What is the 80/20 rule and how is it applied to piano playing?


By Robert Estrin

04 September 2021

How it applies may surprise you!

What is the 80/20 rule?

You may have heard this before. The 80/20 rule is the idea that spending 80% of your time on 20% of the score will benefit your practice. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the 80/20 rule doesn’t apply to the piano exactly. Because I would say it’s more like 90/10! Really, you’ll learn a piece of music and then spend 90% of your time on 10% of the piece.

There’s just a very small amount that really requires almost all of your time and effort. Of course there is great temptation to always go back to the beginning and play the parts you know, because it’s fun and you want to work on those parts to make them better and better. There’s no end to how well you can play something.

But really laser focusing on the small sections, sometimes spending 98% of your practice time on 2% of the music, is necessary. Other days you can have a more fluid type of practice where you’re covering more substantial parts of your piece. Particularly when you’re getting ready for performance, you want to be able to get the sense of playing complete pieces.

But certainly in the formative parts of learning music, you want to focus your attention on the parts that need refinement to be productive. I see so many people who spend hours and hours at the piano, yet don’t seem to accomplish what they are after. 

 

Put your attention where it’s needed early on

You may feel like you’ll never get through the piece if you spend so much time on a small section. Maybe it’s a four or eight measure phrase, and you’re thinking, my gosh, if I spend an hour or an hour and a half on this, I’m never going to get through the piece!

Here’s the epiphany you will have: Spend that time on the front end on some of those hard sections and you will be rewarded because you’ll find that almost all pieces of music have repeats of different themes and technical challenges. And by delving into those sections head-on, you’re going to be able to accomplish so much more as you progress with the piece.

So yes, the 80/20 rule applies and maybe even it’s even more extreme than that. Watch my full explanation of the 80/20 rule below.

 

Find out more about Robert Estrin here.