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How To Love Your Practice Sessions

by Bruce Siegel on July 25th, 2016

There’s obviously no getting better at the piano without practice. And the more you know about how to practice, the quicker you’ll learn, and the more fun you’ll have doing it.

Because it bears repeating, I’m going to start this post by quoting something I’ve published elsewhere. I hope you find it helpful.

Don’t struggle, simplify

At the heart of practicing is repetition. Everyone knows that.

But what we often forget is exactly what it is we need to repeat: only the right notes, rhythms, and motions. That way, we’re spending our time building good habits, instead of good habits mixed in with bad ones.

And believe it or not, there really is a way to practice without making mistakes.

Three ways to make the difficult easy

You can:
• Practice one hand at a time.
• Practice slowly (even very, very slowly).
• Practice only a little bit—a measure perhaps, or even less.

Usually you’ll combine these options, two or three at a time, to get exactly the degree of difficulty you need.

At that point, you can practice without struggling. You can relax, and focus  your attention on getting the job done, rather than feeling discouraged about what you can’t yet do.

Note that when you want to practice slowly, it’s a good idea to use the metronome. Otherwise you’re likely to get faster and faster, drawn by the gravity-like pull of the actual performance tempo—the tempo you keep hearing in your head.

But keep this in mind: while slow practice may be the default mode, sometimes you need to work on a passage up to tempo. Otherwise, you might be using motions and fingerings that work perfectly in slow motion, but can hold you back when playing faster.

A final point

I find it useful to start my practice sessions with the driest stuff first. You know—exercises, memorizing, things like that.

That’s because once I get into the juicy part of my practice, I never want to return to the less emotionally rewarding aspects. So I get the most discipline-oriented practicing done first, and then gradually let my hair down.

I do allow an exception to that, though: when I first sit down, I begin by playing something fun, exciting, or just plain satisfying. In other words, before digging in and getting to work, for a few minutes, I give myself a pure treat. It just seems to get me off to a good start.


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