Warm up and stretch. Bill Evans used to put his arms under a hot-air dryer (you know the ones in the bathroom?) to help warm up his arms. Warm ups and stretching are very important. You can run your arms under warm (hot-as-you-can-take-it) water and rub them. You’ll be surprised how this helps a lot! Try running through 5-finger scales, Major scales and arpeggios.
Practice in “Chunks”. When you are learning a piece of music, break it into chunks. A good chunk is 2-4 measures for a difficult piece or 8 measures for an easier piece.
Vocalize Rhythms. I cover vocalization of rhythms on my DVDs. Basically, you assign a non-sense syllable to each rhythm and “sing” the rhythm. This helps you to really feel the rhythm rather than over intellectualizing it.
Practice slowly, then build up speed. Think about this: Every time you play something wrong, you are getting better at playing it wrong! Basically, you want to play slow so that you can play accurately.
I see so many students play fast and make the same mistake over-and-over again. Go slow, then build up speed. You’ll see a big difference!
Use a metronome. Digital metronomes are more accurate than the “wind up” kind. Set the metronome to a slow tempo to start, like 80 or 90. If you are playing jazz, try setting the metronome on 60 and think of this as beats 2 and 4. Beats 1 and 3 do not click. You think of them in your head.
Keep your eyes on the music. You do not need to look at the keys in order to play. If this were the case, how would people with impaired vision play? We look at the keys as a “crutch”. Try your best to look more at the music and less at the keys.
15 minutes a day is better than 2 hours on Sunday! There are several reasons why practicing throughout the week (even for 15 minutes, but try for 30) is better than the “big” practice session once-a-week.
First of all, most of us (me included) can only really concentrate for about 30-45 minutes on one task. So, I’d rather see you practice for a concentrated 15 minutes rather than a “What’s for dinner tonight? How much homework do I have? I need to call Jill after this….” 45 minutes.
Second, 15 minutes spread out over 7 days will help you to remember concepts. Imagine studying math for only one day a week, then taking a test? Practicing every day helps to “lock in” what you are learning.
Comfort. If you are uncomfortable, you will not want to practice. Remember:
- Sit on a comfortable bench that is not too high or low.
- Practice in a well-lit room. You do not want to strain your eyes to read the music.
- Avoid a room with a T.V. in it. Too much temptation!
- Try to practice at a set time every day. This helps you get on a schedule.
- Sit up tall, but not stiff!
Patience. This should go without saying, but you need to remain patient with yourself. Learning to play the piano (or any instrument) can be frustrating. Some days you’ll amaze yourself at your progress. While other days you’ll feel like you have stepped backwards.
Learning is cyclical. It’s like the rising and falling of waves in the ocean. Some days you’re up, some you’re down. Once you realize this, and accept it, you’ll be able to step back and look at your musical journey in “perspective”.
This is a great way of looking at practicing. Remember the old saying that “It is not the destination but the journey?” Think about where you started and where you are now. You’ll probably be amazed at your progress.
If you are just starting the piano, I’d like to suggest that you record yourself on CD or video tape playing your first piece. Reason: when you feel down about where you are, pop in the video and look at where you were.
There are many other tips that can be added to this list, but this is a great start.
If you have not subscribed to the free JazzPianoLessons.com E-Lessons, I’d like to encourage you to do so. I have created 20 video lessons that are absolutely free. The E-Lessons are for students of all levels.
Have Fun Practicing!