Practicing the Piano: Review from Clavier Companion

Practicing the Piano: How Students, Parents, and Teachers Can Make Practicing More Effective by Nancy O’Neill Breth.

The subtitle of Nancy O’Neill Breth’s book—”How Students, Parents, and Teachers Can Make Practicing More Effective”—is an attention grabber. Breth believes that each member of the “practice team” (student, teacher, and parent) has responsibilities crucial to the success and long-term development of the pianist; in fact, she devotes an entire chapter to “The Practice Triangle.” That chapter examines parental involvement; teaching steps; effective practicing; and successful methods for student-teacher-parent interaction at the lesson, at home, and through the years. Invaluable! This chapter in itself justifies buying this handbook.

Moreover, Breth lists more than 150 practice tips and techniques to be used as is, or as a springboard for implementing individual teaching strategies. She states as well that her practice suggestions apply more to the mechanical aspect of piano playing than to interpretation. Her theory presumes that those who learn how to practice in an effective manner will then be free to discover and communicate the musicality of a piece.

Each of the book’s subject headings is a workshop topic in itself. Throughout the text, the author reiterates the importance of repetition in the practice process, but not the repetition that comes from mindless playing of a piece until-by some small miracle-rote playing kicks in. Instead, her examples demonstrate ways to engage in physical training through drills for the mind as well as through the use of imaginative ideas that can make practice time interesting and even … fun!

Breth’s tips apply to pianists of all ages and abilities. To whet your appetite, here is a sampling of the subjects covered:

First Steps at the Piano
Formulating Practice Strategies
Position and Mobility at the Keyboard
Another Kind of Comfort: Peace of Mind
Polishing a Piece
Memorizing Music
Finding Deeper Meaning

The author has studied with a Who’s Who of master teachers, including Bela Nagy, Gyorgy Sebok, Josef Gingold, and others. But—and here is the part that I love the most—Breth lists her favorite teacher as her high school piano teacher, Margaret Saunders Ott. Breth says Ott introduced her to “a new world … and continued to encourage and inspire [her] for the next fifty years.” This book contains a collective wisdom of knowledge and creativity that will stand the test of time. —Susan See, Clavier Companion, March/April 2013 (Hal Leonard, 2012. 112 pages. $12.99)


Practicing the Piano: How Students, Parents, and Teachers Can Make Practicing More Effective

Nancy O’Neill Breth. 2012. 112 p. 8.5 x 11. ISBN: 978-1423423489429. $12.99.

Practicing the Piano offers a broad selection of practice tips with musical examples to help students of all ages find imaginative solutions to pianistic problems. The book explores how to:

organize practice time
map the score before practicing to uncover the musical terrain that lies ahead
use practice time effectively from the first reading through performance
develop fluency with accuracy
polish and memorize a piece
lay the foundation for confident performance

Practicing the Piano is a handbook of practice techniques. Teachers can use it to reinforce and augment their own ideas on practicing. Parents will find a wealth of ideas for guiding their children’s practice sessions. Students young and old will discover how to make each practice session count. Using the book’s wide range of practice tips not only improves a pianist’s skills, but also adds adventure and enjoyment to the process of mastering a piece.

Partial Contents

Introduction (The Practice PACT / Practice Tools / What Practicing Is, and Isn’t / Budgeting Your Time)


1. Mapping the Course
2. First Steps at the Piano
3. Formulating Practice Strategies


4. Getting Organized
5. Getting Comfortable (Position and Mobility at the Keyboard / Basic Math / Finding and Using Good Fingering / Another Kind of Comfort: Peace of Mind)
6. Getting it Right (General Accuracy Drills / Higher Math / Chord Clues / Introducing Ornaments)
7. Building Fluency
8. Putting Meaning in Music (Dynamics / The Sound of Silence / Recognizing and Shaping Phrases / Adding Pedal)


9. Playing With Comfort
10. Staying on Track (Note Accuracy and Clarity / Rhythm Drills / Ornaments)
11. Building Speed
12. Finding Deeper Meaning (Dynamics On and Off the Page / Balance and Voicing / Musical Phrasing / Effective Pedaling)


13. Memorizing Music
14. Preparing to Perform
15. Old Repertoire


16. Parents’ Role in Practicing (The Instrument / The Teacher / The Lesson / Practicing)
17. Teaching Effective Practicing
18. Student, Teacher, Parent Interaction (In the Lesson / At Home / On the Same Page / As Time Passes)