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Piano Practice Challenges

By Tim Topham | Pedagogy

May 26 2011

piano practice

Here are a few ideas I use with my students for how to practice effectively.

I constantly have to remind them that just repeating sections over and over is about the least effective way of learning new material.

The main goal of these techniques is to avoid the often pointless “start at the beginning and play through” practice method that’s so common to students who haven’t been shown how to practice effectively.

In my opinion, it’s always best to take tricky bits in small chunks and to force the brain to concentrate by testing it with challenges, such as:

  • Hands Separately
  • Hands Together
  • Memorise it
  • Hands separately and slowly from memory
  • Play in rhythms
  • Half speed
  • Full speed
  • One phrase at a time, slowly with lots of repetition
  • Use PRACTICE GAMES to challenge yourself (ref: Practice Revolution)
  • Use a METRONOME – start slow and build up each day when you can play it 3x in a row no errors
  • With pedal/ no pedal
  • Eyes Closed or in the dark!
  • Hands covered with a tea-towel
  • Exaggerated dynamics
  • Play in the dark
  • Play it on the piano lid or a table
  • Analyse the music away from the piano – work out the harmonic movement
  • Try and write a section out on paper – no looking at the score, but you can use the piano
  • Play in different octaves
  • Arpeggiate chords or turn arpeggios into chords (block chords)
  • If it goes up, play it down, and vice versa
  • Looking at a different hand to the one you normally look at
  • Sit differently
  • Start anywhere at random in your music
  • Play a set number of times perfectly in order
  • Play 10 times quickly
  • Play in a different mood: sad, bored, angry, lonely, fun, warm, bouncy, etc…
  • Practice starting at the last bar, then from second last bar – ie. play backwards
  • Have a break!
  • Use “Police Now Targeting” method – focus on one thing only for each play – phrasing, fingering, dynamics, etc.
  • Remember, there are four ways that professional pianists practice:
    • With music, at piano
    • No music, at piano (memory)
    • With music, no piano (score analysis, “picture” how you want it to sound, hear it in your head)
    • No music, no piano (visualisation and play-thru by memory, picture every finger on every note)
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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.