Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Extreme Piano Guide, or 30+1 Ideas to Improve your Practice Time

Here are some ideas, links and products to inspire and jump-start your practice sessions, presented in no particular order and intended to be read at leisure.

1. Create a list of goals to determine what you need to accomplish and how to go about doing it. Knowing what you desire to accomplish at the piano, whether learning/perfecting repertoire or preparing for festivals, auditions, or exams can help you create a plan of action as early as possible that will help you organize what needs to be done and how to go about doing it.

2. Find the best time of day to practice, then try to utilize that time on a regular basis. Some of us concentrate best in the morning, while others prefer the evening. Going to the piano right after school may an idea to get your practice muscles going before doing other things, such as homework, dinner, and computer time.

3. Find the best place to put your piano. Rooms without television sets or computers provide the most distraction-free environments and mean that there will be less family traffic.

4. Get your piano tuned. A piano in good tune and regulation will sound better and be a lot more inspring than one that isn't tuned.

5. Minimize distractions. Time spent at the piano is your time and you have the right to tell others to leave you alone while you perfect your art. Don't answer time-wasting phone calls--rather, let the machine pick up or have someone take a message. Phone calls are infamous time-eaters.

6. Take a look at your teacher's notes from last lesson. Most teachers will write down in a notebook or progress sheet the pieces covered in each lesson and what to focus on during the week. Paying attention to your teacher's notes can save valuable time spent puttering and steer you toward what needs to get done during the week.
Musician's Practice Planner - sheet music at Musician's Practice Planner A Weekly Lesson Planner for Music Students. General Music. Softcover. Size 8.75x11 inches. 80 pages. Published by Molto Music. (311358)
See more info...

7. Create a weekly plan. What do you need to get done during the week and what are the steps to get there? Creating a concise list of weekly goals puts your daily session into perspective.

8. Create a long-term practice plan using Remember the Milk. Remember the Milk is a simple yet effective task management system which, although still in beta, is one of the most highly-rated programs of its kind on the internet. One of the features of RTM is that you can also have reminders sent to you via email or SMS.

9. Figure out what you are going to play first. Do you start with technique? A bit of sight-reading? Hanon exercises? Or jump right into your pieces? If so, where do you start, the beginning? Trouble spots? Running the piece? Slow practice? Where you start a practice session can often set the pace of what get accomplished. Find what works best for you.

10. Get into the flow with Steve Pavlina's 7 Rules for Maximizing Your Creative Output.

11. Also from Steve Pavlina's site, read about creativity.

12. Read about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's ideas on flow and creativity.

13. Read about Flow in Wikipedia.

14. Read Roy Palmer's account of Running in the Zone.

15. Allow yourself time to discover. Piano practice isn't just about work, but also about discovery, creativity, building, finding, digging, uncovering, and polishing. Piano practice isn't about satisfying others' goals for you, but finding what is important to you, going on the journey, and finding it.

16. Write a practice journal. This is the type of journal to be written and read by you alone unless you choose otherwise. You can talk about anything, whether it be your progress, goals, start/end times, thoughts on your time at the piano, inner battles, mental blocks, and breakthroughs.

17. Write a practice comic book. Print out a blank calendar, then draw a short sketch and caption detailing every day that you practice, go to a lesson, or perform. Do this for a while and you will have an illustrated and sometimes humorous record of your progress at the piano.

18. Divide and conquer. Can't concentrate for two hours? Break it up into smaller sessions. There's nothing wrong with going to the piano for shorter practice sessions if that means being more focused. For example: an early intermediate student practicing 30 minutes a day can easily divide that time into two 15 minute sessions. An advanced student practicing 2 hours daily can divide the time up into 1 hour, 40 minute, and 20 minute sessions.

19. Take breaks. Active brains need to take a break sometimes and so do muscles. Try taking a 5 minute break every half hour to recharge yourself.

20. Work on your sight reading skills. Sight reading isn't a cruel form of torture devised by piano teachers. Rather, think of it as a way to improve your looking, listening, and feeling while at the keyboard, as well a way to drastically cut down on the amount of time needed to learn a piece of music. (For even more inspiration, read my previous post on 10 Ways of Improving your Sight Reading Skills)

21. Read The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser. This book can offer you a way into observing your approach to practicing, and how to integrate body and mind in order practice with ease.

22. Read Nancy O'Neill Breth's The Piano Student's Guide to Effective Practicing. This six-page folio offers 58 techniques on how to approach practicing, as well as a guide on how to use them in your time at the piano.

Update 04/28/07:

Ms. Breth has recently published a companion volume entitled The Parent's Guide to Effective Practicing.

23. Read Chuan Chang's Fundamentals of Piano Practice.

24. Read Yoke Wong's suggestions on piano practice.

25. Read the eHow article on how to practice piano.

26. Read Charles Moss' comments on required piano practice.

27. Read Martha Beth Lewis' article on suggested practice techniques. Be sure to take a look at the rest of this fine site--it's probably the largest and best compendium of piano-related information on the internet.

28. Read the article on suggested practice techniques on the Piano Education Page. The Piano Education Page is not merely a page, it also has much interesting information for both parents and students.

29. Run at least one piece before the end of the session. It's important not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. After taking things apart, it's always a good barometer of progress to play the entire work at the end of a session to gauge progress. If you still have problems at the end of a session, make note of them and try again at your next session.

30. Experience all that the arts have to offer. Go to the symphony, go to the opera, see a play, visit a gallery, read great novels, read or write poetry, learn to draw, take up dancing, learn to work with clay, learn to live with the arts. Your life will be made better as a result.

I hope these 30 ideas have helped you in your quest for success and fulfillment at the piano. In case all else fails, here is #31...

31. Take a day off. Everybody needs a break, including pianists. Go do something else today and come back to it with a fresh attitude tomorrow.