Have you ever been so busy that you forgot to practice piano until the day before your piano lesson, so you tried to cram in a week’s practicing in one day?
My wife, who is a pianist, tells me that she used to do that every week when she was a child.
Guess what? Cramming for a piano lesson isn’t like cramming for a test. Here’s why.
When you cram for a test, you are trying to cram information into your head - like history or physics. The hope is that you will remember it for tomorrow’s test.
But with piano playing, it isn’t enough for you know something about the music, you also must train your fingers to be able to play that music. And that’s where the trouble comes.
You see, training your brain to control all 10 fingers to play precisely the right notes and rhythms in precise order with all the right fingers is a very complex skill. It’s not like brushing your teeth. You can brush your teeth any old way and they still get cleaned. No, piano playing is a higher-order skill that is almost impossible to do in one day. Higher-order skills usually will take hundreds of repetitions for those finger skills to become set and the playing to become easy. And ten, maybe twenty repetitions is a waste of time because what you practice will mostly be forgotten overnight.
Pros can do it. But that’s because they’ve stored millions of pianistic skills in their brain that they can call upon to learn any new piece of music.
But beginning, intermediate and some advanced players only have a limited number of skills developed and stored in their brain. And trying to learn any new piece of music in just one day pushes their brain beyond its limits. (Yes, brains do have limits!)
I hear this from many of my students. After practicing hard one day, they discover they’ve forgotten much of what they had practiced the day before.
Frustrating? Yes! Unusual? Not at all.
Why does this happen? Because many students think that if they practice something only 2 or 3 times, it’s enough for today, and they’ll remember it tomorrow.
But learning to play the piano, is complicated. That’s because our brains go through a whole series of physical and biological changes as we practice. And these changes often take several days … a week … and maybe longer.
What can be done about this forgetting that happens from day to day? Three things ...
HOW you practice today
will determine what you will remember tomorrow.
HOW you practice is more important than HOW MUCH you practice. Here’s why …
The biggest enemy of smart practicing is impatience. Children and adults alike try daily to short cut their way through the practicing process just so they can “feel the music.” In their haste to be able to play their favorite piece of music, they often waste 90% or more of their practicing time trying things that simply don’t improve their playing at all.
There are no short cuts through the practicing process, but efficient practicing does allow some students to accomplish more in 15 minutes than others do in 2 or 3 hours, days or even weeks. How?
Here’s the secret: To be able to play the piano well, you need to master something every day you practice.
What do I mean by “master”? I mean the ability to play a chunk of music (hands separately or hands together):
It doesn’t matter if it is one measure or twenty. What counts is the mastery.
If, for instance, you have a 24-measure piece to learn, then master 4 measures every day and you will have learned the entire work in a week.
Remember: There is a fast way to learn a new piece of music or a slow way. Don’t get up from the piano bench until something is mastered. That’s the fastest and the smartest way to practice.
You and your children can study with me in person if you live in or near Pompano Beach, Florida. Students can also take live interactive lessons with me over the internet from anywhere in the US.
Contact me directly at 954-298-5014
Sad but true! How do I know this?
After 45 years of piano teaching, I know that my students are like most piano students: they’re smart, but they’re also very busy with school work, sports, and various clubs and activities. In short: they are IN A RUSH to get through their piano assignments as quickly as possible. And in their haste, they accomplish very little.
How do I help them?
In my piano studio, I emphasize …
“THE EIGHT FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF SMART PRACTICING.”
1. HOW you practice is much more important than HOW MUCH you practice.
2. HOW you practice today will determine what you will remember when you sit down to practice tomorrow.
3. Practice before you play
4. Master challenging music before easy music.
5. Master hands separately before hands together.
6. Master at slow tempos before attempting fast tempos.
7. Master small chunks of music before large chunks.
8. Master notes before expression.
Why do I keep emphacizing the word BEFORE? The fact is, that most students, especially beginners and intermediates, don’t consistently follow these principles … or don’t know about them … and they end up DOIING THE EXACT OPPOSITE … which ...
gets them VERY FRUSTRATED … like this fellow.
And the more frustrated a student pianist is, the more they are likely to quit before they've discovered the true joy of piano playing. And that's really sad!
In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about WHY each principle is important and how each will greatly improve piano practicing efficiency. Stay tuned.
You and your children can study with me in person if you live in the Pompano Beach, Coral Springs, Deerfield Beach, Parkland and Ft. Lauderdale areas of South Florida. Students can also take live interactive lessons with me over the internet from anywhere in the US.
One of my favorite quotes about practicing and performance - believed to be from Beethoven - is “Missing a note is unimportant; playing without passion is inexcusable.”
To me and to my students, it doesn’t matter if we are practicing piano or playing in a recital, the most important goal is always the same: to make music – to create something beautiful.
Let me explain.
Every measure and phrase in a piece of music contains something of real beauty that can be discovered if the student understands that THAT is the most important goal they should seek. Even something as small as a measure contains a glimpse of something beautiful – some interesting emotion or idea to be discovered.
But if the student is only looking to play the notes, rhythms or fingerings correctly, if they live only by the “practice makes perfect” slogan, then the joy of practicing will be lost and the only emotion they are likely to create is boredom.
I tell my students “Master something every day. Whether it is one measure or 20 … master it. And if you stay long enough with that passage of music - going beyond the notes, rhythms and fingerings - the beauty of the music will begin to emerge naturally. “
I confess that I’ve missed thousands of notes in recitals and other types of performances throughout my career as a pianist and organist. What professional musician hasn’t? But I have never missed an opportunity to play with passion.
I invite you to read my MUSICAL MONDAYS blog every week and share it with your friends. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.
You and your children can study with me in person if you live in the Pompano Beach, Coral Springs, Deerfield Beach, Parkland and Ft. Lauderdale areas of South Florida. Students age 12 and older can also take live interactive lessons with me over the internet from anywhere in the US.