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Focused Piano Practice: How to improve the value of your practising

By Tim Topham | Deliberate Practice

Jul 31 2011

focus piano practice

What is focussed piano practice?

If your’e not exhausted after practising, you could probably focus harder and achieve more in less time.

What do you think?

How long do your students practise for?

Sure, there are times when just playing through pieces is all you might have the time or energy to do, but if you really want to see progress and achieve the most in the shortest amount of time possible, then focus is the key…and real focus requires great energy.

It’s a simple equation really.

If you focus completely and intently for even 10 minutes while practising (see my notes on the Tortoise and Hare), you should feel a bit tired.

Do this for 1 hour or more and you’ll likely be mentally exhausted and in need of a break.

If on the other hand, you just parts of pieces that you already know or mindlessly rehearse your scales, you can probably play all day.

Tiredness in my own practice

As an example of how concentrated focus affects me, it’s not unusual after an intense piano lesson when my teacher has put me under pressure to perform, learn new stuff and fix my playing for 75 minutes straight, that I will need a snooze when I get home.

Similarly, after a morning’s intense concentration (I try to practice for 3-4 hours when I’m not teaching), I’m pretty well done-in and will often have a nap in the afternoon just to keep functioning in the evening!

Let’s face it: we all have very limited time to practice.

Even performing arts school students and adults at conservatories will have other studies or work to focus on plus sports, homework, gym, chores, socialising, etc., in addition to their instrumental practice. Adult musicians with families have an even harder time.

Why waste the precious little time you have by letting your mind wander?

How to improve focus

In order to focus, it’s always best to set yourself a clear goal.

I tell myself things like, “right, I’m going to fix these first two bars of the Bach Fugue in the next 15 minutes” or, “by the end of this 30 minute session, I want to be able to play through the whole first page of my piece at 120, no errors”.

During practice, my mind will often wonder and I’ll have to tell myself to focus again (I actually do this out loud), or have a break if my brain is fried.

Why not give this really focused practice method a go this week?

If you normally practise for an hour, give yourself 30 mins to achieve the same thing. Set small goals and concentrate hard. Move on quickly when you’ve achieved something and come back and check that it has sunk-in later.

How can you improve the efficiency of your practice?

Leave your thoughts below.

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Tim Topham

About the Author

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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