Rules for Piano Practice
There are rules for piano practice. Teachers never instruct their students in this art. If you’re playing songs from start to finish, you’re doing it wrong. There are several unwritten rules that professional classical pianists use to maximize practice time.
You can adjust these practicing techniques to suit your personal style. If you use these ideas you’ll soon find that your playing becomes polished more quickly.
Practice What Gives You Difficulty
The first rule is to practice only the hard parts you don’t know, at first. A general rule of thumb is that the hard parts should sound as good as the easy parts. Until they do, don’t waste your time enjoying the easy parts. Invest your time in solving the difficult problems first. Pay these dues and many an “impossible” piece will be yours, and fun to play. Have a strategy for learning the piece.
Practice Slowly And Memorize
The second rule is to play the difficult parts slowly. Play with hands separate for as long as it takes for each passage to be perfectly memorized and fluid, even if it is very slow. If you’re looking at a page of sheet music during a hard spot, you defeat the whole purpose of learning the passage. You have to look at the keyboard.
Look at your hands. Memorize. The purpose of piano practice is to calmly observe your hands and pay attention to where your fingers go, and see where the patterns of keys are. Memorize first. Enjoy later.
If You Need Strength, Try Hanon Exercises
Hanon finger exercises, used only a few minutes a day, will strengthen your fingers. The one below is just one of dozens in The Virtuoso Pianist. Use the first five fingers of your right hand on each group of eight notes. Start each group with the thumb. Notice that you always skip a white key between the thumb and index fingers:
Work In Sections
The third rule is to divide the piece into sections and attempt to achieve a basic continuity from one large passage to another. All transitions between musical ideas must be rehearsed and thought out, so that they appear effortless and logical, instead of bumpy and at the mercy of various difficulties. Even small piano pieces benefit from this approach.
Larger pieces, such as Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy or Liszt’s massive B minor Sonata, are all but impossible to master without a similar approach, unless you’re Liszt himself. There are pianists who have achieved that Lisztian, astronomical level of sight-reading. For us mortal pianists, the Rules of Piano Practice must be followed if you want to learn difficult material quickly.