Aligning your piano practice with your musical goals

I get lots of questions about how to practice piano “better.” It’s a good question and indeed, I’ve spent this past week discussing various aspects of a recent study that identifies “effective” piano practice techniques.

While this type of advice can certainly help us, there’s a bigger picture that is even more important:

You need to align your piano practicing with both your musical goals and your lifestyle.

By this I mean that everyone has different goals and you have to find what is most effective for you (and this may take some time and experimentation). For example, the recent study I linked to above says you’ll learn a piece better if you identify mistakes quickly and fix them right away. But what does “better” mean? Let’s say you’ve gone through rigorous classical training and are afraid of playing wrong notes. (Of course this only applies to a percentage of classically trained pianists, not all of them.) But I do have students in this situation. Well, your priority is to re-connect with your love of music and this might mean not caring about wrong notes for a period of time. Just playing pieces you love and letting the music wash over you, even with some “clinkers.”

When I went to college, my classical piano teacher told me that since I didn’t have a lot of previous classical training, he thought I should spend my first year learning tons of short piano pieces and only getting them up to 90% note-perfect. He saw that I needed lots of experience, not perfection, and he had a hunch that this would help me improve the most. He was right. (“Thank you” Mr. Seeber!)

Another example is that someone with an hour of daily practice time needs to practice very differently than their friend who only gets to the piano for 10 minutes before leaving for work in the morning.

So it’s not quite so simple as someone saying this or that is the correct approach. Yes, try everything. See which approaches work for you but at the same time remain open to advice and counsel from your teachers and more experienced pianists. And also use your intuition.

Ultimately, we all need to find our own way, depending on how music fits into our lives at any given time and what we want to accomplish through our time at the piano. You want to improve and enjoy yourself while your at it!

Looking for some ways to stay inspired musically! Here are 10 Ways to Improv and Invigorate Your Playing

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