By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
This is Part 1 of a series offering my best tips on how to practice piano.
Have you achieved some proficiency at piano but want to make greater progress?
Do you get frustrated by your inability to overcome mistakes in your piano playing?
Are you just starting piano lessons?
Do you have a child who’d like to learn piano?
Have you always wanted to learn piano?
Did you give up piano as a child and want to finally learn to play piano?
For all these scenarios, I have some useful suggestions.
Why Should You Believe I Know How To Make Piano Progress?
I’ve taught piano for more than half my life. Piano is a way that I best express myself, whether through performance or my original compositions.
I performed as a pianist (and vocalist) and owned a private piano teaching studio for 25 years. I taught group piano (Musikgarten methodology) to kids from 5 to 11, too!
If you’re interested in checking out my piano-based original music, or looking for proof to believe me when I say I know how to make piano progress, go to: JLMusicStudio.com
Or have a listen to: My Piano Performance of Clair De Lune.
Why Does Your Piano Practice Make You Feel Like A Loser?
I know from my early piano practice sessions what it feels like to be overwhelmed, or stuck, or frustrated by a particular musical challenge. I was familiar with spending chunks of fruitless time at piano, not being able to accomplish something.
I’d practice musical passages, scales, etudes, fingering, rhythmic patterns, or dynamics relentlessly and repetitively, only to hear myself play the same mistake after mistake.
I’ve had some great piano teachers, though, and one of them was quite instrumental (What? A musical pun here?) in teaching me how to make progress with learning piano. I finally learned how to practice piano effectively.
I’ve seen this dilemma from both sides. Having taught piano and music for 25+ years, I’ve met many piano students who felt overwhelmed by piano practice.
I’ve had students come to me with angst from their lack of progress with former piano teachers.
I’ve had adults come to me with feeble hopes after quitting piano lessons as a child.
I’ve had teenagers joining my studio initially complain that piano was boring and they couldn’t get any better at it.
How To Practice Piano With Confidence
I learned to practice piano effectively. My private piano students overcame issues with getting stuck or insufficient progress, too. They succeeded because the driving point I taught in each piano lesson was how to practice piano effectively.
Do You Know Where The Musical Magic Really Happens?
First, you need to know that the magic never happens in the piano lesson. You will not be illuminated musically by exposure to the brilliance of your piano teacher. Sorry, no unicorns here.
Piano improvement comes directly from the student.
You, as the piano student, or you as the parent of the piano student, are the key to continuous piano progress. The piano student has full responsibility for developing piano skills. Having that self-motivation is 90% of the musical betterment battle.
Of course, a quality piano instructor will be critically helpful as an experienced guide on your musical journey. A good piano teacher can inspire your consistent piano progress. Your piano teacher can help you avoid mistakes or break habits that stunt your piano development.
Your piano teacher can use your strengths to help you advance more dynamically, or help you polish your weaknesses into tools for improvement. But the real result is up to the piano student. Not the teacher.
If that has fully sunk into your brain, now you are ready for my piano practice tips!
Please first take a look at these blogs if you are just beginning piano:
What Do You Need To Know, Have, Or Do To Begin Piano?
What Keyboard Do I Need For Successful Piano Lessons?
How To Find A Good Piano Teacher
Necessary Steps To Achieve Your Most Effective Piano Practice
Having read through the blogs above, hopefully you’ve found a great piano teacher, have a quality instrument or a plan to upgrade to one, and have sorted out a regular practice routine that is supported by those in your home. Now you must begin to establish an effective piano practice strategy that produces progress within your regular practice sessions.
In my next blogs of this series, My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 2 & 3 (posting July 30/August 6), I walk you through my effective piano practice strategy in detail.
Why You Need To Choose A Goal Relevant For Your Level
Before you begin toward your daily piano practice routine, you will need to define the goals you will concentrate on. As you read through these piano practice tips, it will become evident that your goals will change and develop as you practice. Choosing and changing goals helps keep your interest and promotes the greatest progress while practicing piano.
The most critical part that will vary from student to student, or from one practice session to the next, is choosing relevant practice goals. The goals you select depend on your level of musicianship, and will vary from beginner to advanced levels of piano skill.
Beginner to intermediate level piano students will typically have a few piano goals assigned by their piano teacher to achieve before the next piano lesson. As you advance in piano proficiency, you’ll be able to use more self-volition in selecting appropriate piano goals.
As you advance, and with the guidance from your piano teacher, you’ll learn the art of narrowing your focus to what goals are necessary for your current piano playing level.
Before you begin, you must determine your specific goals for each piano practice session. You’ll need to break your weekly goals down into smaller, digestible chunks. Either using what your piano teacher has offered, or devising your own, make a list of targeted piano practice goals you will work on during your piano practice session.
In the next blog, I will offer a few examples of piano practice goals.
Stay tuned for the next steps in my effective piano practice strategy in My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 2, posting July 30 & My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 3, posting August 6.
Let me know in the comments below if this is helpful or if you have additional questions or comments.
If you’re a piano teacher, feel free to leave one of your favorite piano practice tips in the comment section!
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Today’s Piano blog features five best piano practice tips from Veteran Piano Teacher, Dawn Ivers, of Kansas. I recently featured Ivers in my blog, What To Do About Piano Practice When You Have An Injury. Ivers runs a successful piano studio in Kansas. She includes online lessons and technology as part of her piano pedagogy.
1. What are your top piano practice tips for beginners?
Frequency, Chunking Goals & Finding Tricky Spots
For beginners, Ivers suggests practicing piano frequently in small chunks throughout the week. She recommends setting small, manageable goals for each practice session. She suggests learning how to identify your tricky spots and work them carefully.
2. What are the basics for someone who wants to begin learning piano?
Quality Instrument, Family Support, Interest In Learning Piano
Fundamentally, Ivers recommends that beginner piano students have "an in-tune instrument to practice on, parent support, and an interest in learning piano."
She accepts students as young as three for piano lessons, "because we can teach skills like counting and finger isolation (fingering) through music. As long as the student is interested and able to follow simple instructions, piano lessons can begin."
3. What are your thoughts on online learning for piano?
Ivers considers online learning a terrific option, whether it be for regular lessons, or an inclement weather or sickness option.
Flexibility Plus Responsibility
“Online (piano) lessons provide flexibility of location for the student, and with video chat technology being what it is, piano teachers can accomplish the same goals with only small variations to their usual methods.”
“In my own piano studio, I started offering online piano lessons after I moved across the country and several of my students in my former area wanted to continue on with me. So I tried it out with students ranging from age 7 to 16, mid-beginner to advanced piano levels, all have continued to show consistent (piano) progress and lessons continue to be fun and engaging.”
“One added bonus is that a few of my online piano students have really stepped up and taken ownership of their music and learning process because there is a little bit of added responsibility when a student participates in distance learning.”
4. Do you have any technology you’d recommend for piano students?
Ivers says she recommends “every student have access to a metronome, be it a traditional one, a beat generator like the Super Metronome Groove Box app or just telling their Google/Alexa to set a metronome.”
Apps, Games, Notation Software, Accompaniment = Engagement
“Besides that, there are a lot of excellent technology-based resources like music theory apps, sight reading games, music notation software, backing track generators, etc.”
“While I don't think any of these are the single secret key to becoming a well-rounded musician, anything that helps a student engage and enjoy the piano learning process is worth investing in.”
“In my (piano) studio, I use a combination of the resources mentioned above so students are getting to use them in lessons. When they go home, they are not required to have access to them (though many enjoy the apps or notation software so much, they do download them for practice purposes at home).”
5. What are your thoughts on time and schedule routine for piano practice?
Set Weekly Piano Practice Routine & Reminders
Ivers says the details of this are “going to vary by family and individual schedules and situations. But generally, I recommend that students look at their weekly schedule, and set the times throughout the week they are going to practice (piano).”
“Set digital or visual reminders if necessary for these set times, and then stick to it.”
Practice When Inspired
“Students should also practice piano when they're feeling inclined to in addition to the scheduled times, and with this combination of following a schedule and allowing inclination to bring them to the piano, they'll get plenty of practice each week.”
Ivers' blog on four ideas for scheduling practice time goes more in depth on this topic.
Let me know in the comments below if you found this blog helpful or if you have more piano practice tips!
For more information from our featured piano teacher, Dawn Ivers, her piano studio and informative blog, click here.
More tips on effective piano practice can be found in my blog on left and right hand coordination here.
CLICK HERE for a list of piano and music-making resources I use and recommend.
SIGN-UP HERE to get your FREE download of YCC's Top 10 Things To Help You Reach Your Goals! Plus get more more strategies for creativity, piano, caregiver and spiritual wellness!
Tips For Adults Who Want To Learn Piano
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
In my quest to see if what I’ve learned in 30+ years as a pianist and piano teacher is in sync with other piano teachers and pianists, I’ve checked out Facebook piano groups. This is where I engaged in a thread on piano practice with hobbyist piano player, Tommy Doyle, of Manchester, United Kingdom.
Doyle’s website, https://tommyspianocorner.com is where he shares his journey as someone who studied piano in his youth, left it behind for many years due to ‘adulting,’ then returned to the piano as a hobby. His blog offers his insights on how to approach learning piano while juggling the working adult’s non-music-related daily responsibilities.
Although not a piano teacher, hearing from Doyle’s personal journey with striving to fit in his love for piano minus the hyper-ambition of a classical piano career gets at the heart of what many aspiring pianists want to know.
I asked Doyle five questions that are useful for those wanting to progress at piano playing. The first sentence of his first answer hit the essence of my philosophy and teaching strategy for effective piano progress.
YCC: What are your top piano practice tips for beginners?
DOYLE: My top tip for anybody wanting to learn to play piano is to learn how to practice piano.
This might seem a self-evident thing to say, however, the reality seems to be that many of us never learn the art of practicing. In my experience, we often find intuitive ways of doing things and in these cases if we just repeat a few times, we soon acquire a new skill. However, when we don’t find that intuitive means, we have to find a way to learn a new skill. This is where practice techniques play a big part. If you’re unable to do something, then just repeating it incorrectly isn’t going to help. I found a couple of really useful resources in this respect that I’ve talked about numerous times on my blog.
YCC: Doyle specifically recommends the Practicing The Piano ebook series by pianist/educator, Graham Fitch. Fitch is highly qualified as a graduate of London’s Royal College Of Music who continued his piano studies in the USA on a Fulbright Scholarship, and travels as a performing pianist and lecturer on piano and music.
I haven’t personally used Fitch’s series, but on first glance at the preview on Amazon, some of his top tips for practicing include; choosing a specific fingering, attention to practice only correct notes or rhythms, isolating hands separately before playing hands together, choosing a slow tempo for new repertoire, and using soft dynamics for a loud section.
Each of these methods is something I’ve used myself and in teaching others, and resonates with my teaching and practicing approach to focus on mastering one goal at a time, and to eliminate practicing mistakes robotically.
Doyle especially likes the ebooks for their direct links to audio and video demonstrations as part of the piano learning process. This is in sync with both how my piano teachers taught me, and my approach as a piano teacher to model for students so they may grasp concepts aurally, physically and visually. Today’s online capabilities can be a useful source of help for piano students.
For more information on the series, Doyle himself reviewed it here.
YCC: What are the basics you recommend for someone who wants to begin learning piano?
DOYLE: I highly recommend that anybody start by getting a teacher. I’m not saying you can’t teach yourself with sufficient research and trial and error, with the myriad of resources now available online. It’s definitely possible.
However, I think there’s an absolutely massive learning curve at the beginning (depending on your starting point). Not only is there the issue of actually playing the instrument, there’s also the question of learning to read music. Finding a good teacher to get you over these two massive initial hurdles is to my mind a well worthwhile investment.
A teacher is there to help you master the very basics - how to sit at the piano, how to hold your hands, how to play the notes. You teacher can also explain what those odd dots on the page actually mean and give strategies for absorbing the ability to translate these into notes at the piano.
A good teacher will also help you get to grips with lots of the basics you need; Scales, Arpeggios, 5-finger exercises and the like. Learning how to do these well gives you the absolute essential building blocks for the rest. Your teacher will also help you with choices of pieces (music repertoire) to learn that are both within your grasp but also in terms of styles of music you enjoy.
YCC: What are your thoughts on online learning for piano?
DOYLE: I’m a firm believer that we should embrace the possibilities that the new online world offers us. Starting with YouTube, there is an enormous wealth of quality tutorials for people of all levels.
YCC: Doyle has his favorite channels, but mentions the importance of checking into the background experience of videos to confirm credentials of expertise. He recommends Josh Wright, who is both well known on YouTube, has a doctorate in piano, and is an experienced teacher.
Doyle doesn’t use apps himself, but “as a supplement to a proper teacher, I’d imagine they’re a great extra source of learning and certainly a very fun way to approach piano. Of course, claims that you can go from ‘beginner to pro in no time’ are total nonsense.”
Doyle quotes Vladimir Horowitz (considered the king of classical piano) the piano is “the easiest instrument to learn in the beginning and the hardest to master in the end.”
YCC: Do you have any technology you’d recommend for piano students?
DOYLE: Technology is one of my pet subjects. I even created a category on my blog for this. What I find amazing even now is the absolutely amazing ways technology can be used by pianists now.
I have an iPad Pro that I use as an integral part of my piano routine. This one piece of technology has replaced my need for sheet music (I download directly to my iPad), for a metronome (I use a free a metronome app).
I keep my practice diary on it. I use it to record my practice so I can self critique. It’s pretty much always on my piano music stand. You can use it for things such as streaming music services, watching YouTube videos, reading magazines, the list goes on. You can even record your own orchestra into your computer and play along.
I think that sometimes we more ‘mature’ learners fail to embrace what technology makes possible and stick with the ‘old way’. It’s a bit like my dad, who refuses to use a SatNav (GPS), just because he’s never used one and, on that basis, would never need one.
It’s not about whether we need something, but about whether it makes what we’re trying to do easier. If technology can make things easier, then why not embrace it?
When I used to play piano publicly, I needed to carry two massive plastic bags of music around with me with all sorts of photocopies and creased and wrinkled books. Now, on my iPad, I have all of my music organised, with the added advantage that I can search and find a piece in seconds rather than needing to sift through a lot of paper.
YCC: What are your thoughts on time and schedule routine for piano practice?
Doyle shares that reading Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible by Alan Rusbridger inspired him to create his weekday before-work practice routine. He says he gets up an hour earlier in the morning so he can practice.
DOYLE: I found that before I started doing this I had two major problems. The first was that it was always in the back of my mind that I still needed to fit in my practice at some point. Secondly, work would frequently take over, and by the time I actually got home from work I was too tired to sit down at the piano.
My practice routine before was pretty much sitting and randomly working through things, which quite often was not actually making me any better.
YCC: Doyle says his research into piano practice taught him the importance of having a proper plan. He says having defined goals and strategies for every practice session is a “real game changer.”
Doyle emphasizes that “piano is an amazing hobby open to anybody. It’s definitely a lot of hard work, but the rewards are more than worth it.”
Click here to read more about Doyle’s approach to piano practice.
CLICK HERE for a list of piano and music-making resources I use and recommend.
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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.