Have you ever felt as if your piano playing has become stagnant and is not improving no matter how much you practice? The answer may not be the amount of time you put in, but rather the strategy you use to practice properly.
I still remember when I was learning piano in my early years and the practice session seemed to be so boring and unproductive.
I never went beyond what my piano teacher assigned. Each session would always be in the same order: scales, arpeggios, classical pieces, and etc. It soon became tedious and uninteresting.
When one practices piano, one needs to get a balanced practice (I liken this to a balanced food diet). You have probably heard of the food pyramid if you live in the US or any other westernized country. Basically, we are told by FDA that there are a few groups of foods that we need to take in on a daily basis to be healthy, such as grains, fruits and veggies, protein, dairy, etc.
Similarly, in the piano playing world, there are three main "ingredients" that we all need to consume in our practice sessions to become "healthier" pianists.
Here are the Three Vital Ingredients:
Ingredient 1. Technical skills (scales, arpeggios,etc)
This is what I call the carbohydrate or "grains" of piano practice.
Often these techniques can be used as fillers or runs on melodies that have long hold measures as well as modulation, transposition and etc. It can be uninteresting or even boring if you do not know how to practice and how to apply them. The truth is that few piano players know how to make use of the techniques and how to practice them without getting bored. A suggested session of 5 to 10 minutes daily technical exercises is often helpful.
Ingredient 2. Repertoire
This is the collection of musical pieces one knows how to play well. I like to call this the fruits and veggies of piano practice. A good piano player can easily play anywhere from 25 to 75 pieces comfortably. Repertoire can range from classical pieces to hymns, or popular songs and other pieces. By the way, repertoire is often performed without the player reading from sheet music. A good sight reading skill is essential to develop broad repertoire. Piano player is suggested to learn a new piece every 2-4 weeks in order to broaden the repertoire collection.
Ingredient 3. Improvisational abilities
This is what I commonly refer to as the protein of piano practice. A player that possesses excellent sight reading and technical skill but has limited ability to improvise is lopsided. For many years I was able to play piano well, but knew deep in my heart that if I didn't memorize the pieces there would be no way that I could play any song without constantly referring to the sheet music. This is similar to a public speaker who must constantly refer to their notes during a speech.
One should spend at least 15-30 minutes on improvisational practice exercises on a daily basis.
In addition to the Three Vital Ingredients mentioned above, I also suggest a minimum of 60 minutes of active listening and 60 minutes of passive listening to recorded music on a weekly basis. This can easily be done when one is driving in their car or exercising.
The main difference between active listening and passive listening is that with active listening you are trying to hear what is going on in the recording where as in passive listening you are relaxing and not paying much attention. I often check out recordings of famous performers and composers from my local library. There are hundreds of great recordings you can borrow from your library for free.
Should you ever need help with any of the Vital Ingredients, we have great tools to help you:
The Definitive Piano Improvisation Course, is one of them. The award-winning course helps you to master the amazing skills of improvisation and helps you become a competent piano player.