How To Practice Piano Efficiently
Many students struggle with consistency and how to practice more effectively. Practice is a crucial part of learning the piano. The reason is that piano is an instrument where practice will program your fingers and mind to develop technique, skill, and also your own style. In order to have constant growth and improvement, consistent practice is needed. Consistency helps create good habits and ensures good muscle memory.
The more you do something, the stronger the neurological pathways in your brain get making the task easier. Without regular practice, you are not building these neurological pathways which will slow down your improvement, you will take longer to prepare for RCM exams, making learning the piano difficult in the long run. Practicing in sections can be very helpful while learning a piece.
The beginning phases of learning a piece can be overwhelming trying to execute and understand different elements at the same time. Breaking it down into smaller sections such as 2-4 measures at a time, working on each hand separately will help reduce the amount of information you are taking in on sitting. While you practice these small sections, slow practice is important too.
Slow practice will help you achieve a better understanding of the music by giving you the opportunity to discover different ways of shaping, listen to the inner voice within the textures, or think about the type of sound you want to achieve. It also helps eliminate the feeling of overwhelmingness, confusion in the beginning phases of learning the music. It can also help with precision in your practice by giving yourself time to be more accurate with rhythm, notes, and reducing hesitations.
It is important to know what your goals are during your practice. Having goals during your practice session will help you focus on what needs attention. This ties into the next point. Focusing on problem areas is important. Do not start from the beginning every time, but look at which parts you are struggling with and isolate that area. This ties into understanding why you are struggling. Do not keep struggling through your struggles, but instead look into why you are struggling.
Sometimes, for example, the problem is simply the fingering that is not working and a change of fingering will help clear up the problem.
Memory has long been a struggle with many students. People have different methods of memory and not everything works for everyone. Memory comes in stages. When you first memorize something, it goes into your short-term memory. Likely what will happen is by the next day you will have forgotten the passage you just memorized.
This is nothing to feel discouraged about as it is very normal to have forgotten because it has not been stored in your long-term memory. But, when you try to rememorize that passage, the time it takes you will become shorter, and shorter each day you practice it. And soon enough, it will be a part of your long-term memory. It is important to memorize music in small sections. Memorizing 2 to 4 measures at a time will help you memorize way more productively than taking a large section.
The brain processes smaller pieces of information better than large amounts, you will feel less overwhelmed and frustrated, and it will help you focus on what is needed to be done. There are some methods you can do that will help solidify your memory. Practicing away from the piano is a very helpful method in making sure you really know the music. Take the score to a table or put the lid down over the keys and try to play the pieces by memory on the surface. This may seem odd, when taking away the visual senses of the keys, you lose your visual map of where your hands should be placed. When memorizing with this method, you are forced to really read the music and remember the details, notes, patterns, harmony, etc.
When you are able to play the entire piece by memory on a flat surface, this is when you know that the music is deeply embedded in your memory. Another method is to play on the keyboard with one hand and on a flat surface with the other and vice versa. This will solidify your memory of each hand. This ties into the next method of memorizing each hand separately. Sometimes memory problems are due to not knowing one hand very well. Singing each voice separately can be very helpful in not only memorizing but hearing each voice separately as well.
This method is more catered toward contrapuntal music. How this works is, you play for example the tenor, bass, and soprano line while trying to hum the alto line, and do this for each voice. Of course, this will be difficult at first, so what you can do is hum the alto line while playing just the soprano and when you can do that, add more voice. Lastly, practice sections that are technically similar.
This will help you learn music and memorize efficiently because since the sections are technically similar you are doing similar motions.
It Takes two
Piano takes two. Parental support is crucial especially for children during the early years of learning. This musical journey is not only the child’s journey but the parents should be ready to dedicate time and support with practicing and learning throughout this process. Obviously, there is some flexibility to this as some children are more disciplined and willing than others. But the bottom line is that at least one of the parents must be involved in the learning process. Parents often ask how long will it take for the child to get up to learn all the basics and be able to play at an advanced level?
There is no one answer. Every child learns at a different rate. Some take a couple of months to learn the notes and some take a year to remember all the notes. Just try your best, practice consistently and improvement will come. Despite the hard work that goes into crafting your art, remember you are also creating something beautiful as well. A professor asked me this during my undergrad. “Are you having fun yet ?” Don’t keep struggling through your struggles, but try to enjoy the process of working through the challenges. Remember, greatness takes time!
Written by Sarah Xu