piano practice - the daily routine

Okay, let's get to it. How should you go about this whole piano practice stuff?

Fingering, Fractures, and Feel (oh my!)

Playing through a song from start to finish is not practicing it.
Playing through is your reward when your practice for the day is DONE.

You need to practice carefully and efficiently.
mark where hands hop and fingering gets tricky
stop wasting time practicing what you already did
find and loop the tricky sections so you can nail them to the wall
Mark how the feel should go

Let's break it down.


We need to mark fingering so we practice one way. Each practice rep needs to be identical so our brains can store and optimize the reflexes. (This happens overnight. Get good sleep.)

Don't put fingering on every dang note. Only when your finger needs to move to a note. Usually during a hand hop. Don't label 1 and 5 very much. They're obvious - they're on the edges. Only finger tricky parts.

Skip repeats. Chop it up.

Songs repeat. A lot. That's great - we can practice all those repeats just once. Look through your bars and cross out the duplicates. Split up the remaining bars into sections about 4 bars long. Mark good starting and stopping spots that overlap. Practicing that overlap is important. Master each section individually.


Charles Cooke in "Playing the Piano for Pleasure" writes

"Surgeons tell us that a broken arm or leg, if it is correctly set, becomes strongest at the point of fracture."

He goes on to explain fractures as the tricky parts of songs where things get tough. We should systematically label these areas and practice them very carefully.

Identifying tricky spots is your primary job during practice. Once found, we attack that part of the 4 bar loop with no mercy.

Remember - although LH and RH may individually repeat a lot, in HT (hands together) there may be very few repeats - due to hand combinations.

Practice the right stuff first

Practice only one section in a loop. One useful trick is to practice the last loop of the song first. Working your way back to the start. Practicing the end of the song first will nail the finish!

Slow, smooth, and exact should come first. If you can't play it slow, it'll be slop when you play it fast. And playing fast doesn't even give your brain a chance to notice slop.

Next, play it as relaxed as possible. If your body isn't relaxed, you'll tire and start flubbing things. Or worse, you'll start getting tendon pain. Make sure you're shaken out and limber. Your piano teacher will help you with this.

Next, add speed to get it to tempo. Speed last. Oh wait, right before speed comes...


Feel refers to careful adjusting of individual note volumes and use of legato. Also the use of pedal, and small variations to the tempo to make a song feel more expressive and natural and just plain better.

Feel is what separates man from computer. Computers may be able to hit all the right keys exactly on time. But it sounds boring because there's no variation in the time or note volume. Yes, I'm looking at you techno !!

As usual, write down where things get tricky. Add dynamics markings, text notes, or anything helpful. You need those markings so that they're there to help you relearn the song some day.

I'll usually play a whole song through as quietly as possible. See if the score gives you any clues about feel. Most of it is where you think the building up and quieting down should start and end at.

Play it through as quiet as possible and think about what you're going to do. But don't do it that first time, through.

Then do do it. Record it. Listen and keep on tweaking (for your whole life or until you go insane). If you can't play it soft, you can't play it loud. Going louder is easy. Going softer ain't. Going softer is usually a good idea a lot of the time.

Also sing. Your piano teacher will tell you to do this. Even if your voice is nooot a lead vocals voice, still sing. As you sing the lyrics, you'll intuitively hear where the melody goes. Sometimes you want to do the same on the piano. Sometimes you'll want to complement it. Sometimes you'll want to go way soft on piano so the lyrics can pop. The feel is the art, man.

How many songs at once?

I'd recommends 2 or 3 new pieces at a time. Do about 2 or 3 of a song's loops per day. Try to keep 2 or 3 repertoire pieces fresh by practicing them once or twice a week (only).

Be Careful

You should not be just playing through and considering it practice cuz it ain't. If you're glossing over mistakes, those mistakes are being saved in your brain until you save on top again.

You always want a perfect set of reflexes for "the nightly build".

Mark the loops completed as you go. So you see your progress and so you don't need to come back except to quickly verify you can still nail it. To the wall !

If you're having problems playing to tempo, then make sure you don't. Spend time at a lower tempo, and get it nailed there. Then bump the tempo back up. Otherwise you're practicing slop, and that's what your brain will store.

Split to hands seperate if you need to, too.

Once you force yourself to do this, (and it's difficult to be consistent in this) you'll learn songs a bit faster. But we're talking "in the long run faster" here.

More importantly, your accuracy will increase a lot. And your songs will start sounding better !!

Your audience will thank you for not blowing their vibe. And that's what it's all about, man.