In this article we'll discuss the importance of establishing a practice routine in order to achieve piano success at home. As is said, "practice makes perfect." Everyone assumes that they understand what this means. But one thing we've learned after years of teaching students of all levels of ability is this - students need to be taught how to practice. Here we'll look at three crucial tips to establishing a practice routine.
Definitely, definitely the most important part of establishing a practice routine that leads to success is understanding that you must make a commitment to practice. What kind of commitment? Well, an everyday commitment is best. Now, before you get concerned that your busy life won't allow you to make an everyday commitment, understand that we're not talking about hours of grueling practice.
The analogy of going to the gym is quite apt. Let's say you want to be in shape by July 1st and it's March 1st right now. If you wait until June 30th to start working out and you go to the gym that day and spend 24 hours there, lifting the heaviest weights you can find, the result will be a lot of soreness. You won't be in great shape the next day. But if you go to the gym everyday from March 1st through June 30th for 20-30 minutes, working out diligently while there, you'll have some real results on July 1st. The hard part is getting to the gym.
The same is true with piano practice. Binge practicing won't do it. A little bit everyday (say, 20 minutes) is the path to success. The hard part is sitting down to practice. So set the commitment right away.
Let me describe a common scenario. A students sits down to practice for 20 minutes. They have an error in measure 9 of the piece they are learning. So naturally, they decide to practice that section. But instead of starting at measure 9 and focusing specifically on the mistake, they start back at measure 1 and play up to measure 9, playing 8 measures of music in which they are already proficient. This is inefficient practice. It might seem like a small thing, but consider the math. If measure 9 takes 5 seconds to play correctly, and the student intends to focus on this measure for 5 minutes, she can play it 60 times. If playing measure 1-9 takes 22 seconds, then that same 5 minutes yields only 13 repetitions. Compound this type of practice over 20 minutes and you'll see that an efficient practicer can get a lot done in a little bit of time.
A student should approach a 30-minute practice session with a sense of organization. For example, the first 8-10 minutes should be spent with warm-up, technique-based exercises - things like scales, arpeggios, or Hanon exercises. The next 8-10 minutes could be spent on a particular skill, such as transposition, transcription, or ear-training. The last 10-15 minutes could be spent on repertoire and completing a piece of music. This is just one example of how an efficient, organized 30-minute practice session could be conducted.