“The glory is being happy. The glory is not winning here or winning there. The glory is enjoying practicing, enjoy every day, enjoying to work hard, trying to be a better player than before.” – Rafael Nadal, Professional Tennis Player
In order to learn to play the piano and perform, you must practice. In my experience, there are no short-cuts and the ability to play the piano well is the direct result of the quantity and quality of practice. Consequently, I believe the only route to success at the piano over the long term is to “Learn To Love Your Practice”.
Here are some of the ideas that I use personally to enjoy my practice:
- Choose your music wisely and play pieces that you love.
Piano students are extraordinarily blessed with the every conceivable type of piano music. The piano has been around for a long time (since at least the early 1700s – and other instruments with keys before then), so there is lots of music. It can be valuable technically to play certain types of piano music to develop certain piano techniques, but in general students should spend their practice time on pieces that they enjoy and have a desire to learn. Thinking about what genre of music you enjoy most can also help you enjoy both your lessons and your practice.
- Make sure you have a decent instrument and practice space.
It’s no fun to practice in a dark dank basement or a drafty hallway. Make sure you have a practice space that encourages learning.
- Make Piano Practice a Voyage of Self-Discovery.
You should expect to figure our something new about your music and/or yourself every time you practice. Maybe that means that you just figured out to play a musical phrase just a little better by starting the phrase in a certain hand position, maybe it means that you tried a new practice technique and it helped, maybe it means that you visualized a setting and emotional mood for your piano piece, etc. etc. I often like to think of my music and sometimes technical exercises as a special puzzle that I figure out little by little through small moments of self-discovery.
- Know why and what you want to learn on the piano.
Adult and young adult students should understand their goals in learning to play music on the piano. Thinking about and understanding your personal motivation can help you want to practice. For instance, let’s say you want to learn how to play a specific piece on the piano like Alan Rusbridger in his book, “Play It Again” where he tries to learn the difficult Chopin Ballade No. 1 in G minor. His journey to learn that piece allowed him to write an entire book about his experience. Taking some time to carefully craft your goals and understand what you want to accomplish is very worthwhile and will shape what and how you practice.
- Appreciate that you are building your “technique toolbox”
In order to meet specific piano goals, you may need to learn certain piano techniques which can include scales, chords, arpeggios, etc. Learning to appreciate that you are building certain technical skills which will help you reach your piano goals makes technique practice seem worthwhile.
- Figure out what time of day is best for your practice and make it your routine.
Practice can be a very demanding mentally, and if you are tired or rushed, your practice will seem less enjoyable. I like to practice first thing in the morning (after my coffee) so I have the most brain power and patience possible. I do practice at other times of day when necessary, however, my routine is to practice before starting other projects during my day. Having a routine means I don’t think too much about whether or not I practice, I just know that it is my normal practice time.
- Discover your successful learning strategies for music.
Part of your “Voyage of Self-Discovery” should include paying attention to the best ways you learn to play music. For instance, maybe you are a “aural learner” and learn best by hearing a piece played before trying to learn it yourself, or maybe you have learned that helps if you memorize your left hand, or you like to flag the hardest parts of your music and learn those first so the rest of the piece seems easier. All of these are learning strategies that make your practice easier and faster, so your practice becomes more successful and more enjoyable.
- Devote part of your practice to creativity and fun.
A way to make practice fun is to incorporate sightreading new music, composing your own music, or learning to improvise into your practice. Sightreading new music can be very fun, help you develop specific sightreading skills, and help you develop familiarity with repertoire. Composing or improvising allows you to experience the joy of creating music all your own. I often find that when I spend a little bit of time learning to improvise that time seems to vanish because it is so absorbing and satisfying.
- Find a piano teacher that matches your learning style and makes lessons enjoyable.
It can be difficult to find a piano teacher that listens to what and how you want to learn and also makes lessons fun. However, it is worth the search to find such piano teachers that meet your needs and you will be more willing to practice for a teacher that makes learning fun. Don’t be afraid to change teachers if they aren’t a good fit for you.
- Notice the small things that happen in your practice.
Awareness and noticing small things that happen in your successful practice can make your practice more enjoyable. For instance, you noticed that if you put small accents in your scales every four beats, then your thumb doesn’t press too hard on the keys, or perhaps you noticed that if you count out loud slowly a difficult rhythm, then it is easier to learn. Noticing small improvements or even failures means that you are figuring out which learning strategies work best for you and will help you have a more successful practice session.
- Have some days where you don’t practice to refresh yourself.
It can be difficult for anyone to practice every single day. It is OK to take some time off to refresh yourself or get some other important task finished during your practice time. As long as you are practicing regularly, a day off will just help you be more ready when you do have time to practice.
- Know that you are the only person that will play a piano piece quite like this.
Everyone plays the piano slightly differently. There are physical differences between pianists hands and bodies as well as different artistic conceptions of the music. Music is an aural art and even though everyone reads the same music, no one actually plays it exactly the same. Developing your own vision for how a piece should be played in your practice can be very rewarding.
- Make sure to congratulate yourself when you have achievements.
Celebrating both small and large achievements are necessary and will help motivate practice. I like to give my piano students a little piano sticker on their music page if they play something particularly well in a lesson as a way to give them a “small” achievement”. Finding a way to celebrate your personal achievements both large and small in learning to play the piano will help you “keep the faith” that you will learn to play well.
- Some amount of practice is always better than no practice at all.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to block out enough time for your practice or your normal practice time was unavailable. At those times, it can be helpful to have some ways that you can just do a little bit of learning for that day. I sometimes like to just practice the beginning or ending of a piece as a small practice or maybe I just play the piece through once slowly as a short practice. Either way, I’ve sat down at the piano and thought about my music which is a way to practice even if I didn’t have time for a full practice session.
- Record your practice time especially when you are first making practice a habit.
Writing down your time spent practicing, just like writing down what you have eaten while dieting, can be eye-opening. Sometimes you feel like you have done a lot of practice, but when you look at your practice time record, you realize that it wasn’t quite as much as you thought. On the other hand, it can be satisfying to look at when you were able to have quite a lot of practice in a week.