Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Practicing in Detail: A Quick Method to Get Started

365:2:28 Monday Night Is Practice Night
Image by easylocum
If you're a developing pianist, it's important to learn how to practice. When I mean practicing, I mean not just running through pieces a few times, but really looking into musical details, discovering problems, correcting them, and repeating the solutions over and over en route to a viable performance. As I explain the art of daily practicing to my students, I'm always on the lookout for an easy-to-understand process that can be tailored to any student at any level. Here's a quick method for getting your musical preparation to run more efficiently:

1. Pick a few bars. Four to eight bars is a good number at first.
2. Practice the right hand.
3. Practice the left hand.
4. Practice hands together.
5. Are you satisfied with how you play the passage? If not, go back to step 2. If yes, then pick the next passage and repeat from step 2.
6. Once you have a few passages learned in this way, you can work on putting two or more of these segments together. If things fall apart, then once again pick smaller units (especially transitions at this stage) and repeat the process. Continue working in this manner until eventually you can play the entire piece fluently.

The above method looks simple, but applying it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours depending on the length of piece you're working on and how much detail you want to go into.

As a starting point to the absorbing activity that practicing can become, I'm emphasizing an initially simple step-by-step process with somewhat complex applications if it is used over the course of an entire piece and perhaps evolves into deeper practice processes en route. My reasoning behind this approach is to get students away from merely playing through their pieces (even advanced students can fall prey to this habit) and discovering a way to work on the smaller stuff with a view towards achieving much larger goals of performance, discovery, and musical evolution.


  1. This is such a great, simple approach. Thanks.

  2. I've found over the years that some students can't move easily from Step #3 to Step #4. Steps #2 and #3 may be beautifully executed, but getting to #4 is like pulling teeth. Some possible additional steps to consider, for bridging that gap:

    Tap the left hand part while playing the right hand part.

    Sing the left hand part (or key voices therein) while playing the right hand part.

    Tap the right hand part while playing the left hand part.

    Sing the right hand part (or key voices therein) while playing the left hand part.

    I'm sure this is old hat for you, but might be new to some of your readers.

  3. Thanks, Kathryn! Yes, getting to step 4 is the hard part.

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