How much Practice?

How much Practice is the Right Amount?

Students and parents often wonder how much practice is needed for their stage of learning the piano. It is difficult to determine a precise answer, because the amount of recommended practice depends very much on the individual’s goals, circumstances and learning processes. However, several general, underlying principles can help with making decisions about practice routines. Ask your teacher if you are not sure what is right for you. One thing is certain – it is obvious when a student has practiced properly during a week because the improvement in all areas is noticeable.

Average, recommended daily periods:

While it can be strategic to have occassional days off, it is highly recommended that a pianist play for some time each day. A pianist is like an athlete or dancer – except the muscles that need to be kept in condition focus on the very fine finger muscles. It’s the same whether you’re playing for recreation or with a music career in mind. Here are minimum daily time recommendations:

Stage 1 beginner: 5 minutes Stage 2 beginner: 10 minutes
Stage 3 beginner: 15 minutes Primary 1 & 2: 20 minutes
Intermediate 1 & 2: 30 minutes Intermediate 3: 40 minutes
Advanced 1: 2 groups of 30 minutes Advanced 2/3: 2 groups of 45 minutes
Diploma: 3 groups of 45 minutes

When to practice:

Due to our busy life-styles, it is good to find a regular time and make practice a habit. Individual circumstances create limits. However, look for the time when you are most alert and usually able to concentrate well. Practicing when distracted or tired achieves very little, and can actually cause you to move backwards.
Practice when you can concentrate, so you can think and learn to your best ability.
Practice when you are in a good mood, so you don’t learn to play with tension.
Practice soon after lessons, so you can remember everything you were taught.

What to practice:

Practice helps several very different areas of learning. When we practice, purposeful time should be given to muscle development, technical movements, sight-reading, rhythmic development, interpretation and learning of performance pieces, and reviewing past pieces for fun.

Here is a suggested programme suitable for all levels:
Relaxation and posture – loosen off and do gentle stretches before sitting at the piano.
Precision exercises – 1/5 of your practice time should be spent working fingers very well, playing scales and other independent finger work. Use strong, steady movements, aim for accuracy rather than speed, play with clear notes and different rhythms. Watch your posture.
Technical exercises – 1/5 of your time should be given to developing a relaxed repertoire of technical skills. Use studies, such as Scarlatti Sonatas, Czerny studies, Dozen a Day or selected sections from lesson pieces. Focus on slow, relaxed wrist movements.
Lesson and performance pieces – Half your practice time should be spent on pieces you are learning, looking at the movements slowly and carefully, using the metronome to develop rhythmic accuracy, playing with different volumes and interpretations, listening to recordings and recording yourself, and thinking carefully about the music.
Reading – The remainder of your practice time should be spent going back over favourite pieces or reading new pieces. Play for fun, but try to be accurate – or make up your own versions and compositions.