When Practice DOESN'T Make Perfect!

Practice makes perfect! Right? Not always... There are some ways of practising which can lead to NO progress or even lead to DETRIMENTAL outcomes! Here are my Top Three Practice WRECKERS! I know I've been guilty of some of these in the past (!) but I would like to think and hope that now, as an informed teacher and adult learner I manage to avoid these pitfalls:

* Wasting time

Just playing through a piece rather than focussing on the bars that need attention is a waste of your time. Sadly NONE of us have unlimited time so we need to make the most of it. Pick just a few bars to REALLY study and improve (see below for a tip!) Make sure you are THINKING about what you are doing! Don't just switch into autopilot in order to get through the session as quickly as possible. This approach of just playing through your pieces can also lead to pitfall # 2:

* Practising Errors

Each time you play an error you are reinforcing muscle memory and neural pathways to MAKE that error! If you make an error you should STOP and play SLOWLY through that section. Repeatedly. Until you can confidently and accurately play it. If your practice sessions consist of opening your books and playing straight through your pieces you will almost inevitably be playing and reinforcing errors. Definitely a detrimental approach!

* Binge Practising

1 hour of practice at the weekend is NOT equivalent to 6 ten-minute sessions during the week. No. And don't try to tell me that it is BETTER because you will not need to set up and pack away each time! Practising is supposed to help you IMPROVE your piano playing. You should be aiming to improve your technique as well as learning new pieces. To improve your technique and to strengthen your fingers DAILY practice is needed. To LEARN anything frequent revision of the ideas is needed. 

So, what do I want you to do?

  • Practise daily
  • Focus on the difficult bits (not the whole piece)
  • Correct your errors

To help you to correct your errors, here is the tip promised under pitfall #1:

Take a small section with which you are experiencing difficulties. Compose your own technical exercises based on those bars by varying:

  • tempo
  • rhythm
  • articulation
  • dynamics

This should help you to break the section down and really come to understand and KNOW the music.

FURTHER READING:

There are innumerable books and blogs on this subject so I've just selected a few to start you off:

  • The Art of Practising the Piano by Jeffrey Whitton
  • Top Practice Tips by Mark Stringer in The Music Teacher's Handbook (TCL)
  • Practising the Piano blog by the excellent Graham Fitch

Finally, it would be great to hear YOUR thoughts on practice pitfalls and any TIPS for improving your practice - please share in the COMMENTS.