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Practice the Piano

How Much Should I Practice The Piano?

By: Will Mason

It’s like flossing your teeth… …You know your dentist is going to tell you that you should be doing it more.

But we’re not here to shame you into changing your behavior. No! We just want to give you some good information that will help you set some goals and establish some great habits so you can become the piano player you want to be.

Why is it important to practice?

On a survey to hundreds of our families in lessons at Mason Music, the most common answer parents give to the question “What do you think would benefit your child’s progress the most?” is MORE PRACTICE. Coincidentally it happens to also be the most common complaint from our teachers. Go figure!!! After all, if you don’t practice your material between lessons, there’s really no point in introducing new material at the next lesson. Practice is the discipline of intentionally applying the skills and rehearsing the material learned in a lesson. This application is absolutely critical to improving as a musician. After all, knowledge is like sunscreen. It doesn’t do any good if you don’t apply it.

There’s also the question of how good you want to be at the piano. What level do you aspire to? Beethoven? Charlie Brown? This makes a difference in determining how much work will need to be put in during practice.

It’s tough to find an answer that fits everybody, but we’ve put together 5 helpful tips and some general guidelines for great practice habits for piano students.

1. Set Triggers

This actually has nothing to do with playing the piano and everything to do with forming a habit. A trigger is simply a prompt or reminder to do something; in this case, practice the piano. The hardest thing about practicing enough is just remembering to practice! Triggers are incredibly powerful at establishing habits, which is why we put them at #1 on the list. Here are some examples of triggers that are great for music students:

  • Set an alarm on your phone for every day at the time you get home that says “quit fiddling around and practice the piano.”
  • If you’re a student, leave your piano book in your book bag so you remember to practice after homework.
  • Put a sticky note on the mirror where you brush your teeth and mark off the days that you practice.
  • Make a big sign for your piano that says “PLAY ME.”
  • Set an alarm on Alexa that plays the song you’re trying to learn every day at the same time.
  • If you play an instrument that is normally stored in a case, try leaving it out where you can see it.

Can you see how setting up some of these triggers would help you remember to practice?

2. Chunking and Chaining.

Did you know that humans have been measured to possess a shorter attention span than a goldfish? While practicing an instrument can help increase that focus, you don’t have to do it all at once. We recommend splitting up your practice time into smaller sessions of highly focused work. Within those sessions, break your songs into phrases and work on one ‘chunk’ at a time. There is much research on a memorization technique called “chunking and chaining” that we incorporate into our lessons and practice recommendations. You probably do this intuitively to an extent, but leveraging it as an intentional approach can make a huge difference.

For example, let’s take a phrase that has 16 bars. Instead of approaching it as one big section to be memorized, let’s split it into 4 sections: A, B, C, and D. “Chunking and chaining” allows us to memorize A (easy!) then B. Now we can chain A and B together and we’re halfway there. Next, memorize C and add it to the chain, and finally memorize D and now you have the whole section. This is much more efficient (and enjoyable) than attempting to memorize the entire passage at once and feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or hopeless. It also leverages the snowball effect and builds momentum as you go. Keep your chunks at a workable size and you won’t overwhelm your brain as you are working to move the information from short to long term memory.

3. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

We all have a tendency to move on too quickly. With favorite TV shows, restaurants, or even relationships (ouch!). Don’t let those bad habits influence your piano practice! Play the same section 3 or 4 times in a row to make sure you have it down. When you run into difficult passages, ramp up to 8-10 times in a row (or as many as it takes) to work out the kinks. This definitely takes discipline, but resist the temptation to move on until you have it done. If you are truly exhausted with a passage, the next tip may help.

4. Practice at different speeds.

I’ll be honest, I hated this one as a young player. All I wanted to do was play full speed (or above!). But, I have to admit that practicing slow does wonders for technique, rhythm and, ultimately, it unlocks the ability to play faster with fewer mistakes. Now, as a teacher with over a decade of experience, I see that this is indispensable for my students and is actually the fastest way to get faster.

How To Do It:
1. Start as slow as you need to in order to play the proper rhythm (½ or ¼ speed).
2. After you can correctly play the section at that tempo, try to speed up slightly.
3. Continue to speed up incrementally each time as long as you are playing it correctly.
4. When you start making mistakes, stop and reduce your speed until you find the fastest tempo you can play without mistakes.
5. Practice at that tempo several more times and then attempt to increase your tempo again.
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you have reached full speed.

Tip: This is a lot easier to do with a metronome. You can measure your pace and see how far away from full-speed you are (and feel better about yourself when you get there).

5. Practice before bed.

Some research suggests studying before bed gives your brain an advantage in processing the newly learned material while you sleep. FOR REAL. YOU CAN LEARN IN YOUR SLEEP. I did this as a child and swore it worked. Now I have science on my side! Try sitting down and practicing your new song for 15 minutes shortly before bedtime and check it out the next morning. You might just have some musical dreams to go along with it!

Simple, Right?

If you want to get better at anything (piano, basketball, cooking, speaking Spanish) you should follow my formula for growth:

∆ = M * D * T (Change = Motivation * Dedication * Time)

Motivation is how much you want it, Dedication is how much you’re willing to do to get it and Time is how long you stick with it.

Progress is incremental and cumulative. Incremental meaning you will grow in spurts and then have periods of time where you don’t feel like you are improving as quickly. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. They will come! Cumulative meaning that over time your improvements will build on themselves and you will be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. I say this to encourage you to stick with it. Just like you can’t turn your body into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s physique with a week of working out, you are not going to become Mozart after a week of practice.

Recommendations For Age Groups:

Our studio recommends practicing 5 days a week. That leaves one day for your lesson (which doesn’t count as practice time) and one off day to not worry about it.

  • 4-6 year-olds: 10-15 minutes
  • 7-9 year-olds: 15-30 minutes
  • 10-13 year-olds: 30-45 minutes
  • 14-18 year-olds: 45-60 minutes
  • 18+: do your thing, you’re an adult

Update: In 2019, we started the Rock Record Challenge and have been tracking student’s practice time ever since. Click here to take a peek and get inspired by our hard working student musicians!

Here’s how long we think it would potentially take to achieve the proficiency of some famous piano players if you work at it 5 days a week:

  • Adele: 1-2 years
  • Chris Martin: 2-3 years
  • Lady Gaga: 5-7 years
  • Alicia Keys: 5-7 years
  • Ben Folds: 10+ years
  • Billy Joel: 10+ years
  • Bach: 10+ years
  • Beethoven: 10+ years

So, whether you practice 15 minutes a day or 3 hours a day, you can make a real difference in your skill level by following these tips. Let us know how they work out for you by tweeting, snapping, Facebooking, or gramming at us @masonmusicrocks. ROCK ON!

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