The Psychology of Piano Practice

A 2013 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that piano practice decreased depression and increased positive mood states in older adults. After 6 months of consistent practice improved memory compared to a control group who had no practice. Those recruited for participation in the study were self selected as highly interested in playing the instrument.

Research on a group of fourth graders by the University of Texas found increased self esteem in piano playing children.

Learning to Play with an Audience

A question was asked on Quora, “Why would some one start talking out loud while I am performing on the piano?” With the performer explaining that during an intimate performance with friends, one new friend would talk and interrupt. Here’s my suggestion:

The easiest way to find out why is to ask and set a boundary. “You may not be aware of the etiquette for this situation, so I just wanted to let you know usually people listen during a performance without talking. Is that possible?”
Listen to to the response carefully. Be clear about your own options. “That’s great, thanks for telling me that. Next time just please wait until a better time to talk.” Repeat as much as is needed
And if it’s clear “If it’s not for you, next time I’d prefer that we spend time together doing other things. Thanks!!

Tips for Becoming a Better Piano Sightreader

Sight reading is the act of playing through a never before seen piece of music. It’s a key skill in learning any instrument. It just happens to be especially difficult with the piano, which has a unique set of difficulties. Being able to play through pieces and passages quickly and early is skill that will help you as you practice.

Even if you aren’t playing perfectly immediately, you’ll lay down a foundation for practice.

1. Listen. Listen to yourself play as you sightread. It can be overwhelming to follow a new score and still, this is music. So training your ear is as important as it is training your figure. After you’ve sightread through once, listen to the piece along with a recording while following closely along with the score. If anything surprises you or is interesting, this will be great information for future sight reading.
2. Skim the entire piece before you play. Note any rhythms, key changes, codas and any other tricky notations that may be marked on the score. You’ll want to notice time signatures and tempo changes especially
3. Rhythm is more important than notes. Keep a steady tempo. When you practice sight reading skip notes if you have to catch up. Imagine you’re playing with another player who will continue through. This will prevent the instinct to rewind frequently
4. Voicing. Look for the melody and bass lines. If necessary, it’s okay to drop middle notes as you site read
5. Music theory. Chord progressions and voice leading are helpful. What’s voice leading? It’s the movement of notes within chords. Imagine each note is a singer with their own melodic harmonies
5. Practice sight reading regularly. Even if it’s only a few bars or a few minutes in every practice session, make a habit of sight reading.
6. Have fun and relax. Stay positive. Have a great attiude
7. Look for patterns. As you play, glance at the measure. If you can spot a chord ahead of time, it’ll help you know where you’re headed.
8. Collaborate. Piano duets, accompaniments, and playing along with records are great ways to force yourself to read music more often.
9. Read through pieces with one hand or the other.
10. Is the composer familiar? Knowing the typical sounds, chords and styles that a composer uses can aid in knowing the direction of the piece even before you’ve played
11. Familiarize yourself with the keyboard. Get to the point where you can almost always play without looking at your hands. When we memorize we tend to give ourselves the chance to look at hour hands more. For reading, we’ll want to focus on the music as much as possible
12. Read through pieces you know. While this isn’t technically sight reading, being able to read and follow a score is a key part of learning to play new music quickly.
13. Sight read very easy and simple music. Even if it’s way below your full capabilities, easier music will be very accessible to a sight reader.
14. The metronome is your friend and enemy. Practice occasionally with a metronome. Get used to the feel of a steady beat. Most of the time, you’ll want to hear the notes and your own playing so keep metronome use limited.
15. Read ahead

Piano Practice Tips: How to get the most from your practice sessions

1. Set Goals
2. Practice at Various Speeds
3. Select parts of the piece to play separately
4. Play through
5. Don’t always start at the beginning.
6. Read about music theory, piano technique, and the pieces you’re playing
7. Make mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes. Focus on one thing at a time. Perhaps play a few bars with improved rhythm, even if notes are missed. Play through and let anything happen. Notice the errors without beating yourself up about it. Just make a mental or written note to practice that piece
8. Isolate
9. Keep a journal, tracking sheet, or notebook. Take notes in it while you’re at the piano. You can track practice time, pieces played, and accomplishments.
10. Listen to music. Listen to pieces you’re playing, other pieces by the same composer, and various interpretations. Pay attention. What did you like about it?
12. Focus on a single piece or a select few pieces.
13. Sight read easier pieces. Every few weeks, spend a session playing with brand new music. It’s a great way to break the monotony of your repertoire. The better you become at sight reading, the easier it will be to start and work on music
14. Short practice sessions are okay!