Should I learn how to read music

8 tips for practicing like the pros

How do you learn to practice the piano properly?

You can learn to practice effectively. We'll show you how!

8 tips for practicing like the pros. (Photo: Bonedo)

Personally, I don't believe in talent. This concept has always been too easy for me, as it is mainly used for positioning. For example, the phrase “I am musically totally untalented” is an excellent excuse not to have to deal intensively with music in the first place. But what then distinguishes the layman from the professional? Why do pianists whiz across the keys with dreamlike security and many a layman still cannot find their way around the keyboard, is constantly playing around or simply cannot remember how B. an E minor chord looks like? And this is exactly where the starting point is. You can learn to play an instrument at any age. If you stick to certain procedures you will make great progress on your instrument in a short time. The aim of this article is to help you find the right path to practice.

As a piano teacher I experience the same situation again and again: a new student comes to me in class, I hear that he is practicing, but still something always goes wrong, he simply cannot call up his performance during piano lessons. Has he practiced too little? Is he not concentrating enough or is he just not talented? And over and over again the same picture presents itself to me. When the first problems arise in the piece, people pause and inspect the area again very carefully. We get to the bottom of the problem.

What does practice mean?

Practice is a methodically repeated action aimed at maintaining, acquiring or improving skills. Practices are practiced that cannot be carried out directly by will or determination. These include: elementary and bodily life and the world, walking and speaking, complex skills and abilities of an artistic, athletic, technical and intellectual nature as well as individual attitudes and attitudes. (Source: Wikipedia)

You can learn to practice properly, but how?

Most students mistake understanding for ability. I'll explain it to you using an example: If you have never sat in a car and I sit on the sofa and explain to you how to drive a car, you will understand all of this, but it is a long way from being able to drive a car. If you then sit in a vehicle, you only understand how it works, but you still cannot move it. You lack practice and experience.

In order to develop skills, however, you always need action. The first time, like all of us, you will likely stall the car first. Or, if a baker explains to you how to bake cakes, your first own cake does not necessarily have to be successful because it requires actual skills. You can only bake well if you have baked a lot of cakes.

And that's exactly why I keep hearing the funniest versions of pieces that often don't have too much to do with the musical text. This is exactly where the mistake lies: Understanding is confused with ability. Of course you have to grasp and understand the musical text first, but that's not enough to be able to play the piece really well. To do this, the actual ability must be built up; a motor memory has to be 'created'.

As complex as a musical text may look, you can learn any piece by simplifying the text. (Photo: Jens Hendreich)

Practicing properly pays off, why?

Anyone who has been playing the piano for a long time knows the phenomenon that you practiced a piece really intensely a long time ago, but then didn't play it for years. And yet you can still do it after a long time, the hands play more or less by themselves because they can still remember the sequence of movements. And that is exactly the key to success.

I like to have my students demonstrate to me in class how to practice at home. For those who do not make progress, a maximum of four minutes of ten minutes are actually played. The rest of the time is just studied the grades according to the motto: "What about that I haven't understood yet?" If I then take over the scepter and lead the student, he will play at least nine and a half minutes out of ten minutes of practice. He is constantly occupied with a new task and acts continuously. Lo and behold, after these ten minutes, the affected area, often even a whole page, is played without errors.

After reading and understanding the passage you want to practice, all you have to do is show your hands what to do. And that until they understand. Then your motor memory will be enhanced by a skill. This is the actual practice process. And then there are no more mistakes, pauses for thought or other problems while playing. Other movement sequences that we have already practiced very often run without any errors, such as: B. cycling or swimming.

When practicing, a motor memory must be created. (Photo: Jens Hendreich)

That is the way to success. I keep seeing the effectiveness of this practice technique. Even students who have been coming to me for a while often find it difficult to use this system because they have never practiced it before. In the beginning it requires a lot of concentration and discipline, you have to listen to yourself all the time. But the bottom line is that it saves you a lot of time and effort. The time it takes to correct established mistakes is simply no longer needed. Students who practice this system from the start make fantastic progress in a short amount of time. One of my students, who started learning the piano with me a year ago, is already working on Chopin's Nocturne op. 72 no. 1!

There is wonderful music for the piano. With proper practice, you will be able to play great pieces. (Photo: Jens Hendreich)

8 tips to make as a rule

1. Practice difficult passages at a slow pace

If you show your hands what to do, you should proceed as if you were explaining to Grandma how to text her with her new smartphone. You explain it very slowly, you repeat it over and over until she understands. In doing so, you remain patient and do not provide yourself with false information, as it will only confuse you. Every mistake you make while practicing is incorrect information that you subconsciously memorize. Almost all students practice far too quickly, usually play the whole piece through somehow (that's playing, but not practicing!), Get tripped over while practicing and then wonder why they never play the piece correctly.

Notice: When practicing the piano, you are both teacher and student at the same time. If you don't understand something, you just didn't explain it to yourself properly, or didn't give yourself enough time to learn it. If you are too fast, stress arises which suggests danger to your brain, which hinders learning! In addition, errors occur when the speed is too high, and these are quickly remembered! Always be under-challenged at the beginning! Use a metronome and choose a tempo that you know beforehand that you will be able to make the passage without errors, this can sometimes be extremely slow. Choose a pace at which you can think each note before you play it. If you make mistakes, you are just too fast. A handball coach cannot throw the ball to his player in slow motion. But you can do that while practicing. So use this opportunity extensively.

Choose a pace at which you can internalize each note before playing it. The classic metronome is a great help here. (Photo: Jens Hendreich)

2. Vary the pace

If a difficult section can be played without errors after slow practice, then increase the pace to the point where the first errors occur. Then you reduce it again and increase it again until you reach your limit again. You repeat the whole thing until you can play the piece at the desired tempo. You will then even find that you can play the piece even faster than it is tempo-wise. A sign that you've practiced well. It is much easier to learn that way!

3. Check the fingering

The correct fingering is the 'A' and 'O' for comfortable playing and error-free playing. Since the piano keyboard provides a large number of tones, but each hand only has five fingers which individual sequences or changing combinations should play, correct fingering is the key to success. Here it is necessary to try out certain noted processes by means of targeted finger sequences and to record them in writing over the notes. In class, the teacher shows you how to find the right fingering step by step. Later you do it yourself and find the right sequence for playing even the most difficult passages.

Here is an example of a notated fingering above the notes.

4. Control yourself

Always stay alert while practicing. Do I play everything as it is written down? Can I already do the job? Can I also play them at double the speed? Is the fingering correct? You should always look for the feeling that what you are practicing seems easy to you. Maybe you can even think of something else and still play flawlessly? Then you really have the job and can move on.

5. Find new starting points in the music text

Don't always start your practice in the same place. The stones of a wall are built staggered, which increases the stability. If you practice four bars and then the next four, there are often problems with these transitions. In addition, you get to know the piece better and can start again anywhere in the piece, if necessary.

When practicing, always commit to individual sections, the smaller the better. (Photo: Jens Hendreich)

6. Separate notes from rhythm

Always separate the notes from the rhythm at the beginning, because most beginners have great difficulties, especially when grasping the rhythm. Keep tapping it with your hand until you can be sure of it. First only with one hand, then with both. If you cannot tap the rhythm correctly with both hands, playing the piece becomes a problem. In the second step you only play the notes without rhythm. Once you have understood both, put everything together.

7. Practice left and right hands separately

Never just start playing a new piece. Practice the individual parts right away: tapping the rhythm, only playing notes without a rhythm, then putting them together. Do the left and right hands separately and practice melody and accompaniment separately ... Then when you put everything together there are no more problems. This way you make sure that you don't make any mistakes right from the start and learn each piece much faster.

Before the individual hands don't know exactly what to do ... (Photo: Jens Hendreich)

8. Look at the sheet music

Don't look at your hands while practicing. This only distracts you and it prevents your hands from building motor memory and from finding your way around the keyboard. Of course you can use your eyes to help you jump, but blind pianists impressively prove that there is another way. If you practice properly, you will always notice improvement quickly. Progress should be seen after just ten minutes of practice. Then practicing is really a lot of fun. If there is no progress, you should adjust your exercise strategy!

With a good practice technique, 10 minutes a day is enough to start with. (Photo: Jens Hendreich)

Closing word

No master has fallen from the sky yet. Those who approach practicing with discipline will soon be rewarded with success. Being able to play well takes time and does not come by itself. Practicing properly can be a lot of fun, especially since progress can be made that can be measured ... and heard.

I wish you success!