The Pianodao Tea Room is an online group for supporters of this site. In addition to our private discussions we enjoy discussion “events” in which members can share their tips on a subject of interest, with highlights collated here for Pianodao readers.
This month, I asked members,
“How do you find / make time in your schedule for piano practice on a regular basis? What has worked for you?”
Here’s some of the answers members gave…
Many mentioned the importance of having a reason to practice:
Beth Bee made this point:
“I find having a purpose / focus to practice helps, for example an exam, or needing to demonstrate a piece to a student. With one student I gave her a challenge to practice a piece for half an hour a day, and I would practice the same piece for 5 minutes a day and see who made the most progress!”
Garreth Brooke also mentioned this:
“When practising I tend to be very goal focussed, and the goal is dictated by what’s coming up in the next few months: I’ll either be preparing a specific piece for a student or working on a specific piece for a performance, and then I’m super focused on achieving performance standard as efficiently as possible in plenty of time before the actual performance/lesson so I can then relax in my practise sessions and practise the *performance* of the set – playing each piece in performance order and working on the flow between each, the overall sense of pace – honestly that’s my favourite bit.
I sometimes set myself projects, like “learn all the new ABRSM syllabus G1-5″ and I’ll set out specific time for it – e.g. the mornings in the month of August.”
I asked Garreth whether having a variety of *projects* from one season to another helps you stay the course?
“It certainly keeps it interesting. There’s not exactly a long term plan, except getting better and keeping it interesting.”
For Dawn Wakefield, an intrinsic love of music was uppermost:
“After many many years of teaching I still love learning new pieces. Some days I have to just do a minimum amount, that is necessary for that day’s lessons but at least twice a week I allow myself a good 2 hours plus of practice time, and other days 30 – 60 mins. I love immersing myself in music and my aim in life is passing on that love to others.”
Nina Hodgson also mentioned the importance of having goals:
“I have long term goals – currently 3 pieces, one to play for myself, one which I’ll attempt to memorise and one which I’ll teach.
I then break it down into weekly and daily goals e.g. Monday, I’ll memorise the first line / couple of bars.
It helps me to have my goals on the piano next to me where I can scribble down any notes, progress made etc.”
For Beth Bee, scheduling regular practice is crucial:
“I schedule practice hours into my diary and treat them as seriously as a lesson.”
Nina Hodgson adds:
“I find time is my biggest issue, if I don’t schedule it then it doesn’t happen. I also need to plan what and why I’m practicing otherwise I just end up working on my sight reading skills.”
Frances Wilson remembers:
“I used to practise every day, usually at the same times (ideally 8-10am and 2-3pm), and if I couldn’t manage the allotted time I would do as much as I could within the time available.”
Regular scheduling perhaps isn’t for everyone though.
Julie Oldfield explains:
“I used to practise from 8 till 10 in the morning before I had a dog! Now I have to carve out specific times during the week and draw up what I would like to achieve in each session. I’m not so efficient to write a timetable, but I do jot notes.”
Garreth Brooke has adapted, too:
“I long ago gave up trying find a regular time to practise. Instead I try to stick to a goal of practising 5 days out of 7, and I have a reminder on my phone to do this. I don’t beat myself up if I can’t do it, but it’s good to have the goal.”
Efficient and Effective
Whether or not it’s possible to schedule regular practice at a fixed time, it’s important to use the available time efficiently.
Frances Wilson explains:
“I’m a great believer in efficient practise – knowing what needs to be practised and staying focussed. When I was working for my diplomas, I also kept copious practise notes so that each session was as productive as possible.
I encourage my students to approach their practising in a similar way, as I think too many students feel they need to try and practise everything at each practise session; this can be quite daunting and dismotivating, especially for younger students.
So I encourage a “less is more” approach, chunking music down into smaller, more manageable sections, and doing shorter practise sessions with greater focus.”
Varied and Creative
While self-discipline is a common theme in the advice Tea Room members offered, some were quick to suggest the importance of staying creative and including a variety of different activities and approaches…
Beth Bee mentioned how her practice has recently developed:
“Mark Tanner and Murray McLachlan have helped me on this very subject on the Epta teachers’ course. I used to warm up with Hanon, scales and arpeggios, but now I play fun, easier pieces to warm up, including improvisation, and practising picking up songs by ear, exercising both sides of my brain. This spurs me to practice, and then leads into ‘proper’ practice.
Mark talks about mindful practice, and has written on this subject – quite inspiring.”
Garreth Brooke suggested another great idea which he enjoys:
“About once a week, usually on a Sunday, I try to “practise” getting into the right mindset for improvisation – my current system is to close the blackout blinds, turn off all the lights except the piano light, which I keep very at a very low level, then keep my breathing steady and my body relaxed, and just see what wants to comes out.”
To summarise, Pianodao Tea Room members recommended having goals for practice as an uppermost priority. Try to allocate sufficient time for practice, whether at a regular hour or a specific amount. Use that time efficiently and effectively, with varied and engaging strategies.
Underlining these points, Carol Evans had this to say:
“Coffee time is my preferred practice time. House chores done, admin, emails and all that stuff.. time for a sit down with my piano. Having said that, I can go a whole months without a proper practice. It’s always goal focussed though, and there are always plenty of goals… just not enough days in the week!”
I’ll leave the final word to Dawn Wakefield:
“On the piano DAO theme, I do find serious practice very energising and quite meditative – if you are really focussed it gives you time away from being overtaken by life’s other issues and an opportunity to be really present.”
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