David Hicken ~ Classical Crossover Pianist

Advice For Pianists

Piano students will know that they are practicing a piece of music correctly when they are asked by their family and friends if it is really necessary that they play that section of music over and over again.  Many family members will hopefully be far too polite to say anything like this, but basically if you playing a section of your music so many times that it becomes annoying for those around you, then you are probably doing it correctly.

Mastering any piece of music takes constant repetition.  As I mentioned in a previous post, many students make the mistake of playing the entire piece or page over and over again, but true practice is uncovering the problem areas and drilling them repeatedly.

This process should not be like banging your head against the wall.  A good method would be to play the right hand a certain amount of times, and then the left hand the same number of times and finally the same number of times with both hands.  Now if you're asking yourself "what if the right hand part is extremely complex and needs more repetitions than the left?" the answer is "you should have already worked the right hand on its own before you begin this procedure of putting both hands together".

Sometimes you should play the measure before the offending measure to "bridge the gap" or maybe even the following measure.  The problem area should be played at at least three different speeds - broadly broken down into slow, very slow and then even slower.  If only students would understand the immense power of VERY slow practice, there would be many more great pianists in the world.  However, most students are impatient and do the opposite by playing all of their music way too fast. 

YouTube has a plethora of videos by amateur pianists who are barreling through a piece of music at lightening speed - all while missing out half the notes, playing many of the other notes incorrectly and having sloppy rhythms and bad timing.  If they had practiced very slowly to begin with, their playing would now be much cleaner and more accurate.

Use your practice time wisely by quickly noting where the problems are.  Use a pencil to mark these areas (something that so many students are unwilling to do for some reason).  Get right down to business by working on the first problem area hands separately and hands together and at the three different speeds.   It is not necessary to work on all of the problem areas sequentially, so feel free to jump around from one to the other to add a little variety to your practice.

Very often, your problem areas will not be corrected in one practice session, and possibly not even in several sessions. It is important that you understand and accept this fact, because frustration at not getting a section right will only hinder your progress.

Set a goal of a certain amount of repetitions and then use that formula for each problem area.  When you have worked each area, then feel free to repeat the entire procedure if you want to.  I have always found that multiples of three work extremely well, so play three times, or six times or nine times etc.  There is something about multiples of three that will help you to assimilate the information much more quickly, so try it out.

Be patient and realize (depending on the complexity of your piece) that it can take days, weeks and months to really have certain passages under your fingers.  There's no way of knowing how long it will take, but when it finally falls into place, it is as if something "clicks" and you just know that you have it.

How many students have played a passage several hundred times over the course of days or weeks, only to simply give up and accept defeat?  How many of those students might have only required one or two additional repetitions before it clicked?  Think about this.  You never know how many repetitions are necessary, but stick with it, because maybe on the next one, it will all fall into place.

Great skill is acquired through constant repetition.

Happy Practicing!

David Hicken

All of the concepts that I write about here are detailed in my eBook "Secrets To Better Piano Playing" . Click the image below to find out more.