My Best Piano Practice Tips

Make practicing your favorite time of day!

Let's have some fun at the piano with great piano practice tips!

If you feel like you're on autopilot in your when you sit down at the keyboard…

…let's put some energy and life back into your daily routine!

Even if you only have 15 minutes, these fresh ideas can help get you inspired and do your best work in a short time.

Remember: your long-term goal is beautiful piano playing in whatever style you love.

Piano Practice Tips

Practice Tip #1: Loosen up and stretch out.

Your best practice flows from a relaxed body and mind, that are free from tension and ready to learn.  Bringing your hunched-up, tight shoulders and the stress of the day to the piano bench will slow down your progress.

The truth is that piano playing is repetitive exercise. Doing some simple whole-body stretches will not just help you feel relaxed and rejuvenated. It will help prevent repetitive stress injuries.

Staying flexible is great for your overall health, and will help up your energy level as you sit down to play.

If you need a simple whole-body stretching routine, check out this one at the Mayo Clinic.  Then come right back here and let's talk more about your practice routine!

Practice Tip #2: Food fuels your fingers!

You know what you eat affects everything in your day -- but have you ever thought about the connection between food and piano practice?

What you eat plays a minute-by-minute role, every day, in how you feel. We've all done it -- grabbed McDonald's during a busy afternoon at work, and then struggled to get through the day.  Not making time for breakfast and living on coffee, feeling jazzed from the caffeine and then a huge energy drop later.

Keeping your blood sugar stable all day by eating whole, nutritious foods is simple common sense, but it can truly help your piano playing.  You'll find that your emotions are more steady and you can think more clearly.

Not to mention excellent focus and problem-solving ability.

Professional classical musicians often become as intentional about eating habits as professional athletes. Taking care of your body will allow you to practice (and perform) at your best!

Practice Tip #3:  Your mood matters!

Let's talk for a minute about mood. The way you're feeling will affect your progress at the piano -- either positively or negatively.

Your best learning happens when you are calm and happy.

As your emotions ratchet up, your ability to focus and learn decreases, as does your ability to access and add to your long-term memory stores (which is what we're trying to do during piano practice).

Take a look at your schedule and figure out when your mood is naturally at its best. Try to practice during those happy times!

If you can't practice when you feel your best, spend a few minutes before you practice reading or meditating on something you love.

Read scripture, a poem, or a letter from a friend.

Dream about a tropical vacation. Stare at your goldfish. Just do your best to bring your mood up.

Then, take that clam, focused, happy you and sit down at the piano.

Practice Tip #4:  Start with what you love!

Maybe you feel as though your practice should be all about learning new repertoire and working through technique exercises.

And, of course, the goal is to make progress in your playing!

But here's another off-the-wall piano practice idea: start your time at the piano with a piece you love.

It may be goofy, something you learned ages ago… and you might even feel like you shouldn't play it so much!

Just give yourself permission to try it!  Beginning your practice with music that you love will make you feel great and positively impact your whole practice session.

Practice Tip #5:  Make a ritual.

Rituals are simply habits that are intentional.

So, let's be intentional about playing piano. Create a practice ritual that gives you something to look forward to each day.

An example: I like soft light from lamps instead of the overhead fixtures. So I turn on my lamps and light my favorite candle. I also keep a cup of tea on a table near the piano. All these things are simple, but together they lift my spirit and make me happy to sit down on the piano bench.

What little additions would make your piano practice a special time for you?

Practice Tip #6: Create YOUR best practice space.

If your goal is to be creative and learn, clutter is not your friend.

A good, old-fashioned cleaning can go a long way in helping you enjoy time at your piano.

It can be as simple as not having to move a stack of music and photo albums in order to sit down and play. But I'm suggesting you take it a few steps further.

Think about the room, or corner of the room, where your piano or keyboard sits. Make it clean and well-lit.

Then, think about what you could do that would inspire you. Paint a wall a bright color? Get some plants or a gorgeous picture?

Your surroundings can work for you, or hinder you. Do a bit of work to make sure your piano is a place you like to be.

Practice Tip #7:  Try the backwards method.

If you've come to an impasse with a particularly tricky spot in your music, I have a tip for you.

Try this. Start at the last beat, or division of a beat, in the difficult phrase. Play it. Now move backwards to the previous beat or division. Play it alone - then play the two beats or together, until you can play them smoothly.

Here's an example:

Let's say you're having trouble with the run of notes in measure 1 and switching articulation in measure 2. Start by playing those two Gs at the end of measure 2 by themselves.

Really play them like you were performing - perfect dynamics and light staccato.

Now go back a beat and add in the D, and play the whole measure. Really feel your right hand and the movement from playing finger 5 to finger 1.

Next, add in the last beat of measure 1, playing the eighth notes B and C up to D. Make that little run beautiful, with even notes and a smooth slur. Once you have that, add the 2 Gs back in, preserving the light staccato touch you practiced. Then go back another beat, and so on.

This "backwards practicing" can help you overcome learned-in mistakes or blocks that you have in your playing by breaking down the music into manageable bites. Don't be in a hurry, and it will work for you!

Practice Tip #8:  Think in shapes.

Still stuck? Here's another piano practice tip to try.

Play your passage. But instead of thinking about notes, rhythm, dynamics, and tempo, really look at the shapes your hands are making. As you play, your hands are moving through different positions, making shapes.

If you stop to really feel the sensations of playing and notice your hand shapes, it can shed a new light on your playing.

Think about how your fingers are stretched, which notes are "up" on black keys, and which are "down" on white keys. Think about the feeling of your fingertips on the keys and how the shapes feel.

Think about moving from shape to shape as you practice, instead of note by note.

Practice Tip #9:  Switch up the lineup.

Most musicians develop a 'standard order' for practicing. Perhaps scales and arpeggios, then etudes, then the major piece you're working on. Then maybe some old repertoire.

What if you played everything you usually did, but started with the last thing you usually work on and moved backwards? Or if, everyday, you did all your exercises in random order?

You might be surprised what comes out of your fingers simply byvarying your routine.

It can be a great creative exercise to deliberately work outside of your normal piano practice pattern.

We are all creatures of habit, and habit can be one of the things that breeds dullness and boredom as you learn to play piano.

Practice Tip #10:  Listen, listen, listen.

Immersing yourself in great piano music is one of the keys to making strides in your playing.

You might think that listening is simply about being inspired, or about just loving the sound of the piano. But it's much more.

Listening to a wide variety of styles and artists, from classical to new age to jazz, helps you:

  • fall in love with new music you'd like to play
  • discover that each pianist has a distinct style and what appeals to you (you're developing your own style, too)
  • refine your ear: you will start to "hear" more in the music (chord patterns, themes and variations, harmonies)
  • relieve stress, which is important to your progress

Consider listening part of your daily practice. As you start listening to more piano music, you'll be amazed what you discover.

You'll gain clarity and motivation to keep practicing, and broaden your knowledge of repertoire.

Get started easily by heading to your local library. You'll find a good variety of pianists waiting to fill your living room or your headphones with music.

Also, online services like Pandora can help you branch out from what you know and discover new recordings and new artists.

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