20 Piano Practice Tips for Beginners and Intermediate
In today’s article, I would like to give away a comprehensive list of piano practice tips for beginner and intermediate students and teachers. If you feel stuck with your current way or practice, or would like to supercharge your learning, you are in the right place!
Tip 1: Start slow
This piano practice tip is very well-regarded by professional pianists. Begin learning your piece at a speed which allows you to be in full control of your hands and your mind.
Pushing yourself to play fast too soon can cause wrong notes and create unnecessary mental and physical tension.
Tip 2: Use consistent fingering
Consistency of fingering is crucial for reliably learning your music. If you keep changing fingering, in a moment of stress (for example during a performance), your mind will be confused as to which option to choose. You do not have to use the fingering written in your edition of the piece but is usually a good start. You can search for alternative fingerings in other editions of the same piece.
The consistency of fingering should be sustained within a single piece of music, but also across your entire repertoire. For example, you will likely encounter a C major scale in more than one piece of music, and there is no need to play it with different fingering each time. Follow the traditional fingering for scales and arpeggios so that next time you encounter a scale you already know; you will be able to execute it a lot quicker.
Tip 3A: Before you begin a piece or section of it – set a clear and reasonable goal
Do not repeat your piece without stating which aspect of your performance you are trying to improve. Before you repeat a section of a piece ask yourself:
- What am I going to do better this time around?
- What is the length of the section I am just about to repeat?
Tip 3B: After you repeated the piece or section of it – assess if the goal has been achieved
Before you move onto the next section, ask yourself:
- Was my goal achieved?
- Was the section a little better?
- Do I need to change the practicing strategy?
- How many more times do I need to repeat it to see a clear improvement?
Tip 3C: Sample goals
- Play the piece/section perfectly in time;
- Play the entire piece/section with no wrong notes three times in a row;
- Play the piece with no fluency issues (no stopping);
- Play the piece with the right hand alone;
- Play a difficult section for 10 minutes with no breaks;
- Play a phrase listening for the quality of sound (all notes match each other volume);
- Practice hands separately working on the balance between them (for example left hand being much softer than the melody of the right hand).
Tip 4: Divide your work
Playing your piece always from the beginning to the end will have a rather slow effect of how well you improve it (unless it is very short and easy). Divide it into smaller chunks for example main sections, phrases – or if the piece is complicated – practice only single bars or even beats. Repeat each section multiple times before you move onto the following one.
In another article, I discussed one of the fastest ways of learning new pieces by applying ‘spaced repetition’ theory into your practice.
Tip 5: Overlap practice sections
Make sure that you always overlap practiced sections. If you started in bar one, and the next section is in bar two, please make sure that when practicing bar one, you always stop on the first note of the second bar, not before that. This is to ensure that you eventually know your piece fluently, without stops between sections.
If you set a short section to practice, be watchful, do not continue past the part you are currently working on.
Tip 6: Use a stopwatch
Set your stopwatch to ring at 90-second or 2-minute intervals. Practice a single section and move on to the next one only after the pre-set time elapsed. After each practice period, stop and evaluate your work.
Tip 7: Get to know your piece extremely well
If you already know your piece fluently, test yourself by playing only every second bar, or by interchanging between hands: bar one – right hand, bar two – left hand, etc.
Tip 8: Learn backwards
If you often find that you know the beginning of your piece very well, but struggle with the ending, start from the last bar and play it for 2 minutes. Then take the second last bar and repeat it for 2 minutes. Then run both bars a few times for fluency. Take third last bar, repeat it for 2 minutes and then again run through 3 bars fluently a few times. Continue in the same manner till you get to the beginning of your piece.
Tip 9: Vary practice section lengths
Closer to your lesson or performance you will often run through your music from start to finish. This is a sound strategy to prepare a steady and fluent performance. Try to include in your practice (even closer to your recital) a variety of starting points and continue to work on short sections and hands separately as well as run through the entire piece. This way, you will keep revising and strengthening the knowledge of your music.
Tip 10: Assign extra time to more challenging sections
Indicate which parts of your piece are more complex and challenging and assign them longer practice time.
Tip 11: Isolate problematic sections and passages
How often I hear my students making a mistake in the middle of the piece and then starting right from the beginning of it. This approach is very inefficient.
A Much faster method is to circle the bar, or even better, the exact note which causes the stumble, and practice it in separation starting just a few notes before and finishing few notes after the troubling place. Once the section has improved, start a few bars earlier and finish a few bars later to place it back into the context of the piece.
Tip 12: Metronome
Get a metronome and use it often, particularly at the early stages of your piano education. In another article, I discuss how to use a metronome to develop a strong sense of rhythm and tempo control using the metronome correctly.
Tip 13: Figure out the rhythm
With easy access to video recordings of virtually any piece of music (YouTube), rhythm is often merely a matter of following of what we hear.
- Are you able to clap the rhythm of your new piece without hearing it first on YouTube?
If the answer is no, you would greatly benefit from learning how to clap the rhythm of your pieces BEFORE you attempt to play it.
Tip 14: If something feels uncomfortable – do not do it.
It is challenging to talk about piano technique in writing due to the ambiguity of words. Even a video sometime is insufficient to show all perspectives.
In this piano practice tip I would like to suggest that you should avoid doing things which make your hands feel uncomfortable, very tired, or cause muscles pain.
Remember that a piece of advice given by someone famous or well-respected does not have to apply to you.
A qualified teacher and one-on-one instruction are in most cases the best way to go.
Tip 15: Scales and arpeggios
They can be considered boring to practice, and there is no immediate gratification. If you are serious about your long-term development as a pianist, you will be a much better sight-reader, your technique and memory will improve, and you will be able to learn new pieces a lot faster if scales and arpeggios are your everyday routine, even for few minutes each day.
Tip 16: Repertoire selection
You should be able to find simplified arrangements of the most well-known pieces you like to start you off. Choose things you love to boost your motivation, particularly at the start.
As you get more into it, you might like to seek advice from a professional teacher who can help to give you repertoire options well-suited to your progress and your current level.
Tip 17: Hands together or hands separately
Chose whichever is easier for you first. If you decide to start with hands together, after you learn the piece fluently, take it apart and learn it hands separately too. This will provide you with another perspective on your music, and clarify which sections are still weak and need reworking.
Tip 18: To read or not to read
The Internet offers plenty of opportunities to learn to play the piano quickly without the need to learn to read the music score. This is often accomplished by the student copying the notes after the teacher. Although this method often yields great initial results – you should be able to learn new pieces quickly even with no prior experience – in the long term, the disadvantages outweigh the positives.
If you cannot read the music, you will be limited to the repertoire available only through such methods. Eventually, when the music becomes more complex, it will become evident that it is necessary to read the music well to learn it fast and to be able to memorize it.
Tip 19: Set aside some time for your piano practice
When you begin, it is probably ok to practice just in your spare time, even in evenings, when you are tired and want to relax after work. Long term, you will most likely need to set aside some time when your mind is fresh to be able to concentrate well. The time and effort you commit will best warrant your satisfaction and steady improvement.
Tip 19: Set up your practice space
Make sure that your practice space is quiet and comfortable, and with a possibly low number of distractions.
This article is still in progress, and new piano practice tips will be added weekly. Please consider subscribing to my mailing list to receive email updates. Last updated on 24/04/2019