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  1. Take a section, and play each hand separate until you can do it well. Then play it hands together until you can do that well.

    ADVANTAGES:
    Playing each hand separate is easier.
    The left hand can be weaker and just fumble along without being noticed too much. Giving it special attention will strengthen it.

    WHEN TO USE IT:
    Usually you should only use this method if you are having trouble playing hands together, or having particular trouble with one hand in a certain section. In sections where you can, it is usually better to start out with both hands.
    Hands separate practice works well with hymns, polyphonic pieces (for instance, fugues), and any piece where the hands are fairly independent.
  2. Finger groups.
    Like Stops (see previous topic), but you group according to fingering patterns instead of rhythm. For instance, a C Major scale, right hand, could be practiced like this (notating finger numbers):
    1 2 3 [STOP] 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 [STOP] 3 2 1
    This is stopping at the end of each finger group. Another method is to go one note further, that is, stop on the first note of the new finger group, instead of the last note of the previous finger group. On the C Major scale, it would look like this:
    1 2 3 1 [STOP] 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 3 [STOP] 2 1

    ADVANTAGES:
    The stop gives you time to evaluate, think, and plan ahead.
    Helps you learn the fingering thoroughly.
    Helps you memorize (you are breaking it up into small, easily digestible chunks).
    Concentrates your attention on the most difficult point of any finger passage (the point where you pass the thumb under).
  3. Practice without pedal.
    If a certain passage is usually played with pedal, play it without pedal.

    ADVANTAGES:
    You can hear things more clearly, particularly wrong notes and unevenness.
    If it sounds good without pedal, maybe it will sound even better with pedal.

    WARNINGS:
    If you try too hard to connect the notes when you’re playing without pedal, this can lead to tension ("holding" notes when you don’t need to). "Holding" the notes too long can, paradoxically, lead to phrases that don’t have the line and smoothly flowing legato you are aiming for. Often the smoothest flowing legato (especially in passages with chords or octaves, as opposed to a single melodic line) is not achieved by using your fingers to hold the notes to their full notated value. It is quite common for the fingers and hand hold the notes for, say, 1/4 to 3/4 of the their written value. The pedal makes the connection the fingers don’t.
    So, when practicing without pedal, do not expect or try to make these kinds of passages have the kind of ultra-connected sound they will have when you add the pedal.
  4. Visualize.
    Start with a piece you have memorized. Close your eyes and try to imagine yourself playing it at the piano. Imagine the piano keys, and your hands playing them. Try to make it just as vivid in your mind as it is when you actually do it.
    Visualising is one of the best practice methods, but it takes a lot of thinking! Here are some ways to make it a little easier:

    Visualise just one hand at a time. This is much easier than doing both hands.
    Visualise only a short passage at a time. Play it, then try to visualise, then play it again. Keep doing this until you can visualise it very clearly.
    Look at the music while you visualise. This builds up your visual image, but you don't have to have it memorized first. In fact, it will help you memorize it more easily.
    Try table-top practice, that is, play your piece away from the piano. You simply imagine the sound and feel of a real piano as your fingers play on the tabletop. If you can play a piece or a passage this way, you really know it!

    Exercising your brain is just like exercising a muscle: with visualisation, you have start out with just a little bit, and then gradually work your way up.

    ADVANTAGES:
    Visualisation makes a clear visual image and improves memory.
    Mentally practicing the music gives your hands a rest, while giving your brain a workout.
  5. Use Variety.
    The main organ you are exercising when you practice the piano is not your fingers, hands, or arms. It is your brain. Any one method—no matter how good—will cause the brain to tune out if used over and over for hours on end. Practicing should be a creative and fun time, not just a dull routine. By varying your practice techniques, you can keep your mind absorbed longer. You will then retain much more of what you practice.
    Practicing in a variety of ways, with a variety of touches, builds and strengthens your memory. Many pianists complain of memory difficulties when they have to play on a piano with a different feel than the one they are used to. If you have practiced your piece soft, loud, staccato, legato, with and without pedal, with five different kinds of stops, hands separate, visualised it, counted it, recorded it, played it with metronome at a variety of tempos, and practiced in small and large sections until they were flawless—you probably won’t have that problem. You will be used to playing your piece with a variety of touches and in a variety of situations (psychologists call this "overlearning").
    Usually, when practicing, you don't need to repeat each practice method over and over; what you need to do is repeat each method until you can do it well--with no mistakes, a good sound, and good technique (SOUND, FEEL, and LOOK). Then move on to a different method. This will give more variety to your practice, as well as giving you a series of practical, small goals to aim for and achieve in your daily practice.
  6. Plan on Working.
    Many pianists don’t like to use practice techniques such as these because they feel their practice becomes too regimented—they want to "just play." They may become converts after trying these techniques for a few months and discovering that they are learning their music 2-3 times faster than before and having better performances of the music they are learning. At this point they may begin to plan and regiment all of their practice time because they see how effective it is.
    As with everything else in practicing, pianists should keep a balance between using planned, regimented practice techniques and "just playing" ("just playing" would fall under the "whole" of whole-part-whole).
    But pianists should realize that not every moment of their practicing is going to be fun and games. Learning music is a lot more fun than many things in life, but like every other worthwhile field of human endeavour, there is a lot about learning to play the piano that is simple down and dirty, repetitive, no-fun, difficult, boring work.
    For pianists, the talent for sticking with this kind of difficult, repetitive, and boring work is more important than just about any other musical talent.
  7. Invest in a good bench.
    You'll be spending a lot of time here. The more comfortable you are, the longer you'll stay. I recommend an artist bench so that you can adjust the height and enjoy the comfortable padding.
  8. Use a good reading light when practicing with music.
    A light makes reading easier. You won't feel exhausted after reading for a long period of time.

    Have a tip to add? Contact Tips@Music2Master.com
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