1. Make time
Find a time and place to practise when you will not be interrupted. Regular short practices are more effective than a few longer ones. The morning is often a good time, or after a meal. Dr Shinichi Suzuki said “Only practise on the days you eat.”
2. Zoom in
Playing through pieces can feel good but it’s helpful to zoom into particular sections. Take one passage. What are the challenges? What’s the best way of overcoming them? How do you want each note to sound? What are you trying to achieve?
Our brains are rubbish at remembering long chains of information. Take one technical or musical point in the piece you are working on and concentrate on it. This work will have an impact on the rest of your repertoire.
4. Find a thousand ways
Variety is the spice of life. Finding multiple ways to practise the same passage keeps our fingers and brain active and engaged. Playing eight even semiquavers with different articulation, dynamic, rhythm, slurring patterns or accented notes is an easy way to make practice less monotonous and therefore more effective.
5. Slow down
You can’t really practise too slowly…
6. Work on one thing at a time and enjoy your success
Focus on one thing and forget the rest. Perhaps you can’t play a piece as well as you would like yet, but could you play it a few times just focusing on getting the correct notes? Then could you perhaps concentrate on the rhythm? Then tempo, dynamics and so on. Enjoy the success of mastering one element.
7. Repetition, repetition
Repeating (particularly repeating small chunks) builds stronger neural connections in the brain. The more repetition, the more skill we have and the better we feel. Mindful repetition and creative repetition are best of all. When you are done with repetition, repeat.
8. Practice starts when you get it right
It’s tempting to stop
9. Play like there’s no-one listening (apart from you)
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as long as you are listening to them. Experiment with your playing and explore what you can do. Take a chance. No-one’s listening, except you. Just occasionally, magic happens.
10. Start again
As often as you can, go back to basics. Play old, simpler pieces and focus on a technical element that you are trying to make better. Feel the relaxation that comes with stepping back from the chalk-face and then, when you’re ready, try to keep that feeling when practising your newest piece.
About the author:
Ben Parker is a Suzuki parent and piano teacher based in North Essex.