10 Ways to Improve Your Practice and Performance on the Piano

By Hal Leonard Corp., Adam Perlmutter

Here, you discover how to maximize your piano practice time and make learning and growing more enjoyable. And if you get the itch to perform for your friends and loved ones or the world at large, there are also tips on preparing for your time in the spotlight.

Also, check out these ten additional tips to make practicing easier.

Be comfortable at all times

Before you start practicing, take a second to make sure everything feels good. Adjust your chair or bench so that you’re comfortable and sitting at the right height. Make sure you have enough room to move your arms comfortably. See that you have adequate lighting. If you’re playing a digital keyboard, check that the volume is adjusted to approximate the volume level of an acoustic piano.

Anything sore or tight? Take breaks often; get up from the piano bench and stroll around. Do some stretches and give your body a break from piano posture.

Shut off the distractions

You live in the age of distraction, which means you’re probably a multi-talented multitasker. But you do yourself a big favor by taking the time and space to concentrate on music and nothing else. You use your brain, eyes, ears, hands, and feet when you play the piano.

If the distractions come from elsewhere, investigate ways to minimize these distractions. Maybe there’s a certain time of day that you can set aside to practice when you’re home alone.

Make a schedule and a list

When you’ve figured out the best time to practice, schedule it into your week so that time doesn’t get eaten up by unforeseen chores and obligations.

Make a list of what you’re working on and what you’d like to get done. Divide up your time so that you get to everything on the list, allowing some flexibility for a little give and take. You may be surprised at how much playing you can get done in a short period of time when you focus on the skills and pieces that need your attention.

Practicing the same thing over and over isn’t always best. Practice different things, and move on when you get tired or start making careless mistakes.

Get into deconstruction

When you get to that point when it feels like you’re not making any headway, take a minute just to look over the music. Identify the different sections of the piece. Find the repeated phrases, and think about how you may play them differently to give more personality to the song. Find the important changes in tempo or dynamics that you can highlight or reinforce.

Label each section with a letter, number, or some other creative name, and behold the structure of the musical composition. Play the deconstructed song in your head and give your hands a break while you renew your desire to play.

Use a metronome

This is a very simple tip that you’ll get from any teacher because almost everyone has a tendency to either rush or slow the tempo when learning a piece with some difficult passages: Use a metronome to help you stay in tempo. Play along with the metronome, and locate phrases where the tempo goes astray when you play — that’s where you need more practice.

Use the metronome creatively. Don’t play only with it on. Adjust the speed to challenge your control. Play a song once with the metronome and once without. It’s a great tool to have.

Rehearse your dress rehearsals

Each time you plan to perform, set up a dress rehearsal — even for informal performances. Playing through your program lets you think through the process from beginning to end and discover things you never think about during regular practice time. Consider what you’re going to wear. Practice your entrance and exit, and practice acknowledging the audience in an appropriate way.

Play through all your pieces in the order you plan to play them. You may find some transitions are harder or easier because of what comes before or goes after. Take plenty of time to regroup between pieces. And if possible, rope someone into listening to your rehearsal and providing feedback.

Know your performance piano

If you’re not going to perform on your own piano, find a way to play through your pieces on the performance piano. Different sounds, different key action, a different bench, and different surroundings can all be distracting when you’re trying to concentrate.

If you’re playing on a digital keyboard, do a sound check. Get all the necessary equipment set up; make sure cords, amplifiers, and speakers all work; and have someone sit where the audience will be sitting to make sure the volume is comfortable and the sound is clear.

If you memorize …

There’s no need to memorize your music if you don’t want to. But if you do memorize your music, go ahead and test out the strength of your memory. Play your memorized pieces for anyone who will listen, and play in different places and on different pianos. If you find some weak spots, give them a little extra attention before the big gig.

Preempt post-performance syndrome

Set yourself up for success. Get to know the range within which you’ll perform. Trust that your performance will be somewhere within this range, most likely toward the middle, and that makes it a successful performance. If you rehearse well, you’ll avoid the worst-case scenario.

If you’ve had moments of practice when you think that you really sound great, accept that you may not feel quite that good after a performance. Prepare for a realistic outcome so that you can feel proud and move forward with achieving the next level of play.

Smile and take a bow

Congratulations! You’ve accomplished something that most people only dream about and have given your audience the gift of music. Smile for yourself and smile for your audience. Take a bow. You’re a piano star, after all.