Begin your practice with a sense of calm and peace. Remember that practicing is a process and that it can’t be rushed. Set your intention as you begin and as you go through the practice session, remind yourself why you are practicing.
1. Begin by spending 10-15 minutes (time it!) on scales, arpeggios, chords (solid/broken) and exercises (e.g. Czerny of Schmitt). Try playing the exercises in the key of the pieces that you are currently working on. Start slow (always!), gradually increase your speed while maintaining control, clarity, precision and a steady pulse (work with metronome!). Use a variety of articulations and dynamic levels. Be picky and listen for unevenness and accents. Make sure you use the correct scale fingering.
2. Spend at least 10 minutes on your etudes and any sight-reading exercises. For Czerny, pick 1-2 per week (starting at #35). Use it as a warm-up and a chance to pay attention to all your fingers and exercise them. Use rhythmic exercises and really press into the keys. Check them off as soon as you are able to play cleanly at full-tempo. For sight-reading – look first (time signature, key signature, clefs, patterns, rhythms, etc), then imagine the sound, and finally play.
3. Review notes from recent lessons and look over your music. Spend 25-30 minutes practicing short (4-8 measures maximum) trouble spots in each of your pieces. Practice super-slow and with patience. Aim for relaxed, flexible hands. Breathe!
4. New pieces: refrain from playing them… You have to keep your brain in investigative mode and analyze them so that you soak in every detail and let nothing escape. Be really, really, really picky. As you get better and can play the music, start to record yourself and listen back. Count!
5. Review/refresh older pieces. Practice trouble spots first (WITH music out!). Look carefully at all the comments written into the music.
6. Fun music, improvisation, etc. At the end of practice (or separate from practice session), try some sight-reading!
Elizabeth Borowsky is a pianist, teacher, and composer. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano (Music Teachers National Association).