into sections & mix up the order you play them in.
As you can see, the options are only limited by imagination.
What happens when we are active?
There is never a reason to play something the same thing exactly the same way twice. Especially since the brain will remember better when it is fully engaged. And honestly, this is how I make progress in my own piano practice while juggling work and family responsibilities.
Often I will tell my students that I don’t have a lot of time to practice (in relation to the level of my playing). And that means I must make each minute count.
When a student is actively listening & problem-solving while practicing … progress is amazing!
When a student plays from the beginning of the song to the end or chooses not to listen as they play … the mistakes become permanent.
For extra help during the week, click below to access the “Practice Checklist” PDF.