What’s the best way to practice?

Your playing only improves as well as you practice, but what is the best way to practice?  Some aspects depend on your particular learning style, but here are a few general guidelines to consider:

  1. Don’t practice your mistakes!  Your brain doesn’t know which are the “right” or “wrong” notes in a given piece, it only knows what you train it to do.  So focus while you practice and practice slowly (#4 below!) so that you play things correctly much more often than incorrectly.  This will help you learn faster.  It takes a lot of extra time and effort to unlearn something, then relearn it correctly.
  2. Practice expressively from the beginning.  Make the articulation, dynamics and phrasing a part of your mental picture of a piece as soon as possible.  Try to identify important moments in a piece (an interesting change of harmony, or the return of a theme, or the arrival of a new theme) and be aware of them as you learn.
  3. Incorporate relaxation moments.  Whether the music is easy or difficult, diffuse the tension by finding places and ways to relax your hands.  Make these relaxation moments a part of how you learn a piece of music.
  4. Practice slowly.  This is a great secret we can all learn from the great pianists.  They all practice slowly.  Why?  With slow practice you can be in control of every technical and musical detail.  If you practice well slowly, you will be amazed to find how much easier it becomes to play well in any tempo.
  5. Stagger your work.  It’s good practice to work on something for awhile, turn your attention to something else, then come back.  This keeps things fresh and helps to solidify what you have learned.

All this matters not at all if you don’t practice, so make your piano practice an enjoyable part of your daily routine.  The more you improve, the more likely you are to enjoy playing the piano!

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