10 tips for better piano practise
We have all been there—practising a lot but feeling like we are getting nowhere. Our note learning is slow, our playing is messy, the end result feel like little progress has been made. Often, it’s not us but a few things we can control to help improve our cognitive engagement in piano practise and have more effective practise time.
10 tips for better piano practise
Here are 10 tips to help you improve your piano practise.
Turn off all distractions. Goes without saying, but checking your phone or email everytime you get a notification has beens shown to distract you to the point that it will take anywhere from 15-20 minutes to get your concentration back.
Create practise schedule and stick to it. Decide what you are going to practise on in advance. Draw up a weekly schedule. I purchased a weekly planner pad and use this to plan out various activities, including piano practise. This is all part of forming a routine which is proven to be one of the most reliable indicators related to progress.
3. Warm up – yes do some technical work. You go to the gym and warm up your muscles and limbs, no different here with the piano (though less weight required and no 1RM’s!).
4. Have a plan – identify a specific section or repertoire to work on. The next best reliable indicator of piano practise and progress is to plan your sessions. Decide repertoire in advance (see tip #2) and even up to the point of which sections to practise first. Top-level concert pianists work this way—with a plan—so you should too (Chaffin & Imreh, 2001; Chaffin et al., 2003; Imreh, 1997).
5. Practise the difficult sections first. It’s no secret that cognitive focus will wane after a certain amount of time. The best way to combat this is to do the most challenging sections first when you are fresh in the mind and hands.
6. Break down the technical challenges into smaller chunks (see tips #2  about having a plan). Breaking down technical into smaller chunks is a more efficient practise mechanism and help you to identify the technical issues more precisely and therefore speeding up for progress on difficult sections (Ericsson, 2002; Ericsson, 2003; Ericsson et al., 1990).
7. Slow practise first (preferably with a metronome to make you stick to slow). This relates to Tip #5, especially if you are still note-learning and overcoming difficult sections. Slow practise means slow. Don’t rush the difficult stuff. Gradually increase tempo when these sections are secure.
8. Slow tempo practise with the correct movements and technique. Just because you are going slow doesn’t mean to exaggerate any movements. Ensure your physical movements at the keyboard are efficient so when you increase the tempo your physical movements will respond accordingly.
9. Record or video some of your practice sessions and watch back to reflect on your progress. You will be amazed at the progress you have made and also how you approach your practise. You may think you spent enough time on a section or that your playing was even/balanced when in fact it’s not. You may see peculiarities (physical ticks) in your movements that you didn’t know you had. Awareness is key and with greater awareness of your practise you will be able to identify and correct issues quickly and effectively.
10. Take breaks. Plan them in on your practise schedule. You cannot maintain effective practise when your mind is not focussed.
11. Bonus tip. Enjoy yourself! This is a marathon not a sprint, and effective practise routines will get you to the finish line with a better overall result. Although you may feel that the progress is slow, you may find that overall improvement has been made. You will become a more effective learner, improve your sight-reading, improve hand coordination, and improve in a myriad of other complex cognitive and physical activities which often go unnoticed (see tip #8 about recording your progress).
© iteachpiano 2021
Chaffin, R., & Imreh, G. (2001, April 1, 2001). A Comparison of Practice and Self-Report as Sources of Information About the Goals of Expert Practice. Psychology of Music, 29(1), 39-69.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735601291004 Chaffin, R., Imreh, G., Lemieux, A. F., & Chen, C. (2003). “Seeing the Big Picture”: Piano Practice as Expert Problem Solving. Music Perception, 20(4), 465-465+.
Ericsson, K. A. (2002). Attaining excellence through deliberate practice: Insights from the study of expert performance. In M. Ferrari (Ed.), The pursuit of excellence through education (pp. 21-55). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Ericsson, K. A. (2003). The acquisition of expert performance as problem solving. In J. E. Davidson & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The psychology of problem solving (pp. 31-82). Cambridge University Press.
Ericsson, K. A., Tesch-Römer, C., Krampe, R., & Howe, M. J. A. (1990). Encouraging the Development of Exceptional Skills and Talents (Vol. null).
Imreh, R. C. G. (1997, 1997/11/01). “Pulling Teeth and Torture” : Musical Memory and Problem Solving. Thinking & Reasoning, 3(4), 315-336. https://doi.org/10.1080/135467897394310