by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Here is Part 3 of a series offering my best tips for effective piano practice. Read Part 1 & 2 here:
My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 1
My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 2
Why Zoning Out Won’t Get You Piano Progress
If you play through a musical passage while zoning out mentally, immersed instead in the enjoyment of the music, you will not advance your piano progress. When practicing piano, you must be vigilant about where you place your focus.
You must have a clear focus. Setting goals for your practice week and selecting a specified goal for each moment of your current piano practice session are the first steps to your piano progress.
In My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 2, I walked you through the fundamental steps necessary for effective piano practice. As part of that process, you will sometimes need to stop playing the piano. As mentioned, there are two reasons to stop; you’ve either made a mistake or lost focus on your specific goal.
How To Evaluate Your Piano Performance
During and after you play your selected musical passage with a clear goal in mind, you must learn to evaluate your performance. Evaluate how you performed toward your chosen task.
An effective piano practice strategy required evaluation. You must play an active role in the constant problem state of getting your piano skills from your current level to the next. In other words, you must actively engage your thinking about your piano skills.
Your piano teacher will be of tremendous help in guiding you toward what specific things to be aware of concerning your current piano level. But you must be a proactive learner to gain consistent momentum in your piano progress.
Going back to your piano practice scenario, after you play through the selected passage, ask yourself,
“Did I successfully accomplish my goal?”
Be Proactively & Fully Engaged At The Piano
Check yourself carefully here:
If so, it was not a successful run-through, even if you made no mistakes!
You must be cognizant of what you are doing at the piano so that your mind and your physical muscles store the memory of your successful playing!
Many piano students (I’m guilty of this myself) develop the habit of playing something correctly yet without spending mental attention on the music. Regrettably, this often results in going completely blank when attempting to perform under out-of-the-ordinary circumstances. Sadly, this sometimes happens during a performance while experiencing stage fright symptoms.
It’s great that your physical muscles remember the music! But if you rely only on the physical memory alone without engaging your intellectual concentration, you risk having a complete memory lapse.
Back to checking yourself on whether you’ve played through the selected passage correctly:
In both these outcomes, making a mistake or losing mental concentration, you must return to the beginning and follow the practice strategy laid out in my blog, How To Achieve Your Most Effective Piano Practice in My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 2.
When A Mistake Is NOT A Mistake
However, a word about mistakes. If you make a mistake that had nothing to do with your selected goal in mind, you can be flexible.
Let’s use the example of attempting to play the fingering correctly through a four-measure musical passage. If you played a wrong note, stopped the fluency of the beat, or played too softly when the dynamic marking indicates a louder dynamic but still played the correct fingering, any of those mistakes are not necessarily worth noting.
One Thing At A Time, Not Multi-Tasking
If you played the correct fingering despite those other mistakes, it’s a victory. You met your goal.
Especially for beginners, your ability to focus on one thing at a time while playing is the most critical practice habit.
After playing through the passage with correct fingering a few times, you could then select the next goal to include one of the things that tripped you up earlier, such as playing:
How To Assess The Problem
At this point of your piano practice routine, you’ve evaluated your attempt. You either were successful at the initial goal and have been able to play through correctly three times consecutively or, something went wrong.
Here is what you must think about:
Forge your ability to assess your piano performance and adjust yourself accordingly.
How To Choose Your Next Best Step
If you succeed with playing your chosen piano passage three times consecutively, then set your next goal. Look for something that gave you trouble. Pinpoint the issue. Set your new target of focus. Practice in the same manner as described.
Whatever challenges you or whatever you cannot successfully perform three times consecutively determines your next piano practice goal. Goals will also vary based on your piano skill level. Your previously established weekly or practice session goals will be your reference point for the next steps.
Typical piano-practicing goals could include playing through the passage:
Try to continue practicing each goal in this manner for as long as you can muster your concentration. When you begin to lose your ability to focus, remind yourself of your selected goal and reset to the starting point.
Unlock A New Approach
If you cannot keep your mind on things after a while or continue making the same mistakes it may be time for a break. Read my blog on effective piano practice, What To Do If You Keep Messing Up At The Piano!
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 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!
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