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Long hours spent practising may not result in improvement in playing technique if you are not practising efficiently. Practising with a proper structure ensures you achieve better results and gain better finger coordination at the same time.
Practice doesn’t equate to playing. When you are practising, you are working on a specific technique to improve your playing. Playing songs that you have already mastered does not equate to practice either.
HOW SHOULD YOU PRACTISE?
1. Break a song down into manageable segments.
2. Always practice techniques each hand separately before playing together with both hands, with the exception of comping technique.
3. Always use either a metronome or drum machine to practise. A drum machine is recommended.
4. Try playing at the requisite speed as soon as possible.
5. Hum the melody or scales to memorize them.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU PRACTISE?
20 minutes a day is a good guideline. This has to be done at least 5 times a week if you want to improve faster than most people. Set a time each day for practice. For example, If you set your practice time at 9 30 pm, you have to discipline yourself to practice at 9 30 pm. The best time to start practicing is usually after a meal. Think of it as an appointment you can’t miss or a TV series you can’t miss. After a few weeks, this will develop into a habit and you won’t find that practicing is a chore anymore.
For serious students who aspire to become musicians, we recommend 1 hour of practice every day. If you wish to practise more, have a rest for at least an hour after practicing. This prevents hand injuries and keeps your mind sharp so that you can concentrate better, thereby increasing the efficiency of the practice session.
PRACTISING EACH HAND SEPARATELY
You might be wondering why you should bother practising the same materials 3 times when you can just practise with both hands at once. The problem with playing this way is that it is difficult to concentrate when you are playing with both hands. It is hard to notice or correct any mistakes when you are playing both hands together, because your mind is occupied with coordinating both hands. By practising separately you can concentrate on mastering the technique on each hand and it is easier to notice any mistake and avoid bad habits. You can master the technique faster when you are practising hand separately. People who practise hand together in the beginning will have a stronger right hand as the right hands techniques are usually more difficult. But with by practicing hand separately you won’t have that problem.
Another advantage of practising hand separately is that you can develop hand independence. The ability to independently control the hands is one of the hardest techniques in piano. Even some professionals can’t do it. By practising each hand separately, you are actually developing this technique while you are practising. Always practice separately whenever you are learning a new technique. If the song concentrates more on the left hand technique, start with the left hand technique first and then continue to work on the right hand (melody). Lastly, practice the songs with both hands. Note: Make sure you can play the song/techniques fully on each hand before playing it together with both hands. Only comping techniques should be practised with both hands from the outset.
METRONOME AND DRUM MACHINE
Make it a habit to always practice with a metronome or drum machine. This is to make sure that your timing is always constant. If you are using a metronome, do not use the metronome for more than 10 minutes consecutively, or else your brain will counter-click the metronome and disrupt your natural sense of timing.
Using a drum machine is preferable to the metronome. It is more fun, and you can play it for a longer time than the metronome. You can develop ideas as well when practicing with the drum machine. It will develop your “inner groove” as well and prepare you to play in a band. Just make sure the drum pattern’s time signature matches the time signature given in the songs and play at a comfortable tempo.
BREAK DOWN A SONG INTO MANAGEABLE PIECES
For longer or more difficult songs, you should break them down into more manageable pieces. For example, you can break a song down into the verse and chorus, so you can concentrate on the verse before moving on to the chorus.
For difficult songs, it is better to break them down every four or five bars per section. The more difficult the song the fewer bars per section you should have. Master each section separately with each hand before moving on to the next section.
Use this method to practice songs or techniques that are beyond your capabilities.
PLAY UP TO SPEED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
Many piano student prefers to play slowly at first before slowly increasing the speed whenever learning new techniques or difficult songs. This is a good as you will be able to notice any mistake. However, if you play slowly for too long even after you have mastered the techniques, it will be difficult for you to increase the speed as your fingers are already accustomed to playing that technique slowly. Try to play up to the normal speed as soon as you can.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible. If your body is tense, your finger will stiffen, making it harder to play. Students tend to tense up during the difficult part. That’s why the difficult part seems harder than it is. So, when tackling a difficult part, take a deep breath and make yourself as comfortable as possible.
MEMORISING A SONG
The fastest way to memorise a song is to sing or hum the melody while playing the melody. You can use hums to sing the melody (eg: la la la, dum dum, pam pam pam).
If the note is beyond your vocal registers eg: the note is too high, just go back to the lower register of your voice. The objective here is not to learn how to sing, but to internalize the melody.
STEPS TO PRACTISING SCALES, FILLS AND RUNS
1. Find a fingering that feels comfortable for you.
2. Sing the scale or fills to memorize them.
3. To play faster, play (without singing) as softly as possible.
4. Always use metronome or drum machine to practice.
5. Try to get up to speed as fast as possible.
6. Add dynamics only after getting up to speed.