Practising

Good and efficient practising

makes piano playing more enjoyable

Important information for practising

Practising in an efficient manner is important and will greatly increase your fun in playing the piano. Here you will find the necessary information to improve learning skills in playing the piano.

Practising only the notes in a piece, without taking the interpretation as a whole into consideration, is a waste of time and unmusical.
Marcel Manshanden, piano teacher

 

What to look out for

Of course, it is important to play on a good piano but make sure also that you sit on a good piano stool which can be adjusted to the right height. You have to be sitting upright and relaxed at the piano.



How often do I have to practise?

Try to practise every day. It is better to practise for 15 minutes twice a day, for example, than once a day for half an hour. Beginners will make good progress with 15 to 30 minutes practise a day while more advanced players will probably need 1 hour a day. Professional pianists often practise for a number of hours every day.

Studying a new piece of music

When practising a new piece, it is important to begin slowly, also if the piece of music has a fast tempo. If there's a difficult passage in either the left or right hand you can practise this separately at first. It often happens that playing together with both hands is difficult while playing the right and left hands separately presents no problem. However, at this stage, there's no point in practising with separate hands. The correct study method is to practise with both hands very slowly in short steps, for example one bar or phrase at a time. Practise these short extracts a few times and go onto another. Change the order of the pieces you are practising.

Try to play the piece from memory as soon as possible; also try it with your eyes closed. Never practise a new piece all the way through from beginning to end. Examine the whole piece beforehand, and notice if there are any repeats and where the difficult and easy passages are. You don't have to start at the beginning of the piece, you can also practise the difficult passages first if you like. Once the first part of a new piece becomes easier to play, don't repeat this endlessly until you make a mistake. Instead, go to a new section and start practising this.

The sound of a new piece

Sometimes you have to practise a new piece but have absolutely no idea how it should sound. You can ask your teacher to play it for you, or perhaps there's a recording of the piece which you can listen to. In order to be get to know as much music as possible you have to listen to different sorts of music. Not only classical music but also pop or jazz. Practising is not a preparation for the piano lesson. The lesson is the moment when your teacher teaches you how you must proceed with the pieces you are playing in order to improve them.

Eleven study rules

 

01 When studying, concentration of prime consideration. Never study just for the sake of studying. Unconcentrated studying when you are fatigued or tired is boring and senseless.

02 Always work on more than one piece and change them around regularly. Don't work too long on a difficult passage. You'll get better results working on a piece six times for ten minutes than working continuously for 60 minutes. Always allow the piece you are studying time to 'sink in'.

03 Repetition is one of the most important methods of studying but must be employed sensibly. There's no evidence to suggest that repeating a piece ten times is any better than reiterating it four times.

04 If you make a mistake, before you try to play the passage again, try to establish exactly what you did wrong, why you went wrong and how you can correct the mistake.

05 Practising only the notes in a piece, without taking the interpretation as a whole into consideration, is a waste of time and unmusical.

06 Studying slowly is an indispensable method of study. It induces calmness, concentration and accuracy. It will undoubtedly lead to the desired tempo in the end. You will also then be able to practise correctly at a faster tempo. Relaxed and nuanced studying delivers better results than rushing through at a fast pace.

07 Never study pieces that are far above your personal level.

08 While studying, make notes of fingerings and phrasing and other notation clearly and neatly in the book you are studying from. It will enable you to remember them more efficiently. When playing, try not to concentrate too much on reading the music in the book, rather try to memorise as much as you can - small extracts at first and then larger fragments. Try to get in the habit of doing this from your very first lessons!

09 In general, you should be able to play exactly how you imagine a piece should sound like. Studying has to be more than just 'motion training' – it has to be a thought process as well.

10 Try to delve deeper into the piece(s) you are playing. Study its form and background. Read up on the composer, the style of the piece and how to properly execute it in performance. Listen to other pianists' interpretations. Try to see the smallest motif in the piece you are studying as an essential and indispensable element of the whole work.

11 If you find that your current method of working differs from these rules, take some time out to try them one by one and make them habitual. Learning to study well is the ultimate aim of studying.

 

Practising for the first time

Many children develop a bad habit when they begin to study, which can cause disappointment and failure later on in life: namely, the tendency, when something goes wrong, to start playing again from the beginning of the piece and to repeat doing this this until they get it right – which will more likely be by chance than anything else. The consequence of this is that from the first part of the piece up until the mistake, together with the fear of making the mistake, has become built in to learning the piece. This is often the cause for anxiety and stage fright later on in life.

Making mistakes

It's common to make mistakes when you play. Most people feel that they have to start again from the beginning. That's understandable, but it's better just to think about what happened. What went wrong? And: why did it go wrong? Was I not concentrating enough or did I not understand what was written in the music?

Learning the notes

If you don't understand what was written in the music, take some time to look at the notes and try and form an idea of what how it has to be played. It's always advisable to play a difficult passage through a few times, slowly and carefully. In most cases, the mistake will be corrected. Afterwards, you must integrate the corrected fragment back into the piece - into the whole phrase from which it came, or a part of it. Take care not to make the same mistake again.

The most common mistakes made by students

  • Playing and studying while your mind is on other things
  • Constantly repeating a fragment without asking yourself why
  • Constantly repeating fragments that you already know
  • Constantly repeating fragments in the hope that the mistake will somehow correct itself

 

Repetition

There's no evidence to suggest that repeating something ten times delivers better results than repeating it, say, four times. Constantly playing something makes no sense at all. If you repeat something ten times in exactly the same way, your mistakes and idiosyncrasies will be built in as well. It will then be very difficult to make any changes.

Practise sensibly

Repeating something five times, then playing something else for a few minutes and then coming back to the piece, repeating it five times again, has more effect than repeating the same piece 25 times over. You'll get a much better result if you study for fifteen minutes three times a day, than once for a solid hour – something which has been proven by independent research! Don't always start studying at the beginning of a piece, try for a change the middle section or towards the end. That way, you'll avoid having a lot pieces in your repertoire where you can play the beginning just fine, but not the rest of the piece. If you decide to stop playing a piece for a while because you feel you can't go any further, you might find that it 'gets better' by itself. All the things that you originally had problems with suddenly fall into place, while other difficulties seem to have magically disappeared.