Studio Sign

Studio Sign

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Some practice tips

Practice tips for students past their first or second year of study

How to practice a new piece of music – Mary’s Efficient practice method:

Ok – so I admit it – although I always was good to do my practicing as a kid, I decided early on that I really loved to PLAY the piano – and so learning a new song had to be done FAST so that I could just play it and have fun!  So I inadvertently developed the following practice method which I later found out was and perhaps still is, used in Europe.  Give it a try – worked like a charm for me!

Day one:  Divide the piece into 4 bar sections.  Take the first section and play a few times hands separately. Then slowly play it hands together ten to twenty times, watching notes, fingering and timing until you can play it quite well.  MY idea of quite well is nearly perfect… and almost up to speed.

Day Two: take the first section and review at least five times.  If it is going very well, then you can move to the next 4 bar section. Play hands separately a few times. Then again, like you did with the first section, play it hands together ten to twenty times. Play the whole 8 bar section once through at the end of this practice. At the end of each practice session, the whole should always be reviewed at least once through.

Day Three:  review the first 8 bars about 5 times.  If it is going well, then continue with the next 4 bar section like you did on day one and two. If it is not going well, take the time to review parts that are difficult for you extra times and let that be your practice for that day.

Day Four and on:  I think you get the idea of how this works now… each day another 4 bar section is added so that  in five days you have learned well about 20 bars of music.  If some of the bars are similar or repeat, as music often does, then you can use intensive practice on the next 4 bars that you come across that is different. Each day the “old” sections are reviewed and a new one added. A new section should not be added unless the old sections are mastered. As well, if the four bar section is too difficult, then only do 2 bars at a time until the music becomes easier.  If the 4 bar section is very easy, then perhaps if you have time, you can do two 4 bar sections.

With this method, a piece of music can be learned quite quickly and efficiently. Of course at this point we are mostly focusing on the basics such as notes, fingering and timing. But it is extremely rewarding to be able to accomplish something concrete each day and come back to your lesson proud of the amount you have learned.


Practice method for pieces that have parts that need correcting or are slow:

If you have some circled notes or bars that just never go well, then it’s time to address those problems. First you need to know and understand what the problem is.  If you don’t know, then you need to get some direction from your teacher. Really listen to what you are being told.  Is it fingering that is the issue, or notes, or timing?  Once you know, then you can really move ahead to fix the issue. 

Take the phrase or notes by themselves, slowly… this is the key… going slow. The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over expecting a different result.  And so it goes with piano practice that involves a lot of repetition. You actually must fix the problem.  You are wasting your precious time if you repeat the same mistake over and over.  So play the bar or section over and over gradually increasing your speed as you fix the mistake. Be picky. Then you must fit the section back into the music. Take a bar before and after the problem section and practice fitting the bar into the parts of the music you know.  That should fix the problem – and a lot quicker than just playing the piece through from start to finish, stumbling through the crappy part.

Practice method for pieces that get worse toward the end of the song.

Backwards practicing.  This is similar to the efficient practice method described above….just do it backwards.  Start with the last 4 bars.  Practice them 5 times through – then move on back another 4 bars and practice straight to the end 5 times.  Again, move back another 4 bars and practice to the end 5 times.  This way, the end of the song gets a whole lot more practice than the beginning and so the whole song improves. Very effective, very efficient.


Often a piece just needs some polishing, there is nothing particularly wrong with it, but perhaps you are preparing it for a performance.  In this case the piece should just be played through from start to finish while focusing on the expression and getting through to the end, in spite of the mistakes that occur.  This is useful in learning how to keep going even if you make an error – focusing on the performance… not the errors.

Dividing up your practice time

Do take a moment to see what you need to cover in a week.  Scales, old pieces, trouble spots and new pieces.  Each day try to accomplish something in your practice.  Start with your scales to warm up – 5 minutes at least.  Polish an old piece in 5 to 7 minutes. Take out a trouble spot in another 5 minutes… you may have more than one trouble spot – but deal with at least one… eradicate it!  Then move on to the new piece and use the efficient practice technique to get a portion of that piece done. Working this way, you’ll find that you move ahead very quickly and feel great about what you are doing every day.

Short of practice time on a certain day? 

Try finding 10 minute sections of time where you  can focus on a particular problem… 3 of these make 30 minutes!  Even 15 minutes on something that you need to fix will make a difference when you come into your practice session the next day. For students that have tests or exams that interfere, use a little piano time to take a break from your studies.  A change can be just as good as a rest and those short 10 or 15 minute practice sessions can make a huge difference in your songs.


Hope these tips help to make your practice time more efficient so that you can just get to the FUN of playing…. Also remember to enjoy the process of learning a new song… it’s what we musicians do most – learn tons of new songs!


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