The best way to quickly improve on the piano – 6 tips to advance quickly on the piano

There are piano players who practice regularly and who even practice a lot, but who advance only very slowly.

On the other hand, there are piano players who advance very quickly, even if they practice sometimes less than those mentioned above.

What’s the difference between those piano players? Would it be that piano players from the second group are just more talented than those from the first group, or is there perhaps anything else behind it?

Well, of course talent will play some role, but there is something else that influences even more the way you advance than only talent.

Because there are very talented piano players that hardly advance (even when practicing a lot), but also piano players that are not that talented but who advance very quickly (and who practice as much as the talented players). How’s that possible?

It turns out that the way you practice is of crucial importance for how quickly and effectively you advance on the piano.

Below, you will find 6 tips that will certainly help you to increase the effectiveness of your practice sessions on the piano.

Tip number 1: regularity

Of course, it’s good to practice a lot: someone who practices during one hour will improve more than someone who practices only 10 minutes, that’s not a secret!

But for a lot of us, practicing every day during an hour is not an option, whether it’s because you don’t have that time or for some other reason. And: it doesn’t even matter that much.

A problem however is that when people finally have some time to practice (for example during the weekend), that they then suddenly start to play 2 hours in a row and during the week they don’t even touch the piano.

It turns out to be much more efficient to play every day (or even every 2 days) only a short time, for example 15 minutes, than only once per week 2 hours in a row (even when those 2 hours are more than 5 to 6 times per week 15 minutes).

Regularity is therefore the keyword.

And of course, it doesn’t matter that much when from time to time you have to skip a practice session. In fact: it’s even good to have a break sometimes.

And, to be honest: a minimum of only 15 minutes per day isn’t that much of your time, right?

Tip number 2: be sure to adept a right position behind the piano

A good body posture and hand position are of ‘vital importance’ for success on the piano.

You can read more about the right body posture and hand position in my article: “The correct body posture and hand position for piano playing”.

Tip number 3: warming up

It’s good to do some ‘warming up-exercises’ before playing the piano.

For a detailed description of how you could do such a warming up, see my article: “Warming up before playing the piano”.

Tip number 4: always start slowly

A big mistake which is often made is that you directly want to play a new piece quickly even when you’re just starting to learn it.

And you might even be able to play some parts of that piece (more or less) correctly at a high tempo, but each time when you reach that difficult section it goes wrong and one or more mistakes creep in each time you play that section.

Instead of slowing down, many keep playing the piece at high speeds hoping that the mistakes will disappear at a certain moment by just repeating the piece many times.

The only efficient way to get rid of those mistakes is to slow down: play the whole piece in a (much) slower tempo. And play with a metronome, because otherwise you risk to speed up unnoticed and when you arrive at that difficult section, you’re already playing too quick to play it flawlessly.

Slow down as much as is needed to play that difficult section without playing mistakes. Is it still not possible to play it flawlessly, then have a look at tip number 6.

When you’re finally able to play the whole piece at that slower speed, then slightly increase the speed: put the metronome a little bit quicker (for example 5 beats per minute more) and try to play it now without making mistakes at this higher tempo. Continue like this by speeding up a little bit at each step till the moment that you can play the whole piece without any mistake at the tempo that you want.

Tip number 5: break up the piece in smaller pieces

When learning a new piece, you better break up the whole piece in ‘bite-sized chunks’.

So, don’t try to play the whole piece directly in one go.

So, what size do those ‘chunks’ have to be? Well, that’s not so easy to answer, that will depend on the piece. But I would say: take a musical phrase that is manageable for you, not too long, but also not too short.

Practice well that one phrase and when you can play it well, then go to the second phrase and practice that well.

Then try to play both phrases together.

Go to the third phrase, practice it and then play those 3 phrases together. Go on in this way till you can play the whole piece.

And remember: always start slowly (see tip number 4) and be sure that you can play the transitions between the phrases without faltering. If this is not possible, then look at tip number 6.

Tip number 6: concentrate on that difficult section

Is it still impossible to play that difficult section without any mistakes?

Then concentrate only on that section and practice it (slowly in the beginning, as always). So, don’t try to play the whole piece, but only that section and play it over and over till you can play it without mistakes.

And that section, that could eventually be only very small: for example, the transition from just one note to the next one. Practice that transition repeatedly till you can play it ‘automatically’ without thinking. It should be not only in your ‘brain memory’ but also in your ‘hand memory’: so as if your hand could ‘automatically’ play that transition from the first to the second note.

So, in fact you should break up a difficult section in even smaller sections (so sometimes even as small as the transition from one note to the other). Once you can play those very small sections, then try to play them together.

When you finally are able to play that whole difficult section without any mistake, then speed it up slightly and finally play the whole piece.

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Martin Cohen

Martin Cohen is a science and piano teacher. He is also a jazz musician and composer.

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