With next year’s Olympic Games very much in the news at the moment, I find myself thinking of the time and energy the athletes have to commit to every day in their training regimes. Like the athletes, we pianists also have to train– playing the piano requires countless hours of dedication. We had better know what we are doing, though! Here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your practice time.
• 1 Commitment Keep to a regular daily practice schedule come what may, even if you are tired or don’t feel like practising. It is the commitment and the regularity that matter, not the amount of time you spend. ‘Little and often’ will help you achieve far more than overdoing it one day, and then doing nothing for the next few days. You might find it more convenient to put a little time in at the beginning of the day, and again later – whatever works for you.
• 2 Set goals These might be short-term goals (what you want to achieve in this practice ses
sion, what you want to achieve by the end of the week, and so on). You may want to consider working towards an exam (ABRSM, Trinity Guildhall in the UK) or participate in a music festival. It is helpful to set deadlines to perform for other people (this could be your teacher, a friend) or even a date with a tape recorder. Listening to yourself is a real eye- and ear-opener and an extremely useful exercise once in a while.
• 3 Organisation Divide up what you have to do into compartments, such as scales and technical work, pieces, sight-reading, etc. You may find it helpful to keep a practice diary. A scale chart is also a good idea.Conce
ntration is the key! Scientists have discovered that we learn most efficiently when the full attention of the mind is focused on the task at hand. Free your space of noise, disruption and distraction – switch off your phone!
• 4 Isolate problem areas There are often one or two trouble spots in each piece that need special care and attention, and extra practising. Identify these and mark them in your score (I like to use a square bracket). As you master these places, you can erase the markings. I suggest starting your practice session by working on these bars in isolation, before you start from the beginning. Go back to them at various points in your practice session, maybe even making a special trip to the piano just to play these passages (TV commercial breaks are good for this!). Another thing – don’t always start your pieces from the beginning. Divide the music into sections and begin each day’s work from a different section. Otherwise, you will always know beginnings of pieces better than endings, and first movements better than last movements.
• 5 Craftsmanship Learn to practise methodically and to make progress one step at a time. Think of practising as saving or investing, and performing as spending. There has to be a balance between the two activities. Even a piece you have perfected will need constant care and attention. I like to use the analogy of a brand-new car from the showroom: when you drive it off the showroom floor, it will be gleaming and shiny, the engine finely tuned and all the tanks full. After a short time, you will need to refill it with petrol, polish its windscreen and have the engine serviced. So it is with our pieces, they require constant tinkering and maintenance. If you develop a sense of craftsmanship, you will relish this work and take enormous pride and satisfaction in it.