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How to Practice Piano Effectively – 12 Do’s & Don’ts

woman practicing piano effectively

The key to mastering the piano can be summed up into one word: practice. As the old saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect!’ Today I want to share some do’s and don’ts for practicing piano both effectively and efficiently—so you can accomplish as MUCH as possible in any amount of time.


Listen, I get it. There is ALWAYS something that is more important in your life than practicing piano.

I have taught quite a few piano students myself, both kids and teens, and the #1 excuse I get for not practicing is “I just don’t have enough time.”

But here’s the thing. It actually doesn’t take hours of practice everyday to get profficient at the piano.

Yes, hours a day would sure speed up the process. But what if you could maximize a shorter amount of practice time by practicing right?

woman playing piano with text 'how to practice the piano effectively'

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How I Practiced Piano Growing up

I’ve been playing piano since I was old enough to touch my hands to the keys. My dad graduated with a Master’s degree from Julliard, so he taught me and my siblings from the very beginning.

But here’s the thing – there were almost NO times in my life where I practiced more than 30 minutes a day.

For the most part, I practiced for 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week (Monday through Friday).

Recommended Practice Routine

For my piano students, I usually recommend a similar practice routine to the one I followed for so many years.

For kids (around age 5-10) 30 minutes may be a bit much to begin. This age can start with 15-20 minutes a day, and gradually build up to 30 minutes as their focus increases.

For teens, I highly recommend sticking with the 30 minute practice session time. This leaves enough room to warm up, practice some technique, and dig into the piece they are learning.

45 minutes to an hour or more is a good time frame for serious students who know they want to go into piano in college.

But I get that many people just want to get good at the piano for their own enjoyment. If that is your goal, 30 minutes is a great place to start.

Practicing Piano Efficiently

My goal in this post is to show you how to maximize every second during that 30 minute time frame.

The truth is, you can accomplish SO MUCH in a short amount of time (check out how I am able to play after 15+ years of this routine!)

But you have to practice right.

So many of my students practice wrong. And that is why, when they come to their lesson each week, we have to go over the same concepts over and over again.

If this is you, and you feel like you can never accomplish much when you’re practicing by yourself—don’t feel bad.

It takes time to learn how to practice. Reading this article is a great place to start! If you can commit to the things I am about to tell you, it will go a long way. So let’s get into the do’s and don’ts of piano practice!

Table of Contents:

I’ve split up the do’s and don’ts of practice into a few different categories. Feel free to jump to each one below.

  1. A Note to Parents
  2. Do’s and Don’ts of Practice Mindset
  3. Do’s and Don’ts of Choosing WHAT to practice
  4. Do’s and Don’ts of speed & dynamics
  5. Do’s and Don’ts of Scheduling practice

A Note to Parents

Before I go any further, I just want to give a note to parents who might be trying to get their child to practice. (If you are an adult learning piano, you can skip this and just go on to the tips!)

little girl practicing piano with parent

The truth is, one key part of a child learning piano is the parent’s involvement. Some of the things in the list below are things you will need to encourage them to do. For example, holding them accountable to practice and/or giving them a specific schedule they need to stick to.

If you sit in their lessons and learn along with them, it will also be greatly beneficial because then you will be able to better help them during the week.

I’ve had a lot of students come in and out and whenever I teach children, they do much better when the parent is involved.

Just the fact that you’re reading this post is a great start to helping them—so thank you for being here.

With that in mind, let’s get into the specific practice tips.

#1. Practice Mindset

Before we can get into HOW to practice, we need to start with mindset. If you go into your practice time with the wrong mindset, you will not be effective, so this is very important!

Don’t: Practice Mindlessly

First of all, you don’t want to be practicing mindlessly, or just because you “have to.”

I know practice can feel like a chore at times (trust me, I’ve been there!) But if you sit down and do it just because your parents are making you…you won’t get very far.

It will be boring because you’re making it boring. You probably won’t remember much or be very effective, especially if you allow your mind to wander into other thoughts instead of focusing on the task at hand.

Do: Practice With Concentration & Intention

Successful practice requires your full concentration. Push past the ‘boringness’ of it and tell yourself you will THANK yourself 10 years from now when you can play beautifully!

You will also need to be intentional. In the next section, I will give you specific tips for HOW to be intentional.

But just for now, just know that you will need to be 100% focused to really accomplish a lot in 30 minutes!

Don’t: Give up when you can’t figure it out

This is a common mistake among students: giving up. And I get it. When you’re practicing alone without a teacher next to you, it can be hard.

Sometimes, you won’t know exactly what to do. You might get frustrated. But instead of giving up…

Do: Ask for Help & Write Down Questions

Like I said, giving up is not the best thing to do! If you end up frustrated, either shoot your teacher a text (if they’re okay with that) OR write down your questions for your next lesson.

Let me tell you something – teachers love it when they have an student asking questions. It shows that you are eager to learn!

So if you can’t figure out a note or rhythm during your practice, make sure to ask at your next lesson, or look it up online.

little girl reading sheet music while practicing piano

#2. Choosing What to Practice

So you’ve got your mind in the right place before starting…but WHAT should you do when you sit down to practice? That is what this section is for!

Don’t: Jump right into your piece

The first thing you should do when you start practicing is NOT play through the song or piece you are learning.

It will be harder to play if your hands are cold, and this can actually result in injury if you’re not careful.

Do: Warm Up First

So instead, make sure to warm up before starting. A warm up should take about 5 minutes of your total 30 minutes.

You’ll want to warm up how your teacher tells you to. Here are the common warm ups that I recommend:

  • Playing through major/minor scales
  • Playing chords and inversions that go with each scale
  • Playing arpeggios
  • Finger exercises

These are just a few basic ideas. There are more things you can do too! Like I said, make sure to ask your teacher what to do. If they haven’t given you anything yet, ask them if they have any warm-up recommendations and they will probably be quite impressed! 😉

Don’t: play through the whole piece

Next (and very very important): after you warm up, don’t start by playing through your whole piece. Please, just don’t.

This is one of the most common piano practice mistakes that I see. Honestly, I have to fight not to do this myself sometimes too!

It is just not a good use of time to start by playing through the piece—especially if it is long.

Do: Practice in Sections

It will be SO much better if you break down your practice into sections. Listen carefully here, because this is one of the biggest keys to effective practice.

Breaking down your piece into smaller sections is one of the best things you can do. Let me give you an example:

I once helpd a student learn how to play the Maple Leaf Rag. This is an extensive jazz-style piece with multiple difficult pages.

The way this student got really good at the piece is by practicing in sections. She would take about two lines at a time and just work on that until it got easier. Then, move on to the next 2 lines.

The size of the section really depends on the piece. Just do whatever amount you can handle without getting overwhelmed.

You don’t have to get through the whole piece in a day. Instead, you can literally just focus on two lines for 20 minutes of your practice. You’ll want to go slow, break down the notes and rhythms, and repeat.

But I know – playing through the whole piece (especially when you’ve learned it all but just need to perfect it) is really tempting. What I recommend doing is rewarding yourself at the END of your practice. If you have warmed up and practiced well for 25 minutes, take the last 5 and just enjoy playing through it.

Don’t: Practice Only the Parts you know well

Oh, this is another really big mistake! It is also very tempting to do. We all know that it is more fun to sit down and play through the parts of your piece that are easy.

Maybe you worked really hard on a section and now you know it well. That’s great, but if you just keep playing the parts you’ve already learned, you will never progress.

Do: Practice the tricky parts

It is highly likely that every piece you play will have tricky parts. Maybe there’s a part that is more technical, or maybe it just doesn’t come to you as easy as other things. But either way, it is guaranteed that you will come across them.

Usually, tricky parts aren’t the most fun thing to practice. But, focusing in on them is one of the most beneficial things you can do. The faster you get over the hump, the faster you will learn your piece and improve over all!

For more info on how to practice tricky parts, make sure you read the section on speed and dynamics.

Don’t: Just practice the fun things

We kind of already covered this, but there is another angle on it too. You won’t always be able to practice things that are fun—like a Disney song you love, for example.

There are definitely times for practicing things you love (after all, that may be why you started learning in the first place!) However, sometimes the ability to play what we want to play comes with other more boring things…

Do: Practice the ‘Boring’ Things to Improve Technique

Yep, it’s true. The boring things are usually the things that lead to playing “fun” things.

For example, in order to improvise in worship music or jazz, you need to know lots of chords. That means you’ll need to spend a lot of time learning chords, inversions, scales, etc. before you’ll be able to improvise as you want.

Likewise, in order to play a super fast, advanced piece, you’ll need to do a lot of “boring” things beforehand. Things like finger exercises, practice with the metronome, etc.

These things are never fun in the moment but they always pay off in the end. Just remember that.

And if your teacher is having you do something that seems super boring, ask them why! It is often easier to push through these boring things if you know what it will help you with down the line.

#3. Speed & Dynamics

We’ve covered what to practice, but now let’s get into the nitty gritty. Just exactly HOW should you practice? What speed? How much do you repeat? Let’s get into the details.

Don’t: Rush

This may be THE most common thing I have to say in my piano lessons: slow down!

The urge to rush through a piece to see how fast you can play it is very real. Especially in a lesson. Just a quick tip—your teacher will likely be much more impressed if you play your piece well slowly, rather than playing it badly at a fast pace. 😉

But back to practice. When you’re by yourself, you don’t have your teacher to tell you to slow down. So this will have to be an act of discipline. Remind yourself that rushing will not help you improve.

Do: Go Slowly

Of course, instead of rushing, you will want to practice slowly. The question is, how slow?

Here is the answer: go as slow as you need to go to play the right notes and rhythms without pausing.

Yes, that may feel like a snails pace. But I promise you will learn the piece faster in the end if you do this.

Just think about it – you might spend a week practicing fast, and by the end of the week, you’ll still be messing up and pausing a lot.

BUT, if you practice a small section slowly and gradually build up speed, by the end of that same week there’s a good chance you’ll have the section down perfectly.

So let me end by saying:

Practicing small sections while going slowly is one of the best methods you can use.

My practice has gotten much more efficient now that I’ve stopped constantly playing through the whole piece, and just worked on a smaller section slowly.

Do: Repeat

Here’s another ‘do’ by itself because I couldn’t think of a don’t to go with it, LOL. While you are practicing these small sections slowly, another thing you want to do is repeat. Repitition is key for successful learning.

Let’s take a few scenarios here so you can see exactly how I practice.

First, let’s say there is a line in a piece that you are really struggling to play. You have most of the piece down, but this particular line is just hard.

Start by breaking that line down into super small sections. You can take it just one measure by itself if you need to. Now, here are the steps I would follow:

  1. First, try playing the measure hands separately. Take just the right hand of that measure and play it very slowly. Repeat this 5 times.
  2. Now, repeat this process with the left hand.
  3. Once you are sure you have the parts down well separately, put them together. But go VERY slow. As slow as you need to go to make it feel easier.
  4. Keep playing this measure hands together, slowly, until you can do it without pausing at the tempo you’re going.
  5. From here, you can try playing it a little faster. It will get easier each time!

Repeat this process with every measure in the tricky section. As you do this with a new measure, add the previous measure so you learn to play it fluidly.

This may sound tedious, but I promise it works! If you buckle down and do this with every tricky section in a piece, you will learn it much faster.

Do: Listen while you play

You might be thinking, “I’m not deaf! Of course I always listen while I play!” But what I’m talking about with this ‘do’ is intentional listening.

When it does come time to try playing a larger section of your piece, listen carefully. Listen for things like mistakes, places where you pause, or notes you are unsure of.

When you hear these things, it is clue that you need to take that part and look more closely at it. Repeat the process of repetition we talked about in the last section to make sure you have it down well.

Listening while you play is especially important when you’re trying to perfect a piece for a recital. Don’t ignore even the smallest of mistakes or pauses. Those usually happen because you’re unsure of something, and it’s a clue that the section needs more intentional slow practice!

Don’t: Play robotically

Finally, back to another “don’t”! Another common misconception about practice is that you have to buckle down and play very robotically while figuring out hard sections.

Sometimes students do this by accident just because they are so focused on the notes or rhythms.

Do: Pay attention to dynamics and enjoy yourself

The truth is, you can enjoy yourself while you practice! In fact, when you’re alone is one of the best times to practice dynamics. No one is watching, so let yourself be free!

When you’re practicing a hard section slowly, you can also try adding in a dramatic crescendo, for example.

Or, when you’re increasing the speed on a section you’ve been working on, you can try adding in the dynamics on the page.

The key to dynamics is that they are supposed to be something you feel, and usually something you feel with your body AND mind while playing. Don’t be afraid to let your body get into it as you play.

And also, a little imagination can go a long with with this concept! Try to imagine what the piece you’re playing sounds like. Then, let that come out in your movement.

#4. Schedule.

All right, the last section we have to talk about is scheduling your practice. When should you practice? Students tend to fall into two categories here: either they don’t care very much or they care TOO much. So we’ll address both of those extremes here.

Don’t: Practice Sporatically, or right before your lesson

This is a very, very common mistake. It usually happens when students don’t care very much about piano or don’t “feel” like practicing.

If you practice only sporadically, you won’t get very far.

Another thing people often do is realize they haven’t practiced all week, so they practice the hour before coming to their lesson.

While some practice is better than none, this is a really bad habit to get into.

Do: Practice Consistently

Consistency is key. Seriously. It is better to practice 30 minutes a day 4 days every week, than for an hour every once and a while. Or even worse, an hour when you finally “feel” like it.

I have seen this over and over again in my students. The ones who practice consistently for a long period of time go far. They progress quickly. Because they progress quickly, it is easier for them to stay excited about piano.

It will also serve you well if you have a schedule for yourself. Maybe you practice for 30 minutes every day after you get home from school. Maybe you practice Monday, Wednesday, and on the weekend.

It doesn’t matter so much what the schedule IS. It matters more that you stick to it consistently for a long period of time.

Don’t: Overwhelm yourself

Now, this is for students that tend to be over achievers. These people may spend hours agonizing over a hard piece, trying to get it down quickly.

Doing this often leads to frustration and over-saturation. It is actually not helpful in the long run. Remember, practice is more effective if it is good practice for a short period of time, rather than bad practice for a long period of time.

Do: Spread out your practice if necessary

Instead of overwhelming yourself, spread out your practice time! If you want to practice for an hour each day to get a piece down faster, you could break it up into 3 twenty-minute intervals, or 2 thirty-minute intervals.

Each time you sit down to practice again, you will have had a break and your mind will be refreshed. Much better for good practice if you ask me!

Piano Practice FAQ

Let’s end this post by answering some common questions I see about practicing piano!

How should a beginner practice piano?

Most of the tips I went through above apply to beginners just as much as anyone else. Go slowly, and take your time figuring out the notes and rhythms. You will want to do a lot of work playing slowly with your hands separate, and then gradually put hands together and increase speed.

How do you practice piano scales and chords?

I recommend practicing these for 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each practice session. Once you’ve learned your scales and chords, you can simply use them as a warm up and run through a few each time.

If you’re still learning your scales and chords, you may want to have a time set aside to just work on these. For scales, go slowly and work on memorizing which scales have which sharps and flats. Make sure to work on fingering.

For chords, practice inversions and progressions in both major and minor. Eventually you can also move onto diminished and augmented.

Can you practice piano without having a piano?

You can practice some things without having a piano, but having a piano is always more effective. If you don’t have access to a piano, here is what I would work on:

  • Practice counting rhythms and writing the beats on a piece of sheet music
  • Drill yourself on note names
  • Practice dexterity exercises like the ones shown in this video

How many hours should you practice piano?

It depends on your goals! Like I mentioned already, you can get good at piano simply by practicing consistently for 30 minutes a day. However, there are many piansts who practice for many hours a day. You will have to decide on a schedule based on your available time and goals.

Is practicing too much piano bad?

That depends. The main thing you want to avoid is overworking or overwhelming yourself. It is not bad to practice a lot, but you just want to make sure you are balancing it well with the rest of your life.

What should I practice everday on piano?

Some things that are good to practice every day include scales, chords, some kind of finger exercise, and of course a song/piece you want to learn.

Conclusion

Practicing piano is just one of those things. In order to succeed at the piano, it is absolutely necessary. Yet it can be so tedious that some people avoid it completely. The choice is up to you. How badly do you want to learn piano? If you really want to learn, you will put in the work. And when you put in the work, you WILL reap the benefits. I promise! So what are you waiting for? Go practice! 🙂