Teach a piano student to play a song, and they have a song to play. Teach a piano student how to practice piano effectively, and they can learn to play anything!
Playing vs Practicing
The first thing to know about practicing the piano is that it’s a little different from playing the piano. If your child sits down to the piano and plays a few old songs from start to finish without trying to improve anything about them, that’s playing, not practicing. While you want to encourage this kind of free play at the piano, you need to make sure that thoughtful, focused practicing is happening too. For focused, quality practicing, look for 3 things:
- Goal oriented: “I’m going to play this line 5x with no missed notes.”
- Improvement oriented: “I’m working on playing this piece with more expression.”
- Alert and focused mental state: “I’ve got my game face on!”
What do you do if you need to steer your child toward higher quality practice? I suggest doing it gradually, not all at once. Sit down and try for just five minutes to do some focused practice. Start with a positive comment, like, “Great, you can play this song. Now let’s see if you can do this line with no missed notes.” Or use a phrase that will catch their interest, like, “I have a challenge for you,” and then set a goal for them to improve their playing.
What should I practice first as a beginner in piano?
It can be difficult knowing how to practice piano effectively as a beginner! When you first sit down to practice, start by playing a piece you already know and enjoy. It could be Amazing Grace or Mary Had a Little Lamb. It doesn’t matter what you choose to play, as long as you enjoy it. The idea is to begin your practice with feelings of connection and joy with the piano. Some musicians recommend beginning piano practice with scales and arpeggios. While they are necessary to piano practice, I have found it can be hard to feel musical and inspired when starting with scales. By practicing a favorite song when you begin, you help set a joyful tone for the rest of your piano practice session.
Once you’ve spent a few minutes connecting with the piano, practice your scales. Pick one key to practice. Let’s say you start with a C major scale. Practice playing one octave in the right hand. Play the scale up and down five times, no missed notes. Do the same with the left hand five times. Be careful to release each note before pressing the next. Once you feel comfortable with the notes, challenge yourself to play legato by connecting all the notes and making the scale as smooth as possible. If you’re more advanced, add chord progressions and arpeggios to your warm up.
Make the hard parts easy
In every piece it seems there is one “trouble spot.” Kids usually like to gloss over these bumpy places and quickly get back to the easier parts of the song. However, I tell my students to tackle those hard places head on and “make the hard parts easy” through targeted practice. Choose just 1 or 2 measures to focus on and set a challenge to play it 10 times, no missed notes. Or sometimes I ask for 3 times or 5 times IN A ROW with no missed notes. You may have to slow waaaay down, you may have to do it hands alone, but I tell my students not to be satisfied until it’s perfect. (To make this kind of goal-oriented practice more fun, try a practice game!) By the way, sometimes you would think I’ve asked a child to swallow a slug when I ask them to start in the middle of a song. They always want to play it only from the beginning. However, it is so important to learn to start anywhere in a song so you can do targeted practice. Targeted practice makes the hard parts easy!
How to practice piano: The most efficient way
Have some goals in mind when you sit down to practice the piano. When trying to figure out how to practice the piano, it helps to say these goals to yourself before you begin. Think of how you might structure your practice to achieve these goals. Let’s say your goal is to play all the way through Lavender’s Blue with no pauses or hesitations. To achieve this goal, you’ll need to practice hands separately. Play the right hand for the whole song and mark the measures where you notice hesitations. Focus on those specific measures and practice each marked spot 5x each, no missed notes. Then do the same for the left hand. Once you can smoothly and consistently play through each hand on its own, put hands together and see where you may need to pause and practice. Use the same method when you put your hands together. Pause and repeat whatever sections need to be smoothed out 5x. By breaking your practice down into little sections, you will efficiently practice piano and see more progress!
Going to the next level
After your child has mastered all the notes of the song, give them a challenge to make their playing more expressive. Ask if they can play the song so soft and peaceful that you might fall asleep, or make the music so exciting it could be the soundtrack to their favorite action movie. It may take a couple of years of help from you before children will spontaneously practice effectively on their own. But then, once they really understand how to practice, they’ll be able to learn any piano piece they set their mind to. We hope this article gave you some tips on how to practice piano efficiently!