One of my adult students was asking tonight for some help planning his practice time. He is preparing for his Grade 8 piano exam. He is an engineer, a spreadsheet kind of guy. I'm sympathetic. Here is what we discussed.
Warmup with sight reading. Use a metronome! Get into the zone.
Now start practicing
Technique with a 2-minute timer. Switch activities every 2 minutes = 15 minutes
Practice one short section to perfection =15 minutes
Theory =10 minutes
Ear Training = 10 minutes
Review completed piece or pieces 10 minutes
BOOM! one hour of accomplishment
This may work for you.
Learning to love how we sound.
In the 1921 teaching manual “Principles of Pianoforte Practice” by James Friskin, he asserts that most students “simply do not hear all the sounds they produce”. I concur. Friskin would be amazed, I’m sure, at the technological tools available to students today, namely YouTube and phones. YouTube for inspiration, artist impression, and guidance. The phone for recording and evaluating their progress.
It would be interesting to discuss together what students continue to miss when they grind instead of plan. How they often bore themselves silly with endless repetitions, hoping for a musical miracle instead of exploring the range of interpretations on their pieces.
First level: Before practicing, listen to a professional performance. Then record yourself playing and listen back. How did it go? Jot down notes and annotate the tricky bits, like fingerings, into your score.
Second level: Before practicing, listen to a professional performance. Mark your score with notes on what you heard: Tempo changes, phrasing, articulations. All and everything you hear. Now, with the recorder going, play from your notes. Listen and analyse the results. Repeat.
Third level: Repeat level two working from a different performance/musician. Compare the different interpretations.
Sometime students don’t realize that the notation tells you what to play, but not how it goes. “How it goes” comes from experience listening to and witnessing great performances. “How it goes” also develops from our study of music history, harmony, and rudiments.
Now the hard part, learning to love how we sound. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to listen to ourselves. Especially in early music study. It can be discouraging. But push on in faith. You will be the first to hear improvement and progress in your playing. Over time you will accumulate hundreds, even thousands of practice recordings. (In 12 years of playing drums I’ve 248 Gigs of mp3 recordings) It’s fun and gratifying to hear how one sounded a decade earlier, or even last year.
If I can help you learn to practice effectively, call me.
How to practice the piano.
What do I practice is the perennial question? Here are some of my thoughts gleaned from decades of my personal practice and observing countless numbers of students.
If I can help, call me. I've been teaching online for over a decade.
What happens when we practice piano everyday? Obviously we improve but let’s do the math.
Consider 2 students: John and Sally. Both students practice and arrive at class prepared each week. Each has done the following during the week.
You get the picture.
John practices 30 minutes a day. Sally 75 minutes. What happens?
If I can help you, please give me a call.
Jazz is primarily about rhythm and articulations, those tricky bits that are impossible to notate. Harmony is like math, fun for many and much easier to get your head around for most. Or so beginners believe. But when the moment of truth arrives at a jam session theory goes mostly out the window and instinct kicks in. Adam Maness explores this theme in his video "Why do I still suck".
Jorge Mabarak, on Facebook, puts it well, theory is a tool. I propose that rhythm is the key. And ear training is the secret to unlocking the mystery.
Here is a practice time breakdown that may work for you:
If I can help, please call me.
Ten things to do when learning a new piece of music that will simplify the process.
Autumn leaves: walking in 2 with iReal pro playing the piano chords and drums. You play the bass and the melody along.
See you in September.
Lockdown 2.0 Oh boy!
The article above supplies some great ideas to keep us practicing. I invite you to click the photo to read the article.
It is two months before the big date. What do you do? How do you practice?
Listen to great music. A musical truism: "we are who we listen to".
Try this on your next new piece.
How do I become a great pianist?
An honest question if a tiny bit naïve. If you are in a great hurry, it is going to be difficult. If you are looking for a “hack” or some shortcut, I don’t know any.
For centuries pianists have followed a standard set of proven practices.
I'm available to help and encourage you on your journey. Just call me.
Classical piano Grades 1-2
Is it possible to make progress in 10 minutes? Of course. At some point longer practice sessions will be required, but with planning and focus you can accomplish a lot in a shorter time. Remember playing an instrument is fun when we succeed at it. And can clearly see our progress over time.
What practice is:
Learning through thoughtful repetition how to play our instrument so that over time we progress towards our goal however modest or lofty that may be. The goal is to accomplish a micro step forward each time we sit to practice. The size of this micro step varies on the time available.
What practice is not:
Messing around playing stuff we know is not practicing, it is playing. This is not a negative, but the reason we practice in the first place. In conclusion don’t feel guilty messing around, just don’t confuse it with practicing. Fool around without guilt. Have fun.
The "breakfast piano minutes" are usually created in about 10 minutes 1st thing in the morning.
Students often believe that I must have started early in life with lots of natural talent. Let me clear this up.
I am proof practice works.
I made it into Berklee with 4 years of piano under my belt, but it included 2 years of professional gigging in rock and country bands in the North Bay region. A lot of gigs. Plus, my basement jazz band. That made the difference I figure. But who knows, recordings do not exist.
I got through Berklee as a composition major. I thought about being a performance major, but that required serious practice. Something I was not interested in. But I continued playing gigs during those years. A lot of gigs. Some exciting gigs. I was a busy journeyman. I could sight-read just about anything. I showed up on time ready to play. I was pleasant to be around. Where did that put me in the Berklee pecking order? Turns out near the top. I made it one year to the number 2 band.
So, when did I learn to practice?
Signed up for my Grade 10 exam. My very first piano exam ever. I couldn't fake it. I had to play it. I put a couple of thousand hours of focused practice in. I read every book I could find on how to practice. How many books? Chapters bookstore sent me Christmas present. That is how many.
Have Fun, see you in September.
How many hobbies can one-person juggle?
Depends. I juggle one. I had two, but Covid19 put an end to that.
I’ve students who try to juggle 3 or more while holding down jobs, spouses, children, and life. They often looked stressed. How do my less stressed students do it? Here are some tactics they follow:
Do you remember why you were attracted to piano in the first place? Put up a post it note on the piano to keep it front of mind.
"Have a plan, work the plan" Sage advice
A plan is great if you can find your materials when it's time to practice. A plan is great if you can have some quiet alone time to focus and have fun.
Here are ten tips on one aspect of success: an organized workspace.
Have a productive session.
An Ideal Practice Session
Practicing in the times of the Covid-19 outbreak is going to be a challenge for some.
Some lucky people will use the extra time to jump right in. For this group I suggest ramping up practice amount slowly to avoid injury. The book, “The Musician’s Way” suggests increasing practice time 10% per week to avoid problems. Warming up before hand with a short cardio and stretching routine will also be beneficial.
For those too stressed to practice and/or focus try these tips:
“How good do you want to be?” Start with this question followed with: “how should I spend my time?”
Success will depend on the depth and breathe of your practice. My most successful students have made peace with time and possibility. Yes, time counts, but patience and realistic expectations count for more.
Learning has piano follows a well trodden path. You just must follow it to succeed. There is no secret. Just time and hard work. We must be realistic with the fact that course correction will be needed regularly. Life is messy.
Call me, I can help.
I've got happy students who practice more than an hour a day, others who practice an hour a week. Because their time matches their realistic expectations, they are happy. Could they all practice more? Of course. I could too.
My thoughts this week.
"How good do you want to be?" A quick and snappy musicians answer. A gentler piano teacher question is, “what do you want to accomplish?"
RCM levels 1 to 4: 45 minutes a day
RCM levels 5 to 8: 60 minutes a day
RCM levels 9 and above: 90 minutes plus
This amount of time is sufficient to cover all that needs to be done.
PS: I'd like to thank my colleague Becky Yuan and former teacher Leon Karan for input on the numbers.
Becky Yuan: Mississauga http://beckyyuan.com/
Leon Karan: Hamilton http://www.leonkaran.com/
A quick coffee video on practicing from pianist magazine.
A former student came by today of a lesson after a one-year absence. He played some stride piano. He sounded so much better than I remember. So, I start asking some questions about what he has been up to in the practice room.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.