It’s like flossing your teeth. You know your dentist is going to tell you that you need to do it more often.
Too little practice time from students is the #1 complaint from piano teachers. After all, if you don’t practice your material between lessons, there’s really no point in introducing new material at the next lesson.
Then there’s the question of how good do you want to be at the piano? What level do you aspire to? Mozart? Charlie Brown? This makes a difference in determining how much work will need to be put in.
It’s tough to find an answer that fits everybody, but we’ve put together some general guidelines and tips for great practice habits for piano students.
Don’t try to do it all at one sitting.
After all, we now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. We recommend breaking up your practice time into smaller chunks of highly focused work. Break your songs into chunks and work on one piece at a time.
Play the same section 3 or 4 times in a row to make sure you have it down. When you run into difficult passes, ramp up to 8-10 times in a row (or as many as it takes) to work out the kinks.
Practice at different speeds.
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.
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 just slightly.
3. Continue to speed up slightly each time as long as you are playing it correctly.
4. When you start making mistakes, slow back down and 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).
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 rehearsing your new song for 15 minutes shortly before bedtime and check it out the next morning.
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. 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
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 years
Lady Gaga: 2-3 years
Alicia Keys: 3-5 years
Ben Folds: 3-5 years
Billy Joel: 10+ years
Bach: 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!