Remember - PRACTICE AT THE SPEED OF NO MISTAKES!!!
When we meet a new piece in the lesson, here are some things we look for. Go through this again when you get home with your new piece. It will make learning it go more smoothly and more quickly!
Before playing a note, look the piece over carefully. Note key signature, time signature, starting position, dynamics and articulation (how we touch the keys: staccato and legato). What is the mood of the piece? What story does it tell? Are there long, flowing phrases? Is there lots of staccato? Is the melody in the treble or bass? Does it move from one to the other? Is the harmony solid chords? Broken chords in a recognizable pattern? Less easily defined? This overview can even be done away from the piano. The more advanced the student, the more this kind of analysis is required. Even the very beginner, however, benefits from looking over the piece before beginning.
At the piano, play through each hand separately, with careful attention to fingering and position changes. Note (mark) challenging sections. Go VERY slowly, with the goal of depressing only the correct keys. Remember that your fingers start learning right away, right or wrong. Use the correct articulation from the start.
Don’t feel rushed to play the next note; stop when you need to, with your fingers on the keys, deciding where to go next. At this first play-through, it is most important to stop and find the correct key with the correct finger. This is better than playing the wrong note with the correct rhythm. This does not mean that we ignore rhythm, but rather that we might "freeze time" to find a correct note, and then go on in time.
While writing in names of notes or every finger number is NOT the way to learn a piece, some marks can be helpful. Circle or highlight dynamic changes or pedal marks, if necessary. Circle that pesky sharp or flat that keeps getting missed.
Work on the piece in small sections. That may mean one page, or two measures! After finding correct notes with correct fingers, it’s time to play in time - every time! Don’t wait until the middle of learning a piece to count it out and find the rhythm. Play in time, slowly. It is much more difficult to correct the rhythm than to learn it correctly from the start. Don’t play any faster than you can control the piece. After you have the correct notes, fingers, articulation and rhythm, still at a slow tempo, it is time to add dynamics and pedal.
Smart practice is slow, careful practice of what is written on the page. To play without regard to the rhythm, dynamics, articulation, etc., is wasted practice time. In fact, it simply adds to the time needed to finish the piece because it takes time to undo the learned wrong rhythm, etc. Careful practice actually leads to mastering pieces sooner! This is truly a case of haste makes waste.
If you find a “trouble spot,” play those measures over and over very carefully, and then add them back into the piece by first adding back in a measure or two on each side of the trouble spot. After you can smoothly move into, through and out of the spot, you can fit it back into the whole page.
Tip: When practicing one or a few measures, always play through to the downbeat (beat one) of the next measure. This will insure that there is not a “bump” at the bar line when that section is added to the next.
Only after all aspects of the piece are together is it time to slowly increase the tempo. An easy way to do this is to find the metronome setting that matches the tempo at which you can comfortably play the piece. Every few times you play, give the metronome a slight nudge (2 - 4 beats per minute) and try the piece at that tempo. Do that day by day and soon you’ll be zipping along. Don’t forget to enjoy the beautiful music!
Tackling the New Piece
Don't play the piece through from beginning to end over and over again. Work on a small section at a time. Choose a few bars and polish them until they shine.
There are lots of things to check when you are practicing - right notes, fingerings, counting, dynamics, articulation marks, pedal, accidentals, key signatures, changing clefs and chords. You can't check all these if you are playing like an express train! What happens is that you won't notice the mistakes. So practice slowly. Practice at the speed of nomistakes! Once you are confident you can speed the whole piece up.
Practice hands separately so that it is easier to spot the mistakes. When you know each hand inside and out then you can put them together. When you are playing the piece really well try practicing separate hands again every so often just to check everything is still correct.
Everything you practice, you get better at. If you practice mistakes, you will be very good at producing mistakes. If half the time that you practice you get things right and the other half you get things wrong you will end up with a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Not very good odds. Don't let mistakes escape. Every time you make a mistake try and play it 3 times correctly so that your brain has a chance to remember the correct way to play it.
The Correct Way to Have Your Hands on the Piano Keyboard