by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
This 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 Anywhere With Piano Progress
Playing through the passage while zoning out mentally, immersed instead in the enjoyment of music won’t advance your piano progress. When practicing piano, you must be vigilant about where you place your focus.
You must have a clear focus. That’s why setting goals for your practice week and having a specific goal to work on 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 goal in mind, you must learn to evaluate your performance with regard to whatever goal you are focused on.
Evaluation, as part of an effective piano practice strategy, is the active role you take in the constant problem state of getting your piano skills from your current level to the next. In other words, you must engage your own thinking about your piano skills.
Of course, your piano teacher will be of tremendous help in guiding you toward what specific things to be aware of, in regard to your current piano level. But you must be a proactive learner for greater momentum in your piano progress.
Going back to your piano practice scenario, after you play through the selected passage, ask yourself,
“Did I successfully accomplished 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, but without truly spending mental attention on the music. This regrettably often results in moments of a complete blank when attempting to perform under circumstances that are different or involve 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 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. Be flexible with making a mistake if it had nothing to do with your selected goal.
Let’s use the example of attempting to play the fingering correctly through a four-measure musical passage. If you played a wrong note, or stopped the fluency of the beat, or played too softly when the dynamic marking indicates a louder dynamic, but you 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, the ability to focus on one thing at a time while playing is the most important 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 Or Unlock A New Approach
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.
This is what you must think about:
This is what it takes to forge your ability to assess your piano performance and adjust yourself accordingly.
How To Choose Your Next Best Step
If you were successful with playing your chosen piano passage through three times successfully, you must then choose a new goal. Perhaps, practice something that gave you trouble as mentioned earlier.
Your next piano practice goal will depend on what you need to master, or what is giving you trouble. Goals will also vary based on your piano skill level. Your previously established weekly or practice session goals will be your reference point for next steps.
Some common piano practicing goals could include playing through the passage:
You should try to continue practicing each goal in this manner for as long as you are able to muster full effort. When you begin to lose your ability to concentrate, remind yourself of your selected goal and reset back to the start.
If you are unable to keep your mind on things after awhile, or continue making the same mistakes, it may be time for a break. Stay tuned for my next blog in this series 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 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!
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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.