Practise often involves playing just small sections of your piece, using specific techniques learned in piano class, to get lots of improvement using less time. Students need to ‘practise’ as well as ‘play’ their pieces daily.
Students often just play through their pieces, thinking they’re practising. Piano practise should be a time of attention to detail and focus, but so often ends up being mindless repetition. This often leads to breakdowns & insecure playing during piano performances. Many many young students who say they panic and are therefore unable to perform, actually have the ability to perform well, when they use the right tools to practise effectively.
There’s a misconception with some students and parents – particularly those from families new to music, that overpractise and injury is a part of the creative process. That hard work is a goal in itself. That practising long hours is to be rewarded, even when the student practises mindlessly, and is actually risking injury because teacher instructions on playing technique are not followed. That hand pain is good as it is a sign of hard work.
I’m always horrified when I get student families that think this way. Changing this mindset was hard and sometimes impossible when I first started teaching in Khargar, Navi Mumbai, and most of my students were beginners. It’s getting easier now, because my newer students have an opportunity to hear students who have been with me longer, play for them.
Effective playing technique protects your hand from injury. If you experience pain when playing, you’re doing something wrong. Don’t repeat that action. Stop & think about whether you’re following your teacher’s instruction about playing. Take your problem to your piano teacher at the next class.
Remember that the key to quality playing is to learn slow, with the correct playing technique. Using your hands in the most effective way, keeps your joints and muscles free from undue effort and this will help you with playing fast, and lasting out in long pieces.
Move from intermediate level to more challenging repertoire, having learned how to make your practise effective. If you’ve learned what your teacher taught you well, you will be able to do this mostly on your own with pieces or passages that are well within your ability, by the time you reach the advanced level.
Quite a few of my most supportive piano parents went through phases when they got upset with feedback. They had children who played the piano daily and yet, achieved very little. Parents new to piano music often can’t hear the difference between good and poor playing. It’s important then, to have parents attend piano class and to listen to what effective piano practise sounds like.
‘Correct playing happens. . . Some of the time’
That’s what many piano students say, when they get something right. When students are asked how they got it right ‘some of the time’ they often say it’s luck.
If it’s luck, then the power to play well does not belong to the student, but to chance. Students often don’t realise that they play daily, disregarding their teachers instructions. They end up spending more time at the piano than than they need to, often working very very hard for small gains. These students work hard, but not smart. They don’t understand that there’s value in learning piano practise techniques.
Students need to play the piano, as well as practise. It takes them time to understand that there's a difference & to learn to practise right.
My maid is on leave this month. She does a few small chores for me once a week, that make my life easier and give me some free time. I wasn’t successful at getting a replacement. I could say that I’ve had bad luck. But that’s not the case. Many of the other families she works for have got substitutes.
I haven’t because I chose not to do this.
Because there’s payback to getting a substitute, that is not acceptable to me right now. I will need to be flexible with work time slots and adjust if the maid is late. I know from past experience, that anything from 30 minutes, to a couple of hours late, to not arriving at work at all, is the norm here. While I might be lucky and get a maid who arrives on time, I’m not willing to take the chance of my daily routine disrupted.
Taking responsibility, means that the power to change things rests within me.
I can change my situation by making different choices
If we say that piano practise was effective because of luck, we need to ask ourselves whether that luck just happened by chance or whether the way practise was done created conditions that brought about that luck? Can the piano student change the way he or she practises, so that practise brings clarity, and the student is able to see what made it effective? And so, take responsibility for that luck and for making it happen again and again?
Here are some ideas on how to do that.
What are the strategies that help you practise effectively? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.
Parent support for piano practise with young piano students is a huge issue. With teachers, because they know the likelihood of any student actually progressing beyond the beginner level depends on this. Even the musically talented student.
For piano parents it’s time and commitment and something more for them to add to their already busy schedules.
As I write this post, I’ve been teaching the piano for roughly 15 years. During all of these years, I’ve had less than a handful of students who practised without parent support.
For most children the biggest issue during the first couple of years is getting into a routine and making practise a part of their daily lives. The piano can be a lonely instrument and children who don’t have company often don’t practise. Children need a parent around – initially to remind them to read the homework book and practise accordingly, to listen and mostly so they have company.
Children who have opportunities to perform and belong to schools or communities where music is encouraged tend to be more motivated. As are children who have friends who play an instrument. Participation in group classes or concerts arranged by the piano teacher is important as this provides performance opportunities and helps students make ‘piano friends.’
If you’re a parent with a child who loves practising the piano, who practises daily and keeps getting poor feedback, then this paragraph is for you. It’s quite possible, that you can’t understand why – because you hear playing that sounds good to you, you can see how sincere your child is and how much effort your child puts in.
Children who enjoy practise often get so lost doing practise homework they enjoy, they forget to read the homework book. They practise what they like and what they remember and simply forget the rest.
Learning 'how to practise' is important for progress. This is the area in which beginner & intermediate level piano students of any age pay poor attention.
If you are a piano parent with a student who does not practise regularly (and by practise, I mean doing the homework that the piano teacher has assigned) and this goes on for sometime, it’s worth looking at the kind of class you’ve enrolled your child in.
Piano teachers generally ask these students to take a break from piano class and enrol again when they’re ready to practise, because a ‘regular piano class’ simply does not work with erratic practise.
What your child needs is a different kind of class, with more frequency – maybe 2/3 classes a week. A class which is mostly a ‘practise’ class, where there’s a lot of repetition. New topics need to be introduced very slowly, so that erratic practise works. It helps if one of these is a group class which includes music activities and work on rhythm. Piano playing will progress at a slow comfortable pace and your child will find it easy to cope.
The term ‘regular piano class’ is how I describe class that teaches piano playing techniques, reading written music, how music theory goes into playing, the chord approach to piano playing & how to practise.
This is a lot to do in a 1 or 1&1/2 hour weekly class, and daily practise and completing homework assignments is essential. This almost always needs some level of parent support and involvement.
It’s not forever, as children grow up habituated to regular practise – with the resources to organise their practise, and use practise techniques to make their practise more effective. This usually happens between the ages of 14 to 16, depending on the personality of the student and the kind of goals the student has chosen to work towards.
To all you piano parents who are making the time to support your child, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Children gradually learn independence until they finally take responsibility for their own goals.
A guide for intermediate to advanced piano students who have learned their piece and want to be able to assess the quality of their playing on their own, with guidance from their teacher.
You should have learned your piece correct from the very first. However, it is likely that you still have some weak spots where you falter, when under pressure.
Listen to a recording of your performance and then listen to recordings by different pianists until your ear can hear any differences in time, pitch and the harmony. This will help you hear and correct any errors in your playing such as wrong pitch and note values.
Also, listen to variations in articulation and tone production and figure out what suits your piece.
Students can make the mistake of playing erratic rhythms, and think this is interpretation. They need to understand how pianists interpret a piece while keeping the sense of style, tempo and mood that is required of the piece and the period it comes from. A metronome can be a help when listening to variations in tempo.
Listen to reputed pianists play. Listen to small sections, listen separately to individual parts in a section, until your ear can hear them.
Isolate a part or a layer of the music that you wish to work on, and listen to hear that layer well.
Rests, pauses and spaces in the music are a very important part of it, and one many students ignore. Listen for silences and feel the mood that they generate. They need to become important to you.
It might be a good idea to make small notes on the score, or mark areas where you need to check your playing, so that you don’t forget them during practise time.
Practise is different from playing. Yes, you need to play your piece and you also need to play it often enough. The mistake many students make however, is playing the piece through again and again, thinking it will improve their weak areas, and it doesn’t. That’s what practise is for.
If you are ‘practising’ and still not getting results, you may need a smaller section. Working small will help you listen better. It helps to focus on one single weak area at a time.
Write down the questions you have about any aspect of playing and performing your piece so that you remember them. Talk to your teacher about your ideas when you go to piano class.
Listen Listen and LISTEN. That’s the key to being able to teach yourself to play better.
7 reasons why scales are an essential part of learning to play the piano….
Young students usually love scales, as they’ve heard them sung in the musical “The Sound of Music” and are therefore keen on learning to play them. Older students often find them challenging, therefore enjoy practising them.
Playing scales daily require a lot of discipline and committment – something most young children don’t have, and parents, who see the value of scale playing, usually step in and see that it’s done. When children see that they’re playing their scales well, and that they’re easy (because of daily practise) they start enjoying them.
Young piano students generally don’t practise unless there’s supervision. They need help with scheduling practise and they also need daily reminders to practise. Here are a few effective and not so effective ways that parents handle the daily reminders.
Most parents who do this and expect instant obedience will fail. Some of them might also make the mistake of thinking that their child is not interested in piano playing, because they don’t obey.
What many parents don’t realise, is that piano playing is a very solitary hobby for the young piano student and what they most want, in order to practise, is company. Just someone to be around, listen and enjoy their playing.
This method often degenerates into the next method.
This is the most ineffective way of getting practise done and the cause of a large number of children losing interest in piano playing. Some children who are still very very keen on learning despite this, get very defensive and their minds just shut down, so at piano class, convincing them to learn something new becomes a very difficult task for the teacher.
This is the most effective, and a large number of musical children who do well, have parents who do this. Children usually respond to the second reminder and parents who are prepared to remind their child twice do not get irritated when their child doesn’t go to the piano at first reminder.
This works very well for parents who are both working and come home too late to be there at practise time. For most children, just a reminder that they have to play for their parents is enough to motivate them to practise.
One parent came out with this really creative solution. Her child would often tell me that she had to practise every day, because that was the only time her parents could relax and unwind. The parent would lie down on a yoga mat and use practise time to do some relaxation techniques!
Young children who get the support they need in the early years, will grow into teens who want to practise daily. The role of the parent will change, from scheduling practise and daily supervision, to helping their child to this on their own.
An interesting post about how long it takes for a musician to achieve mastery over his/her instrument
Recording performances once or twice a week, is an excellent method of “Performance practise” – for students who have very few opportunites to perform.
Dealing with pre-performance nerves is something every young piano student needs to learn to do and this gets easier with practise.
“Performance practise” needs to be a part of the students practise schedule – maybe once or twice a week, in the weeks leading to a performance.
Playing for family or friends helps students get used to performing. An excellent way to practise performing, is to record your performance – just one run-through of a piece or a section of a piece even, the way you would play if you were performing…no trials or repeats.
Then, listen to your recording – where you did good and where you faltered. Practise to improve the weak spots, and do another recording after a week.
Setting up a private youtube channel is an excellent idea and kids often work, because they want recordings to be put up there regularly, for family and friends to watch.
Here’s an interesting article, which has a section on performance practise : The three stages of motor learning by Dr Noa Kageyama
….for piano students to make their practise spontaneous, yet regular and fun.
So, students, this is how it works :
After some time of doing this daily, students find that they really really want to play the piano as soon as they finish their studies or their chores. They start using piano playing to relax and to express their moods and emotions and therefore, piano playing becomes a need – not just something they have to do as homework.
Piano practise becomes more spontaneous and students tend to remember practise ideas they’ve been taught, and also use ideas of their own – simply because they’re so focused on playing something they enjoy well. They also often, WANT to play, when they’re tired or when studies get heavy, because it helps them relax and de-stress and therefore study better and quicker.
The 2 minutes are done separately from the regular practise homework, so to the student, it’s just having fun. It often it makes students want to restructure their daily practise schedule – to allow flexibility, so they can play because they feel like it, rather than because it’s time for piano practise to be done.