Most people don’t really want to ‘learn’ to play the piano or
‘practice’ the piano, they just want to ‘play’ piano. ‘Play’ sounds like
fun, ‘practice’ sounds like a chore. We get this image from childhood –
some kid stuck indoors ‘practicing’ scales while all the other kids are
outside the window ‘playing’.
So, first thing we need to do is to see our piano practice in a new
light. See it as a way of accelerating the learning process so that SOON
you’ll be able to ‘play’ piano and play it well. If you don’t practice
and you just play old familiar tunes you move rather slowly. Yes, you’ll
get better at playing those old familiar tunes but technically you
won’t be pushing yourself to greater heights.
Proper, structured piano practice helps you stride forwards. I say
‘proper’ because a lot of people have an idea that practice IS just
playing songs over and over. Practice needs to involve unchartered
territory. The golden rule is – ‘practice what you CAN’T play, not what
you CAN play’.
First of all, work out what you want to achieve. Do you just want to
know all your chords without thinking about how they are formed – then
work out a practice routine that leads to that goal. Maybe you want to
learn about inversions or chord substitution – again, make the practice
fit the goal.
Split your practice session into two halves. In the first half play
the difficult stuff – your mind is sharper to begin with – then reward
yourself with some enjoyable but reasonably difficult tunes. Make sure
you are comfortable. Many a bad back has happened because of a bad piano
stool at the wrong height. Make sure your piano is in tune. If you
don’t have a good piano and are serious about learning GO BUY A GOOD
Every fifteen minutes stretch your arms and shoulders and roll your neck
to combat stiffness. Check out some Yoga exercises for shoulders and
Follow the 3 times daily rule. Repetition in practice is ESSENTIAL.
If you find something particularly difficult make sure you practice it
at least 3 times every day. Don’t worry if it takes months to master –
you’ll get there.
Don’t play for the neighbours. Practice piano at a time when you don’t
care who is listening so that you can make lot’s of mistakes and play
things over and over. Organise your piano music carefully – don’t keep
it in a heap where you keep playing the ones on top. If you download
sheet music put it in a folder. Have plenty of shelves near the piano.
Be realistic – I truly believe that anyone can learn piano and learn it
to an enjoyable level but no two people are alike – some are more
‘naturally’ gifted than others. If you have an average ability then it’s
all down to practice. The more you practice the more you learn.
Now and then, practice with your eyes closed – or don’t look at the
keys – this really sharpens you up. Organise your life so that practice
is possible (this where Mindfulness comes in). Too many people think
they don’t have time to practice when really they just haven’t found the
time. How long should you practice – that’s up to what you want to
achieve. You don’t have to be a concert pianist. Even if you just play
for yourself just enjoy that. The archer who’s mind is on the prize
cannot stay focussed on the target. Accept the bad days when it seems
like you can’t play a note. Sometimes it’s better to walk away. So
remember that ‘playing’ piano and ‘practicing’ piano are different.
Which do you do? Aim for a bit of both.
Which is better.. Keyboard or Piano?
Real pianos are great but the one big drawback is you can’t turn the
volume down so with a piano you tend to end up playing for the
neighbours. With a keyboard you can stick on some headphones and play
whatever turns you on – you can experiment, make mistakes and sound
silly and play something a thousand times without driving other people
Ideally – have BOTH!
If you are buying a piano it is preferable to buy an overstrung piano
not a straight strung! How to tell: Lift the top lid of the piano you
should see the tuning pins at the top of the piano. If the tuning pins
are evenly spaced along the pin block and the strings are all parallel
and vertical this is a straight strung piano. If there is a group of
tuning pins at the left and a separate group at the right and the
strings cross over in a X shape this is an overstrung piano. Also get a
tuner to check it out. I bought a piano once that needed to have the
wood treated because all the pins (that tighten the strings) were coming
loose very quickly after being tuned – disaster!
What Keyboard should you choose?
A lot depends on what you want. Do you want a keyboard that sounds
and feels like a Piano – then you’re looking for a keyboard or Digital
Piano with WEIGHTED keys. Listen carefully to the piano sound – don’t be
bamboozled by all the other buttons. If you want something portable
then you are looking for a keyboard. Personally I would still look for
one with weighted keys – I hate the feel of light plastic keys.
Get a keyboard with at least 61 keys – anything less and you will be
craving for more keys after a few days. Also make sure get a sustain
pedal, a keyboard is absloutely a dead thing without one. Without a
sustain pedal as soon as you lift your finger off a key the sound stops
dead – with a piano at least the strings vibrate for a second or two –
the difference is quite noticeable.