Piano Practice Tips for Adults

“Now go home practice”. - OK, but how exactly? Get some tried and tested piano practice ideas and strategies here!

How to Practice Piano

Some people have the ability to practice and get great results without having learned much about how to practice, that is true.

But most people don’t. Actually, I didn't start learning proper piano practice techniques myself until I started teaching piano. 

And after more than 30 years of teaching piano, I constantly see how it's absolutely essential for all piano students to learn about effective practice routines and how to practice as early as possible.

But still I notice that practicing the piano is somehow assumed to just work by itself, as if every piano student was born with a “how to know how to practice” gene... Not true!

So, here are some practical tips on how to practice with more efficiency and how to get better results from each session!

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How to Practice Piano

I like my students to work on several pieces at once. Different repertoire, etudes and exercises, scales and chords, some prima vista and chord piano for example.

This can be rather a lot of material to work on, and can lead to confusion unless the material and the practice time is organized. 

It is a good idea to start the piano practice session with some form of warm up, scales and chord practice for example. If you are working on any particular exercises for piano technique, this is good to do first as well.

Next comes the study of repertoire. These pieces will be in different levels of completion, so to create a sense of where you are with each piece, and to quickly assess what needs to be done, I have found this plan below to be of big help.

I can really recommend: The Musicians Way, it's a book crammed with great tips and plans on how to organize your practice. It has inspired me and my teaching a lot.

6 Levels Piano Practice Plan

Each piano piece needs to be taken through 6 different levels.

Level 1: Planning and Preparation

This part of the piano practice is done in your mindaway from the piano.

  • With a crisp copy of the music  (taped together if more than one page) you will study the music by listening to the music and follow along in the score. You can use recordings or check out youtube.
  • As you listen, several times, mark with a pencil any “Aha!” places, like a dynamic mark you didn’t notice, or something the performer does that you'd like to do too. Also mark out any repeated parts or patterns.
  • Next, divide the piece in parts with a ruler, for example if the piece is in a ABA- form, mark out where every part begins and ends. Then divide the piece in smaller bits, either 2-4 measures or in phrases that make sense musically. But the harder the music, the smaller the parts.
  • Finally, sit in a comfortable chair with the sheet music in front of you and imagine playing the piece as you read the music. If you need to, listen to the music again, but try to do this without any real sound if you can. Let it "play" in your mind.

Level 2: Hands Separately, Fingering and Movement

Patience! Even though you now may feel so revved up you’d love to just start playing the piece hands together- DON’T!!

Your goal is to learn each hand separately, slowly then at tempo.

  • First focus on the correct notes and fingering. Write out the fingering if necessary, circle awkward places, and work section by section until you can play slowly without any mistakes.
  • Make sure to do the correct dynamics and articulation (staccato, legato, portato) as well.
  • Make sure to feel where each phrase leads to, to use the right direction and arm movement.

Once you can play the whole piece hands separately slowly without mistakes, learn how to use a metronome to gradually increase speed a little every day until you can play the whole piece hands separately in full tempo.

Level 3: Hands Together, Slowly

Finally you are “allowed” to play both hands together. But make sure to use my simple formula:

"The speed with which you can play your hands separately must be halved when playing both together."

This will feel very slow, but will make it possible to coordinate both hands without mistakes.

Work each small section by section coordinating both hands like this:

  • First review each hand separately.
  • Then play ½ tempo, or extremely slow motion both together.
  • Repeat several times, but for each repeat focus on something to improve; like articulation, dynamics, direction and expression.

Master, and then combine the small sections like this:

  • Section A (2-4 measures for ex.)
  • Section B
  • Section A +B
  • Section C
  • Section D
  • Section C + D

Continue until you have learned the whole piece. Then combine the larger sections: A+B and C+D, etc. until you have learned the whole piece slowly hands together.

Level 4: Hands Together at Tempo

Again, working with the smaller or medium sized sections, work with the metronome to gradually build up the tempo until you can play the whole piece in full tempo with both hands.

Congrats! Record or video tape yourself and evaluate what you need to improve.

A very successful way of practicing is to use random, or interleaved practice. Learn more about an interleaved piano practice routine here.

Level 5: Memorization

Learning how to memorize the piece is something that comes easily for some people, and harder for others.

If you are lucky to belong to the latter category, you will already have learned the piece by heart by now!

For the rest of us, it's back again to the smaller sections...

Although it will be easier now, you need to patiently go through each section as you did before.  But this time to  memorize each hand separately, then both, and repeat and rinse for each section.

Level 6: Repertoire Maintenance and Performing

Once a piece is memorized, it will only stay that way if you review it occasionally.

  • For newly memorized pieces, play at least once a day for a week.
  • The next week once every two days.
  • The third week once every three days.
  •  After that a few times a week should keep it ready to play whenever you like!

Stage Fright

Are you suffering from stage fright? Don't let that stop you from performing!

As in everything, preparation is key. Read my top tips on how to deal with performance preparation and how to manage stage fright: 10 tips to overcome stage fright.

Organization

Piano Practice FolderPiano Practice Organization

To keep several pieces organized regarding level of “readiness”, I keep a simple folder with the different levels written out as dividers.

Once a piece “graduates” from one level to the next, I simply move it to the next level.

I try to have at least one piece, repertoire and etudes, on each level. This keeps the piano practice varied and more fun.

I have created a piano practice chart for adults here with all the steps you need for an organized practice session!

Give it a try and let me know if this piano practice plan worked for you!

What? You want more ideas? Well, since I love this topic, I have written more about effective piano practice techniques here.


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