Most people don’t really want to ‘learn’ to play the piano or ‘practice’ the piano, they just want to ‘play’ piano. ‘Play’ sounds like fun, ‘practice’ sounds like a chore. We get this image from childhood – some kid stuck indoors ‘practicing’ scales while all the other kids are outside the window ‘playing’.
So, the first thing we need to do is to see our piano practice in a new light. See it as a way of accelerating the learning process so that SOON you’ll be able to ‘play’ piano and play it well. If you don’t practice and you just play old familiar tunes you move rather slowly. Yes, you’ll get better at playing those old familiar tunes but technically you won’t be pushing yourself to greater heights.
Proper, structured piano practice helps you stride forwards. I say ‘proper’ because a lot of people have an idea that practice IS just playing songs over and over. Practice needs to involve unchartered territory. The golden rule is – ‘practice what you CAN’T play, not what you CAN play’.
First of all, work out what you want to achieve. Do you just want to know all your chords without thinking about how they are formed – then work out a practice routine that leads to that goal. Maybe you want to learn about inversions or chord substitution – again, make the practice fit the goal.
Split your practice session into two halves. In the first half play the difficult stuff – your mind is sharper to begin with – then reward yourself with some enjoyable but reasonably difficult tunes. Make sure you are comfortable. Many a bad back has happened because of a bad piano stool at the wrong height. Make sure your piano is in tune. If you don’t have a good piano and are serious about learning GO BUY A GOOD ONE.
Every fifteen minutes stretch your arms and shoulders and roll your neck to combat stiffness. Check out some Yoga exercises for shoulders and back.
Follow the 3 times daily rule. Repetition in practice is ESSENTIAL. If you find something particularly difficult make sure you practice it at least 3 times every day. Don’t worry if it takes months to master – you’ll get there.
Don’t play for the neighbors. Practice piano at a time when you don’t care who is listening so that you can make lot’s of mistakes and play things over and over. Organize your piano music carefully – don’t keep it in a heap where you keep playing the ones on top. If you download sheet music put it in a folder. Have plenty of shelves near the piano. Be realistic – I truly believe that anyone can learn piano and learn it to an enjoyable level but no two people are alike – some are more ‘naturally’ gifted than others. If you have an average ability then it’s all down to practice. The more you practice the more you learn.
Now and then, practice with your eyes closed – or don’t look at the keys – this really sharpens you up. Organize your life so that practice is possible (this where Mindfulness comes in). Too many people think they don’t have time to practice when really they just haven’t found the time. How long should you practice – that’s up to what you want to achieve. You don’t have to be a concert pianist. Even if you just play for yourself just enjoy that. The archer who’s mind is on the prize cannot stay focussed on the target. Accept the bad days when it seems like you can’t play a note. Sometimes it’s better to walk away. So remember that ‘playing’ piano and ‘practicing’ piano are different. Which do you do? Aim for a bit of both.