Theory 1: Practicing vs Practicing Well

Theory 1: Practicing vs Practicing Well

There comes a certain point in your journey as a piano student where you’re finally able to sit down, read through a song, and play it—nay, perform it.  You love to play this song.  You’re quite good at it, actually. With this particular tune, you are truly making music.  This becomes the song that you want to play all the time, naturally.

Nothing wrong with that, right? No, not at all…until you realize you’ve sped through the other pieces that needed practice, or just avoided them altogether. You figure hey, that’s ok! My teacher won’t be too mad when he hears how awesome this piece sounds! And thus you proceed in your private performance, feeling very encouraged and very proud of yourself, totally dismissing that harder song.

Or maybe it goes a little something like this:  you picked a song six pages long and by the time you get to page four you’re ready to call it quits.  Nothing wrong, it’s just that those last few pages are such a doozy.  So you get to measure 96 and just…stop.  Yep. You go back to the beginning and play through that part again, because you’ve got that down, and it’s pretty rockin’ right now.

Do either of these scenarios sound familiar? I know, you’re wondering how I knew right? My students are always amazed at my apparent psychic abilities.

I hate to break it to you, but no, I’m not psychic, and no, I’m not a spy.  What I am is a pianist, so I know how tempting it is to just sit and play through the songs I like the best, the songs that come easiest to me, the parts I like.  I know how discouraged, frustrated, and almost apathetic I get when it comes to the hard parts or the hard songs.

However, I also know just how important it is to get through those hard parts and learn to play those hard songs in a way that makes them manageable and even causes me to look back months later, marveling at my crazy little self: how could I have thought that one was hard? Pshaw.

Here’s a way to practice that guarantees you’ll be able to play:

  • Tackle the hard part first.

Whether it’s a page, a few measures, or just one rhythm, work on that part first, isolated from the rest of the song.

  • Repeat ad nausea.

Or at least until you feel like there is just no way you would mess it up.

  • Play the part that comes before it.

Go back to the page/measures/rhythm leading into this “hard part,” and past them together. Repeat this until it feels natural, and you feel ready to move on.

If there’s something that you’re just not getting (and you’re coming by it honest), no matter how hard you try, make a note of it—literally, take a Post-It or a pencil and mark it down so you can discuss this with your teacher so you can work on it together at your next lesson.

Of course, it’s not realistic to think that you have a few hours each day to dedicate to this style of rehearsing. However, do what you can in the time that you’ve allotted to practicing. Maybe it’s 15 minutes; maybe it’s a full hour—whatever you’ve got, follow this method.

After all of this hard work, you deserve a reward!  Now is the time to sit down and play your beloved masterpiece, maestro.  You will seriously feel like you own that piece now. Remember, it’s always good to leave your practice session on a high note.