Practice Tips from Students

Excerpts from A Guide to Practicing by the students of Nancy O’Neill Breth, Piano Explorer, October 1990.

Natasha (10 years old): Finding time to practice is easy if you plan it. Try to do your practicing right after school because if you wait until the evening, your parents are home, and they watch you. (Of course, when you need help then you say, “Mom, Dad, I need help.” But most times I would rather do it by myself because otherwise we end up arguing. I tell that to my parents; but if they think I really need help, they give it even if I don’t want it.)

Greta (17 years old): I like to practice all at once. I don’t like to do just 20 minutes at a time because it doesn’t seem that I’ve practiced that much. Sometimes I get very tired, and a few times I even fell asleep while I was practicing. When I do get tired, I find something different to do or switch to another piece.

Jennifer (17 years old): I don’t like to practice all at once, I like to do 20 minutes, then some homework, and then more practicing. I use the practicing as something to look forward to, like taking a break from my homework; but I make sure the practicing always gets done.

Greta: Hard parts should be worked up so that you can actually play them faster than you will need to at the final tempo. When you work on a piece, some parts are good and some are not. Don’t always play the good parts because that gives you a false sense of security. Avoid making regular stops at the same place within a phrase; this can turn into a permanent way of playing.

Jennifer: Separate troublesome measures right away. Look for similar sections and practice these apart from the rest of the piece. If you mess up you should

  1. stop,
  2. figure out why it happened,
  3. fix the problem,
  4. repeat the passage correctly 5 or 10 times,
  5. go back a few measures before the spot and play it again.
  6. If it is not perfect, spend more time on 3 and 4.

Patricia (16 years old): If one hand has a pattern over and over, learn that part by memory so you don’t have to worry about it. This will allow you to concentrate on the other hand. Concentration is very important. Errors can occur if you start thinking about something else. It is just like taking tests: sometimes you find yourself reading the same thing several times and get nothing out of it. When you feel your concentration drifting, stop. It may be a sign that you should do something else for a few minutes: walk around or get a drink of water.

Greta: Sharps and flats are scary. Mark them in the music so they won’t take you by surprise. When you start working on a piece in which the melody occurs over and over, look for places where the pattern changes and mark them. Before starting a new piece, mark the beginning of each section with capital letters. When you see a scale in your piece, mark the note it begins and ends on as well as what scale it is. If a note gives you trouble, circle it.

Don’t eat at the piano because you will get crumbs on it, and your mother will yell at you.

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