David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

At this very moment, there are students all over the world who are practicing the piano, and completely wasting their time.  Am I saying that you can practice the piano and accomplish nothing?  Yes, absolutely!

Where do you fit in the examples below?

  • An average student realizes that there is a problem on the page that they are practicing.  They keep playing the entire page anyway.
  • An above-average student realizes that there is a problem on the third line, so they play that line as well as the one above and the one below.
  • good student realizes that the problem exists in the third measure of the third line in the right hand.  They work on the offending measure hands separately as well as both hands together.
  • great student realizes that the right hand problem of the third measure of the third line is due to incorrect fingering, as well as an awkward leap from a C to an F#.  This student drills the two offending notes again and again until there is no longer a problem.

Many people have heard the saying "the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over, expecting different results" and yet this is what piano students all over the world are doing every day because they have never been taught how to practice properly.  They think that they will improve by simply doing it over and over.

The fault is more with the teacher rather than the student.  How many times were you sent home with a new piece and told to "practice" it.  Were you ever shown exactly how to?  Probably not.

Not a problem because as it turns out, you are your own best teacher anyway.  Of course you must have a teacher, but they can't hold your hand when you are practicing.  To practice effectively, you must develop the mindset of a skilled surgeon.  This requires FOCUS.

When playing a page or even a whole piece of music, always be mindful of where the problems exist.  Identify them quickly and get directly to the issues as soon as possible.  Don't play the parts that you know! This is where most students waste their time.  Piano practice involves either learning new material or fixing errors.  If you are playing the parts you already know, then you are not practicing.

As you work on your piece, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the timing solid?  Can I do it with the metronome?
  • How is the balance between melody and accompaniment?
  • Are the rhythms tight and correct?
  • How is my pedaling?  Are there any smudges?
  • How is the dynamic contrast?  Can I hear that crescendo clearly?
  • Should I record this performance on my phone so that I can check that what I'm hearing is actually what I'm doing?
  • How is my fingering?
  • Are there any sections that feel uncomfortable?
  • Which part is the most scary for me?

I could add many more to this list, but you get the idea.  If you think of questions such as this, as well as your own questions, then you are practicing with focus and precision.  This will allow you to practice for less time and accomplish far more than you did before.

Simple right?  Yes it is, and it should have been pointed out to you before.  There are no bad students, only bad teachers!

Happy focused practicing!

David Hicken

All of the concepts that I write about here are detailed in my eBook "Secrets To Better Piano Playing" .  Click the image below to find out more.