The Practice Puzzle
How do I practice? How many times should I play through each piece? Is 3 or 5 times for each piece enough?
I’ve been asked this questions by students since I began teaching. In this short blog I want to give you a new way of thinking about practicing piano.
I think most beginning students approach practicing piano like they do putting together a puzzle. They dump all the pieces out of the box and put the pieces face up and begin to try to find matches. Very often this is done in a hit and miss fashion. You find a piece that “sort of” seems like it may fit; or “seems to” have the right color and experiment to see if it fits. With enough testing and experimentation eventually the picture emerges.
Many students practice this way. They play their piece from the beginning to the end. They think by doing it with enough repetitions and practice eventually the composition will emerge.
That is the longest and most inefficient method of practice we could devise. We need A NEW METHOD ….. A BETTER METHOD of practice.
Mr Severino Presents – A BETTER METHOD
Our goal is to put this puzzle together in only 25 MOVES.
That means we must be perfect. We cannot guess and try to put together pieces that “sort of” look like they “may” fit together. To put this puzzle together in only 25 MOVES we are going to have to concentrate and think carefully, unlike before where we just guessed our way through to the completion of the puzzle. We are going to have to closely examine each piece and imagine if the shape of one puzzle piece will fit into the other piece. We are going to have to examine each piece to see if the colors of each piece and then imagine if they are going to help complete the image of the puzzle.
How does this apply to our piano practice? We examine each “piece” of our musical composition.
Examine the “time signature”. If your piece is in 3/4 time, with your music in front of you begin to sense the accent on beat one of each measure. You may do these exercises with your piano in front of you or you can do them mentally. You want to train yourself to do as many of these steps as possible away from the piano. Not all piano practice must be in front of your piano!
Examine the “rhythm piece” of the composition. Mentally go through each rhythm and make sure you understand it. If you do not, isolate that rhythm, play it or clap it until you understand it.
This includes the important point of being able to know how the right hand and left hand work together. Don’t go on until you understand how this rhythm is going to “feel” under your fingers.
Examine the “harmony”. Are there any chords that you know? You want to get to the point where you can easily identify all the chords in your compositions.
Examine the “key signature” If a composition has no key signature is it in C major or A minor. Search for the note C or the note A in the composition Search for C chords or Am chords.
Examine the “accidentals” Many students are thrown by accidentals when practicing by just slugging away and trying to learn by going through each piece 5 times. But if you are prepared by mentally going through each accidental you will be much more successful and make far fewer mistakes.
If we use this same approach in our piano practice our learning will be much better. And if we make this as the main method of learning our assignments we will be able to learn our assigned pieces much more rapidly. How would you like to learn 5 pieces in the time it now takes you to learn one? This will be within your capabilities if you learn how to practice with your strongest concentration.
Thanks for participating in Mr. Severino Presents. ‘TILL NEXT TIME — KEEP PRACTICING!!