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Learning Piano? The Secret to Practicing Smarter, Not Harder

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What’s the best way to practice piano pieces? When you start learning more complicated songs, it’s easy for frustration to creep in. Get back on track with these helpful tips from Brooklyn, NY music teacher Elizabeth A...

 

When I was a young girl first taking piano lessons, I was determined to learn each piece perfectly. I sat down at the piano to practice, and played through my assignment from start to finish.

“I can do better than that,” I thought to myself.

And so I played the piece again. And again, and again. Yet I was never able to truly perfect a song until I learned the best way to practice piano.

You don’t have to make the same mistakes I did. Follow these four steps to learn that tune in record time.

1. Find the Hardest Part

Play through the entire piece once and make note of where the most challenging sections are. I use a pencil to draw brackets around the hard parts. Many times these spots are easy to see; they’re the places with all the fast notes! Other challenges like to hide. Look for transitions between sections or phrases.

2. Break it Down

Once you’ve brought your attention to the places in the music that trip you up, focus on just these sections. Break down the hard part so much that you make it easy. You may have to find the hardest measure, or even just two notes, and play those over and over until you don’t have to think about it. Then add a few notes before and after and play that a bunch of times until you’re an expert, and so on until you have mastered the entire section. I find it helpful to sit with a timer. Play that one or two measures on repeat for one full minute. When the timer goes off you can take a 30-second brain break before moving on to the next measure or two.

3. Put it Back Together

This works just like a puzzle. Now that you have each section polished, you have to learn how to do it in order, without stopping in between. Start by combining just two sections. Play them slowly, and keep looking ahead. Do this a few times so it can become muscle memory. Add another section, then another, until you can play the entire piece straight through without stopping. Don’t forget to start slow.

4. Repeat

The first three steps can be done in one day, but then what happens when you go to practice the next day, and you feel like you’re back to square one? Do it all over again! This is the hardest step of all. It helps to change your routine and look at the song from a new perspective. Here are a few tips to keep it fresh:

  • Mark the sections and play them in reverse order, starting from the end of the piece. This helps you to be able to play the end of the tune just as well as the beginning.
  • Change the tempo of the song – super slow at first, then much faster just for fun.
  • Record yourself and listen back to the recording.

The most important thing to remember is that playing piano is fun! Once you have gone through these steps, relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Play through the whole song, mistakes and all, and savor the experience.

ElizabethAElizabeth A. teaches piano, violin, viola, and more in Brooklyn, NY, as well as through online lessons. She received her Bachelor’s of Music in Music Education at Bowling Green State University, and her Master’s of Fine Arts in Music Education from the University of Akron. Learn more about Elizabeth here!

 

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