10 Important Practice Rules
1). Establish a set time of day where you will gain the most out of your practice time. If you are an adult, it is probably best to wind down after work before practicing. If you are a student, the best practice time is in the early evening around “homework time.” If you are a parent or teacher working with a young child, try to instill this type of regular work ethic.
2). Consistency, rather than long periods of time, is key. It is better to practice 20 minutes a day with the time well-spent than to practice sporadically for longer periods with distractions. Ideally, beginners and those up to about Level 2 should strive for at least 30 minutes a day, those at Levels 3-4 should strive for at least 45 minutes a day, those at Levels 5-6 should strive for 60 minutes a day, and those at Levels 7-8 should strive for 75 minutes a day. These are minimum suggested practice times as it is always helpful to practice more if one is able.
3). Extremely Important! Always learn new music slowly and never try to play too fast too soon. A good general rule to follow is to learn all music first at a slow to moderate speed. As a piano teacher for 22 years, this is the most abused practice rule. Students just want to play fast and the faster the better. This doesn’t always make for the best sounding music.
4). Always learn new music with no damper pedal even if the music requires lots of pedal. Learning proper pedaling is one of the most difficult aspects of playing the piano. For this reason, it needs to be treated separately and with much listening and care. Using the pedal from the very beginning when learning new music makes it difficult to focus on the essential elements of the music, namely, the correct notes, rhythms, dynamics, articulation, coordination between the hands, and other important details. Once the student is able to play the new work from beginning to end securely at a moderate tempo, this is the best time to begin adding pedal just as frosting is added to a completed cake.
5). Students from the beginning levels up to the late intermediate level (around Level 6) should do a lot of hands separate practice. Especially beginners, as a rule, should always play hands separately, then together. However, once students attain a relatively high level of proficiency around Level 6 or so, hands separate practice should become the exception rather than the rule used only occasionally to spot-check problem areas. By the time students are at the late intermediate to advanced level, they should be weaned off of the “separate then together” rule.
6). A good suggested time to spend on technical exercises like scales, chords, arpeggios, etc. is about 10 minutes for every 60 minutes of practice.
7). All piano students should strive to increase their repertoire and try out composers and styles that are different and new. Once a new piece is learned, make note of it in a notebook or add the music into a binder which can be played when asked at short notice. This binder can also serve as music to play for enjoyment rather than new or challenging pieces that will require dedicated and focused time and effort.
8). The best way to become a better sight-reader is to constantly learn new music, which gives students all the more reason to take heed of rule #7. The more new music one learns on a regular basis, the better one’s sight-reading skills will become. Traditional hymns and four-part writing offer some of the best ways to learn how to sight read.
9). Memorizing should not be an issue for students up to about the intermediate level, or about Level 5. Instead of trying to memorize music, students in these lower levels should be more focused on learning good musical habits, increasing technical skills, and learning to read music fluently. Students who try memorizing music prematurely – that is, before attaining a fluent technique or sight-reading skills – are “putting the cart before the horse,” so to speak. However, by the time students are at a solid intermediate level in technique and performance, they are ready to begin placing emphasis on memorizing small portions at a time.
10). Try to avoid practicing too many pieces in the same session. In fact, research shows that the fewer pieces one practices in one session the better. For example, if one has 60 minutes to practice and begins the session with 10 minutes of technical exercises the remaining 50 minutes is better spent on one or at the most two works – like a movement from a Mozart or Beethoven sonata – than 10 minutes each on five separate pieces. It is better to spend an entire week on one piece and get it at 90% perfect than to touch upon only small portions of 10 pieces each at 10% perfect. In other words, “quality” always reigns supreme over “quantity” when practicing piano.
Sincerely, C&M Hall