This is an almost impossible questions to answer isn’t it? And it’s a topic that affects all pianists whether they are beginners or advanced players, young or old, professionals or amateurs. The crux of the matter is this; all pianists NEED to practice. So how much is enough? What is considered a reasonable amount of work per day or does it matter how many hours? Shouldn’t it be quality over quantity?
I followed concert pianist Stephen Hough’s (@houghhough) Twitter feed yesterday and was fascinated to find him answering questions regarding his practice regime. I thought it most interesting that he generally managed about four hours practice per day. No doubt, he has a very busy schedule and must have to squeeze practising in around many other professional demands. However, he performs at the highest level and pianists are frequently advised that in order to achieve this, they must practice most of the day. Indeed lots do and become reclusive as a result. I confess I was a little like this when I was much younger. Hiding away at the piano working furiously! Many successful concert pianists don’t spend hours and hours practising though – four hours per day is often deemed all that is necessary.
So does it all depend on your level of playing or maybe on your brainpower? Or (dare I say) talent? How quickly can you assimiliate and process information enabling you to learn a work and swiftly get your fingers around all the notes accurately? Does being a good sight-reader help or hinder? How much practice time do we waste too? We all sit down and aimlessly play through pieces from time to time, a habit which (after a while) achieves little.
In order to cut the amount of time you spend at the piano perhaps it is a good idea to know a piece in your mind before you start; many feel this inhibits an original reading but I find it really helps. Listening to recordings and studying away from the instrument is a good way to begin. Once you are aware of the sound as well as musical and emotional content, you will already feel as though you know the work before you even touch the keyboard. Once there, sectionalizing your piece structurally and working through it methodically can also cut down on fruitless practice time. It’s a fact that memorising can take up a great deal more study time; probably about 50% more practice is required to learn a piece securely from memory. However, if you study your piece from many different angles away from the piano as well as performing it in your mind, then you will be well on your way to learning it that much more quickly.
Developing a practice schedule can help too (and make sure you keep to it!); once you know you have to achieve or learn several elements or features in particular works at one sitting, then you train your mind to make sure everything is completed. It’s surprising just how much you can achieve when you put your mind to it.
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For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.