David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

Your piano education should include the study of the following six core areas.

  • Scales & arpeggios
  • Repertoire of various periods
  • Sight Reading
  • Ear Training
  • Music Theory
  • Music History

As I mentioned in a previous article, scales are essential for a complete understanding of the keys used in music.  If you know the scale of D major in all of its variations, then you will be more successful when playing pieces of music in D major.  Scales and arpeggios will also help with technique and correct fingering.  Your work on this area should take up as much as 20% of your practice time.

Obviously you will work on repertoire, but it should not be the only thing you do when you practice.  It is important to work on music from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary periods.  Although you will probably prefer one period over the others, make sure that you have a well-balanced repertoire.

It is also a good idea to work on Jazz music that was written specifically for the piano.  You should avoid transcriptions, and unfortunately this includes all pop music.  You can play this sort of music in your own time for fun, but if your teacher allows you to play Disney songs or top 40 stuff in your lessons, then he or she is not teaching you properly.

Your ultimate goal as a pianist is to be able to sit down and read music successfully that you have not seen before.  It doesn't have to be perfect, but you should be able to get through it.  This is called sight reading, and your work on this skill should be top priority.  Everyone reads books at different speeds, and slower readers will find sight reading more challenging.  Nevertheless, every day choose a section of music to study for about half a minute, then play it and simply do the best you can.  Sight reading will get better over time, so be patient.

You must develop your listening skills through ear training, and this goes beyond just listening to yourself more carefully.  A good ear training program will help you to identify intervals, chords, cadences, major and minor modes, melody, harmony, structure, texture etc.  If you master these skills, your understanding of music will improve tremendously, and therefore your ability to learn new pieces quickly and efficiently will improve also.

Music theory is extremely important for any pianist.  You must understand how sounds are combined and why they work the way they do.  If you know about the rules that composers use (or the rules that they break), you will again, have a much better understanding of the music you are learning.  You will become a better pianist.  Yes, music theory can be a bit boring, but no more than the grammatical rules of a language.  Most people omit learning music theory due to laziness.  I suggest you embrace it and learn all you can about it.

Music history is the least important of the six core essentials listed, however your knowledge of the lives of the great composers, as well as how your art evolved over the last few hundred years will serve you very well as you learn new music.  Invest in a good music dictionary and look up the composers whose music you learn.  Look up Italian terms that you don't understand, as well as anything to do with the piano.

Sounds like a lot doesn't it?  Well yes and no.  Do a small amount of each of these every day, and you will see amazing results.

Any of the proper examination boards - ABRSM, Trinity, London College, Canadian Conservatory, Australian Conservatory as well as some others, cover all of this in a very structured way.  Alas, the American system does not, and cannot even be included in the same category as the entities named above.

If your piano teacher is handing you photocopies of the latest Adele song, you need to find another teacher quickly.  Ideally, find one that enters students for examinations using the above mentioned organizations.

If you have questions about what I have mentioned here, leave a comment below and I shall respond.

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.