I’m always asked about practice tips for pianists. For months (if not years), I’ve been wondering what to answer to these questions about how I practice a work. In fact, I never really asked myself how I build and think a practice session, what I’m supposed to do and what I’m expecting from it. I spent the last weeks analyzing my practice sessions and I realized these sessions were really codified and the whole process very organized.
After a few weeks, I was able to highlight the main points governing my work. And I noticed 5 principles were really really important to get an efficient practicing session.
- 1. Practice regularly, but take a day off once in while. There was a time I was ashamed to admit I wasn’t practicing every day like other fellow students or colleagues. Not anymore since I discovered I needed a day off each week to be efficient. Once a week I don’t touch the piano. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean I don’t do anything related to music.
- 2. Simplify, simplify, simplify. When you’re learning a music piece your brain has to process a lot of information at the same time. If you want to speed up the process and the learning to be successful, you have to focus on one information at a time. Essentially, it means practicing shorter sections, isolating a counterpoint, a rhythm, a particular pattern, a particular layer…
- 3. Don’t play, but practice. This is a really common mistake. I heard hundreds of people telling they’ve practiced this or that for hours. In fact they didn’t practice it, they played it. They repeated the same section over and over again until it worked. Guess what? It never did. Don’t see a practice session at the piano as a playing session, but as a problem solving session. Identify problems and come with a plan.
- 4. Practicing doesn’t necessarily mean sitting at the piano. Again, as a student I was ashamed by my friends: I was the one not practicing enough. In fact I never spend more than 4 hours a day at the piano. Today, usually 2 or 3 hours are enough. But I spend a lot of time analyzing, thinking about structures, about my interpretation, singing…
- 5. Think before sitting at the piano. When I sit at the piano, I already know what I want to hear, I already have an idea of my interpretation(s) and sitting at the piano means for me solving the problem of projecting this idea from my brain to the listener, in other words, where and how to put my fingers on the keyboard so the music coming out of the piano is the same than what I want the listener to hear. As you don’t draw plans after building a house, you don’t start practicing a piece without having an idea of what to do with it. Your brain controls your fingers, if your brain doesn’t really know what to do, the fingers won’t figure it out themselves.
I hope you’ll find these practice tips useful. They are fundamental principles, and I’ve been lucky to instinctively and unconsciously stick to most of them since I was little. Try to apply them and feel free to come back here and tell me if these few tips improved your practice session or not!