So many resources are available for helping kids practise. There are games, gimmicks, activity sheets and loads of tips for their parents. But what about the adult students? It seems as though the adults should be disciplined to practise, because they are choosing to learn, but the fact is adults have a lot of other pressures and demands on their time. It is often also a lonely pursuit – they don’t have parents involved and encouraging them.
Adult students in particular need their practise to be of good quality and very effective, as it’s often a struggle to find both the physical time and also the mental alertness required on a regular basis.
Following are some tips that can help you make the maximise the effectiveness of your practise time:
1. Be organised – Practicing the piano efficiently is all about organising yourself to get the best results from the effort expended. It’s essential to be very clear about your daily practice objectives. Writing a daily practise plan helps you to zoom in on your most important tasks tasks and will give you a feeling of accomplishment as you complete each one. Your teacher can help you with this.
2. Don’t try to multi-task – Discipline yourself to complete each practice goal before moving on to the next. If you can meet the goals on your (for example) Czerny study before moving on to your Mozart sonata you will find it far more effective than bouncing back and forth between the two. Don’t try to get each task perfect the first time; you just want to see you are improving and well on track to meeting your overall goal.
3. Only practice with full concentration – If your practise session doesn’t demand large reserves of concentration, then you’re not practising properly. Five minutes of concentrated practise is far more valuable than five hours of moving your fingers while your mind wanders. The mind must be active at all times, since it is first and foremost the mind that play the piano. I think this is one of the most difficult tips to master, especially for adults.
4. Schedule your practise sessions – While this seems self-explanatory, this technique will only work well when in conjunction with the tip above – if you schedule in time, you must be prepared to give that time your full concentration. For some, the best time may be first thing in the morning when the mind is fresh (and you will feel accomplished at having started your day by completing a major task) while others may need to wait until the kids are in bed and the household jobs completed.
5. Always warm up first – Well warmed-up hands will allow you to accomplish the physical tasks demanded by difficult pieces with greater ease and with fewer errors. I find that scales and arpeggios make for the best warm-up. Even normal lessons here are usually started with exercises and scales (although warming up is only one of their many uses).
6. Practice slowly – It is a known psycho-physiological fact that the brain cannot absorb musical information in detail when playing fast. It is therefore essential to work slowly and carefully at all times. Speed can always be built up later, but forcing it too early jeopardises learning the piece correctly.
7. Keep a practise journal – A practise journal is a log of your practice sessions, including what you practise and for how long. It can be a notebook, a Word document, a spreadsheet or whatever works for you. At the end of each practise session, write down which pieces you worked on and how long you spent on each one. This can serve to force your mind to focus and may also help with planning future practise goals (in fact, it can be an interesting exercise to compare it to your original goals).
8. Practice only short passages – The brain absorbs musical information more readily when it is not overwhelmed by quantity. Each day, practice just one passage, and practice it with care and thoughtfulness. This makes for far more efficient practise in the long run.
9. Study away from the piano – This has been covered in more detail previously here. Some of the most efficient piano practise can be accomplished without a piano. You can do this by analysing the music and listening to it in your mind. Hear each voice in your mind and sing along and you might be surprised when you notice recurring themes and relationships, harmonic subtleties etc. You want to know you piece equally well with or without the music in front of you.
Most of these tips involve adjusting your mindset and – like many effective tools – require some effort. But the achievements are so much more rewarding when you appreciate the effort involved. I promise it’s worth it!
If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.