Steve Luck is a piano teacher from Newcastle Upon Tyne. This guest post originally appeared as a forum post within the Piano Network UK group, the leading Facebook community of piano players, teachers and enthusiasts living in the United Kingdom.
Steve’s post includes such useful information, aimed primarily at piano parents and students, that he has agreed to me giving it a public platform here on the Pianodao site, for which I am grateful, as I am sure many readers will be!
Piano Practice Tips
Guest Post by Steve Luck
Last night I hosted a session in my studio for parents, where I presented and we discussed ways of supporting children to practise while they are learning to play the piano. I have copied my sketched out notes below.
Do please comment or add suggestions of your own below. I would love to hear about the things I have missed.
Foster a musical environment
Learning an instrument can teach and develop many valuable life skills – discipline, empathy, determination and cooperation as well as providing a sense of community and worth. It fosters joy, empathy and hope and enriches lives.
Accept that it’s not going to be perfect all the time but try to develop good habits. We live busy lives, have lots of different commitments and other time pressures, but nevertheless make practice important.
Have a positive attitude towards it. If you don’t value it as an activity the children will learn this.
Create the right environment to enable practice – free from distractions, noise, TV, other children, etc.
Make sure that the stool is the correct height and distance from the piano.
Make sure that the piano is regularly tuned, and works as it should. Bad instruments can put people off playing for life!
Electric pianos should have full size keys, and ideally a weighted hammer action keyboard. If they are the only practical solution, they are ok and can work up to about grade 4 or 5 standard.
Being Supportive …
Be supportive and encouraging, but don’t micro-manage.
Help with organisation. Create time for practice in the day – maybe write it in a timetable, and help students with reminders to practice, but try to foster an expectation that they are going to do the practice for themselves because it’s fun and rewarding.
Don’t sit in and constantly comment. Don’t get into arguments – it’s a tricky balance between pushing and allowing them to discover for themselves.
Do regularly ask them to perform pieces for you and others. Make performance a normal activity.
Try to avoid making practice a chore that has to got out of the way before they can do something more fun.
They are lucky to be able to play music.
- Play yourself
- Ask them to teach you a piece they can play
- Take them to live music concerts
- Listen to lots of different music
- Watch music shows on TV
- Stop a while to listen to buskers
- Sing together around the house
- Encourage them to join the school choir.
Star charts/positive rewards can be motivating over a few weeks or months. Try also using a musical experience as the reward!
How Long to Practise:
- Beginners (and baseline for everyone) 20 minutes per day
- Early Stages (Grades 1-3) 30 minutes
- Intermediate (Grade 4 and 5) 40 minutes
- Advanced (grade 6-8) 1 hour per day or more
- 5 times per week (minimum)
What should they actually be doing when they sit down to practice?
Work together with teacher and child to set targets for practice. Aim for a sense of achievement, ticking things off. Goals can be:
- Long term (e.g. take next grade exam in one year)
- Medium term (eg. learn all of the notes of this piece by the end of this month)
- Short term (by the end of this practice I will have mastered the first four bars hands separately)
Targets should be regular, realistic and achievable
Practice should consist of a variety of activities.
Divide up the time, for example between scales and other technical exercises, work on current pieces, sight reading. Aim for 20/60/20 per cent each. Also allow time for the playing of favourite old pieces, and Active Repertoire!
- Use the lesson notebook to remember what to work on.
- Clap and count the rhythm first – then play and count hands separate
- Avoid making mistakes! Develop control/mastery over your hands.
Three tools for when you get stuck –
- Practise Slowly
- Practise Hands separate
- Practise Small sections
How we remember: there are four kinds of memory –
- and cognitive.
Play / Listen + Reflect / try again. Then Play / Listen + Reflect / try again! Focus on gaining insights – nuggets of information that lead to better understanding of how to play the piece
Always think about being expressive; music is a form of communication. Use a variety of tone and dynamics in everything.
Sometimes practice away from the piano:
- Play on the table top, hearing in your head, practising fingering, etc.
- Use note-reading and listening/aural training apps and web sites.
- Listen to performances of the pieces being learnt, while following the score.
- Analyse the piece you are learning.
The importance of technical exercises:
There are hundreds of benefits to these, including:
- Developing technique
- Finger patterns
- Building strength
- Knowledge of keys – patterns of notes.
Remember: Pieces are made from scales and arpeggios.
This is in my view the single biggest factor in rate of progress.
Work towards understanding the patterns in music – look for repetitions, to increase fluency develop the ability to read ahead. Comparable to learning a language. Use note reading apps, web sites or just pick up books of music and spend time reading notes. Hear the music in your head.
Listen as a musician: name instruments, say if the music is fast or slow, loud or quiet, describe the story going on in the music, tap the beat, echo the rhythm, sing,
Accept that the path of progress is never a straight line. Gradual slopes, plateaus, slight slope down for a while – all are normal.
Steve is an experienced musician and award-winning composer. He runs a thriving private piano tuition practice from his studio in Newcastle Upon Tyne . Lessons are available for all ages and abilities in a variety of styles. As a film and media composer Steve has worked on more than 75 projects including feature films, short films, TV documentaries, art installations and community projects. In 2007 he won two awards from the Royal Television Society for professional excellence in music.
Steve is a member of the music writers committee of the Musicians Union and is the founder of the Guild of Northern Media Composers and Atmospherica Concert Series. (find out more)
You can contact Steve by email at email@example.com or visit his website at www.steveluck.com.