One of the most important things about learning a new instrument is developing good practicing habits. Having regular practice times for at least 20-minute intervals (for beginners), 45-minute (for intermediate) is critical and here are some helpful tips that will make the most out of the practice time.
GOOD POSTURE AND CURVATURE OF HANDS
With any instrument, having proper posture helps play the instrument with more accuracy and ability. For piano, the buttocks should be seated on the edge of the piano bench so the right foot can be placed comfortably on the damper pedal, keeping the heel on the ground. This can be tricky for the little ones and feel a bit awkward but is necessary for playing the damper pedal correctly. As well, while practicing check your hands if the fingers are nicely curved and that you are playing with the ball of the fingers. If you are playing with flat fingers you are causing tension in your hands and arms. Also, try to keep your fingers close to the keys as you play and try not to let them go up in the air. A helpful trick is to place a coin on the top of each hand and keep them there as you play. Another helpful hint is to keep your nails short. Long nails can cause improper hand curvature and also clicking the keys as you play.
While practicing take notice if you are relaxed through your neck, shoulders and forearms. Staying relaxed helps using the weight of the arm and the movement of the elbows and wrists to produce a good sound. Tension will often lead to harsher sounds and not having as much control of your playing.
KNOW THE NOTES
As we begin in piano we learn the musical alphabet and place our hands in different hand positions. As you get comfortable with the C position it can be tricky to then be in the G or F position and remember what note each finger is on. A helpful trick is to say the note names out loud as you play to get your mind and hand coordinated more quickly.
KNOW THE RHYTHM
Before playing a song practice clapping and counting the rhythm out loud. This helps to give confidence to the player as they begin to play by focusing more of their attention on the notes. Sometimes writing in the counting 1+2+3+4+ under the notes is helpful as well.
DO NOT ALWAYS SIGHT READ
Although Sight Reading is an essential skill in piano playing it isn’t always the best way to practice. It forms the habit of playing through mistakes and teaching yourself the wrong way. To then relearn the right way is sometimes harder because we formed hand and mind memory in the wrong way. A helpful tip for good practice is to learn the hands separately, including counting out loud and learning the notes and rhythm. Once each hand is confident of their part start playing hands together slowly to get the coordination then work on increasing the speed to the proper tempo. As well, look for all the musical notations (staccato, legato, accents, dynamics, lifts after phrases, etc.) and apply them to when you are learning hands separately so that when you put hands together these things are already in your practice and awareness.
When there is a measure of music you find difficult and make mistakes in or pause before playing it, STOP. Do not keep going and play through the end during practice. If you are performing and you make a mistake or pause, you keep going like nothing happened. For practice, go to the measure(s) and play hands separately first, then hands together slowly, making sure you are playing the right rhythm and notes. Then repeat the measure(s) over and over until you can play it without mistake or pause 3x in a row. Then start from the measure or section before. Repetition is the key to good practice to train our hands, mind and ears to get everything to work together to get that wonderful complete piece.
Music is a universal language of expression of experiences, feelings, and ideas. When we connect with a song we play, it is such an exciting and wonderful feeling and connects us to the composer in a special way. Although some things are strict with learning an instrument it is important to keep things fun and connect with the songs you are learning. A way I always did that was to ask myself what the music makes me feel or picture, and try to paint the sound and portray the image or feeling. Another fun thing to try is to write your own music or melodies. Try with the simple C position using left hand I and V7 chords. Then add words or staccato or accents. Be creative and experiment with the instrument and have FUN!
Sarena Rattray- Piano Teacher