As musicians, we all know the importance of practice but how do we make it effective? To address this, we will discuss several important pointers to optimize practice by setting it up, scheduling it and adding structure to the process. 

  1. Find a conducive environment and get all your materials

    Practice is often most productive in a quiet environment. If it is possible, it would be best to have your piano in an area with no distractions in your house. With less ambient noises and people around, it will enable the pianist to focus on the practice and make the most of their time.

    Any needed materials such as scores, pencils and metronomes should be gathered before the practice session so that they are all ready for use. This minimizes the need to search for these items when you’re in the midst of a session.

  2. Schedule and plan your practice for a conducive time of day

    Habits are best created when they are consistent. By scheduling a fixed time or day for practice, it helps one create a routine that they can stick to. This ensures that practice is more frequent and will happen. It is important not to skip days as this will break the cycle of the habit.

    Furthermore, it is more effective to schedule practice at a conducive time of day. If you work better at night, it could be good to schedule your session then! If we schedule our practice at iffy timings like weekend nights where we often go out, it is more unlikely that one would stick to the plan. Hence, this should be taken into consideration as well. 

  3. Warm up!

    Some pianists often forget or choose to forgo warm ups as a part of their practice session. This often happens when they are pressed for time or simply because they don’t see the value in warm ups. However, warm ups can actually be crucial for optimal practice and injury prevention. 

    While playing the piano is perceived as an activity linked to the arts, it is more of a physical activity than one may expect. As such, it is very important to stretch and warm up the finger, hand and arm muscles before playing possibly physically demanding pieces. In addition to the above, warming up before practice also improves the quality of your playing.

    As many pianists choose to warm up with scales and arpeggios, this actually also cultivates some crucial foundational skills, killing two birds with one stone.

  4. Ask yourself: What is the goal of this practice session? What are some items to address?

    Goal-setting creates purpose for the practice session and ensures that key issues or focuses will be addressed. This promotes the cultivation of more efficient results and provides the pianist some opportunities for mental planning as well. In fact, when the checklists are ticked off, it offers a sense of achievement for the efforts put in.

  5. Practice smarter, not harder (Focusing on the issues, longer doesn’t mean better)

    Oftentimes, musicians assume that by simply practicing for long hours, they can achieve optimal results. However, practice should be streamlined. As addressed above, by creating goals and analyzing which issues need to be prioritized, one will be able to focus on targeted items. Quality over quantity should definitely be the goal during practice- the rewards of mindless practice for two hours will pale in comparison to targeted practice for one hour.

    Taking into account that students often have existing busy schedules, it is strategic to make the time available for practice as productive as possible.

  6. Mark your music

    The human mind is incredible but it has its limits. Sometimes, we miss the same note several times or miss a dynamic marking on our scores. In this case, it is important to mark your score. This can differ from person to person. Some people circle their errors, some people draw glasses, some people simply write words! The ultimate decision lies within oneself. As long as the system that you have created registers well with you, it should be used whenever necessary.

  7. Reward yourself

    As a part of establishing a good habit, it is a good idea to reward yourself after a practice session. This could take shape in many ways. This could be playing your favourite piece before ending each practice session or providing yourself a physical and non-related music reward, like a cookie. As long as the reward motivates you, it will be a pleasant thing for yourself and a great encouragement moving forward.

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