Practice Hacks for Piano

Practice Hacks for Piano

Practice Hacks for Piano by Catherine Shefski

I’ve written a book! It’s a quick read for the Kindle and it’s available for download here on

Inside Practice Hacks for Piano you will find succinct advice on topics such as finding the proper hand position, playing octave passages, and creating a full range of dynamics, to interpreting and memorizing music — this little book has a nugget of useful information on every page, much of which has been down from teacher to student for over a century. Written in short and concise sections, intermediate and advanced piano students and their teachers will find helpful and practical advice for getting the most from every practice session.

This e-book includes tips on the following topics: Hand Position, Stretching, Scales, Chords, Octaves, Playing Fast, Dynamics, Fingers, Staccato and Legato, Memorizing Music, and Performance.

I’d love to hear what you think! And if you like what you see please leave a review at Amazon. I sincerely appreciate it!

Piano Technique for Reluctant Students

Put away the Czerny for a while. Here are some quick and easy ways to build finger technique in reluctant intermediate piano students without worrying about reading notes.  Choose one or more, a la carte… put them away and revisit them as needed.

  • Five finger exercises 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 on the first five notes of every major scale ascending chromatically.  Hands separately first. Then together. Work to get each pattern quick and accurate!
  • When the major patterns are comfortable add the minor. Same way. Work for speed and accuracy.
  • Major triads ascending chromatically.
  • Major – minor – major root position triads ascending chromatically. Feel the shape (i.e. all-white key, black-white-black, white-black-white, etc)
  • Major triads root position, first inversion, second inversion ascending chromatically.
  • Minor triads same way.
  • Two octave arpeggios tucking thumb when the second fingers played.
  • Octaves – hands together – C major scale – feeling the arm weight.
  • Octaves – alternating.
  • Octaves – broken.
  • Octaves – impulses. C. CD, CDE. CDEF. etc. – together, alternating, broken.
  • Diminished 7th chords  – reaching the octave first, then adding fingers 2,3,4. Ascend chromatically – 4 or 5 a day. Wonderful for opening up the hand.
  • Scales – Starting with C major, then Db, D, Eb, E, etc. I call it the “scale of scales.” Start with majors. Then major-minor right up the scale.
  • For finger independence hold all five down and lift one at a time while holding the rest. Students make up their own patterns.
  • For fun…try upside down reaches. Start with an octave reach. Then while you hold finger 5 down, flip your hand over (palm up, fingers down) and reach the thumb up to the next octave – inside of the elbow facing the ceiling. Nice for stretching.

Have more suggestions? Please add them!

Goal-oriented Practice by Gretchen Saathoff

Goal Oriented Practice by Gretchen Saathoff

I saw myself as I read Gretchen Saathoff’s new e-book, “Goal-Oriented Practice – How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer.”

  • Simply sightreading…never really practicing.
  • Always starting from the same spot in the music.
  • Not thinking to turn on the metronome.
  • Guessing at the meaning of unfamiliar musical instructions.
  • Jumping up to answer the phone, or worse, carrying on conversations with various teenage children that wander through the room.

But, just as Gretchen’s e-book was easy to read, organized and to the point, I see how my practice routine can be streamlined.  Starting today (thanks to Gretchen)  here is my plan. I will:

  • Organize the music on the piano and get all the printouts from IMSLP in binders.
  • Order a new copy of the Beethoven Violin Sonatas so I can write my own fingering in and return the two copies I’ve borrowed from two different people.
  • Plug in the metronome and set it back in its place…hopefully the cats won’t find it again.
  • Write down my practice goals for the week.
  • Find a chair in the house that really works for my piano and look into buying an adjustable bench. Mine is just too high.
  • Set aside one uninterrupted hour each day this week to be fully present while practicing.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

In the meantime, I recommend that any pianist (or piano student) who’s living in the real world of deadlines and distractions head over to GretchensPianos for more tips and ideas for productive practice.

Valentina Lisitsa Practicing

Over the past few days there’s been a buzz on my Twitter and Facebook pages about Valentina Lisitsa and the streaming video of her practice sessions.

I thought it kinda cute to let those of you who are curious – (or upsed at me not responding to messages on Youtube , Facebook etc LOL ) inside my practice studio.I am going to run live webcam for next 7 days-’till July 4th midnight to be exact. I will be working on my recital and concerto programs that I will have to perform next month. I have 55 pieces to work on!!!!!!

Seriously. Some of them I have to revive ( like Chopin Etudes or Brahms #2)more than half is absolutely brand new . I am going to practice as usual -@ 13-14 hours a day., from around 9-10AM EST to midnight. Nothing exciting otherwise:-)

If you have a chance I suggest you tune in at some point today. Great motivation to get you practicing!

Regarding Practicing

According to Dr. K. Aders Ericsson, author of the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, the speed at which you acquire a skill, such as piano playing, and the level of expertise you eventually achieve, is primarily a function of how intensely, and how wisely, you practice.

Blogger David Steinberg writes about what it is exactly that we need when practicing.  Passion and Opportunity. Here’s what he says about Passion.

Dr. Ericcson writes of his fellow researcher Benjamin Bloom, who concluded that:

elite performers are typically introduced to their future realm of excellence in a playful manner at a young age. As soon as they enjoy the activity and show promise compared to peers in the neighborhood, their parents help them seek out a teacher and initiate regular practice.

Want to improve? Be great? Passion matters. Rarely does an expert form who neither enjoys their mastered activity nor has a driving desire to improve. Pete Sampras likely found tennis to be a childhood love affair. He dreamt it, lived it, daydreamed it. Endless hours of practice are rigorous, and only the passionate tend to endure them.

Earl Woods wrote about consistently affirming that Tiger had developed his own passion for golf. He insisted that the boy finish his homework before practicing, and he noted that Tiger did indeed see golf as a reward. He insisted that Tiger call him at work, presumably an intimidating task for the child, so that he could ask his father if they could practice. Tiger Woods had a passion to improve that outweighed the rigors.

The less passionate? Ericcson writes:

Many individuals seem satisfied in reaching a merely acceptable level of performance, such as amateur tennis players and golfers, and they attempt to reach such a level while minimizing the period of effortful skill acquisition. Once an acceptable level has been reached, they need only to maintain a stable performance, and often do so with minimal effort for years and decades.

I, and likely you, never cared to be an excellent typist. I worked on it until it felt like “riding a bike” and then stopped trying to improve. My speed has not risen since, despite decades of experience.

Live it, breathe it, love it, or you probably will not get there, no matter what you do to prepare or how much experience you collect.

Read the entire article here… it will make you want to sit down and practice in an entirely new way!