Concert pianists typically clock up hundreds of hours per month in search of perfection. But for those of us who don’t have that amount of time available, it’s doubly important to make every precious minute of practice count. Not only will your playing improve, but you’ll get more value from piano lessons too.
The innovative features of a digital piano can help even the most advanced player get more from practice time and further enhance their playing ability.
1. Sit comfortably and warm up
Before you play, whether it’s practice or a performance, adjust your seat to the correct height and distance from the keyboard. This ensures your arms and elbows are relaxed and comfortable, not rigid or lifted, which could hinder your playing. Begin with a warm-up exercise, such as hands separate, and (especially if you’re right-handed) make it a rule to start with the left hand, as it is often overlooked.
Advanced tip: Your warm up should be focused on solving your particular technical issues. It’s good practice to spend time performing technical exercises and relaxation techniques, alongside scales and arpeggios to get to grips with the keys of your pieces.
2. Play little and often for best results
It’s tempting to skip practice for ﬁve days, and put in a mammoth session the day before your next lesson. Even 15 minutes per day is far more beneﬁcial to muscle and mental memory than two hours once a week. Make it a habit and you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.
Advanced tip: Goal-based practising can give a much stronger sense of achievement and direction than playing for an allotted time. Set achievable goals, no matter how small, such as mastering one bar hands separately, then play the whole piece hands separately, slowly yet relaxed. Then work towards larger goals in future sessions.
3. Use a metronome to improve timing and rhythm
Even the best players sometimes speed up for familiar passages and slow down when the going gets tough. They might not notice, but an audience always does. The only way to counteract is to make it a habit to practise with a metronome – digital pianos almost always have one built in.
Advanced tip: If your sense of rhythm needs work, try tapping the rhythm against the metronome then playing the notes that land on the beats. The end result of metronome practice should be that it doesn’t feel as though you are battling it!
4. Remember the three S’s: separately, slowly and in sections
It’s impossible to concentrate properly when both hands are playing something unfamiliar, so start with hands separately (and make sure your left hand gets as much attention as your right, if you’re right handed).
Slow the tempo right down (set the tempo on the metronome), to ensure each note is sounded properly, with the right dynamics and timing. That will also give your muscle memory a chance to learn the ﬁngering. Only when it’s completely secure should you gradually increase the speed.
Advanced tip: If you have a teacher, they can split a long piece into sections for you, so follow their guidance. Don’t always start from the beginning of the piece either – make sure you’re just as familiar with the middle and the end. This will help keep it interesting and drive motivation to perfect your performance.
5. Analyse your performance with headphones
If you’re an advanced player you may find yourself focusing on one piece for quite some time. Using headphones on a digital piano will focus your attention and help pick out technical issues with your playing. They will also help keep your family and neighbours happy when you’re playing the same piece for the hundredth time!
Advanced tip: Digital pianos sometimes have twin sockets so your teacher can listen using headphones to assess your performance in greater detail.
6. Listen and learn with record and playback
A week is a long time in music, and many learners don’t really listen while they’re practising – so they may not realise when they’re creeping into bad habits. If you’re having lessons your teacher will correct you, but by then a habit could start to become ingrained. Concentrate on every aspect of your playing – including tone, timing and dynamics – while you practise.
Digital pianos often have an inbuilt record feature so you can record your performance, play it back, and nip any problems in the bud.
Advanced tip: Record and playback is extremely useful once you start looking at the more expressive side of pieces. Record one passage then read the music while imagining what it should sound like then play the recording and compare. This helps identify tempo and expressive issues.
The advanced features of a digital piano can help players of all levels analyse their playing ability, monitor techniques and get the most from lessons with a teacher. But dedicating time and energy to practising will save time and money in the long run- and make sure every precious minute counts.