Whether you’re new to piano lessons, coming back after a long break, or an experienced student working towards the next level, here are nine strategies for being the best and most productive piano student you can possibly be.
Bring concentration and intention to your practicing. Practice as well as you would like to play. Each time you play, you’re imprinting notes on your brain – and in your fingers’ muscle memory. If you play the wrong notes or wrong fingers, or with poor rhythm, you’ll just need to unlearn them later.
Practice Most Days
Practice every day (or most) days. Consistency is crucial for long-term success. This may also require creative time management on your part; there’s work, family and other hobbies that all put constraints on your time. But intermittent practicing will just frustrate you – you won’t progress like you want to – and that can lead to a vicious cycle of disappointment and frustration, possibly culminating in quitting.
Commit to Improving Your Technique
Many students consider technique – how you move to play – one of the least interesting aspects of playing. Yet to truly play well, technique is absolutely essential, just as learning how to swing a bat and consistently hit is essential in baseball. Once you experience for yourself how good technique will help your music sound better – with less effort – you’ll appreciate its importance.
Cultivate Detail Orientation
Detail orientation is an underappreciated aptitude when learning piano. Paying attention to all the elements of what you’re learning –from the notes to the rhythm to the dynamics to the fingering and so on – will improve your practicing from the beginning, making it less likely you’ll have to play catch-up later.
Take Stock of Your Skills
Occasionally take stock of your basic musical skills (reading, ear, rhythm, etc.). If you notice a weakness – such as finding it easier to read treble than bass clef – commit to improving it. Not sure how? Ask your teacher!
Broaden Your Understanding of Music
Explore new music genres. Read about music history and the lives of composers and performers. Learn to compose. Learn music theory. All these things will bring music alive for you in new and magical ways.
Improve Your Ear
Among other things, improving your ear will allow you to:
- Hear a song and be able to play it (“playing by ear”)
- Play what you hear in your head.
- Know more quickly when you’ve made a mistake
- Deepen your appreciation of music.
Learning to play is an ongoing journey. Patience includes acknowledging that you’ll probably need to break new pieces down to learn them effectively. For example, a routine approach is practicing one hand at a time before playing hands together.
Patience also includes the willingness to practice the same piece or scale over and over until you master it. Improvement at any skill is not always a visibly upward trend. Plateaus are normal. And though you may not appear to be making much progress while on a plateau, you’re continuing to assimilate and consolidate skills and knowledge.
Set High Standards
Set high standards for yourself – learn to play most pieces as well as you can before moving on. This requires perseverance, if not forbearance! Find a way to enjoy practicing something even after you’ve grown tired of it. Top-performing musicians continue to practice the same compositions for decades. This aptitude can be fostered by learning to appreciate the gradual improvements in your playing abilities while minimizing your need to find satisfaction in the music itself.
Great teachers admire and appreciate great students. By incorporating these ideas into your practicing habits, you can develop a more productive and enjoyable relationship with your teacher, and your instrument.