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Practice

Home practice is an integral part of music lessons. Without daily practice, the student becomes frustrated and the teacher impatient.  Acquiring musical playing skills is one area where the students must teach themselves as much as the teacher teaches them; this self-teaching takes place during daily practice.   

How long to practice 

It is important to spend quality time with an instrument rather than quantity.  It is possible that the task is easy to learn and that it has been successfully mastered in a very short time. It is better to practice for shorter periods every day (say thirty minutes) than it is to skip a few days and then try to make up for it with one or two longer practice sessions.  The piano muscles tend to "forget" much faster than the brain does, thus it is necessary to have physical reinforcement of skills every day. 

Please do not  watch a clock and say that the student is going to play through the piece a number of times.  When a student is beginning a new piece, the slower the practice, the faster the learning takes place.  Students must develop a good attitude towards practice.  Practice is an ongoing process of study, discovery, experimentation, and excitement.

Example of how to divide a 30 minute practice session

*Encourage free play. Much of a student's learning comes from free play.  Allow the  fingers to wander, and fiddle.  Encourage the making of original songs.  Improvisation is a constant learning process!

What to practice 

Practice is a mental and a physical activity. The physical part of practicing is building  piano muscles.  Training the muscles, working on endurance and patterns comes from technical exercises such as scales, chords, arpeggios, and finger exercises. 

New pieces. Learn songs in sections. Students must learn to create exercises within their pieces. Divide the piece into small sections and practice each section until it is good.  Pick a small section and work out the fingering and the counting. Then combine two small sections to make a larger section. Practice this larger section until it is good. Continue combining sections until you play the whole piece.  Students should play particular lines or measures that they cannot execute properly many more times than they should play the entire piece.  Playing smaller sections of a piece within the practice time is much more effective than mindless repetitions of the entire piece.

Repetition can be boring; a result is a loss of interest.  Make repetition interesting.  Play using different instrumental sounds on the keyboard.  Isolate certain elements of the music, such as clapping the rhythm, or playing the rhythm on a percussion instrument.  Sing along with the words. 

How to make practice more Fun

Use Variety. Practicing should be a creative time, not just a dull routine.  Any one method used over and over again will cause the brain to tune out. You will retain much more of what you practice if you vary your practice methods. Create your own variations of exercises.   Practice with a variety of touches. Practice the piece staccato, soft, loud, and legato. 

 

Permutations-Practice your technical exercises using different permutations.  

For example, Triads use 132,  CGE, ECG, GEC, CEG.  Also use different combinations of permutations such as 132, 231,  CGE, GCE, CGE, EGC.  Many other combinations are possible.  Have fun, create your own exercises.

Textures - Also for Triads practice with different textures such as 1 plus 2, or C plus EG, E plus GC, G plus CE, C plus EG or 2 plus 1, CG plus E, EC plus G, GE plus C, CG plus E.  Combine different textures.

 

Combine different permutations with different textures and the number of exercises you can create seems endless!

 

Staccato- Play all of the notes short, separated and detached. This gives a clearer sound and keeps notes from running into each other. 

Soft- Play each note softly. This helps evenness and control.

Loud- Play each note very loud. You will have to go slower than usual. This builds strength and endurance.  It also can help memory, by presenting a very strong stimulus.

 

More of what to Practice:

 

Hands Separate- Take a section, and play it hands separately until it can be done. Then play it hands together.

Metronome slow to fast- Start with the metronome at a fairly slow tempo. Play the section at this tempo until you can do it, then move the metronome up a notch and repeat the process. Keep doing this until you reach the tempo that you are supposed to be playing at.   The tempo at which you can play without mistakes, is usually slow. Find this tempo and gradually work from there up to the speed at which you would like to play the piece. It is much better to work this way, rather than repeating the section with mistakes, at a tempo you think you can do but really canít. The metronome should be used often in practice. It forces you to be precise in your counting and playing. It also helps to develop rhythm.   

Count out loud-  All students should count out loud when learning a new piece of music.  It is important to count at the lowest level or smallest subdivision. Sometimes the lowest level is eighth notes, thus counting would be 1 and 2 and etc.  Sometimes the lowest level is sixteenth notes, thus counting would be 1 e and a 2 e and a etc.   You are certain to play rhythms correctly if you count out loud.   Counting out loud, by linking your voice and your hands, often helps you find natural and pleasing rhythm.

 

Practice with and without Pedal- If a certain passage is usually played with pedal, play it without pedal.   You will be able to hear things more clearly.

 

Record yourself- Record your playing often. Then every few months, you can listen to your recordings and hear your progress. You will be amazed at the progress you make in a few months or a few years time.   You don't need to wait until a piece is really good to record it. You should record it at different stages along the way. Then listen to it carefully and decide what you need to do to make it better. You can give yourself a good lesson this way.   Recording yourself improves listening.

You can hear and judge your own playing instead of relying on somebody else to do it.

Listen!

The piano is a musical instrument not a typewriter.

Most people spend too much time practicing just to hit the correct notes at the right time, and too little time deciding what kind of sound those notes are going to have.

Donít forget to consider

Eyes closed!

Practicing with your eyes closed allows you to turn off one of your senses, thus, increasing your awareness of touch and sound.  This will help with physical memory as well as make you listen more carefully.

Memorizing  

Memorizing music is about knowing the music inside and out.  Once a piece of music is memorized the music comes from within, not from the page. You are no longer just reading the notes.

Different types of memory

Practice Charts

Sometimes the use of a practice chart helps to motivate a student to play at home more.  Charts also help to keep track of things such as what has been practiced and what needs more practice, and how much time has been spent on each item.

PRACTICETIMESHEET.pdf         TECHNIQUECHART.pdf

Grade2PianoPracticeSheet.pdf      Grade3PianoPracticeSheet.pdf

Grade5PianoPracticeSheet.pdf

The Do's and Don'ts of practice

Do provide a quiet environment to practice. The student's concentration when practicing will be better and more productive if the piano room is free from interruptions by other family members.  If the student is to respect the daily practice time, so must the rest of the family. 

Don't practice in a space with noise and distractions.

Do plan a specific time to practice each day. Students who practice at the same time each day usually make better progress than those who wait several days before a practice session.  Music practice easily becomes a low priority item placed at the end of a busy day of school, homework and extracurricular activities.  The student is then too tired to concentrate. Practice must be given an assigned time in the daily schedule.

Don't cram all practice in the last day before a lesson.

Do practice slowly and accurately.

Don't rush, or play and practice sloppy.

Do practice to work out any mistakes or errors.

Don't repeat mistakes, repetition reinforces them, thus makes it more difficult to get rid of them later

Do once a song is learned, play it for someone, share it with someone. Have fun with it.

Don't discard the songs that have been learned, after all of that work, the music and individual accomplishments must be shared with others.

Aim to achieve small goals in your daily practice.