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"3 Piano Practice Tips for Adults"

based on Phil Dotree's article

If you're starting on piano or refining your skills, you'll need to practice regularly to see any sort of results. For adults, this can sometimes be tough, because many practice programs and piano teaching programs are designed with children in mind. If you're not already on a set schedule, it can feel like developing one is a practically insurmountable task.

The best way to get started is to follow the fundamentals of good music practice, and make practice fun. Here are some practice tips for adult piano players.

1. Play above your comfort level. It's best to move progressively up, always staying at a point where you have to work to play a song well and comfortably. This will reinforce the basics of piano technique and also introduce new concepts--you'll also gain a lot of dexterity and speed if you're consistent.

2. Practice piano at the same time every day for the same amount of time. Consistency is the key in any practice schedule, because once a habit is developed, it's a lot easier to stick to. If you've got a family or kids, let them know that about X minutes to X hours of every day is practice time, and you're not to be bothered. Make it sort of a ritual. Devote time evenly, for instance X minutes for technique, X minutes working on a performance piece, etc.

3. Practice with a goal in mind. Just playing around on the piano is fun, but it probably won't help you develop your skills. Instead, focus on passages that challenge you, or practice helpful drills. Knowing what areas you want to improve in is the first step to improving in said areas.

"Piano Practice  for Adults"

based on Donna Linton's article


So, you have decided that you would like to learn to play the piano? Hopefully, you have chosen a teacher or a method that works for you. The next steps will be consistency and an effective piano practice strategy. This article is written with the beginning adult pianist in my mind.

I find that most adults fall into one of two categories. Either they dropped out of piano lessons as a kid and wish they could play now, or they never had the opportunity as a kid and have always wanted to play. Welcome beginning adult pianists! I am thrilled that you have made the decision to learn to play the piano. There are so many benefits that I don’t where to start. Having made the decision, you are most likely wondering how to get the most out of your piano lessons and with that I would like to provide some tips about the basic cornerstone: piano practice.

Plan to spend about X minutes each day. Please remember, you can break up your practice sessions. If you are feeling tired, having difficulty focusing or becoming overly frustrated, just step away from the piano. This is the same advice I try to follow when learning a new skill at the computer or a new software product.

Although playing the piano is a new challenge, it is important to take it in small, incremental steps. Enjoy yourself! You are not in a race.

Sit straight at your piano. Forearms parallel to the floor and hands forming a nice curved position over the piano keys.

There are many accompaniment CDs that you can enjoy playing along. Although fun, CD accompaniments also help you learn to play in ensemble and keep appropriate tempo. This is an invaluable skill.

I also encourage adults to visit YouTube and pull up videos of things you are interested in learning at the piano. Whatever your cup of tea, you can find someone demonstrating it on YouTube. Sometimes, my adult students surprise me with something they have learned courtesy of YouTube.

Lastly, sit down and play something for family and friends when you are comfortable. You will be surprised how great it feels to perform at the piano for someone and delighted to know that they think it is great that you, the adult, are learning something new! 

"8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently"

based on Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.'s article


A group of researchers led by Robert Duke of The University of Texas at Austin conducted a study several years ago to see if they could tease out the specific practice behaviors that distinguish the best players and most effective learners. 

Seventeen piano and piano pedagogy majors agreed to learn a 3-measure passage from Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1. The passage had some tricky elements, making it too difficult to sight read well, but not so challenging that it couldn’t be learned in a single practice session. 

The setup 

The students were given two minutes to warm up, and then provided with the 3- measure excerpt, a metronome, and a pencil. 

Participants were allowed to practice as long as they wanted, and were free to leave whenever they felt they were finished. Practice time varied quite a bit, ranging from 8 1/2 minutes to just under 57 minutes. 

To ensure that the next day’s test would be fair, they were specifically told that they may NOT practice this passage, even from memory, in the next 24 hours. 

24 hours later... 

When participants returned the following day for their test, they were given 2 minutes to warm up, and then asked to perform the complete 3-measure passage in its entirety, 15 times without stopping (but with pauses between attempts, of course). 

Each of the pianists’ performances were then evaluated on two levels. Getting the right notes with the right rhythm was the primary criteria, but the researchers also ranked each of the pianists’ performances from best to worst, based on tone, character, and expressiveness. 

That led to a few interesting findings: 

1 Practicing longer didn’t lead to higher rankings.
2 Getting in more repetitions had no impact on their ranking either. 

3 The number of times they played it correctly in practice also had no bearing on their ranking. (wait, what?!) 

What did matter was:
1 How many times they played it incorrectly
. The more times they played it 
incorrectly, the worse their ranking tended to be.

2 The percentage of correct practice trials did seem to matter. The greater the proportion of correct trials in their practice session, the higher their ranking tended to be. 

The top 8 strategies 

Three pianists’ performances stood out from the rest, and were described as having “more consistently even tone, greater rhythmic precision, greater musical character (purposeful dynamic and rhythmic inflection), and a more fluid execution.” 

Upon taking a closer look at the practice session videos, the researchers identified 8 distinct practice strategies that were common to the top pianists, but occurred less frequently in the practice sessions of the others: 

1. Playing was hands-together early in practice. 

2. Practice was with inflection early on; the initial conceptualization of the music was with inflection. 

3. Practice was thoughtful, as evidenced by silent pauses while looking at the music, singing/humming, making notes on the page, or expressing verbal “ah- ha”s. 

4. Errors were preempted by stopping in anticipation of mistakes.

5. Errors were addressed immediately when they appeared. 

6. The precise location and source of each error was identified accurately, rehearsed, and corrected. 

7. Tempo of individual performance trials was varied systematically; logically understandable changes in tempo occurred between trials (e.g. slowed things down to get tricky sections correct). 

8. Target passages were repeated until the error was corrected and the passage was stabilized, as evidenced by the error’s absence in subsequent trials. 

The top 3 strategies 

Of the eight strategies above, there were three that were used by all three top pianists, but rarely utilized by the others. In fact, only two other pianists (ranked #4 and #6) used more than one: 

6. The precise location and source of each error was identified accurately, rehearsed, and corrected. 

7. Tempo of individual performance trials was varied systematically; logically understandable changes in tempo occurred between trials (e.g. slowed things down to get tricky sections correct; or speeded things up to test themselves, but not too much). 

8. Target passages were repeated until the error was corrected and the passage was stabilized, as evidenced by the error’s absence in subsequent trials. 

What’s the common thread that ties these together? 

The researchers note that the most striking difference between the top three pianists and the rest, was how they handled mistakes. It’s not that the top pianists made fewer mistakes in the beginning and simply had an easier time learning the passage. 

The top pianists made mistakes too, but they managed to correct their errors in such a way that helped them avoid making the same mistakes over and over, leading to a higher proportion of correct trials overall. 

And one to rule them all 

The top performers utilized a variety of error-correction methods, such as playing with one hand alone, or playing just part of the excerpt, but there was one strategy that seemed to be the most impactful. 

Strategically slowing things down. 

After making a mistake, the top performers would play the passage again, but slow down or hesitate – without stopping – right before the place where they made a mistake the previous time. 

This seemed to allow them to play the challenging section more accurately, and presumably coordinate the correct motor movements at a tempo they could handle, rather than continuing to make mistakes and failing to identify the precise nature of the mistake, the underlying technical problem, and what they ought to do differently in the next trial. 

The one-sentence summary 

"Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time." - George Bernard Shaw



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