Melanie Spanswick gives advice on how to develop a practice schedule which will be both beneficial and practical.
One question asked by many a student; ‘how can I develop a practice schedule which will be both beneficial and practical.’ It’s too easy to sit down at the piano, play through a few pieces, practice the ‘difficult’ sections (this usually translates as ‘areas where errors are occurring’), and then call it a day. Perhaps a better plan would be to carefully build a workable, reliable practice schedule which can be easily implemented, and more importantly, adhered to! Here are a few ideas:
1. Begin by deciding how many practice sessions are realistically possible
Five per week is optimal, allowing for a piano lesson (if you take them) on the sixth day and then a day off. Next, how long can you devote to practising? For the purposes of this article, let’s suggest 1 hour per day (but elongate or shorten to suit yourself).
2. Are you a morning person or an evening person?
If you can’t face working for an hour without a break, then maybe two (or three) shorter sessions are a good idea (perhaps one in the morning and another in the evening?). Either way, make your plan and stick to it.
3. How will you divide your practice routine?
Some like to drift from one piece to the next with no specific time plan, whilst others use a stopwatch! Aim to begin with a five-minute warm-up routine. This can be anything from slow scales to more complicated studies, but again, start slowly, sinking your fingers deep into the key bed. It can be helpful to employ ‘mindful’ practice here, which might give your warm-up a ‘meditative’ quality.
4. What to do post-warm up
After warming up, those who are keen to improve sight-reading skills may like to focus on this for 10 minutes (sight-reading is best done when fresh, as it’s arguably one of the most demanding elements of piano playing). This could be followed by 10 minutes of technical exercises (or substitute the sight-reading for exercises, if you’re already a proficient reader).
5. Break your repertoire into small chunks
The lion share of your practice session will, of course, be focused on your chosen repertoire. If you are learning several pieces, it may be an idea to rotate them, practising just one or two per day, working on other pieces the following practice session, then returning to the first set of pieces (or piece) the day after that. When practising, try to break pieces into small chunks, again, rotating sections, so a whole piece has been addressed in any one sitting (depending on its length).
As a recap, your schedule may look something like this:
Warm-up – 5 minutes
Sight-reading – 10 minutes
Technical work – 10 minutes
Repertoire – 35 minutes
Change this to suit your needs, but if you keep to a regular schedule, improvement will be swift and you’ll hopefully feel as though you are making solid progress with your piano playing.