Quick Tips

Does Practice Make Perfect? Tips for Perfect Practice

By Hoffman Academy Team
does practice make perfect

You’ve heard the saying “practice makes perfect.” The problem with this statement is that the way you practice makes a difference. Your attitudes toward practice and the goals you set matter. Often, many students practice mistakes or focus on the errors, which does not lead toward perfection at all. In fact, poor practicing can have a negative effect by reinforcing incorrect notes, rhythms, and posture. Some might say the the saying should be revised: “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

But then how do you achieve “perfect practice?” Perfection is an intimidating goal, but we believe that by practicing strategically and patiently, you can master the skill of practicing to improve your playing. Throughout this article, you’ll find four short “Perfect Practice Tips” to encourage your musical studies. Additionally, we’ve provided answers to questions ranging from “how long should I practice my instrument” to ” how can I motivate myself to practice.”

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Practice a different mistake every time!

Please don’t misunderstand this rule. Mistakes are allowed, and even expected. The trick is, don’t practice the same one over and over. When you play the same mistake two, then three, then four times in a row, you are well on your way to becoming an expert at your mistake. Instead, take a moment and neutrally assess what happened while you were playing. Try the piece again a little slower so it will be easier to play correctly.

Set practice goals

When practicing, set S.M.A.R.T. musical goals (or Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely goals).  For example, you might set the goal – “play Hot Cross Buns” with two hands memorized by next week.” Start to work towards your goal of playing the notes with 100% accuracy. This may be hard at first, so break things into smaller chunks and slow down to the point that you can play a few measures with comfort and ease. Then, continuing with 100% accuracy as your goal, do it again and again until your “perfection” becomes an unbreakable habit. If you are working on phrasing, dynamics, or musicality, strive to achieve that specific goal each time you play the piece through.

How often should you practice an instrument?

Every day you get out of bed is a great day to practice! While taking the occasional break can keep pianists of all ages rested and motivated, you’ll get the most out of piano lessons if you practice at least five days a week. By using the Hoffman Academy practice chart and practice journal system, you can maximize the number of days you play through tracking your habits. Our free piano trackers and planners can help you achieve goals like 21 days or a month of playing piano every day! You can read more strategies to track and motivate your daily practice in our article Piano Trackers and Planners.

How long should you practice an instrument each time?

Practice time can be incredibly effective, even in chunks as short as 15 minutes at a time. For a beginner pianist, we recommend starting with the most recent song or finger power exercise from your lessons for five minutes. Then, use the next five minutes to review a more challenging piece. Challenge yourself at the end of practice time to play an earlier song from memory! 

How to motivate yourself or your student to practice an instrument?

At Hoffman Academy, we find that building intrinsic motivation, focusing on positive practice, and tracking our piano playing help make practice rewarding! One of the amazing parts about music lessons is that the discipline of practice and joy of making music help students of all ages build intrinsic motivation.

People experience intrinsic motivation when they feel competence, relatedness, and autonomy. In simple language, piano players of all ages want to to practice when they feel skilled and capable (competence), connected to the music or others (relatedness), and a sense of control over when and where they practice (autonomy).  To learn more strategies to develop intrinsic motivation especially in young students, check out our article How To Foster Intrinsic Motivation.

As a teacher or parent – or if you are teaching yourself – you can provide motivation through positive reinforcement! If you’d like to learn four strategies to encourage music practice, check out our article Be a Positive Practice Partner.

For those piano players who are motivated by trackers, planners, and progress, strategies from journals to charts and stickers can help you practice every day. For young and old young pianists, our Piano Practice trackers provide accountability. Download our Free Piano Practice Checklist to track your piano playing habits. 

Practice perfect posture every time

You might think that it’s okay to slouch a little at the piano, or play with straight fingers. What’s the big deal, anyway? The reason we have a certain way to sit at the piano, to shape our hands, and use our fingers, wrists, and arms, is because this is the most comfortable, efficient way to do it. Students who practice with incorrect posture get in the habit of using incorrect posture. It might feel easier to slouch than to sit up straight, but slouching actually places strain on your body and can lead to pain or even injury. Every time you sit down at the piano, check your posture, and before long the correct posture will feel perfectly natural.

Encourage perfect practice with a game

If you are helping a child learn this principle of “perfect practice,” you might find a lot of success using a practice game. Click on the following link for practice games that I frequently use with my own students.

How to practice ear training without an instrument

For a young child, some of the most fun strategies to practice ear training involve spending quality time together! Together, you can play musical enrichment games. Play a song or pieces of orchestral music and challenge your young pianist to move their hands higher and lower as the pitch changes. 

At any age, here are some amazing resources to practice ear training, even if you don’t have an instrument. The website MusicTheory offers free online ear training exercises and supplementary music theory lessons that help musicians of all ages master musical concepts. You can also try Teoria’s interval builder, where you can put pitches together in a specific interval and play the note.

Perfect practice comes with…practice!

By practicing the principles we’ve discussed in this article, you can make your practice time more efficient and effective. Put your piano playing goals in reach with perfect practice!

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