Effective Practive & Motivation

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Below are some of the many different aspects involved in learning how to practicethe piano effectively.

Environment | Goals | Musical Form | Rhythm | Fingering | Pedal | Posture & Tension | Method | Motivation | Memory



The act of singing various parts of the piece usually helps students to hear the melody and/or harmony better. Singing also facilitates the process of memorization.

Perhaps the most obvious place to start is to sing the melody of the piece or a particular section of the piece. Singing the bass line is usually more challenging for most students but is it is well worth the effort.

At first, it usually makes most sense to sing and play the melody and then to sing and play the bass line.
For more of a challenge, try to play both hands together and sing one of the parts.
For an even greater challenge, try to play only one part and sing a different part (great way to practice fugues).

Parallel Practice

Parallel Practice means taking two similar sections, or passages within a section, and practicing them one
after the other to become more familiar with their similarities and differences. Going back and forth between theses passages will strengthen the understanding of each of them.

Backwards Chains

Backwards Chains may very well be the most dreaded form of practice for many of my students.
However, most students will return the next week and sheepishly admit that 'backwards chains' really help.

Decide on many different starting places within the piece or section and number them starting at the end and working your way towards the beginning. Working backwards, begin at the first 'starting place' closest to the end, and play to the end of the piece (or the particular section). Once you have mastered that, go to the second 'starting place' which occurs prior to the one you just did and play from there to the end. Continue to work your way backwards until you reach the beginning of the piece (or section).

Being able to start at various places in the music helps the performer to feel more secure with the finished product. This also assures that the end of the piece will be as 'polished' as the beginning!

Small Sections

It often helps to take a small section of music and review it until it feels comfortable before going on to another section. It is also a good idea to start a little before the section and end a little after the
section to avoid having obvious seams later on. If you continue to make mistakes, perhaps you are playing too quickly, the section is too long, or you are not ready to be playing it both hands together.

Improvisation and Transposition

Unfortunately, the study of music has become much more compartmentalized than it was in the past.
Although today's jazz musicians improvise all the time, many classically trained musicians
never have the opportunity to explore this medium.

As a classical musician, I am interested in using improvisation as a valuable tool for self growth and exploration. In the right environment, improvisation can be extremely fun and rewarding. An ideal environment would be a place where the student feels comfortable to experiment; safe from criticism.

Improvisation can also be used as a creative educational tool. In addition to the satisfaction of creating one's own compositions, students can develop a deeper appreciation of music by other composers when they compare alternative ways a particular section of music could have been written.

For beginning students, playing on the black keys is a great way to start improvising because everything sounds good. If you don't know where to start, try choosing adjectives or story ideas and then create sounds using just the black notes that you think represent these adjectives or stories. Don't worry about whether or not it sounds good; just the act of creating something can be rewarding and fun.

Students with some knowledge of theory and chord progressions might want to try improvising on a chord progression which has been extracted from one of their pieces. Perhaps you might prefer to make up your own chord progression. A great way to get the sound of a particular melodic line in your ear is to transpose it into all the keys. Taking this idea a step further, as you become comfortable improvising on a simple chord progression you might want to try improvising on the same chord progression in other keys.

Transposition is extremely helpful in developing the ear, however, different keys will often require a change in fingering. Consequently, transposition is most effective when it is applied during the early stages of the learning process so that the student can begin to focus on using consistent fingering as soon as possible without interfering with kinesthetic memory functions.


For difficult runs, or passage work, try beginning with the first note and add one note at a time so that each time you play the passage you increase the length with an additional note. This can also be done in reverse by starting with the last note of the run and working backwards, each time adding the preceding note. Make certain the fingering is consistent.

Variations in Rhythm and Articulation

Rhythm: try changing the rhythm of a difficult passage; use a dotted-eighth, sixteenth rhythm or reverse it and try a sixteenth, dotted-eigth rhythm.

Articulation: Try playing staccato passages legato or vice versa.

All content © by Donna Gross Javel