How to Practice Piano - Part 1

Learning the piano takes practice. Although some people naturally learn quicker than others, practice is still the greatest factor that determines success on the piano. Does practice require putting in time? Absolutely. But perhaps a greater element to practice than time alone is quality. 20 minutes of good practice can be better than two hours of bad practice.

This is the first of a three-part post about what makes good practice.

Goal-Oriented Practice

Imagine that you were going to the gym to get in shape. You decide to set a fitness goal for the week. In doing so, you come up with two possible goals:

1. I will go to the gym for at least three 30-minute sessions this week.


2. I will run a ten-minute mile this week. 

These are two very different types of goals with two very different advantages and disadvantages. By choosing the first goal, you might have a greater chance of guaranteeing success. Since the goal only involves showing up at the gym, it’s not at risk of failing because of a physical limitation. With the second goal, it’s possible that no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to achieve that ten-minute mile this week. On the other hand, the first goal doesn’t address effort or quality in your training. It offers no incentive to have highly productive workouts as opposed to workouts that involve messing around with your cell phone for 20 minutes by the water fountain and then having ten minutes of actual workout time.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to have the best of both worlds. The ten-minute mile should be your goal and the 30-minute practice sessions are your plan. At the beginning of the week, you decide that you’d like to be able to run a ten-minute mile. You then assume that it will take three 30-minute sessions to reach that fitness goal. What happens if you get to the end of your third session and you haven’t reached your goal? You may decide that you need another session or you may decide to accept not reaching your goal that week. The most important takeaway from that scenario is that you do a better job the following week of setting a realistic goal and/or a realistic plan to reach that goal. On the other hand, you may reach your goal in just two workout sessions.

Now we’ll step away from the gym and move toward the piano. If you’ve been playing for at least a few weeks, you probably have a good sense of what a reasonable weekly goal for you might be. If you’re using PianoCub, an example goal might be to learn and master Book 1, Nos. 7-8.  Again, the goal is up to you. Think of your personal limitations and aspirations. Based on the previous pieces you’ve learned, how much time do you think it will take to learn those two pieces? There will be some more about this in an upcoming post that deals with practice time. If you’re a parent, feel free to set these goals for your child or work with your child to come up with realistic goals together.

What’s important for now is that you think about practice as a function of what it is that you’d like to achieve. It will keep you focused and on track. Happy practicing!

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