Today’s video is a 1 hour practice session I recorded the other day. I love talking about piano practice, and I’m always looking for ways to improve.
This practice session is completely typical of a light practice day for me. For most beginners, 1 hour of piano practice each day is more than enough. At a more advanced level, it becomes necessary to practice longer than that, but most of us aren’t concert performers or preparing for difficult exams.
Since we’ve already talked about piano practice quite a bit on PianoTV, I’ll provide plenty of links for you to check out throughout this post, if you’d like to get more depth on a particular subject.
Why a “Play Piano With Me” Video?
I was inspired to create this video because of YouTube hair and makeup tutorials (seriously). “Get Ready with Me” videos are some of my favorites – not only do you get a talk-through tutorial of whatever look they’re creating, but the videos tend to be chatty and personal as well.
In the spirit of “Get Ready with Me” videos, I’ve kept this informal and unplanned. I’ll talk you through my 1 hour practice session so you can get a sense of how I do things, and you can see me work through problems.
And because of editing magic, you don’t have to sit through an hour of video. 🙂
1 Hour Practice Session Outline
I tend to follow a loose template with a 1 hour practice session. They generally include:
- Learning a piece (or part of a piece)
- Playing through a piece that I’ve already learned, but haven’t mastered
- Reviewing memorized or mastered material
- A couple short breaks
Things I don’t do every day, but generally rotate, are:
- Sight reading
- Ear training
- Listening/studying activities
In this practice session, I did include sight reading. The other topics are ones we haven’t covered in depth (yet), so I figured I would show you something we’ve spent plenty of time discussing.
The other aspects of practice – ear training, composition, improv, and listening activities, are all things we’ll talk about more in the future.
The importance of sight reading is a starter video on what sight reading is, and why you should do it. I highly recommend you check it out for more details, but the gist of it is this:
When you learn to read a language, you have to spend lots of time actually reading that language. The same is true of piano sheet music. Sight reading is the practice of doing a little bit of sheet reading on a regular basis.
How do I get better at sight reading? Is another video talking about more details of sight reading. A lot of musicians struggle to read sheet music, so in that video we talk about some common problems and how to fix them.
Even including 5 minutes of sight reading into your daily practice can make a huge difference over time.
The order I practice in
I’ve experimented quite a bit with what order to practice things in. Do I start by learning a new piece, or save that for the end? When do I practice scales? What about sight reading, or memorized pieces?
I’ve found an order of practicing that I enjoy, but I encourage you to do some experimenting of your own. What works for me might not work for you. However, there’s a reason I practice in the order I do, so if you’re looking to improve your practice sessions, you can always use this as a starting point.
In the video How To Organize Your Piano Practice Time, I cover this in more depth, but I’ll give you an idea of it here.
Start with warm-ups
Warm-ups have to be light and simple, otherwise they’re not a warm-up at all. If playing 4-octave scales is strenuous to you, don’t start with them. Start with something that will gently ease you into more difficult playing later.
Warm-ups are all about increasing blood flow to your fingers. If you work too hard when your fingers are still “cold”, you’ll be more prone to injury, so always start slow.
You can organize your practice time how you like, but I always recommend starting with a warm-up for this reason. Don’t skip it!
After spending a few minutes getting my fingers limber, I’ll generally work on a little technique –scales, triads, arpeggios, and so on.
All in all, if I’m practicing for 1 hour, I don’t spend more than 10 minutes on technique and warming up.
Learn New Material
At the beginning of a practice session, your brain is still fresh. I like to take advantage of this mental clarity by learning brand new material – that might mean a couple bars of music, or a couple lines of music.
If I wait until the end of a practice session to learn new things, my brain isn’t as absorbent (metaphorically speaking). I don’t learn new music as well, and I have to spend more time the next day re-learning and reviewing.
By learning new music at the beginning, you get the most bang for your buck.
After this part of the practice session, I’ve typically hit the 30-minute mark.
I don’t know about your brain, but after 30 minutes of concentrated effort, my brain gets a little unfocused. A five-minute break is usually all I need to clear the cobwebs and do good work for the remaining thirty minutes.
Sometimes I’ll take a couple five-minute breaks in a 1 hour practice session – it depends how I’m feeling, and how well I’m focusing.
Make sure to take an actual break. Don’t use your hands (no phones/internet) and try not to think too hard, either. I’ll usually do a quick stroll around the house and maybe hang out with my cat.
Depending on how tough the practice session is, I might even collapse on the couch for a few minutes.
Playing through a piece I haven’t mastered
Songs tend to fall into three categories when you’re learning them:
- Brand new
We already talked about brand new material, and how I like to work on that at the beginning of a practice session.
Pieces in the “developing” category don’t require as much mental focus as new songs, since you’ve already been acquainted with all the notes and patterns.
However, “developing” songs will generally have weak spots – a bar here or there that you struggle with, a tempo that isn’t fast enough, or finger memory that isn’t secure enough.
I like to work through these problems one-by-one. Developing pieces still take concentration, but they’re not nearly as draining as learning new parts from scratch.
For a 1 hour practice session, 15-20 minutes is what I’ll usually spend here.
At about this point I’d take another break if I needed it, or I’d dive into some of the optional extras. These are what we listed above, such as sight reading and ear training.
Review Memorized or Mastered Material
In the video, I didn’t actually do this part of the practice session, but I probably should’ve, because it’s a fairly typical and important part of practicing.
Once you’ve mastered a piece – maybe you’ve memorized it, you’ve got it up to speed, and it’s generally at “performance level” – keep returning to it occasionally. Mastered songs don’t need to be played constantly, but generally at least once a week.
Most people have the most fun with this part of a practice session, and it’s easy to see why. This is the part that requires the least amount of struggle!
Here is the part where you can simply sit and play, without thinking so hard, because you’re playing music you already know very well.
More on Practicing
Another PianoTV video on practicing is this one: How to Practice Piano: 9 Tips. This is a useful video to check out if you don’t feel like you’re making the most of your practice time. It talks about specific tactics to employ while you practice, such as playing slowly.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I really don’t want to go sit at the piano – but I still want to do something productive. That’s why I created the video How to Practice Piano (Without a Piano). There are plenty of musical activities you can do aside from sitting at the piano!
Even non-music activities can bolster motivation. Going for a walk, in silence or with a good album playing through your headphones, can be highly motivational. I find that physical activity always leaves me feeling refreshed, and usually gives me the boost I need to get back on the piano bench.
In Limelight magazine, Jonathan Plowright has some excellent piano practicing tips to share, some of which overlap here – but he gives the disclaimer that he doesn’t much enjoy practicing piano, but considers it a means to an end.
How do you practice piano?
Now it’s your turn! I’d love to see what a 1 hour practice session looks like for you. Or even 30 minutes!
Do you have a consistent “template” that you use when you practice, or do you go where the wind takes you each day?
How many pieces do you typically work on in a given day?
Would you say you enjoy your practice sessions? What are your favorite, and least favorite parts?
Let me know in the comments, and we can compare notes. 🙂