The essence of learning to play music is practice. No one learns to play an instrument without a significant amount of time spent practicing and a typical student will spend many hours of time on their instrument in their practice space. So, having a comfortable and organized practice space can help make practicing easier and more productive. You can think of it as the work office for a music student. It can be quite difficult to get the optimal practice space in a home crowded with other family members, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to optimize a practice space to become a place where musical inspiration flows and lots of learning takes place.
A few years ago, I came upon a webpage of the key components of a great practice space from author Suzy S. I loved all the common sense advice and especially the opening comment, “If I had a dollar for every time a student told me, “I didn’t practice because my piano is stuffed away in a dark, cold basement,” I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d be able to buy something really nice.” I’ve thought about this article a lot and have printed off this article many times for my students. However, I always have to notate it to include a few other items that I deem essential and finally, I wound up drawing my own image of a great practice space with the following components…
1. Piano – The practice instrument should be a full length with weighted keys and at least one pedal (the damper pedal). I generally recommend a good quality digital piano or a nice sounding acoustic piano.
2. Piano Bench – A chair is typically not a good idea because they aren’t adjustable, so they will be at the wrong height and chair arms will impede arm movement at the piano. I recommend an adjustable piano bench so that you can be at the right height for playing the piano and prevent injury.
3. Music Stand – Almost all pianos will come with a music stand, but if for some strange reason there isn’t one available, a band instrument music stand can be used by standing it behind the piano.
4. Pencils – When practicing, it is important to take notes. On Noa Kageyama’s wonderful website, The Bulletproof Musician, he has a great blog post about “8 Things Top Practicers Do Different Differently”. Item Number 3 in this wonderful blogpost is “Practice was thoughtful, as evidenced by silent pauses while looking at the music, singing/humming, making notes on the page, or expressing verbal “ah-ha”s.” Give yourself a chance to have thoughtful practice by keeping writing implements handy.
5. Metronome or Cell Phone – One of the most important aspects of being a great musician is being able to keep a steady tempo. In fact, audiences will typically notice mistakes in rhythm and tempo more easily than wrong notes. So, having a metronome available to check your steady tempo is useful. Having a smart phone available during practice with a metronome app is even better as then you can also use the smart phone to make audio and video recordings of yourself and access any other useful apps.
6. Good Lighting – Effective lighting will allow you to read your sheet music easily and prevent eye strain.
7. Comfortable Temperature – Glenn Gould famously used to soak his hands in hot water to make sure they weren’t too cold prior to his performances. Maintaining a comfortable temperature in your practice space will make sure that you aren’t thinking about the temperature in the room instead of the music. It is also very important to have consistent temperatures for acoustic pianos, so they don’t go out of tune too quickly.
8. Cozy and Inviting Space – Having your piano in an inviting location in the home (I personally like having a window), means that sitting at your piano is not a hardship. Being at your instrument in a lovely location in the home is continually tempting someone to sit down and play or practice. However, think carefully about where you place the piano. Does the piano need to be near the kitchen so a parent can hear a child practicing? Is your best practice space really in the living room near a noisy TV? Carefully consider the options available before making the best choice possible within your home.
9. Glass of Water – I always have a glass of water near me when I practice, but not on the piano in case of spills. Being hydrated while practicing can help with cognitive performance according to the NIH study of Water Balance and Cognitive Performance.
10. Speaker – Many piano method books come with mp3 music demonstrations and accompaniments. It can be very useful to be able to play these files near your practice instrument. It can also be useful to hear professional recordings of your pieces from YouTube or Spotify. I like to keep a bluetooth speaker near my practice instrument so I can hear professional recordings or recordings of myself playing a piece for evaluation purposes. If a digital piano is being used as a practice instrument, it can also be used as a speaker through an audio input.
11. Music Book Storage – It can be very helpful to have music and lesson books near your practice instrument. Piano students tend to acquire music and music notes as they progress with their studies and having close access to their music makes it easier for them to practice without having to move too far away from their instrument.
12. Clock – Even though I have a smart phone next to my practice instrument, I still like to have a separate clock nearby to note the time. I always record my practice time at my instrument, so I know how much time I am spending on my practice every week.
One more thing….everyone is unique individual and what each person wants in a great practice space will accordingly differ. Use this list as a starting point, think deeply about what would make your own great practice space, and then make it happen!