Practice Tips

Practice Tips

Piano Practice Beginner

Practice Tips for Beginner Students

The slower you practice the faster you learn. Sounds kind of back to front, doesn't it?

But it is true.

Many students think that by practicing quickly they will "get through the music faster" and therefore learn it faster, but this could not be further from the truth.

Many aspects of learning the piano are counter intuitive and making use of sensible practice tempos is something that demands a considerable amount to self-discipline from the student to fully appreciate and master.

We can train ourselves to practice with no mistakes or we can train ourselves to consistently included errors during our practice. Students who train themselves to practice with errors during regular practice often find that it is difficult to eradicate these errors from their final performance. The mistakes have been "practiced into" the music. This often leads to a lack of confidence and ultimately a decrease in the enjoyment to be gained from playing music.

The difference is in the students approach to practice.

Practice slowly, deliberately and thoughtfully using the practice techniques we study in the lesson and passages of music will be learned more effectively, therefore reducing the amount of time it takes to learn a new piece of music and increasing the enjoyment gained from successfully completing a piece of music.

Practice too fast and the student will be confined to endless hours of making the same mistakes over and over again. Students may even mentally "give" up" with a particular piece of music if they practice too fast. These students may convince themselves that they cant do it or that the music is "too hard".

Many times a student will arrive at the lesson and say they "had trouble" with a particular passage of music. In many cases this simply means that they have been trying to play the music too fast without first getting to know the notes. Often I will simply request that the passage of music be played more slowly and that the student give themselves more time to think about each note in the music before they play it. We often find that the passage of music that has been troubling the student for so long is successfully played within a few minutes when approaching it in the correct way. It is always better to think about what note is going to be played next before you play it and not after you have played it.

I'm sure that when you are reading this article this seems as obvious to you as it does to me, however many students easily fall in the habit of only thinking about the notes after they have already been played incorrectly. This can become troublesome if not corrected, however, with a little instruction in good practice techniques and coaching in what they should be thinking about when practicing this natural tendency can be easily turned around in the lessons. Some students take longer than others to put this advice into practice when working on their own at home but patience and consistency during the lesson, for this and other practice techniques we study, usually guarantees success for most students in the long term as good practice habits are formed during the course of their lessons.

Students will be successful with every piece of music I assign to them if they practice in the right way. Slowly, carefully and thoughtfully.

Spend enough time practicing a piece of music at a tempo that is within your capability and you will find that the music will eventually gain speed all by itself while you still maintain full control of the notes. As a teacher I am always more impressed with a students control over the notes rather than the speed they play at. It is always much better to have a well-controlled performance at a slower tempo than a fast performance that contains errors. A controlled performance at a slower tempo will usually lead to a controlled performance at a faster tempo. Don't be impatient. Don't try to skip the slow controlled performance.

It is easy to believe that when you play quickly the errors you make will go away if you repeat the music enough times but this is usually not the case. If you skip the slow practice and go straight to the fast practice without the proper preparation those errors are likely to stick around for much longer than you may think. An important part of practice is to enable the subconscious mind to absorb the material being studied.

A good performance is one that has the conscious mind and the subconscious mind working together in the correct balance to produce the end result. The subconscious mind is far more powerful than the conscious mind and it is capable of producing much more complex hand movements than the conscious mind. Without time spent to feed the subconscious mind the student will always be relying on only the conscious mind to perform a piece of music, and as there is only so much information the conscious mind can handle at any one time the results students achieve by practicing in this way will always be more limited than those achieved by the student who has taken the time to "get to know" the music, i.e. has "enabled the subconscious mind to absorb many of the complexities involved with playing the music". This can include motor skills, creating an internal sound picture of the music and much more. When taught correctly this is a skill students of any age can master.

Practice in the right way and this process will happen effortlessly. Don't be impatient. Don't try and play all the way through the music as a performance until you have given yourself chance to get to know the music. Students who practice in the right way can very easily convince themselves that they have great talent and ability.

Students that are allowed to develop inefficient practice techniques can very easily convince themselves that they do not have very much musical talent. What a shame that would be. I wonder how many students give up piano because they don't believe they have the talent to do it well, when in actual fact they probably do have the talent but have unfortunately not been taught the right way to practice. This is one reason why I believe that the first few years of musical instruction are the most important.

To be effective, musical instruction should be done correctly from the beginning and it is a mistake to study with a "cheaper" teacher as a beginner with the intent to "move to a better teacher" later. How will you know if your child has talent unless you are certain that the tuition you are receiving is as effective as it could be? It is always more difficult to "unlearn" something than it is to "learn" something.

Your first few years of musical instruction form the foundation from which everything else will be built. The foundation is the most important part of any building and is the most important part of any musicians training. Practicing is an art in itself that needs to be learned and developed and understood and reinforced over many years. Most people have a very limited understanding of what practice actually is. They are unaware that there are good ways to practice and bad ways to practice. They are unable to differentiate between effective and ineffective practice. This skill is something most "non-musician" parents may never fully appreciate but a student taught how to practice well will know the difference. With a consistent approach to practice in lessons and with lessons that are focused on teaching students the correct way to practice students eventually learn musical "self-sufficiency" and develop the ability to learn new pieces by themselves with little guidance from the teacher. This should be a primary goal of any good piano teacher.

How can we tell the difference between a student who has been taught to practice properly and a student who has not? Easy. (But unfortunately this comes far too late to make a difference for many students). The student who has been taught to practice properly will enjoy a lifetime of learning new music once they stop having lessons. They have been taught musical self-sufficiency and they have mastered all the necessary skills to be able to "figure it out" for themselves. Students who have not been taught how to practice properly will typically stop playing the piano as soon as they stop having lessons and will probably never play another note again without the teacher, that they have relied on so heavily, being there to help them.


For more advanced students it is recognized that practicing at a faster tempo is essential for training the correct muscle movements required to master complex passages of music and there are many approaches and practice techniques that can be developed to help facilitate this, including practicing in a wide range of tempos that include going beyond the required tempo of the piece. However this article is aimed towards beginner students in their first few years of lessons.

Don't miss these stories: