What is 'piano practice'?

'Piano practise' might be dirty words for you if you had enforced piano lessons when you were young! This blog very much follows on from my post 'Is it still worth taking piano lessons if I/my children don't have time to practise', which I wrote a couple of months ago. The conclusion was no … you can come to lessons purely for their own sake, as you would any other club. However of course, practise is going to help you get better a lot quicker and so can be really satisfying and a big part of your learning process. What practise actually is will vary a lot according to your stage. The general rule of thumb for everyone though, is little and often is way better than one big practise a week. Our fingers are learning to do things they've never done before and that needs regularity to make the movements more natural. Over time you'll get to that wonderful place where you no longer have to think about what you're doing … your fingers will just go where they're supposed to go. Imagine!

So for little ones (generally to around the age of 10 or so), some adult support is definitely needed. Practising needs to become a habit or it won't happen. So try to set aside a regular time to practise … maybe before school or straight after. At the start, just 5 minutes 4/5 times a week would be wonderful. I'll give clear homework suggestions … either a piece to work on or maybe sometimes a composition to write. If you could send your child with a notebook that would be really helpful, so I can be really clear about what we're working on. Sometimes I'll send a link to a YouTube video ... in class we use a method called Piano Safari which teaches a lot by ear to begin with. So the YouTube channel has reminder videos of the pieces that we are working on in lessons. Playing these through 2/3 times each practise really helps to cement the learning. With little ones it's really helpful for me to have a quick word with you at the end of the lesson to explain what we're working on so you can help support your child.

Older children and teens are more able to practise independently. Again, I will give them clear tasks to work on in their notebooks. This might be a couple of pieces, a scale or two and maybe a technical exercise (things like playing with finger tips or working on a lovely hand position). One of the key things about practising is not just to play the same thing over and over again. Figure out what you struggle with, isolate it (this might be a bar or two or even just two notes) and work on it in different ways … for example play it backwards or change the rhythm. One of the most tricky issues with lots of learners is rhythm. A metronome (or metronome app) can be really helpful to practise tricky passages. Keep it really slow to start off, until you have it perfect and then slowly build up the speed.

If you make mistake, never carry on … go back and correct it straight away … play it right 3 times before you continue. Personally when I practise I choose a couple of pieces to focus on in detail rather than just glossing over everything. Detailed work really pays off.

So to summarise, little and often is always best, and practise slowly … it's not a race! But most of all enjoy it! Even the boring bits are helping you to play beautiful music … it's totally worth it!