I love helping piano students troubleshoot problems at the piano. One of the biggest benefits of learning piano with a teacher is that you can get instant feedback, which will help you learn most efficiently.
I find that I give a lot of the same advice over and over in piano lessons, so I wanted to compile all of my best and most frequently suggested tips into one spot.
Here are 15 of my top piano practicing tips. You’ll probably find that some don’t apply to your unique situation as much as others. That’s ok! You can take them or leave them. Maybe you’ll find at least one little nugget of wisdom to take to your practice sessions that will help you take your piano practice to the next level.
Learn the difference between playing the piano and practicing the piano
One of the biggest mistakes I see pianists of all ages making is not acknowledging the difference between playing the piano and practicing the piano.
Playing the piano and practicing the piano are two very different things. There’s nothing wrong with just turning your brain off, playing, and simply enjoying the music in the moment. This type of playing isn’t a true practice session, however.
When you are really practicing the piano, you have specific and focused goals. You are set out to work in a deliberate way to improve your playing, to learn a specific piece, or to master a skill.
Without an intentional plan to practice the piano, you might spend hours at the piano playing your music over and over without any noticeable improvement.
Set piano-specific Goals For Yourself
Along the same lines, it’s really important to bring specific goals to the piano. Having both long-term goals as well as shorter-term goals is ideal.
Also Read: Ready To Learn How To Play The Piano?
Just like anything else that you’re trying to accomplish, you’ll find the most success if you have a solid plan. You likely have long-term goals, such as music that you’d like to learn or skills that you’d like to acquire. This is a good start to making a practice plan.
Long-term plans are important, but so are short-term goals. What are you hoping to accomplish today, in this practice session? What can you do to make that happen? What would you like to accomplish this week, or this month.
Prioritize Forming Good Routines
Sometimes the hardest part about practicing the piano is getting started. It’s easy to get swept up in a busy schedule and not make time to practice the piano.
Often, the hardest part about practicing is getting started and staying committed. It’s easy to let a busy schedule or other stress points interfere with the time we need spend with our piece.
One way to avoid this is by making your piano practice be a very deliberate part of your day. Schedule it in just like you would schedule other important daily activities.
To do this, find an optimal time of your routine day for piano practice. If you feel the most mentally alert and clear in the morning, then make piano practice a morning routine. Others might schedule piano practice as a great way to wind down in the evenings. Think through your day and find what works for you.
Once you have carved out time to practice the piano, be intentional about focusing only on your piano practice while you are at the piano.
Turn off electronics, don’t worry about your to-do list and focus your energy on what you are trying to accomplish at the piano.
Listen To Your Music
Your brain works like a sponge, absorbing the music you hear. The more you let it soak up the sound of your music, the easier it is to get that music back out of you.
Active listening demands all of your attention. Most of us are used to listening to music passively while we engage in other activities. When you are actively listening for the sake of learning your music, don’t try to clean your house, drive or browse the internet. Instead, try closing your eyes and focus on the sound of the music. Think about what your hands might be doing in order to make those sounds happen. Or, open the score and follow along.
I love browsing YouTube to find a variety of performances of the music I am learning. While you’ll definitely find recordings all of over the spectrum when it comes to quality and accuracy, it’s also fascinating to see how other people have approached the same music.
So, if you do use YouTube to listen to your pieces, keep in mind that the recording you are listening to might not be an exact demonstration of what you are learning.
Study your music
A lot of times I see students who try to barrel through their music without giving it much thought.
Taking a little bit of time to stop and study the score can make a big difference in how you practice and it will save you a lot of time in the long run.
When you study your music, you’ll want to make as many observations as you can about your music. Think about things like:
- What is the style of the music? Are there any tempo markings, expression marks or symbols you need to look up?
- What is the key signature? Are there any tricky sharps or flats that you’ll have to give some extra thought to?
- What is the rhythm like? Would it help to tap out some of the rhythms before you start?
It definitely helps to repeat this throughout your learning process. Once you’ve gotten a good start on your piece, take another look and see what else you can observe.
Work with small sections of music
There are times when it makes the most sense for you to play the piece from start to finish. You might do this at the beginning, just to get a scope of the entire piece. But, in order to effectively learn your music, you’re going to have to break your music into small, workable sections.
Avoid starting and stopping your music at arbitrary points. For example, don’t stop at the first page just because it’s the end of that page.
A better way to divide the music is by practicing phrases, whether it is 2, 4, or 8 measures at a time. Other ways to break apart the music would be to work through the A section, the exposition, or until the first repeat sign. Whichever way you choose, identify clear starting and ending points in your music and discipline yourself to practice within those boundaries.
Practicing slowly is probably the number one tip that I repeat over and over throughout my teaching day.
It can be tempting to always play music up to tempo, the way we hear it on recordings, but the magic happens in slow practice. By starting off slow and slowly increasing tempo, you gain accuracy, hone your technical skills and train your hands to achieve perfection.
Some students tell me that they can’t play slowly. I know this feeling, but unfortunately, it’s just a sign that you don’t actually know your music that well. If you can’t play your piece correctly at a slow tempo, you also can’t play it correctly at a faster tempo.
But, if you’re playing your piece well at the slower tempo, you can speed it up over time and you’ll maintain the same level of accuracy that you had at your slower tempo.
Work With Each Hand Separately
It’s definitely ok to split the music apart and practice each hand independently. Usually, your two hands have to do two completely different things in piano music, so it makes perfect sense to learn each part separately.
Even if one hand seems too easy, it’s still a good idea to practice that part alone so that you can train yourself to play it accurately and well. You’ll be able to focus on playing exactly the right notes at the right time. Plus, you’ll have the chance to think about how you play the notes as well.
Focus on Rhythm
Pianists are notorious for fudging tempo and rhythm in music. Since we spend most of our time alone at our piano, it’s easy to have some give and take in the tempo and play rhythms inconsistently. These bad habits can add up to big rhythm problems over time.
Also Read: 5 Ways To Learn and Practice Rhythm
If you ever struggle to play with steady rhythms and a consistent tempo, there are many ways to overcome this challenge.
Playing along with a metronome, percussion track or backing track are all great ways to ensure that you are playing with rhythmic accuracy.
You might also try devoting some time to just feeling the beat of your music. A lot of times rhythmic challenges come in when a pianist doesn’t have a good sense of the pulse of the music.
Tapping a steady beat while tapping, humming or playing difficult rhythms can be really helpful.
Learn to use the correct fingers
One of the least productive ways to practice is to practice something differently every time. As soon as you start learning a new piece, find the best fingering that works for you stick with it. Ignoring proper fingering will waste valuable practice time learning the piece incorrectly and you’ll just have to go back and learn it the right way later on.
Be Prepared for ups and downs
I’ve noticed many pianists will experience some level of disappointment while learning the piano. Learning the piano can be really challenging. There are a lot of ups and downs to learning the piano.
Piano progress usually doesn’t happen in a straight line and progress can be really unpredictable.
The rewards of practicing are almost never immediately and sometimes you might even feel that, despite all of the work you’ve done, things are getting worse. It’s a frustrating feeling, but learning to play an instrument is the ultimate form of delayed gratification. It will definitely pay off over time.
KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO STEP AWAY FROM THE PIANO
When you are experiencing those challenging times at the piano, know when it’s time to step away and take a break. Sometimes too much practice can just to frustration, which will bring a lot of tension and negative energy to the piano.
If you notice yourself consistently feeling frustrated at the piano, it is probably a good idea to plan shorter practice sessions. Sometimes two 15-minute practice sessions can be more productive than one 30 minute session.
Listen to your body
A lot of people laugh at the thought of getting injured at the piano, but piano-related injuries are a real thing.
Be sure that you understand what correct piano posture looks and feels like. These two articles can help you with that:
If you feel tightness, aches or pains while you are practicing the piano, know that it is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right.
Don’t continue practicing in the same way if something doesn’t feel right.
Similarly, if you find yourself or parts of your body such as your arms, back or neck feel fatigued while playing the piano, then take a break.
If you feel like you are doing the same thing over and over without making progress at the piano, there is probably an issue that needs to be fixed.
As you are learning, be open to seeking and accepting feedback from teachers and other musicians who have more experience than you do.
Getting a little bit of feedback and set you on the track for making big improvements and optimizing your piano practice time.