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The Art of Practicing Piano

Part 1 of a series on enjoying practicing.

Is practicing an art or a chore? When done well, it’s exciting, balanced, mindful, and productive. So why does it often feel boring, chaotic, distracting and unproductive?

I’ll tell you a secret. I didn’t always love to practice. I didn’t know how, it wasn’t intuitive. As a child I would stare at the clock willing the hands to move so the 20 mins (that felt like f o r e v e r) would be up, and I could be released from my piano prison.

Somewhere in my teens some of the tips I had been given about practicing started to stick. At university we learned to practice efficiently just to survive. Now, as an adult, I like to think I have raised practicing to an art. No matter how much practice time is carved out in a day (15 mins - 2 hrs.), I enjoy it, feel productive, and can’t wait until I can find more time with my beloved instrument.

I would love to share some ideas on how to elevate your piano practicing and in the first blog of a series on practicing, we'll start with a journal.

Journaling, clears the clutter from the mind and frees up ideas. It keeps us focused and seeing our productivity. These are all helpful when we hit slumps in our musical journey.

Treat yourself to a brand-new journal. Divide it into 3 sections, calling the first section PRACTICE HABITS.

This is a list of habits you wish to cultivate. Don’t make a long list. Start with one habit and add to your list as that habit becomes… a habit. I suggest your first habit is SHOW UP. That’s all, and it’s a powerful one. I’ll write more on habits to cultivate in a future blog but let’s move onto Section 2.

Turn over 3 blank pages ( you will need them for your habit section) and label section 2, REPERTOIRE. And below that title write DREAM REPERTOIRE.

Here, we'll start with our dream list. Music you would love to play someday. Make this list as long as you like, and dream big! Write ANY music you want to play on this list. This is your musical journey and just because something may be out-of-reach now (more on this at the end of this blog), it may be something you can play in the future. Turn over a couple of blank pages (so you can add to this list in the future) and write CURRENT REPERTOIRE.

We are still in section 2. This is a list of music you can already play. Music you may pull out to play for friends or at an open mic night at the local coffee shop. It may be a short list to start, but if Mary Had A Little Lamb is all you feel comfortable playing, write it down. You will use this list in section 3 so write down any music you can play from start to finish (with or without music) and then leave a few more blank pages before marking off Section 3.

Label section 3 – MY DAILY JOURNAL. This section will fill up the rest of your book. You can write anything here. Names of pieces you are currently working on or, more specifically, the bar numbers you are currently working on. It helps to date each entry.

A large part of the pieces we are learning are relatively easy and can be played well after a few repetitions. It's those few bars, that always trip us up, that we need to focus on. Write them down in your journal and start each practice with them while you are fresh. Then reward yourself with a play through.

Write down any current warmups and technique you are working on. They should change every week or so but make a note of the warmup-of-the-week. I’ll give you some ideas for this in a future blog in this series.

Finish your practice session with a cool down piece. This is where your repertoire list comes in handy. I always like to finish of with a piece from my current repertoire. Something I enjoy playing.

Isn’t that why we practice? To ENJOY the experience. To do it enough so that it gets easier to learn and play all the pieces on our dream list?

The next blog in this series will focus on practice habits I have developed over the years that have propelled me forward on my musical journey.

I'll end with a thought about music being out-of-reach. Some repertoire we want to learn is literally out of our reach if we have a small hand. I have a small hand and I dreamed BIG when creating my repertoire list. Rachmaninoff, Oscar Peterson, Prokofiev, Lead Sheets with Big Jazz Chords. I really wanted to play this music and now I do. I am fortunate to own a narrow key grand piano and a narrow key digital piano (that I take everywhere). They allow small hands to be big hands and now nothing in the piano repertoire is out of reach.

🎹 Happy Practicing 😊

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