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 With Fly Me To The Moon
To get you started, here are several recordings of Fly Me to the Moon. Imitate the melody, phrase by phrase.
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.
Revised January 2023
Practicing Blue Bossa
One effective way of practicing jazz is the "Bill McBirnie method". Bill plays along with professional recordings. He has told me that he might spend hours playing along with dozens of recordings of a particular tune he is working on. Here are the videos I used to practice Blue Bossa this week on the vibraphone.
Pay attention to the articulations and the differences in the last phrase, (measures 13-14-15-16). There are interesting differences to explore.
"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.
What to practice? Hal has some great thoughts. Twelve minutes of wisdom from a modern master.
If you are a classical artist, substitute classical sounds for jazz sounds. It's all the same.
"art is supposed to teach yourself something about yourself you didn't know" Hal Galper
Expert musicians know what they are doing. Their experience comes from working on, maintaining, and mastering the skills in the following four quadrants of piano study.
If I can help you, call me.
You will be recording your practice sessions. The equipment needed for your practice session includes a professional recording of your work, pencil and eraser, cell phone equipped with a recording app, and earbuds.
The first step is listening to a professional performance of your piece. If it is short, listen to it all. If it’s long, listen to the part you will be working on. Watch the score while listening.
The second step involves writing the fingerings on every note in the piece. A key step is to use the editor’s suggestions as a starting place; you fill in the missing fingerings.
The third step is to record yourself playing slow enough to execute the expression markings and fingering patterns before you while visualizing, in your mind, the professional recording. Now, listen back to your effort and assess yourself while watching the score. Now with your corrections in mind repeat the recording, playing, and assessment steps.
I practice this way to prepare music for the Toronto Concert Band.
I hope this helps!
Updated May 2023
Revised January 2023
What can you accomplish in one hour of daily practice? With a good plan you can accomplish a lot. Here is a sample plan.
1. Warm up
3. Sight reading
4. Repertoire development
5. Reviewing completed material
Warm up: Best advice I ever got? Go for a brisk walk before practice. Work up a sweat. Then your brain will be ready to work.
Technique: Start slowly concentrating on playing with a lovely tone your assigned scales, chords, and arpeggios.
Sight reading: Good sight readers read music like others can read a book. This is a skill that can be learned with practice.
Repertoire development: Attack those annoying bits in pieces in the following way.
Away from the piano? Listen to the music you are playing or want to play. Go to concerts, be inspired.
revised October 2023
Who has all the time in the world?
The "A" Student - An Outstanding Student
The idea is to conect technique and drills with the music at hand.
1. Use a metronome.
2. Practice in small chunks.
3. Play your scales , chords and arpeggios in a focused musical fashion by varying the rhythm, dynamics, articulations and balance between the hands.
4. The greatest shortcut is "Bench time". In other words, more practicing.
5. Never ignore correct fingering.
6. Posture and hand position are important.
7. Be aware of your breathing.
8. Listening to music away from the piano. Try to identify the form, dynamics, articulations in professional performances. It really will help you to play more musically.
9. Record your practicing.
10. Enjoy the journey.
Most neglected and overlooked by students
4. Connecting theory with the music
5. Slow practice
My top four activities in practicing
1. Ear training
2. Slow practice
3. Bench time
Practice makes perfect is we practice perfectly. But, perfect practice is a tricky business. The following article from Vic Firth outlines very effective practice tactics for drummers. I've added jazz piano addendums in brackets.
In a nutshell:
a) Warm Ups (some sight reading)
b) Rudiments – learning and application of (jazz chords, modes)
c) Groove & Fills (working on your jazz licks through transcription)
d) Learning a song (using a combination of lead sheet and recordings)
1. Communicate with your teacher your goals and aspirations.
2. Do your homework, consider that the so called boring bits are the important bits. I know, I take drum lessons. The new teacher is trying to get me to play quarter notes properly with the good tone and arm motion. This is requiring hours of concentrated effort. But, the musicians I play with can hear the difference already.
3. Participate in recitals. Everyone needs positive, self esteem building events.
4. Explore music outside of lessons: Sight read, attend concerts, listen to music, buy a music magazine, watch Youtube videos, attend a summer camp. (I'm going to Louisville Kentucky and Oxford England this summer for music training in both drumming and classical music).
5. Read Time Power by Brian Tracy. The best book on time management I know. Amy Chua's books are an interesting read for both parents and mature music students.
6. Remember musicians live to practice, performance is just the icing on the cake.
Piano Teacher and drumming enthusiast.
I can’t motivate anyone. But I can inspire! Motivation is the idea I can make someone like something they don’t. I can’t.
Inspiration on the other hand is the heart of education. An inspired learner is the joy of our profession.
As a drum student I watch YouTube video lessons each day. I read books and magazines on drumming. I play with others who play at my level, I practice, I take lessons, I have goals. You get the picture.
It depends on how good you want to be is the short answer. A thoughtful answer takes a little longer.
Realistic Goals: Are your goals in tune with the rest of your life? What would you give up to reach them? Piano takes time, lots of it. For example to complete my ARCT in 2007, I started Grade 10 in 2003. Five thousand hours later I graduated! (This 5,000 hours included my theory studies as well as my piano lessons.) I gave up the music business to do this.
If you goals are more modest, aim for 2 hours a week of practice to start. Without practice, piano is no fun! The caveat is this. If you are a recreational piano student with the goals of learning some tunes and having some fun, skipping practice is no big deal. We can do it together at lessons, I will supervise.
Whatever the depth of your ambition, I suggest strongly that you schedule piano practice into your schedule.
On the subject of practice, another blog post for that.
“Private Practice Determines Public Performance” Carl Allen, December 2011 issue
of Downbeat Magazine
“Start with the end in Mind” Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Tips on Practicing
I just finished reading Carl Allen’s article in the current issue of Downbeat magazine. Carl reviews his philosophy of drumming. Most of it is applicable to piano and guitar as well.
Inspired, I offer this.
We play like we practice, so…
1. Practice mentally and emotionally engaged.
2. Remember, it must be in the so-called muscle memory to be secure.
3. Practice slowly, listen deeply, be patient, and pay attention to the minute details of the score: articulations, dynamics, phrasing, tone, etc.
4. Start slowly, the correct tempo will come later.
5. Imagine you must play publicly in a week. Then tackle the annoying bits first. :-)
Updated Feb 2023
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.