Practice – it’s something that most developing pianists generally dread.
But there is a place where practice time is a precious commodity – the music conservatory.
During my time as an undergraduate piano major, signing up and getting time to reserve a practice room was a ritual in patience, cunning, and bargaining. Because there were limited spaces for students to obtain the time they needed to prepare for tests, juries, and performances, every moment to prepare at a piano was precious.
You may wonder how the motivation to practice for collegiate students applies to the developing pianist who doesn’t see the immediate importance of daily practice.
The key element to this motivation wasn’t simply the need to graduate, or to do well in a recital. There was an underlying commitment to a process that made practice time an essential part of our days.
We can recreate that same sense of commitment in our own piano practice times, even if we aren’t working toward a professional degree or level of competency. Every pianist can utilize the same motivating factors that made students in my undergraduate class so keen on practice.
These factors are: valuing limited time, consistent goal setting, and celebrating incremental gains.
Time: Use the Lack of it to Your Advantage
Ask any music major the one thing they wish they had more of, and the answer will almost always be “more time”.
But that isn’t limited to piano students in top universities. The one thing most of us have very little of is time…and it is a non-renewable resource.
So just like the students in my collegiate program, you have to work very hard to make sure you are able to get time in your schedule to practice.
Instead of seeing this lack of time as a hindrance, concentrate on the reward of carving out time in your schedule for short bursts of effective practice.
For example, instead of making your practice schedule rigid, you may consider looking for 15 – 20 minute windows of your day to work on a scale, improve your technique, or practice a single passage.
These mini-chunks of time, while they may seem insignificant, can actually be even more effective than the marathon sessions many pianists seem to search for – because you are likely to be more focused in a short period of time than in a longer one where your focus can wane.
Consistent Goal Setting – If You Don’t Have a Goal, Make One Up!
When you have a clear goal in mind for your practice, it’s a lot easier to stay motivated.
Collegiate piano students have this motivation ingrained in their minds. There is always a recital, class, or test coming up that requires their full attention.
Depending on your teacher’s schedule and process, you may or may not have a specific performance goal in mind. Perhaps you want to play a certain song, or master an exercise.
Or you may have a recital or public performance that provides you with a deadline and a clear goal to reach.
In any case, without this clear and consistent setting of goals, your motivation will wane quickly – especially when many of your practice techniques require repetition of things that aren’t so fun – like scales and exercises.
In order to maintain your motivation, always keep the end goal in mind. For example, try visualizing your upcoming performance long before the date arrives, each time you get a chance to practice. Make a chart of the steps and passages you must master in order to feel confident in your performance of your next piece, and check them off as you go.
If you do not have a public performance to look forward to, consider setting a deadline with a family member or colleague to record you performing your piece or exercise. Simply knowing that you’ll be recorded can be a powerful motivation, even if the audience will be limited to only you and your designated camera person.
Incremental gains – Celebrate the small wins
You’ve probably heard the ‘practice makes perfect’ cliche a million times. But one thing we seldom mention is the impossibility of ‘perfection.’
“Perfect” isn’t really possible, and we all know it. Yet we usually begin our preparation with that expectation – that at the end of our process, perfection should be within sight.
One thing that all aspiring professional pianists understand is the need to slowly get better. They understand that they will never achieve the level they want to reach in just one practice session.
Instead, they commit to a long-term process of making small but important changes and improvements to their piano technique. These small changes, over time, lead to a level of mastery that would not be possible if they tried to do it all at once.
Harnessing this mindset is essential for even the young or developing pianist. Giving up the idea that you have to be ‘perfect’ every time you practice is a key element to maintain your motivation.
Yes, you should be improving every time you work on your art. But your method of practice should not assume perfection is around the corner. Instead, be aware of your desire to improve and celebrate every time you make a little improvement.
Perhaps you’ve nailed your chord progressions, or finally gotten that dynamic change to feel right. Don’t skip over the moment!
Make every effort to detail and catalog your improvements. Each little gain is a great way to keep yourself inspired and motivated to continue your practice habits.
Conclusion: Think Like a Top Student, & Just Maybe Become a Pro
You may not be aiming to become a professional pianist, competing against the best in the world in academic settings, but by utilizing the same mindsets and practices that these high achievers do, you can maintain your consistent efforts and stay motivated and inspired to get better every day as a pianist.
You never know – maybe you’ll end up in a top conservatory, begging for a practice room, just like I was so many years ago.