by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
This is the second part of a series offering my best tips on how to practice piano effectively. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here:
My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 1
How To Achieve Your Most Effective Piano Practice
I mentioned the importance of choosing relevant practice goals. Having goals for each piano practice session is crucial for both fast and lasting progress. Surprisingly, many piano students completely neglect this important step! Spending time at the piano without locking down on a goal is just spinning your wheels. It may be pleasurable for a short while, but in the end those who omit goal-setting will eventually stall musical progress.
Let’s begin with the understanding of how influential your goals will be toward your piano progress as we launch into an effective piano practice strategy. You can use this strategy for any piano practice session at any level of musicianship or piano skills!
Practice Piano Using Your Full Focus On Your One Goal
Start with one goal for the current piano practice session. It’s pivotal that you select only one goal to begin your piano practice. Limit yourself to think only about this one goal.
While deeply listening and looking at the musical notation or your hand (s) at the keyboard, place your full mental effort on the one thing you’ve selected as your goal. This is where multi-tasking goes out the window!
Looking Ahead To Be Better Prepared
Let’s say you’ve selected the goal of playing the correct fingering, for the right hand only, through four measures of notated music. Start by visually reading the selected fingering without touching the piano.
Take note of any opportunities for making a mistake. Analyze that situation. Question why it would be a challenge and look for a solution around it. Once you’ve found the solution, decide your course of action (back to setting your first goal).
Looking Before You Leap Prevents Falling
The point is to think about the one goal of playing the right hand’s fingering through the four measures of music. Do not yet play the piano. Think through it first.
Taking the chosen passage, let’s say that while you visually read through the fingering, you discovered one of your fingers would need to stretch to reach its key to accomplish correct fingering. Now that you’re aware of this potential problem, you’re better prepared to adjust your hand, wrist, arm or posture to assure you’ll be able to play the designated fingering.
Play While Focusing On One Goal
After this period of visual and mental preparation, begin toward your one goal of playing the musical passage mistake-free (with correct fingering in the right hand). As you play the passage, listen carefully and pay close attention to achieving the goal (correct fingering).
During this time, do not focus on anything else. Don’t add the left hand. Don’t think about dynamics, the rhythm, or tempo. Just concentrate fully on the one goal (playing correct fingering) for the selected musical passage.
Evaluate Your Performance
Think about whether you either successfully met your goal or not. If not, you must stop. If you didn’t succeed in reaching your goal, you must stop. Do not continue through the passage or beyond it.
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Stop. —If You Make A Mistake Or Lose Your Focus
There are only two reasons to stop practicing. The first is if you make a mistake in regard to your goal. In this case, you weren’t able to play correct right hand fingering through the four measures of music.
The second is if you lost mental concentration. If you have lost your ability to mentally focus on your goal, you must stop. Continuing without a goal in mind is wasted time at the piano.
This is one of the most important aspects of effective piano practice that so many piano players ignore, resulting in lack of progress, repeated mistakes, hitting musical plateaus and boredom.
But if you are proactively and cognitively engaged with your goal, your piano progress will rapidly improve! You must THINK! As simple as that sounds, it is the essence of successful piano progress!
It’s challenging to keep yourself intellectually disciplined. It’s also tiring. You are the best judge of your ability, so when you lose mental focus, the best course of action is to stop.
Reset Back To The Beginning
Once you’ve evaluated yourself to determine if you need to stop due to a mistake or a lack of attention, you must reset. Go back to the start and try again. Recenter your mind on the one goal and make a fresh attempt at it.
How You Can Avoid Wasting Time At The Piano
The point is to prioritize exactly one thing to practice and put your entire attention to that goal. Like walking a balance beam, if you lose your balance, you fall off. There’s no point in continuing. Just go back and start again from the beginning.
When you choose one defined practice goal and create the restriction of not allowing yourself to continue unless you are successful, you will make faster and better piano progress.
Repeat Your Effort To Focus On Your One Goal
& Do It 3 Times In A Row!
Once you are able to successfully reach your specific goal as you play the musical passage, go back to the beginning and try again to complete your goal. Stop each time you lose focus or make a mistake on your goal.
Start again. Repeat this process until you’re able to successfully play through your passage with your appointed goal three times in a row. If you play successfully through twice but make a mistake or lose focus the third time, you must start completely over from the beginning! Do not move forward until you are able to succeed three times consecutively.
When you’re able to play through your selected goal successfully and consecutively several times, your correct habit is solidified. This confirms you are ready to move on to the next goal!
The Benefits of Attending To One Goal At A Time
You will find that honing in on a specific task in this manner will get you much further in piano skills that mindlessly repeating your music multiple times. Using your entire effort to think about what you are trying to accomplish makes a huge impact on piano progress.
If you apply yourself to this kind of full-on thinking strategy while at the piano, your piano skills will improve more quickly. Your improvement will boost your confidence in your piano playing abilities.
This will motivate you to continue building your skills. The fluency you will gain from attending to each practice goal will give you an edge of greater musicianship. This leads to greater enjoyment and inspiration at the piano.
When It’s Ok To Play Piano For Enjoyment
Many piano players waste time by playing music without thinking about any particular goal. Or they lose their focus on the goal while playing. Or they become distracted by other musical aspects (like dynamics, rhythm, tempo, expression). This leads to wasted time at the piano and leads to little or no improvement of piano skills.
There will be plenty of opportunity to play piano for enjoyment, and you absolutely should do this. But your piano practice session is not the right time for that.
Reward yourself with playing piano mindlessly only after you've dedicated time to effective piano practice. First, give your all to reaching the goals you’ve chosen for your practice session!
After you work hard in your practice session, treat yourself to the fun of playing through previous assignments, or improvising on the keys. You’ll feel a difference in your mastery of the music after having worked consistently within your practice routine.
The key is to balance your practice between great concentrated effort, followed by the reward of relaxation and enjoyment of piano playing for fun.
I’d love to hear from you. It means a lot to me that my content is helpful and empowers you. Please take a moment to join the conversation below to let me know if this blog is helpful to you, or if you have questions or suggestions!
If you’re a piano teacher, feel free to leave one of your favorite piano practice tips in the comment section!
Stay tuned for more details on how to evaluate your piano practice in My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 3, posting August 6.
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DEVELOPING PIANO TECHNIQUE
TIPS FOR LEFT & RIGHT HAND COORDINATION
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In my PIANO blogs, you'll find ways to overcome boredom, get past musical and mental blocks, explore the creative process with piano, and improve musical progress through piano teacher recommended best practices and effective piano practice tips.