Piano Forum logo

Practicing (Read 547 times)

Offline cardiffwalespianist

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 2
« on: June 25, 2020, 12:47:32 PM »
Hello fellow pianists,

Hope you are well, wondering if you can help. I started learning piano age 8 and entering and coming second in various competitions as a teenager (yes ive passed all my piano grades) before then going onto study (second study piano) at the college of music.

Since leaving uni many years ago I haven't had a piano teacher since however I have regularly been practising a few pieces I already know including Liszt - Au Bord D'une and also Brahms Rhapsody in B minor.

I am now looking to spend more time (2 hours a day) on the piano and really want to increase my current ability with speed, technique, finger muscle etc and looking for advice on HOW I should practice during a 2 hour period each day.

1) I really want to improve my ability but dont know how to get beyond my current level. How should I structure my practice - i.e. should I spend an hour randomly going through czerny exercises in the hope of being able to improve my piano ability and then practise 2 lines of a piece of repertoire continuously repeating each hand separately at lento pace until I can play fluently without error?

2)  How do you go about learning a new piece? do you focus on learning the notes first i.e. Repeating until you can play? then what to do next? should I then focus on fingering and then wrist and arm movement? surely this will be snail progress if focusing on learning notes of 2 lines at a time each hand separately and then together and then learning technique of those 2 lines before moving to the next 2 lines of a 5 page piece? (by the way im trying to learn Chopin Etude Op10 No.5) but what about when playing together that will require additional practice time for coordination.

Offline pianoannieq

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 41
Re: Practicing
«Reply #1 on: June 25, 2020, 02:26:21 PM »
Hi Cardiffwalespianist,

I would highly recommend finding a piano teacher, but if that is not doable, there are excellent Youtube videos that explain piano technique (Graham Fitch, Cedarvillemusic, Josh Wright, etc.).

Find the most difficult areas of a piece and divide it into sections. Playing through the whole piece when you are learning it is a waste of time. Work on the harder sections by experimenting with different fingerings, hand positions, and forearm movements (hands separate is great). Find whatever feels most comfortable and then I would use repetition to lock in on that specific combination. It'll become smooth and natural as you repeat it, so then you can work on getting it up to tempo.

Since you only have 2 hours to practice, it's important to get the most out of it. Don't spend an hour looking through exercises unless if you have a specific goal to solve a specific problem in your technique. Repetition is only helpful when it is mindful so don't keep playing the same 2 lines over and over for an hour because it's mind-numbingly boring and ineffective. Set specific goals for each piece (I want to play this passage smoothly and without mistakes at this tempo, I would like to find ten different ways to play this phrase to find which way I like most). It's difficult at the beginning to set reasonable goals for each practice, but it will get easier as you continue, and you'll be making notable progress! Sorry for the long response but I hope it helped :)
I hate music (and sarcasm) :)

Beethoven Sonata 18
Liszt Rhapsodie Espagnole
Prokofiev Sonata 4 op.29
Scriabin Piano Concerto

Offline cardiffwalespianist

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 2
Re: Practicing
«Reply #2 on: June 29, 2020, 08:11:15 PM »
Thanks so much! that was so helpful to me and can already hear improvement and your advice makes practicing way more interesting than before which I used to just play things over and over until I got it. :)

Offline quantum

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 5737
Re: Practicing
«Reply #3 on: July 03, 2020, 10:10:01 AM »
Hi and welcome to Pianostreet,

Use goal oriented practice.  You can do a lot in the time available to you.  Effective practice needs to be thoughtful as opposed to mindless repetition.  You need to have a reason, a goal, for doing things.  Take large problems and break them down into small reasonable goals.  The goal would ideally be achievable within a single portion of time within your practice session.  Think of practice as completing goal units, as opposed to spending time units.  With goal oriented practice, even the smallest time portions, say 5 to 10 minutes, can be used for effective practice. 

When you are dividing up your piece into work units, it is beneficial to do so at natural points in the music or the phrase, as opposed to simply taking a system and calling that a unit.  It reinforces the structure of the music. It makes the work unit make musical sense.  When you assemble all the pieces of the puzzle, it is not just a collection of systems in a score, but a collection of phrases that communicate the musical whole. 

When you are working on individual elements of the music, be musical, regardless of tempo.  Work should be musical at every stage of learning.  Music should not be reduced to a finger factory exercise, as this is where mindless repetition tends to creep in.  Think of phrasing, thing of shaping, think of how to make something musical despite being new to your fingers. 


When learning a new piece, this is how I might go about it:

Sightread the piece all the way through - the goal is to obtain the big picture, mistakes don't matter. 

Identify the most difficult spots as well as the ones could be potentially the most time consuming.  This data is gathered from sight reading and some analysis.

Take note of any musical ideas that could be implemented in the performance.  Think of these when doing slow practice. 

Work on the most difficult areas first.  Work in a non-linear manner.

Play though a passage with the most intuitive fingering, taking note where the intuitive fingering is not the best solution.

Refine fingering to be more efficient, at current practice tempo.  This includes redistribution of notes between hands where necessary.

Join hands with the goal of fluid motion though a passage.  Speed up gradually.

Refine fingering again and find efficiencies for playing at performance tempo. 

Join small sections to make larger sections of music.  Practice the transition between sections. 

Work on assembling interpretation.  Sometimes the initial musical ideas from early study, do not work out that well once the body movements have been learned.  Revise, refine, continue setting goals.

I like to emphasize non-linear learning, that is not learning a piece from beginning to end, but rather learning a piece where the sections are out of order. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline 1piano4joe

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 416
Re: Practicing
«Reply #4 on: July 03, 2020, 10:01:29 PM »
Hi Quantum,

Awesome post! This is exceptionally well written and to the point. Thank you so much for sharing this. I especially like the phrase non-linear learning and working the most difficult areas first.

Joining hands, joining sections and slowly increasing tempo while revising...

Goals, work units...concise and just wonderful.

Thanks again, Joe.