Today’s Q&A is all about piano practice time – that big, loaded topic that sometimes we love and sometimes we hate – but we all need to do. At the piano, I do best when I’m organized and have a plan in front of me of what my practice session is going to entail, so here are the six categories I think are really important to a good well-rounded practice session:
1. Warm-up (5min)
2. Technique (10-15m)
3. Sight reading (5-10m)
4. Lesson pieces (20-30m)
5. For fun (5-10m)
6. Ear training (5m)
The piano warm-up
The warm-up doesn’t need to be crazy, and it certainly doesn’t need to be any longer than 5 minutes. Warming up just means playing something light and easy, to loosen up your fingers and help prevent injury. This may include technique (as long as it’s EASY for you), or a really simple song, or maybe a quick improv session. The mantra of the warm-up is “quick and easy”.
Everyone can spend about 5 minutes here.
Piano technique practice
Technique has two components – one, exercises like scales, triads, and arpeggios, and two, pieces called ‘etudes’ or ‘studies’. Studies are pieces designed to help you build one very specific skill, just like a scale might, but they’re generally a little more engaging to play. I think doing both is important.
Depending on your level, this part of practice could be 20 minutes or more, but for people who are relatively new to piano, it doesn’t need to stretch beyond 10 or 15 minutes.
Don’t skip technique, though! Etudes might not be as glamorous as nocturnes, but they’ll really help give you a well-rounded skillset.
Daily sight reading
I generally like to squeeze in 5-10 minutes of sight reading before diving into the bulk of my practice, just because my brain is still fresh. But sight reading can be random and unattached to your regular practice, or you can do it at different times – move it to where you think it makes sense, but don’t skip it. A little bit of note reading a day goes a long way to making you a more competent note reader.
Pick music to sight-read that is slightly below your playing level. The goal with sight reading is to play something accurately at first pass (even if it’s slow), not to struggle through something you can barely comprehend.
Be sure to spend 5 – 10 minutes here.
Piano lesson pieces
So the lesson pieces category can be further subdivided into 4 different parts:
- 1, songs you’re just starting to learn
- 2, songs you’ve learned through but need a lot of work
- 3, songs you’re putting the finishing touches on and polishing
- 4, songs you’re memorizing, or ones you’ve already memorized.
I think it’s important to have a good blend of pieces in this category – instead of learning a bunch of new pieces all at once, which is the most mentally taxing, it’s better to learn one or two new ones while also working on pre-existing pieces. This will make your piano practice time much more enjoyable!
For the average adult beginner student, this might be 20-30 minutes. For someone more ambitious or at a higher level, it might be 2 hours.
Playing piano for fun
Don’t neglect the ‘for fun’ category – when you’re learning piano, there’s a lot of ‘work’ involved, but don’t forget to play those pieces you’ve learned that really make you happy.
The ‘for fun’ category can be anything you want it to be. Maybe you like to play piano and sing – that’s definitely something I do for fun. Or maybe you want to do a little improvisation or composition. Maybe you want to play through some pieces you learned a long time ago. Anything that doesn’t feel like work is fair game here!
It’s hard to put a time limit on fun, but let’s go 5-10 minutes for an average beginner.
This doesn’t need to be attached to your regular practice schedule – you can find an app on your phone and do your ear training when you’re bored for a few minutes at any point in the day.
Ear training includes telling minor and major chords apart, or telling the difference between intervals, hearing rhythms, etc.
Ear training practice doesn’t need to be more than a few minutes here and there, but I think it’s an important piece of the piano practice puzzle.
A happy piano practice time
When combined, those six aspects of practice total about 50 minutes a day on the short end, and 75 minutes on the long end. 50 minutes a day might seem like a lot, but if you have enough to do, the time goes by really fast. 50 minutes of aimless practice is tough, but 50 minutes of 6 different types of practice is pretty easy.
Hopefully you found this helpful – now get practicing! 🙂