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How do you structure a practice session?


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#1 Big Mike

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Posted 30 August 2017 - 20:31

Hi,

I'm an Adult student working towards Grade 6 piano in 2018. How do you guys plan a typical hours practice. ie, so many minutes on pieces and so many on scales and arpeggios etc. Or if you have (as I have) 3 0r4 pieces to learn,then do you rotate each piece on different days. Also I have other things to focus on like staccato scales and contrary motion scales etc.

           Any advice would be great.


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#2 returning_to_piano

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Posted 31 August 2017 - 08:54

As an adult I tend to try to focus on one main task to be accomplished per session. It would definitely be one piece per session, for me. For about 10 mins I'll start with the scales and arpeggios that are most relevant to that piece, both in terms of keys and in terms of technique. Then I'll work out one bar/set of a couple of bars/phrase of one piece for, say, 20mins to half an hour - learning the notes and the movements needed for expression. If I have time I'll then try a second phrase, but I'll forgive myself if I don't accomplish that one because it wasn't the original goal. For the last 15-20 minutes I'll then do 2 short pieces of sightreading: one playing slowly to get all the notes; one fast to ease up into fluency.

 

It might sound like very little done for the amount of time, but the advantage for the pieces is I can draw a line under that small part of the piece after that day and call it done, much like crossing an item off a list. Very satisfying. It will always need a bit of tweaking later on, but the fundamentals will be there.

 

I do rotate pieces on different days.

 

That's just me though, and me on a good day at that! If I don't discipline myself to focus on one thing per session, my mind usually wanders and I start messing around with random "anythings" until over an hour is wasted and I haven't really accomplished anything at all!


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#3 Big Mike

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Posted 31 August 2017 - 20:43

Hello "returning to piano",

                                          Many thanks. That is really good advice. The problem I have,is that I am 60 next year and cannot remember how I used to practice as a schoolboy and a teenager!. I am struggling to remember things that I could once do in my sleep! ie remembering some  key signs (minor),the fingering for arpeggios and scales etc, My brain cannot absorb information as well as it could 20 years ago.

Although I find that the more I practice,then the more things come back. Only this week though, after spending a lot of time trying to establish some sort of "system" by which to determine the difference between melodic and harmonic minor scales, I played a full set of white note melodic minors from memory,without having to work out in my mind (whilst playing the scale) the ascending and descending notes and the key signatures.

I think I am thinking to much about trying to get it right,when all I need to do is relax and trust that my long-term memory will kick in.

      Your advice to practice just one piece at a time sounds good. Maybe the reason my practice seems so dysfunctional is that I am cramming to much into the hour (or so), therefore putting pressure on myself to do to much,then feeling frustrated when I don't seem to have achieved much.Like you said,,i also find my mind wanders and I cannot concentrate.

   I can now go into my next practice with a new,improved, sense of focus.

Thanks


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#4 GMc

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Posted 02 September 2017 - 06:27

I might do 2 pieces but with a little break between them - I do a lot more orchestral playing than solo.  Usually not more unless got a lot of orchestra work do and not much time.  So its a bit different - I can sight read a fair bit of what I want to play.   But for solos and accompaniment as well my approach is similar - I keep a detailed schedule of how much has to be done by when so I know if I am getting behind.

 

So I will identify a weak spot or hard section and work on that - often look at fingering more closely, go hands sep slow and fast, use a metronome, make sure fingering works at speed, work it up hands together.   I will jot down what MM mark I am up to at the end of a session - then start a bit under that next time.   I always start learning at the end as well as the beginning - the end is what people remember  more than the start so you don't want to spend all your time going from the start or the end will be weak.  Very variable what is achieved depending on the level of difficulty.   Last night it was just a few lines lines of high cello treble clef exposed orchestral work for Handel in the Strand  and a bit of speed work for a few trickier sections of the New World Symphony.  In the end I wrote the Grainger out in the tenor clef and used that - even though I am a good piano sight reader the treble clef for cello does not go straight to my fingers like bass and tenor do without conscious thought.

 

I would make a schedule if you have a date in mind for the exam. How many scales per week do I need to learn, how many arps, practise each section of aural for a week at a time in rotation, etc etc.  Check off how much of each piece is learnt - slowly hands sep, slowly hands together, working speed up.  I label my pieces into sections for that.    But I am probably quite  obsessive!  Unless I have a deadline I just dabble though.  Same for the kids I find - they need something concrete to go for like a performance date or things they want ready for a camp etc.


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#5 returning_to_piano

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 06:17

Hello "returning to piano",

                                          Many thanks. That is really good advice. The problem I have,is that I am 60 next year and cannot remember how I used to practice as a schoolboy and a teenager!. I am struggling to remember things that I could once do in my sleep! ie remembering some  key signs (minor),the fingering for arpeggios and scales etc, My brain cannot absorb information as well as it could 20 years ago.

Although I find that the more I practice,then the more things come back. Only this week though, after spending a lot of time trying to establish some sort of "system" by which to determine the difference between melodic and harmonic minor scales, I played a full set of white note melodic minors from memory,without having to work out in my mind (whilst playing the scale) the ascending and descending notes and the key signatures.

I think I am thinking to much about trying to get it right,when all I need to do is relax and trust that my long-term memory will kick in.

      Your advice to practice just one piece at a time sounds good. Maybe the reason my practice seems so dysfunctional is that I am cramming to much into the hour (or so), therefore putting pressure on myself to do to much,then feeling frustrated when I don't seem to have achieved much.Like you said,,i also find my mind wanders and I cannot concentrate.

   I can now go into my next practice with a new,improved, sense of focus.

Thanks

Hi Big Mike,

 

You're welcome; I'm so glad. smile.png

 

Re your scales: It's funny, isn't it, when you spend so long trying to rationalise something and create a logical system for it using your adult abilities, but week after week this doesn't seem to work... Then the only thing that does seem to work is giving it a break and/or relaxing, and something kicking in from brain or muscle memory(!!!) It's one of those laugh-cry moments! At least when you start to teach (which I read elsewhere you're aiming to do smile.png ), you'll have a conscious way of describing these things to students. smile.png

 

The frustration is also a kicker, I agree... It's incredibly hard to let go of that feeling when you think you've nailed a method for doing something, but your fingers still don't do what you want. I do find that feelings of frustration and discouragement are the things that scupper my progress the most. I have to try really hard to tell myself to let those feelings go, because the very act of having them wastes time and leads me to spend less time at the piano rather than more. I try to tell myself that even if my body and mind are not cooperating at the moment, my very act of doing focused gradual work is getting the right data and signals into them so that eventually, all the practice will pay off and one random day all the right movements will kick in!

 

I do find that completing a task takes me a lot longer than when I was younger. Probably when I was younger I could fit 3 pieces into an hour. I consider the fact that at that age - learning provided our primary and every day activity, so we were likely used to the process of absorbing a lot of info every single day. Now I find that small goals, one at a time, are easier to complete and give a much better sense of satisfaction.


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#6 Kai-Lei

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Posted 05 September 2017 - 19:07

One thing I do regardless of the "hard" practice is start and end the session on something I can play. I'm no longer working toward exams but as I play cocktail-styled music at receptions and clubs I have to keep my hands in trim with arpeggios, runs, strides and on which are no easier than some of the grade technical exercises. Ending on something I like to play and which still needs shaping up is relaxing out of it. 


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#7 thara96

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Posted 17 September 2017 - 07:01

I rotate pieces. Sometimes I play scales. Other times I concentrate on learning the notes. I write stuff down in a notebook I bought. I'm preparing to play in my first concert next month.
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