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Developing an effective piano practice routine saves time and helps you have more fun and enjoy your practice.
The interleaved practice seems (and is) random, and random is not efficient, or is it?
Recently I've noticed a trend where pianists share their piano practice routine with online videos.
This can be very helpful indeed, but what hit me was that so much of the practicing I saw was done in a quick, sloppy, unmusical, and almost "hateful" way.
It reminded me of my own harmful and time-wasting piano practice routine during my music high school years.
The "competition" with peers about who practiced most hours, usually wasting most of that time with inefficient and mindless repetition of the same again and again.
No wonder many developed repetitive-stress injuries. Asking anyone if they liked to practice- most would usually answer not.
Almost 40 years later, I was shocked to realize how some young pianists practice in the same self-punishing way, without pleasure, musical intent, or effective ways.
As if practicing is a necessary evil to be able to…what? Play?
If most of the time spent practicing is done without any pleasure, even with boredom, and practicing is what you do most of the time- what’s the point?
Seeing that practicing the piano and learning new material is done 99% of the time, and considering that musicians spend an enormous amount of time and life practicing, it becomes a bit scary...
Playing the piano, practicing, and performing should be with a sense of joy, curiosity, and an ever-exploring mind. Never with boredom and/or pain. Always with musical intent.
This mindset is also the ultimate foundation for learning.
Our brains simply do not learn well under negative pressure or boredom.
What is positive is that there is so much research and ideas readily available today, compared to 40 years ago.
You can learn how the body works, avoid injury, practice effectively, etc.
And thanks to new research on how to improve skills in practice, especially regarding sports, we can get plenty of ideas that can also be used for musicians.
One "new" strategy that works very well is random practice or interleaved practice.
In my own twist of this piano practice routine, you'll work in random, interleaved blocks, use varied repetition, and involve the musical aspect in every step. Here's how:
Start by dividing your piece with a pencil in larger sections for example A, B and C. Then divide each section in small parts, 1-2 measures each.
Practice each of the small parts like this:
Remember: Keep a musical intent from the very first note. This will put you in a mindset of always looking for meaning and beauty, and it will always be a joy to play even the tiniest bit of a piece!
1. Hands separate: Learn to play with perfect tone and expression as you correctly learn the notes and the rhythm.
2. Hands together: Now it’s essential to play at only half the speed you could play hands separately comfortably before. This is crucial! You want to avoid making any mistakes at all.
==> Always practice the parts and sections in random order! <==
For example, don't start at the beginning. Start with Section B, part 3. Then Section B part 1, or whatever in that section- but not in order!
One caveat: To keep all at the same level, you need to remember what parts have been practiced:
Tip: Some apps help you with practicing; some are even free! Search for "music practice app," for example. The apps can also help you stay organized in your random piano practice routine!
Using this method myself, I have always approached all "bits and pieces" of a composition with the same interest. Each time I start a new "bit" of the piece- it's like the beginning of a new composition!
There are no more "dark and obscure corners" in the piece that I have skipped or thought unnecessary to practice.
I also notice that I can keep going forever since it's so much fun!
So, a caution here, make sure to take short, frequent breaks every 20-30 minutes to stretch. This helps not just your body but your brain too. All learning gets easier with breaks! ☕
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