Notes From An Atlanta Piano Teacher – Practice Smart

I’m going to start calling these blogs “notes from an Atlanta piano teacher” as Maria McDonald who’s a teacher for us here in Atlanta has becoming a regular contributor to our daily articles. Her thoughts this week are about Practicing Smart, which of course we endorse.

When I Was A Girl!

Atlanta Piano Teacher
Smart Practicing

When I was a freshman in college I walked into my piano lesson with a piece I felt I had prepared extensively. I sat down at the piano and played the Haydn Sonata in D Major to the best of my ability. I would even go so far as to say it was performance ready. After I was done, my professor turned to me and asked me the question “How much did you practice this week on this?” I replied very proudly, “10 hours.” His response to that statement was “That wasn’t bright.” Then he proceeded to list every detail of my mistakes, which felt like he might as well be reading to me War and Peace.

Save 8 Hours Of Your Life

To hear that as an 18 year old music student is pretty heart wrenching, but he then went on to explain why I was so wrong. I was so focused on putting in the time, I wasn’t focusing on what I should be putting the time on. If I focused on my issues, I would have saved myself 8 hours of practice and would have had that piece down better than it was going into that lesson. Tiny detailed issues wouldn’t have been an issue and my technique would have been more focused and fluid. Here are some things you can do to practice smart and be able to continuously evolve in your art.

What Does Your Teacher Expect?

The most important step is to have a general idea of what you want to accomplish this week in practice. Does it need to be performance ready? Do you just need to have notes and rhythm down? If you don’t know what the standard is, you have no way to measure if you’ve accomplished anything. So make sure you understand what your teacher expects from you by your next lesson.

Next step is to break the entire piece down into sections based on how many days you are going to practice. I tell my students four days for practice and one day for theory homework and putting everything together. If we go by that model, break it into four different sections. If there are sections that are a repeat of a previous section, include them in the same day. On the theory homework day, plan on putting all the sections together. Now that you have your sections, assign each section a day.

It’s No Trouble

So you have your sections and you know what you need to do. Now it’s just time to actually do it. The first step is to look at your section and find your trouble area. Is it one measure? Is it just a few notes? This is where you are going to start. Before trying to put anything together, focus on the trouble areas. Take out that metronome and set it to a walking tempo of 60-70 bpm and work on those sections until you can do it three times in a row without a mistake to the standards set by your teacher. After you’ve done that to all your trouble parts in your daily assignment, put that entire section together following the same three times rule. Once you can do that, you are done for the day.

An Atlanta Piano Teacher – Practice Smart

By practicing this way it will mean some days will be 10 minutes while other days might be 45 minutes. That’s ok because the focus isn’t on time, it’s on mastering the task at hand. You will able to get the kinks out and learn pieces at a much faster pace all in a way you’ll be able to prevent having to redo things week after week.

No-No’s On Practicing Piano

I do have two no-no’s when it comes to practicing. The first being don’t try a faster tempo thinking you’ll get through things faster. If you can master it at a steady pace, to speed it up will take a matter of minutes. If you go at your section gung ho from the beginning, you will just be adding more unnecessary time to your practice session just to get it down. The second is don’t put things together until you have the sections down. Putting pieces together should take 10-15 minutes tops because you are only having to tweak the transitions. You don’t want to be learning a section when trying to pair it with another. (This is why I say do this on the 5th/theory homework day.) Doing both of these will just lead you to a dead end circle you can’t get out of. You’ll end up making the same mistakes over and over again and they will never be corrected. Take your time, break things down, and be patient.

There’s A Light At the End of That Tunnel

Practicing doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process. It’s a helpful task to do when learning an instrument and can get you to the cool advanced music faster. If you practice smart, you’ll sound better, save time, and will be able to enjoy the process more since you will have a measurable goal you are working towards.

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