When it comes to piano practice tips it’s never good for business to make a student 100% autonomous. However, it is always a goal of mine to guide everyone to that stage.
I often wonder how many people make it to that stage. I still get lessons and seek external feedback for the work I’ve been doing. Granted it’s different from someone who’s in their early years of learning but I still seek opinion regularly.
I think having a teacher is an excellent way to accelerate progress. It’s difficult to be objective when judging your own practice and playing.
However, to move toward being autonomous it’s important to be able to analyse your work and decide on your next steps. Here are some starting points to think about during your practice sessions.
Mistakes are part of the learning process
Understanding strengths and weaknesses
Protect yourself from rigid routines
#1: Piano Practice Includes Mistakes
If you’re not making mistakes when you’re at the piano then this isn’t for you.
We all make mistakes. It’s how we grow. The secret is acknowledging it and working with it.
How do you work with mistakes? I often talk about a traffic light system.
Red light – Notice you’ve made a mistake and stop
Amber light – figure out what to do to fix that mistake
Green light – Try again applying the fixes
Step two could involve changing fingering, checking your arm or hand position or checking dynamics. This list can be very long but there are three for starters. Make your change and move on to step three.
The important thing is that you don’t loop round your mistake without taking time to think about a fix. The more you practice a mistake, the better you get at playing it wrong.
Don’t accept your first playthrough as the way your music should be.
Anthony Hopkins is an incredible actor and a lovely piano player too. When he worked on lines he’d read them through 150 to 200 times. He said that this level of work made some sort of chemical reaction in his brain. This allowed the lines to be easy for him to deliver.
He would experiment with the delivery until he got it right. Then, he’d continue to work on delivering the line in the same way until it felt natural. Almost like he wasn’t acting.
We can do the same with our music. Take a section of music. Experiment with the dynamics, shaping and phrasing. At some point you’ll find the way it sounds best to you. Then practice that way until it feels easy.
#3: Strengths and weaknesses
We all have areas where we’re strong and areas that need work. For example, I know I’m not great at ornamentation, especially with my left hand.
As players it’s good to address our weaknesses. Spend more time on these techniques to make you a well rounded pianist.
There is often more than one way to play a passage and you should play toward your strengths. However, that should be a conscious decision. Don’t just use your strengths if it causes problems elsewhere.
#4: Change Piano Practice Routines
Routine can be a good thing. We know what we need to do and when to do it. However, please change it sometimes.
The problem with routine is that it can lead to boredom and this kills progress. Or worse, it leads to mindless practice.
Try mixing up your routine. Have your core work, for example the repertoire you’re learning. However, try warming up with scales one day. Learn your favourite song’s chord progression another day. Work on some sight reading. There are a number of different things you can do to help maintain a high level of interest which leads to good momentum.
Spending more time analysing what’s happening in your practice sessions will help development. Mindless practice kills progress.
Dig deeper into your practice to understand what you’re doing and how you do it. Look for new and more inspiring approaches.
Remember each time we take a leap in our ability we hit a plateau and progress slows down. When this happens, look for advice from other players that have been where you are.
If you’re learning piano and would like some help I can provide the following.
The Lighter Touch is for people learning piano in their own time. I am available for support with video responses to your questions. Along with that, you would get access to a growing library of live support sessions and loads of free sheet music.