Pianists come in all shapes and sizes, with different skill levels and varying degrees of commitment to the craft. Whether you see yourself as a casual, dedicated or professional pianist, in many ways you will face the same challenges to obtain personal growth. After all, your journey with the piano always centers around a quest to form a positive and fulfilling relationship with your instrument – and with music in general. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you four habits that have benefitted me at every stage of my personal piano growth with piano lessons in Denver.
Practice Every Day
Let’s get the most obvious habit out of the way first: practice every day. To improve at the piano, there are no shortcuts. It boils down to how often you practice. Nothing can substitute for practice even your Denver piano teacher would so much agree to that. If you want to maximize your efficiency, practicing consistently each day is the best approach. Some of the best advice I ever received is that “even fifteen minutes counts.” In fact, I believe that is all it takes for beginner and intermediate piano students to make phenomenal progress.
Jazz saxophonist Jerry Coker’s book How to Practice Jazz recently reminded me of an adage: “If you miss one day of practice, no one notices. If you miss two days, you notice. If you miss three days, your friends notice. And if you miss four or more days of practice, everyone notices!” Too true. I’ll also add that I never feel more powerful and agile at the piano than I do after several consecutive days of practice. This holds true even when some of the practice sessions are comparatively short.
All this being said, nobody is going to be upset with you for taking a day off. Vacations and rest are important too, at times. So if you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Get back on that horse again the next day.
Keep a Practice Journal
Day-to-day gains are difficult to perceptualize. Each day of practice is one step on a musical journey that lasts for weeks, months, years, and eventually a lifetime. Yet the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that comes from improving is an invaluable part of the improvement process. This is where a practice journal comes in. Paging back day-by-day allows you to feel and appreciate those long-term accomplishments viscerally. This in turn motivates you to set new goals.
I recommend keeping a simple log. Date your entry and write a few words to describe each activity in your practice session. I recommend keeping activities to no more than five to ten minutes each. In most cases, five or ten minutes is all it takes to focus and obtain daily diminishing returns for a given activity. With sleep, your brain will cement the day’s learning and you will be able to make further gains doing that activity the next day. So, a student that practices fifteen minutes ought to work on two or three different activities. Perhaps a scale plus a few new bars of a new performance piece. Whereas the student that practices for an hour per session could have anywhere from six to twelve activities per practice session.
Listening to Others & Yourself
What better way to motivate yourself than to take inspiration from others? Listening is a fantastic habit for a growing pianist of any level. In these present times, I find myself constantly playing music in the background – while driving, cooking, hanging out with friends, you name it. Nothing wrong with that! However, there is something particularly special about grabbing a record or queuing up a playlist, donning a pair of headphones, and laying down to listen actively – in other words, listening to the music completely distraction free. I recommend this as a weekly activity.
Equally important is listening to yourself. From time to time I ask each of my students to throw their phone cameras down and record a video of their playing. A voice memo suffices too. As an outside observer to your own playing, you’ll start to notice things about your playing that you never notice in the heat of the moment. Do I always stutter there? Could my sixteenth notes be more even? Could I quiet down the left-hand so I can hear the right-hand melody better? You get the idea.
Patience & Self-Kindness
To quote the great jazz pianist Kenny Werner: “Be kind to yourself.” Music is a joy and a gift. Mistakes are okay and to be expected. Self-negativity damages your psyche and obstructs your ability to find joy in this creative art. I like to remind myself and my students that in order to learn something new, we must by definition accept that we are temporarily incompetent.
I would be remiss if I did not mention here that Werner’s book Effortless Mastery has on many occasions renewed my joy for music. It has also helped me maintain self-positivity and high self-esteem. I recommend it for pianists and musicians of every skill level.
I hope these habits help you along your journey with the piano. Everybody is a bit different, so experiment with these concepts, and find what works for you.
Not sure where to go next on your piano journey? Then perhaps you could use a piano instructor. Our teachers will come right to your home for every lesson, plus we offer virtual music lessons, too. Our online music lessons are being taught by local music teachers with live lessons tailored to your child! Contact us today to learn more.
By Rob Homan