Gettin' Your Practice On
I know what you’re thinking… practice is such a chore!!!!
When we think of practising, it sounds like a chore—and no one likes chores! This, of course, also applies within the context of learning the piano. However, in order to get good at something, we must practise—it’s a means to an end. So how can we be more positive about practising?
Well, first up we need to change the way we think about it. We need to look at it as a way of accelerating the learning process so that we’ll (soon) be able to actually play the piano and play it well. We need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone… if we don’t and just play the same old tunes, we’ll get better at playing those tunes, but technically we won’t be pushing ourselves onward and upward to greater heights.
Proper, structured piano practice can help us move forward and reach those greater heights. I say ‘proper’ because a lot of people have an idea that piano practice is simply playing songs over and over. However, practice needs to consistently involve new things. Remember—practise what you can’t play, not what you can!
So when you fire up your course, open your book, or are about to set off to see your instructor, don’t think ‘ugh, I have to go practise now’ (a chore), think ‘Yes, here we go, I’ll soon be a great piano player’! Look forward to practising, because in the end, it will be worth it. Keep your eyes on the prize!
Practice can also be flexible. Do you have a specific goal? Do you just want to learn all the chords without consciously thinking about how they are formed—then work out a practice routine that leads to that goal. Already know your chords? Then maybe you want to learn about inversions and chord substitutions—again, make the practice fit the goal.
It can also be a good idea to split your practice session into two halves if you prefer. In the first half, you could practise new and/or difficult stuff—your mind is generally sharper to begin with—then relax a little and practise some enjoyable (but reasonably difficult) tunes in the second half.
Your Environment Really Is Important!
I’ve found that for me personally, a clear/less cluttered environment is more conducive to learning. And not just for learning the piano. If you find yourself struggling to concentrate, or want to increase the effectiveness of the course you’re working your way through or the book you’re learning from, then make sure the room in which you are learning is tidy and well lit. I believe a clean and tidy environment has a calming effect and reduces anxiety… which can only be a good thing!
Organise any piano music you have carefully—try not to keep it in a heap so that you only play the ones on top! Place it in a folder. Have plenty of shelves or storage space near the piano/keyboard.
Don't Overdo It
Your well being is paramount above all else.
Regularly stretch your arms and shoulders and roll your neck to combat stiffness. If you want, you could check out some Yoga exercises for shoulders and back (being into health and fitness, I exercise regularly and this includes yoga!).
Also, I think it’s really important to get up and walk around every so often—go grab a drink or go for a walk. Never… ever, just sit there for hours without getting up to stretch and move around a bit! (I am obviously not a medical professional but to me, this is just common sense). If you pull a muscle, have new aches or any the problems after that monster piano session, go see your doctor straight away!
Final Thoughts and Ramblings
When practising, repetition is essential, and if you find something particularly difficult make sure you practise it at least 3 times a day until you have it down pat. Don’t worry if it takes months to master—you will get there.
Practise your playing at a reasonable hour if you live in a property where the neighbours can hear, and at a time when you don’t care who is listening so that you can make lots of mistakes and play things over and over (and over and over, and… well, you get the idea!!).
Alternatively, if you are using a digital piano or a keyboard, you could just plug in a pair of headphones and practise to your heart’s content! (I myself, use a MIDI keyboard, so I just plug in some headphones, and away I go!)
I truly believe anyone can learn to play the piano to a usable and enjoyable level, but no two people are alike—some are more naturally gifted at certain things than others and everyone learns new skills at different rates. Some people will need more practice than others, but at the end of the day, the more you practise the more you learn—that’s what it comes down to.
Every now and then, practise with your eyes closed—or don’t look at the keys—this will really sharpen you up… if you can play without looking, then you’re doing something right! Organise your life to allow for practice. I think a lot of people assume they don’t have time to practise when in reality, they just haven’t found the time. For how long should you practise?—that depends on you and what you want to achieve. You don’t have to aim to be a concert pianist. Even if you only want to play for yourself, just enjoy that. The archer who’s mind is on the prize, cannot stay focused on the target! You’ll have bad days when it seems like you can’t play a note; just accept them. Sometimes it’s better to walk away.
Remember that playing the piano and practising the piano are different things. Which do you do? Aim for a bit of both.
Above all else, enjoy yourselves!
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