Piano Practice – A Practical Guide
Become a better piano player faster with our guide on practicing your instrument
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Last Updated: January 2023 | Article Details: 3385 words (18 – 20 minute read)
Article Table of Contents
1. A Piano Practice Plan for All Skill Leves
- 1.1 Plan Outline
- 1.2 Warm Up
- 1.3 Scale Practice
- 1.4 Scales/Chord Focus
- 1.5 Chord Progression Focus
- 1.6 Song Focus
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Practice is probably the most important part of becoming a better piano player.
We’re going to lay out the perfect practice plan for any skill level below.
You can learn all the scales, modes and chords you want, but it’s the practice you put in that determines how well you play piano.
Here’s our take on practicing piano effectively. Let’s get it…
How to Practice Piano
Most people practice in a half-hearted way – if they even do it at all.
I can’t blame them – this shit’s boring as hell. We just want to get it over with. But effective practice is important.
But what if I told you to 10x your current skills, you only need about 20 hours of practice. But it has to be consistent, focused, and difficult practice.
That’s the key.
Set up a time for practice every day, and stick to it religiously – like it’s your job. You have to be on time, every day and just put in the work.
There’s a book called “The First 20 Hours” that goes into how this is possible, and it’s pretty crazy. But it can’t be half-assed practice. It has to be focused learning where you’re pushing yourself further than your comfort level. You can’t just “run through the motions.”
It also helps to think of “practice” more like a “work out.” You’re exercising and even though it can suck, it’s the best thing for you.
But when you are practicing, make sure you’re FOCUSED on what you’re doing. Don’t just go through the motions to get it over with. Pay attention to what you’re doing with the intention of improving your speed/accuracy/whatever.
It’s also important to know the fundamentals of piano fully – the best way we’ve found is this.
VIDEO: Piano Learning Tips
Structuring Your Practice
You likely want to divide your practice sessions up into different sections, based on the particular skills you’re trying to get better at.
These could be anything, including:
- technical skills (example: finger independence, sight reading, etc)
- building blocks (example: scales/chords, inversions, etc)
- advanced theory (example: progressions, voicings, etc)
- song playing or songwriting/composing
So first things first – sit and think. Pick 2 or 3 very specific areas you think will take you to next level fast. You’re going to focus on these 2 or 3 things for the entire 20 hours.
Don’t worry, the practice isn’t for 20 hours straight.
But you do have to commit to practicing at least 30 minutes a day – every single damn day.
It’s even better (and faster for you) if you can dedicate 60-90 minutes a day to practicing piano.
Do NOT practice any more than 90 minutes a day. That seems to be the ideal maximum amount of practice time.
One last thing to consider – before you start practicing, spend a couple minutes stretching yourself. Loosen up. Stretch your wrists, fingers, neck, shoulders and arms.
It helps a lot.
A Practice Plan on Piano for all Skill Levels
At Deviant Noise, we’re all about making music – that often means songwriting and composing. So our approach to practicing piano is very much geared around this.
Below is a plan you can follow every day that focuses on building your muscle memory (to play piano by ear) and the “repertoire” of songs you’re able to play.
How to Practice Piano Step-By-Step
Here’s the overview of how to practice piano. It’s a 90 minute session fully, but if you don’t have the time, adjust the length of each section according to your limitations.
- Warm Up
The first step in piano practice is to spend a maximum of 5 minutes warming up. Do some stretching of your hands, wrists and fingers. Loosen your muscles by shaking out any tension you’re holding. Spend a couple minutes just moving your fingers on the keyboard of the piano.
- Practice Your Scales and Chords
The next part of your practice routine should involve the rudiments of music. Play through all of the scales and chords you know, and any new ones you want to add to your repertoire. Spend a maximum of 15 minutes here.
- Focus on a Specific Scale and it’s Chords
Next, spend a maximum of 20 minutes going over a specific scale you want to memorize and internalize. You should try to memorize the notes and each note’s “number” in that scale. Next, spend time memorizing the chords you can build using each note of that scale.
- Chord Progression Focus
Choose a chord progression you like (or develop your own) and using the scale from step 3, play out the chord progression in that key using various types of chords – extended chords, suspended chords, inverted chords, etc. Spend a maximum of 20 minutes here.
- Song Focus
Finally, spend the last 30 minutes (max) of your practice time practicing a song you want to learn. You should divide your time here in half – half on practicing parts of the song you already know, and half spent learning a new part of the song (or a new song).
We get into more detail on each of these steps below.
Here’s how to build each section above for yourself…
Warm Up Section
The purpose of the 5 minute piano warm-up is to get you into “piano playing” mode.
Basically you just need to work your fingers and wrists out. Try doing some finger independence exercises here. Using the C Major Scale, get your fingers moving up and down.
Start with your right thumb and left pinky on C notes and play the scale up to the 5th degree (the G note) and back down to the root (C note).
Do one hand at a time, then combine both hands. Once you are better at that, try going in opposite directions with each hand.
After that you can alternate notes using your fingers. Still using the C Major Scale, play the following pattern with your right hand:
- C/D/C/D/C/D/C/D (thumb and index fingers)
- E/D/E/D/E/D/E/D (index and middle fingers)
- E/F/E/F/E/F/E/F (middle and ring fingers)
- G/F/G/F/G/F/G/F (ring and pinky fingers)
- E/F/E/F/E/F/E/F (middle and ring fingers)
- E/D/E/D/E/D/E/D (index and middle fingers)
- C/D/C/D/C/D/C/D (thumb and index fingers)
That will help improve your finger dexterity and independence. There are a ton of other warm up exercises you can do, but those 2 are a great start.
Scales Practice Section
For the next 20 minutes, you want to focus on getting better at scales and modes.
This is probably the most boring part of the practice, but it’s essential – especially if you’re planning on playing piano by ear or being a songwriter/producer.
What you want to do is start running up and down all the major and minor scales for every key on the keyboard. Some people like to do 2 octaves, but it’s fine if you just want to run up/down one octave of the scale.
It’s a good idea to move in Perfect Fourths, since that’s generally how music likes to move.
So, here’s what to do:
- Start on C Major – run up and down the scale a couple times
- Next, do the C Minor scale – up and down
- Move to the Perfect Fourth of C – the F Major Scale, run it up and down
- Now do the F Minor Scale, run it up and down.
- Next, move a Perfect Fourth above F – the Bb.
- Run up and down the Bb Major and Minor scales
- Continue moving in Perfect Fourths and practicing the scales until you reach C again
The idea of this practice section is to build your memorization and muscle memory for the main scales you’ll be playing a lot of music in.
It’s also a good idea to say out loud, each note as you play it so that you can memorize which notes are which scale degrees for all the scales. This is helpful when you’re writing music and practicing chord progressions.
Once you’re doing great with the Major and Minor scales you can move on to other piano modes and scales. Do the same thing where you’re practicing the mode up and down in each key on the keyboard.
Scale and Chord Focus Section
For the next 20 minutes of your practice, you’re going to hone in on one single scale and practice the different piano chords you can make using the keys of that scale.
For example, you could pick the C minor scale to work in for a while.
The notes of the C minor scale are – C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb
Start practicing the different types of chords you can make using those different notes:
- 6th chords
- 7th chords
- extended chords
- suspended chords
When you’re better at these chord types in root positions, try new inversions and voicings.
It helps to know the rules of diatonic harmony, so you know whether each scale degree/note should be major or minor based on your chosen scale.
Again, with this section of practice, you’re working on memorization and muscle memory.
Chord Progressions Focus Section
For this next section, you’re building on the practice you did in the previous section.
Stay in the same scale you chose above and choose a common piano chord progression to practice (example: I-IV-I-V-I, etc).
The key to this section is to experiment. Don’t just play the chord progression over and over, try different things until you land on a progression you’d love to use in a song/production.
Here’s a couple tips on what to try out for this 20 minute section:
- Start playing the progression using basic triads in root position.
- Next, try using extensions or other chord types for various notes (ex/ try a seventh chord on one of the notes, etc) to see how it sounds in the overall progression
- Try using different chord voicings and inversions for various notes (ex/ play the I chord in second inversion, etc.) and see how that sounds.
The goal is to have a beautiful, unique chord progression you love by the end of the 20 minutes. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it. Just trying will improve your ability to make and play music immensely.
Song Focus Section
This section is pretty straight forward. For the last half hour of your practice session, just work on playing a song you love.
We recommend buying some sheet music for your favorite songs and learning them, since you also end up practicing your music sight reading skills.
Another option is to subscribe to something like Flowkey, which is an online piano lesson with a massive library of modern popular music and classics. You’re VERY likely to find something you want to learn to play there.
But if that’s not your thing, feel free to browse YouTube for piano tutorials of your favorite music and just learn the song.
The idea behind this section is to actually get you playing REAL music, faster and more effectively. There’s no point in just practicing the building blocks if you don’t practice how they get put together to form songs by the greats in music.
So spend some time everyday learning and playing songs.
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13 Crucial Tips for Your Practice Sessions
Here are some practice tips you should pay attention to to make the most of your practice time.
Don’t sleep on this stuff – it’s the little things and details that make the biggest differences.
Remove All Distractions
The only way you can practice effectively is if you focus. Leave your phone in another room (unless you need it as a metronome) and turn off the TV/music/anything distracting.
Stretch and Hydrate
It sounds weird, but it’s still important. Hydrating and drinking water helps keep your body moving well. Stretching can help your fingers move better and help you stay relaxed while playing.
Be Mindful with Repetition
Don’t just repeat things for the sake of getting them done. Especially when practicing things like rhythmic patterns. Pay attention to what you’re doing – which note you just played, what scale it’s in, how well your rhythm is, etc.
Practice at Slow Speeds
When you’re practicing something new – especially a song – go TURTLE SPEED slow. Like so slow the song or piece or scale isn’t even recognizable. Gradually increase your speed as you get better at playing whatever it is you’re playing.
Always Practice With a Metronome
Rhythm and timing are extremely important, so whatever you practice – whether it’s scales, chords, progressions or songs – do it to a metronome. And constantly be trying to improve your groove/feel/rhythm.
Record Yourself and Review weekly for feedback
When you’re learning how to play piano by yourself, it can be tough to get feedback that helps you improve. That’s why it’s good to record yourself practicing (preferably on video) and review it once a week. That way you’ll be able to spot areas you need to improve upon – posture, timing, etc.
Pay Attention to Your Posture, Fingering and Wrists
Playing with bad posture, incorrect fingering or improper wrist position/movement is not only bad for the song but bad for your body, too. Pay attention to correct posture and use the correct fingering and wrist movements/positions.
Treat Practice Like a Workout
Practicing piano is kind of like working out. So if you wanted, you could structure it like a workout – for example when practicing scales, doing all 24 major/minor scales is one “set” and you perform 3 of those “sets” during your session.
Further, try to vary your technique. Once you get good at something, you stop growing unless you keep challenging yourself. So try changing things up to make it more difficult for you. Kind of like adding weight to the barbell once it becomes too light.
Reward Yourself Every Time
Face it, practice sucks. No one wants to do it. But if you promise yourself a reward everytime you complete your practice, it makes it easier to stick to it. So do something nice for yourself everytime you do a full practice session. If you miss practice, you don’t get to do whatever the reward was until you make up the practice time.
Focus on Practicing What You Suck At
It’s easy to think that you can just blast through scales over and over and get better. But the truth is, practice is only effective if it remains hard. So find something that you absolutely suck at, and practice THAT most often. Once you get good at that, find something else you’re not good at.
Stop Looking at Your Hands
It’s gonna mess you up – don’t do it. Or keep it to a minimum. You want to develop muscle memory so you can play without constantly looking at which notes your fingers are hitting.
Count Out Loud to Improve Your Rhythm
If you’re having trouble with rhythm and staying on time, try counting out loud as you play. It’s remarkable effective at improving your timing ability.
Practice Both Hands Together
It’s ok to practice your hands separately when you’re first learning something, but quickly move to using both hands at the same time. It’s how piano is actually played, so it’s best to use both hands as soon as possible, even if it’s too hard for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best thing a beginner piano player can do is to practice every single day. That may seem daunting at first, but don’t worry you don’t NEED to do long practice sessions. You can practice for as little as 10 minutes each session. The most important thing is that you do it consistently every day. Doing 10 minutes per day is better than doing 1 hour per week of piano practice. Daily practice helps you get better, faster.
If you’re strapped for time, even doing a 10 minute practice session every day will improve your skills a ton. But if you have the time a longer session is better since it allows you to really get into the skills you’re trying to master. 30 minutes is a good amount of time, but 60 is better. Not everyone can do an hour of practice daily, so if it’s a choice between a single 1-hour practice per week vs. a 10 minute practice session every day, choose the 10 minute daily sessions. And don’t practice anything for more than 90 minutes at a time. That’s the max you should go before taking a break, and ideally a nap.
Yes, keyboards and acoustic pianos both work the same way so practicing on either is fine. However, you should be aware that most keyboards do not have weighted keys, which means they don’t feel like a real piano. If most of your playing will be on a real piano, it’s best to only practice on a keyboard with fully weighted keys. That way you’re able to internalize the amount of pressure you need to use on each key to get the sound you want,
Usually, the more you practice the better. But be aware that any types of repetitive movements can lead to injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and general pain/strain. So be careful. In terms of practice session length, you shouldn’t practice for more than 90 minutes at a time. That seems to be the most amount of time most people are able to maximize focus. If you want to practice more than 90 minutes daily, break up your sessions in 90 minute segments separate by a few hours.
Yes, in fact it’s the ideal way to practice. It’s a better idea to practice 15 minutes every single day than it is to practice three times a week at 30 minutes each. Daily practice is a great way to improve quickly. Don’t practice more than an hour and a half at a time, though.
Yes, you can practice piano quietly, but the nature of music means there are lots of dynamic changes. That means some parts of a song are meant to be played quietly, while others are meant to be played loudly. For these types of songs it’s important to be able to practice both quietly and loudly.
The real answer is any time is better than none at all. But if you have a flexible schedule it seems that the best times to learn and internalize new things is either early in the day when your focus is at it’s maximum or right before bed, since your brain will use sleep to help remember what you practiced/learned.
You want to practice several things each session if at all possible. If you have the time, you should divide your piano practice across 3 things – rudiments you know already (scales, chords, chord progressions, etc), a song you’re learning (a part you’re already familiar with) and something brand new (whether it’s a new scale/progression/song/song section) to challenge yourself.
And that’s that folks – our complete guide on effective practice.
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