How much should you practice? Thatís the age old question? But there are no easy answers.
Wait a minute! Hereís an easy answer: You need to practice eight hours a day (taking three five minute bathroom breaks, so go easy on the fluid intake).
Thatís an easy answer all right, although somewhat insane. Hereís another easy answer: You shouldnít even practice at all. Never. Not a single minute. That sounds crazy too.
If given the choice, as a piano teacher Iíd recommend the latter strategy. Why? Because practice is painful, boring, and tedious. Thatís why they call it ďpractice.Ē
Notice I didnít tell you not to play everyday. What I mean is, play as much as you can without making it seem like a chore. If itís a chore, youíre not going to do it. I mean whoís going to make you practice now, your mother?
All kidding aside, if you want to improve at a reasonable rate, play as much and as often as you can. But make it pleasurable, or else you arenít going to do it. Give yourself fun songs to play. Try to learn new tricks. Browse. Skip around. Fake it. Donít be such a perfectionist.
Just make sure you pound the piano as often as you can.
I donít want to tell you to play an hour each day. Play as long as it remains fun. It may be three hours a day. It may be fifteen minutes every other day. No matter. Either way you will make progress. The more play time, the faster the progress. Just remember: no play, no progress.
Last time we discussed how much to practice (I mean play). Now letís look at what to play.
I like to break up the play session into four parts. So assuming your session is scheduled for one hour, break it up into four 15 minute sessions as follows.
First part of the session: Warm up and exercises. Hereís a chance to get your mind and body into the playing mode by doing some warm-ups. At least two good reasons for this. First, itís prearranged and repetitive. No need for intellectual creativity at this point. Second, after youíve warmed up properly, you should be better able to play the rest of the lesson with fewer mistakes and more focus.
So whatís good to warm up with? Scales are good. Major scales. Look up the fingering in a scale book available at any music store. After scales I recommend Hanon exercises. Part One of Hanon gives great finger exercises anyone can do. Get Hanon at a music store. (In fact, Hanon Part Two has the fingering for all the major scales). We have some favorite exercises of our own that we may share with you here in weeks to come, so keep coming back for more tips of the week.
Second part of the session: Review old songs. Fifteen minutes of going over three or four songs that you already know, more or less.
Third part of the session: Work on learning a new song. Set up a repertoire goal (e.g. one new song per week) and really focus on learning this new song.
Fourth part of the session: Goof around. Experiment. Investigate. Noodle. Compare. Evaluate. Have fun. Break rules. Sound foolish. And above all remind yourself that the only reason you put yourself through this one hour session was for your own self-indulgent enjoyment.
I am wondering about whether to play chords when there are rests in the melody line. If I understand correctly, the answer is yes if there is a chord notation above the bar or a chord continues from the previous bar.
I donít play chords at the very beginning of songs when there are no chord notations above them, just rests and notes for the rigfht hand ó right?
That depends. There are times when youíll see the ďN.C.Ē symbol which means ďno chord.Ē This is almost always done for effect. In such a case you can either skip the chord , or ó if you know what the chord should be ó play it anyway.
You decide which version you prefer.
When a chord symbol is absent at the very beginning of a song, you have the same option. Play it if you know it; or skip it if you donít (or if you prefer it that way). You just have to remember that if you play the chord at the beginning of the song, it must be played on the first beat of the measure, even though the first melody note will likely fall somewhere else in the measure.
Above all, try to keep the rhythm steady.