Do you ever sit at the piano ready to practice and feel a bit lost? You shuffle through the music lying around unable to decide what you’re going to play. Then you find that one piece that you’d played a hundred times. You skim through the easy introduction, and when the first syncopated rhythm sneaks in, you decide you’re not in the mood for playing anyway so you stand up and walk away from the piano.
If you fit this scenario, or if you just can’t dig up the lost motivation, read on. Getting the most out of your practice sessions is really easy if you follow these steps.
If you don’t know how to read music notes yet, check out our guide on how reading sheet music isn’t as complicated as you think!
Step 1 – Define your goal!
If you were building a house, would you start piling bricks on top of each other any way you happened to feel like it at the moment? Not likely! You’d start by imagining what you want to end up with. Likewise, when you learn the piano, it’s best to have a broad overview of what you want to accomplish. Do you want to be able to play classical music to a high level? Play in a rock band? Maybe you just want to play for fun by yourself? Defining your goal is crucial to how you structure your practice sessions.
Once you’ve got your broad overview, narrow down what song you’d like to learn and see what techniques and knowledge you will to need to achieve that. If you want to play Adele’s “Someone Like You” you’ll benefit hugely from learning broken chords in different keys rather than practising scales. If your goal is to play classical music, let’s say, Mozart’s Sonata in C Major, then scales would be really beneficial as there are so many in the piece, and it takes a lot more finger dexterity to execute them.
Step 2 –Invest in a beautiful notebook and make a practice diary
Once you’ve got a clear idea of what your aim is, write it down in your piano diary. Underneath, make a list of the steps you need to take to get to that goal. You can get as detailed as writing down “Measures 17 to 24 with 2 hands” or “Understand rhythm in the chorus section”.
If you’re not a fan of the old fashioned pen and notebook, or if you simply can’t add that burden on top of your practice, Jellynote’s Study Mode will automatically record it for you. Info such as which days of the week you practiced, how many minutes you’ve practiced every week, which tempo you’ve played it at, how many bars you’ve looped through will all be forever available to you!
Step 3 – Start with the bit that you find most intimidating!
Let’s say you’re learning a piece of music and page one is fairly straightforward. Your tendency is to start playing page one every time you practice, probably slowing down and finally stopping when it gets tough. Fight this urge! You need to jump in at the deep end and start from the top of page two – or wherever it gets difficult.
This takes courage! But if you tackle that tricky bit first, breaking it down into pieces, your confidence will soar along with your ability, and your goal will seem much more achievable. Once you’ve honed in on a tricky bit, write those measure numbers in your diary.
Step 4 – Write on your score!
Whether you’re using a paper score or a score on a device, write boldly on the score, to remind yourself of any finger numbers, reminders or dynamics that you’ve built into your playing. This makes it very easy to remember what you worked out in previous practice sessions so you don’t end up spending time repeating something you’ve done before, and put the time to moving forward.
Some people treat paper scores like precious books and think they shouldn’t be written on. Throw that idea away, grab a nice sharp pencil and an eraser and jot as many reminders on it as you feel you need. You’ll be amazed at how much these pencil marks propel you forward in subsequent practice sessions.
Looking for easy piano sheet music? Check out the easy piano songs to play on Jellynote, from Clair de Lune to Bohemian Rhapsody, all adapted for beginners and intermediates.
Step 5 – Work with each hand separately
Many people find this tedious because you’re only hearing half the piece and it’s not very satisfying. However, this is the very best way to get good at each hand. Then, when you put the hands together it will come together so much more easily and accurately. This is true if you’re learning a song and playing the chords and the tune, or if you’re learning a classical piece.
Step 6 – Put the hands together
Depending on the level of difficulty, putting the hands together can be very frustrating at first – even if you know each hand separately! You need patience and persistence. If there are a lot of notes in one measure and you struggle with it, do half the measure. Use post-it notes to cover up all the notes you’re NOT playing at that moment. Then move them over to expose the second half of the measure.
Step 7 – Repeat things many, many times
Carrying on from step 5, if you’re focusing on one tricky measure, go slowly and repeat the measure multiple times, until it starts to flow. This is where most people don’t do enough repetition. When you can play the measure correctly three times in a row, then you can move on.
Use the Loop feature on Jellynote to select the bars you want to play over and over again. Loop can be found inside Study Mode on a score page.
Step 8 – Walk away from the piano at strategic moments
Intense work on one or two measures can make your brain ache and your eyes water! If you’re getting weary, or tense, stop what you’re doing, get up and go look out of the window for about 30 seconds. Likewise, if you have achieved a measure well but now it seems to be getting worse, not better, walk away. When you return to the piano bench, you will feel restored and you might even find that you take a leap forward.
As we walk away from what we’re learning, our brain doesn’t stop thinking about what we were just doing and is still mulling over the notes in the background. When you return to practice, it might feel like something has fallen into place.
Taking this further, breaking your practise sessions up into 10 or 15-minute chunks can be very beneficial. See what works for you.
Step 9 – Check in with your Work Plan!
Have a look at the work plan in your diary and check off any items you’ve accomplished. This is a great time to start a work plan for the next day. Write out the next detailed steps for each of the songs you’re working on. If you’ve done each hand separately, then put on the next day’s schedule to do each hand two more times independently and then write “work on hands together”.
Step 10 – Move on to repertoire
You’ve done the difficult brain work – reading notes and learning new stuff – which you need to do first so your brain isn’t weary. You can now get on with playing songs you’ve previously learned and enjoy the freedom of playing a piece that you’ve already mastered and love to play! Hurrah!
Once you’ve learned a piece, you need to maintain it by playing it frequently. Listen carefully to your playing in case there are bits that need fixing or polishing. When we’ve been playing a piece for a while, our fingers can start to do things we didn’t ask them to – wrong notes or incorrect rhythms can creep in. Recording yourself and listening back is a really productive way to do this.
Learning the notes is like building a house – getting a structure in place. But then you need to decorate it and add colour – this is what dynamics (loud bits and soft bits) do to music. Don’t forget to work in dynamics as you’re playing, as this is what breathes life into music!
Check out all the piano sheet music on Jellynote!
Step 11 – Don’t give up!
Learning the piano is an ongoing journey that never ends. There doesn’t come a day when you think “Aha! I’m done!” because there’s always the next challenge and the one after that. Your skill will continue to grow all the time.
To track your progress, keep your practice diary up to date and practice every day if you possibly can. Ten minutes of practice is much better than none. Don’t feel it’s not worth practising if you can’t do an hour, it’s absolutely worth doing a few minutes.
Stick with it and enjoy your journey learning the piano, one of the greatest and most rewarding life skills to have!
Jellynote decided to interview Lucas Welter, an avid piano dreamer, who has immersed himself into music for more than 12 years. This captivating journey has inspired him to launch PianoDreamers where he likes to share everything he’s learned over the years with his fellow musicians.