Whether you are an advanced piano player or just starting out, there is always that voice in the back of your head wondering if you’ve been practicing enough.
So how much is enough?
The answer to this varies greatly depending on who you are and what your goals are. However, there is one important factor that remains constant for everyone; the quality of your practice is far more important than the quantity.
World leading psychologist Dr. Ericsson has research which is the basis behind the 10,000 hour rule. It states that you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in something. When it comes to musicians, it would take 15-25 years according to him to attain an elite international level.
Don’t let that scare you though. Most of us don’t have such high ambitions as this.
The key thing to take away from it are the words “deliberate practice”. Just sitting down in front of a piano and playing what you already know or goofing around is not going to help you get any better. You need a structured and balanced practice routine in order to maximize your learning potential.
Here is some general advice to help speed up your path to learning piano and not wear you out in the process.
Piano Practice Tips
Break Up Your Practice Routine
It’s far better to practice just 10 minutes a day rather than 2 hours one day a week. Some of us have very busy lives so that’s all we can set aside anyway.
The more frequently you can practice and the more space you can put in between your practice sessions the better. It won’t wear you out as much, and your brain will have time to process what you are learning and piece it together to help you play with more fluidity the next time you sit down.
When you set goals, you have something to aim for rather than mindlessly playing things on the piano. Pick a target, and measure your progress as you try to get there. Seeing the small improvements each time you attempt to get there will keep you motivated and coming back for more.
It’s important to set both short-term and long-term goals. This way you can make quick measurable progress while at the same time chiseling away at something harder to attain.
It’s all too easy to wear yourself out by playing too much. I’ve been there plenty of times, and it has caused me to take weeks of downtime because I didn’t feel like playing.
Studies have shown that gains from practice begin to decline around 2 hours in, and there is often very little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day.
The truth of the matter is that your brain needs time between playing to process what you’ve learned. In fact, according to this study, a huge portion of the learning going on in your brain takes place while you sleep.
How Should You Structure Practice?
I feel that there are 5 main components to a well balanced piano practice session. Split up the time as best you see fit, but try to include all of them if you can.
1. Warm Up
The warm up phase is usually missing from practice for a lot of piano players. It’s an important one though, since it will help with muscle memory and the prevention of injuries. Use this time to work on dexterity exercises, simple scales, and your favorite riffs.
Piano technique is where music theory and your hands meet. It’s essential to include technique in your practice routines if you want to see improvements. Practice things like scales, inversions, chords, and finger placement.
3. Sight Reading
Just a little bit of sight reading each day will help you become fluent in no time. Play something fun and easy, and keep it to just a few bars. There are also some apps out there that will flash notes at you and you choose what you think it is.
Use this time to practice a song. It should be one that you have not yet fully learned. Be sure to choose a song that you love and that challenges you. If you dread sitting down to play the song, it will discourage you from wanting to play.
5. Play Time
End each practice with a party! Play whatever you want here. Mess around with improv, your favorite songs, or just goof around and experiment. This is your time to have fun and play whatever comes to your mind.
As you can see, it’s very easy to practice piano the wrong way and mess up any chances of improving rapidly. Hopefully this article has given you some insight for what to look out for and how to make your practice time as efficient as possible.
The pianist who practices just 5 minutes each day will be miles ahead of the one who doesn’t practice at all, so set your alarm a little earlier each morning and get to it!