Effective Practice Methods

'Young Girls at the Piano.',painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1892, in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
Young Girls At The Piano by Auguste Renoir, 1892. 1
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Will Durant, Summarizing the Ideas of Aristotle 2

It is said that to have a mastery of anything, one must put in at least 10,000 hours of practice. Whether you have a natural talent or dogged determination, the playing field is even if you are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to excel and become a life-long learner.

Often the toughest part of establishing a regular routine is just getting started. (Even the most ardent, passionate people go through this. If settling down to practice were easy, we wouldn’t be discussing this right now!) There will always be distractions. Passing by the piano and not stopping. Getting preoccupied by all our entertainment options. Snuggling on the sofa with a warm beverage. Sometimes not knowing how to begin can be the most overwhelming reason to deter one from beginning.

And yet, there really is no substitute or magical potion than to just sit down, adjust your bench and begin.


Set Reasonable Goals – Write down what you would like to accomplish for the week. This can be set in tandem with your teacher or on your own. Try and be realistic and honest with what you are currently capable of completing, but don’t be afraid to test and push yourself.


Practice In Short Intervals – The tendency is to think we can accomplish the 10,000 hours on the first day. Doing too much at one time can be exhaustive and discouraging. The guilt from not practicing for x-amount of hours is a sure way of NOT reaching our goals; it undermines the real process of learning, where success and failure are both integral.

Build slowly. Try 5-10 minutes a day at first, and then add extra minutes when you feel ready.


Have A Regular Practice Routine – If possible, try and practice at the same time each day. At an unconscious level, this trains your mind and body to accept the task as part of your normal day. Think of it as brushing your teeth or flossing. When you create a regular routine it eventually becomes habitual. And practicing the piano ritually is a great habit to have.


Be Patient – Perfectionism is a killer when learning something new. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, sound sloppy and hit false notes. Acknowledge and be conscious of the trouble areas but don’t condemn. Anything worthwhile takes time. This is especially true if we are doing well for a while and then hit that proverbially wall. Allow the work to unfold in its time. And for goodness sake try NOT to compare your ability or progress with anyone else’s.


Analyze The Piece – Before placing your hands on the keyboard, look over the piece and gather an initial impression. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to see the composition as a whole. Developing a plan for learning the structure of the piece will help you understand it. Start by determining the key signature, tempo and fingering. Then divide the piece into small, manageable chunks for practice, approaching each part as its own entity.


Practice Slowly – What’s the rush? Take your time and play at a slower speed than the piece calls for. This technique allows your fingers, feet and brain to work in harmony, reinforcing the right notes and fingering. Build incrementally as you become more adept, and the speed will come. (A metronome can be useful for this part.)


Count Out Loud – Hearing your own voice can help you keep the tempo in your mind and develop an internal sense of time, what is often referred to as ‘musical time.’ The exercise can also increase your focus and concentration. Do NOT rely on the metronome alone. Those metrical ticks are useful for establishing and checking the tempo, but they do not account for the variances in how humans express music.


Play With Hands Apart – This can help develop technique as you are only focusing on one hand at a time; slowly, of course.


Practice Scales & Arpeggios – Ah, the building blocks of music. With daily repetition, these exercises facilitate hand coordination and technical ease; assist in the comprehension of musical structure; and provide a greater understanding of theory to aid sight-reading and song learning.

Every truly cultured music student knows
You must learn your scales and your arpeggios.
Lyrics from Disney’s Aristocats
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Disney's Aristocats – Scales and Arpeggios. 3


Correct Mistakes – It is equally important to practice effectively. After all, 10,000 hours of wrong notes won’t help you find the right notes. In order to excel in learning piano, you must correct your mistakes as you go. Above all, don’t berate yourself for them. Shake ‘em off.

Some days practicing will be enjoyable and easy; on other days, you’ll be pulling your hair out and cursing Mozart. Keep in mind; all of your experience is valuable. One last parting tip: though it’s extremely tempting, try not to practice the same pieces you have already mastered over and over again (with the exception of keeping those pieces sharp). Gently push yourself to keep moving forward. There’s nothing like a brand new piece to gain the perspective of how much you’ve grown.

God gave us music so that we, first and foremost, will be guided upward by it. All qualities are united in music: it can lift us up, it can be capricious, it can cheer us up and delight us, nay, with its soft, melancholy tunes, it can even break the resistance of the toughest character.
Friedrich Nietzsche, from Twilight of the Idols
End of Article

Page Sources

Renoir, Pierre-Auguste, and uploaded by DcoetzeeBot.  Young Girls at the Piano.  1892.  Musée d'Orsay, Paris.  Commons Wikimedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 1 Oct. 2012.  Web.  21 Oct. 2015.  Public Domain.
Durant, William James.  The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Greater Philosophers.  Revised Edition.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1933.  Google Books.  Web.  30 May 2015.
TheDisneyZing. "Disney’s Aristocats – Scales and Arpeggios."  Online Video Clip.  YouTube.  YouTube, 25 Feb. 2010.  Web.  30 May 2015.  Standard YouTube License.
Additional References:
  • Gladwell, Malcolm.  "The 10,000 Hour Rule."  Gladwell.  Malcolm Gladwell, n.d.  Web.  30 May 2015.
  • Ericsson, K. Anders, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer.  "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance."  Psychological Review. Vol. 100, No. 3.  1993: 363-406.  Graphics8.NYTimes.  Web.  30 May 2015.