We all have to practice as pianists, regardless of the style of music we play. It is a necessary ingredient required in our development. It is not enough to noodle around for some time and call it a practice session. The efficiency and approach of our practice during those hours matter – any teacher or online piano lesson program worth its weight will teach you that.
In this tonebase lesson, American pianist and renowned performer Garrick Ohlsson shares his insights into practice routines. He invites you to view your practice sessions as opportunities to develop self-awareness and step outside your comfort zone. Focus your practice sessions on identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and devote your time to the latter. Do not be afraid to make mistakes!
Ohlsson will offer you strategies for practicing challenging passages. He advises you always to practice with a sense of expression and musicality, especially when practicing under tempo. Finally, Ohlsson will teach you strategies for testing your knowledge of a piece when you believe that you have learned it successfully.
4 Piano Practice Tips
1. Practice the Uncomfortable
This idea may seem obvious to some, but many musicians struggle with this concept. Staying within our comfort zones may feel natural, but as pianists trying to master our craft, it is detrimental to our development. We are all unique as players and have a skill set best suited to some repertoire over another.
For example, if you dread fast scale passages or any other technique within the music you play, you know what you should work on next! Maybe even when you go to pick your next piece to learn, you choose something that uses your dreaded technique extensively.
Disclaimer – You may not want to bring that piece for a performance, but for practice, it is perfect. How wonderful would it be if you no longer feared for those passages? Trust us, growing as a musician is worth it.
2. Practice with Expression
Playing is not just one challenging technical exercise. Music has expression! We play with dynamics, articulations, rubato, and varying tonal colors. So why is it when we sit down to practice so many think it involves drilling exercises or scales with all notes uniform and played in the most boring possible way?
Next time you sit down to practice, try playing those exercises in multiple expressive manners and as beautifully as possible. Try playing scales with a gradual crescendo and accelerando. Try the opposite. Try it staccato and then legato. There are so many ways to play a musical passage that the possibilities are endless and can make even scale practice exciting.
3. Practice Hands Separate
Hands separate practice is also a necessity for piano practice.
Technique-wise, it can help you divide challenging phrases into something more manageable. If you can barely play a passage when isolating either the right or left hand, how are you supposed to play it while adding more complexity by adding in the other hand?
This seems like an impossible task, but through an efficient approach, we can overcome it. Hands separate practice can help beyond just the technical aspect of playing but also for truly knowing every facet of the music.
Another use of this practice method is testing your knowledge of the music. Without looking at your music, are you questioning yourself on the notes? Focus in and learn it! Know the music to the point where you can play either hand with your eyes closed and your mind ahead of your fingers.
4. Make a Study Out of What’s Difficult
Be mindful and methodical when practicing. Many people when they come across a passage that is difficult and they frequently make mistakes, they’ll mindlessly drill repetition after repetition thinking it will help. This may to some extent but as Garrick Ohlsson says, “you’re driving the fear into your body.” There can be a better approach.
Break down what’s difficult about a passage and become a problem solver. Ask yourself questions like: What’s hard about this passage? Is tension the problem? (It often is!). Try making exercises out of what you find difficult.
Tip: Make the exercise using similar fingerings as to what’s in the music.
This is a great way to practice but remember to take it slow. You can drive in bad habits that can become hindrances to your technique and your playing. Be conscious of what you’re playing and how you’re playing it.
We hope these practice tips help you on your way to becoming a better pianist and realizing your musical goals. While practice might not always be easy, it expands our technical capabilities so we can better express ourselves with this wonderful instrument. Happy practicing!