Top Piano Practice Tips from 5 Expert Teachers

Many of us waste so much of our practice time. These top piano practice tips will make your and your students’ practice so much more efficient and fun. 😀

I wish I had experts around when I was growing up to tell me not just how much but also how to practice. That’s why I invited 5 expert teachers to share their top piano practice tips with us in this article.

I love the range of perspectives offered here, from messiness to structure to playing tunes by ear. But, ultimately, you’ll notice they all have something in common: The practice is active and thoughtful.

If you only take one thing away from this roundup, I hope it’s to banish practice which simply goes through the motions. That’s a recipe for boredom and slow progress.

After reading the tips from these experts, head over to my Piano Practice page for assignment sheets, ideas about motivation, and more.

From Samantha Coates: Understanding the Unpleasant Sounds

Samantha Coates

My top piano practice tip is not just for students. It’s also a tip for parents – to help them know if their child is practising well. Here it is:

“Good practice shouldn’t sound good.”

If mum or dad find themselves regularly calling out “that sounds so lovely darling!” then it means the student is playing, rather than practising. Really good solid practice should be frustrating to listen to, not pleasant!

Practising largely consists of decoding and rehearsing. It involves stopping, fixing, and much repetition. It often necessitates periods of silence, in which we might be ‘miming’ the correct hand movements or figuring out just the right fingering and writing it in. 

Sure, there eventually comes a time when students will be preparing for a performance and must play pieces through. But this is a much smaller percentage of overall time spent at the piano. 

Read more from Samantha at blitzbooks.com/blog.

From Janna Carlson: Goal Mapping

Janna Carlson, Studio Rocket Web Design

Last year, my students’ practice quality was lacking – and it showed. I realized that I needed to help them build intrinsic motivation.

So I mailed a laminated practice chart to each student. Before practice, they map out their goals.

A few of the fields:

  • The hardest thing I’m working on today is:
  • I’ll spend _____ minutes tackling that first.
  • How it feels after working on that:

They snap a picture of each day’s chart and send me the photos before each lesson. 

This simple chart has significantly improved the responsibility my students take for the quality of their practice!

Read Janna’s blog at studiorocketwebdesign.com.

From Jennifer Foxx: Practice Workshops and Games

Every 2-3 years, I hold a practice workshop over the summer with my students. It has proven to be a worthwhile workshop to repeat. As students progress in their music studies, they are able to get something new out of the workshop every time. 

Then after the winter holidays have come and gone and the school year is half over, winter blues might start to set in. Which makes for a perfect mid-year practice boost! So each year after our holiday break, the very first lesson back in January is what I call a “Spring semester kickoff.” The kickoff is a group lesson where we meet together (this can easily be done online). It is a perfect time to give students a boost for the rest of the school year. 

During this time, we reflect on the previous semester and what was accomplished and then set some time for new goals. It’s not enough to just write down a goal. It’s important for students to create action items on how they will achieve that goal. This is why holding a workshop and/or a semester kickoff works very well. It gives us devoted time to do just that. 

I am a big advocate of making practice fun but efficient. Goals are always the key player. And the best way to do that is through practice games. 20 years ago, after being inspired by Philip Johnston (author of The Practice Revolution), I had created practice pouches for my students. (At that time I called them practice kits). Inside the pouch are all the tools they need to practice and/or play any practice game which would help them towards their practice goal. 

Find more from Jennifer at musiceducatorresources.com.

From Ruth Power: Ear Training with Ear Worms

What pop song are you obsessed with right now? We’ve all got at least one ear-worm crawling around. We’re about to use that to develop your riffing ability & provide a break from the usual practice routine. This is a great exercise to do as a way to warm-up before your regular practice, or as a breather from it.

Whether by sheet music, lead sheet, or by ear, you’re going to learn to play the chords from the chorus of that ear-worm song and then you’re going to riff on it for 5 whole minutes.

Step 1 – Learn & play through the chorus chords of your ear-worm song with just one chord per beat in the bar. (Doesn’t need to be a piano song!)

Step 2 – Repeat a bunch; get used to it.

Step 3 – Try a different rhythm with the same chords: perhaps the chord on beat 2 is held longer, perhaps you play double-time…come up with some variations of rhythm with these block chords.

Step 4 – Set the timer for 5 minutes, set your metronome to a speed you’re comfortable with, and play through this chord progression on repetition until the timer goes. For each repetition you will change to a NEW rhythm of block chords. Don’t repeat the same rhythm twice!

This exercise does a number of things: it strengthens your ability to move through chord progressions, it stretches your creativity muscles and loosens you up for playing rhythms in your regular pieces AND it gives you bonus satisfaction points for playing a portion of that ear-worm which has been hanging around!

For more from Ruth go to pianopicnic.com.

From Sara Campbell: Motivating with Autonomy

Giving autonomy to students is one of the most powerful ways to encourage home practice. You can sprinkle this throughout the lesson by asking questions such as “What’s your next goal for this piece?” If their answer feels incomplete, guide them by asking “and what else?” This exchange helps solidify what they’ve learned and gives them ownership of those solutions. At the end of the lesson, I like to wrap up with “What was the most valuable thing that you learned in your lesson today?” The answers are almost always surprising.

You can find more from Sara on her Savvy Music Studio blog.

What are your top piano practice strategies?

What would you have contributed to this roundup article? What do you think is the most important thing for parents, students or teachers to know about practice? Share your top piano practice tips in the comments below so we have an even greater roundup!

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