The Key Principles of Correct Piano Practice: A Step-By-Step Holistic Guide

The flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.
~Chinese Proverb

Ilinca Vartic -  The Key Principles of Correct Piano Practice: A Step-By-Step Holistic GuideExpressive and technical skills, hearing, imagination, focus, productivity, even inspiration and artistry – in piano playing, everything depends on the quality of our daily practice.

Correct practice can be rightfully called the cornerstone of piano playing. If used properly ;), this magic key can open the door to wonderful pianistic skills that will allow you to play beautiful music with ease and fluidity, to expressive and technical brilliance, to inspired successful performances, and ultimately to the awesome feeling of joy and fulfillment that comes from doing what you love the most.

But what does the term ‘correct practice’ really mean? Watch the video below and you will find out! ;)

In today’s tutorial, besides sharing the key principles of correct piano practice, I also demonstrate, step-by-step, how to practice the beginning of the reprise from the beautiful Nocturne in E Minor op. 72 No. 1 by Chopin. When it comes to learning, only real action can transform knowledge into skill!

Before we start, I want to share with you another quote that I love:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
~Aristotle

Each time you sit at the piano, you’re building habits.

Every practice session counts, and the quality of your work will always be reflected in your future piano accomplishments!

So why not start to build great practice habits today?

Enjoy! ;)

Video highlights:

 00:17. Introduction. How much should we practice vs HOW should we practice?
01:25. PianoCareerAcademy.com is one year old!!!
02:36. Everything begins with the meaning of the music.

02:49. Piano playing is a mental activity.
03:17. Analyze and understand the music.

05:33. Harmonious piano playing happens simultaneously on two levels.
05:55. How should we practice? Step-by-step practice demonstration of the reprise from Chopin’s Nocturne op. 72 No. 1.
06:24. Let’s start with Slow Practice.

06:45. Practicing the LH.
07:14. Avoid mechanical practice.
07:35. Don’t play big fragments at once!
08:27. Pay attention to posture and arm relaxation.
09:05. The wrist navigation technique.
10:00. The main purpose of slow practice: getting familiarized with the structure of the text and assimilating all the needed gestures for bringing out the character of the music.
10:22. Mental anticipation. Focus. Be aware of what you play.
10:44. Every repeat of a passage should be better than the previous one.
11:56. Relaxed muscles = noble sound.
12:15. Keep a rounded hand shape and firm fingers.
12:42. Playing in a relaxed manner doesn’t mean having wobbly fingers! The ‘soldiers’ and the ‘back-up’: fingers and whole-arm.
13:30. The benefits of deep practice.
14:43. Increasing the tempo gradually.
15:03. The Magnifying Glass Practice Method: Analyze the core problem and solve it first!

16:26. Practicing the RH.
16:29. Applying the Intoning Technique to the melody.
16:40. Working on sound quality and phrasing.
18:40. How to practice ornaments.
21:33. Choose a comfortable fingering from the start.
22:21. Improving our legato.
23:10. A few words on confidence, freedom and relaxation.
23:39. Practicing the double jump.
24:55. Small hands? Compensate with wrist navigation!
26:16. Keep your ears on the melody! ;)
27:29. Productive practice is a question of balance: slow vs fast practice.
28:28. The ‘faster than needed’ practice method.
29:52. Practicing the descending passage.
30:20. Acquiring technical stability.
32:22. What is positional playing?
34:18. Allow the new material to ‘settle in’!

34:58. Practicing both hands together.
35:19. Polish the connections between phrases or fragments.
35:47. Work on the sound quality simultaneously with learning the elements of the text.
36:03. Practicing without pedal.
37:07. Tempo, rhythm and rubato.
38:24. Working on the sound balance between the melody and the accompaniment
41:15. Improving our phrasing. Focusing on the Horizontal Flow.
42:10. How to ensure that the practiced fragment is mastered.
42:55. Record yourself!

44:04. How to structure a productive and enjoyable practice sessions.
44:14. The Warm Up.
44:45. HOW should we practice scales or technical exercises?
45:13. The key secret of correct practice: focus on quality, not quantity!
45:36. Quantity is relative.
46:00. Increase the practice time gradually!
46:48. Focus on one piece for at least 30 minutes!
47:15. Practice structuring according to your level and objectives
47:43. Avoiding Hand Injuries and Muscle Pain
48:48. Practice structuring according to the complexity of the piece

50:05. Conclusion. The way you practice determines the way you perform.
50:47. And a bonus tip for ‘dessert’: ENJOY your practice!!!

 Today – 15th of February 2013 – our Private Members Forum at PianoCareerAcademy.com is ONE YEAR OLD!!!!

For this occasion, I have prepared a special anniversary surprise for the members of the forum – a ‘retrospective in perspective’ video that celebrates the most important moments of our first year, also ‘disclosing’ some of our exciting plans for the future!

After posting this video on the forum, I decided to share it here (on PianoCareer.com) as well :D. In only 14 minutes, you’ll be able to see lots of video excerpts from the most important tutorials available on our forum – and much more! ;)

Do you want to have full access to these and other exclusive piano playing tutorials? :D

Join our Private Members Forum at PianoCareerAcademy.com and get ready to discover a new approach to piano playing that will transform your expressive & technical skills and bring them to a whole new level!

Don’t forget that you’ll also be able to ask piano questions and receive detailed, professional piano guidance! ;)

And now – a little advice:

Piano playing is not about pressing the correct notes with the right fingers in an appropriate rhythm.

Piano playing is about making music, about sending a message, about touching the audience’s emotions, about helping others, about finding joy and fulfillment. Don’t forget about this when you practice!

Instead of learning ‘songs’ – learn how to play piano! Focus on mastering powerful skills that will allow you to learn and perform ANY piece.

In everything we do, HOW is much more important than WHAT or HOW MUCH. And, above all, WHY makes all the difference! ;)

The way we practice determines the way we perform. HOW are you going to practice today?

Many new articles and video tutorials are coming soon on PianoCareer.com! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or (and now also on Pinterest!) to get instant updates, support and motivation! ;)

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24 Responses to “The Key Principles of Correct Piano Practice: A Step-By-Step Holistic Guide”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. hodaya says:

    HiI have a question about the lpedlim of the piano:What is their role?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi!

      What is ‘lpedlim’? I play piano for almost 30 years, but I never came across this term!

      L ped can mean Left pedal – but ‘lim’ is not a musical term (it rather sounds like a Korean last name)!

      Maybe you’re trying to translate a term from your own language?

      Best wishes,
      Ilinca

  2. April says:

    Hi Ilinca!

    First of all, congratulations to you on completing one year of this fabulous, enlightening website and academy! :) It was indeed a big present to me that you decided to share this video on PianoCareer.com as well, so thank you so much!!

    This video addressed all the practical problems and challenges that anyone will encounter at some point or another in their piano learning and practice sessions. And you provided such logical, easy to remember, holistic and practical solutions in return, which have always been around us, but most of us conveniently forget or don’t bother spend time to resolve. It certainly gave me the insight I was looking for in order to make my practice session productive and enjoyable. IT WAS A PERFECT GIFT from you to all of us.

    So at the end of the video when you spoke of warming up, a question popped in my head. I always usually practice scales as warm up and recently (as I started piano again after a long 4/5 year break) my teacher asked me to do technical exercises (Hanon and Czerny). I’v never done Hanon or Czerny before. For some reason non of my previous teachers recommended for me to do them. On top of this there seems to be two schools of thought about the effectiveness of Hanon.

    What is your opinion on this and if you agree that technical skills are improved significantly through Hanon and Czerny, what is the best way to practice them daily? Given that there are many exercises by Hanon and etudes by Czerny.

  3. April says:

    Also Ilinca, what is the model of Yamaha piano you are using for this video? :)

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Avril!

      Thank you for this great comment! ;)

      By the way, you can find a detailed article about Hanon and Czerny on our forum at PianoCareerAcademy.com :).

      Now I will simply mention that in the Russian piano school we usually avoid playing Hanon (because these exercises don’t have any expressive value – and we should always strive to develop our expressive and technical skills harmoniously and simultaneously).

      We DO practice Czerny (but in reasonable quantities), and we also practice lots of scales (working simultaneously on the quality of our sound and our technique).

      On a side note – I’m planning to make a step-by-step video tutorial about scales in the near future (it will consist of many episodes that will be available on PianoCareerAcademy.com) – starting with the easiest variations and reaching the most advances ones. I’m going to demonstrate in detail how we play scales in the Russian piano school – and how you have to practice them for developing your technique! ;)

      In this video I’m using a Yamaha JU109 PE – the only nice Yamaha I could find here in Moldova LOL

      Have a great day and enjoy your practice!

      Warmest,
      Ilinca

      • April says:

        I see, thanks Ilinca, I will try my best to join piano academy, as soon as I am able to. I know it could teach me a lot, also that you might be repeating some of those things here, for this group of readers. Which is not fair on you to be honest.. :(
        But thanks so much for the info! I really appreciate it! :)

        Kind regards,
        April.

        • April says:

          Hehe yes I thought so, the piano looks and sounds so good :) I couldn’t resist asking you the model.

          Tc Ilinca

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi April,

          Feel free to join our forum anytime – I’m sure you’ll enjoy the learning experience and all the available tutorials :).

          On PianoCareerAcademy.com, I answer questions (posting written and video tutorials) on a daily basis – that’s why it’s so difficult to find the time to post things here on PianoCareer.com. I wish there would be more than 24 hours in a day!

          I’m happy that you like my new piano! :) It’s certainly not the best available Yamaha model – but it’s the best piano I ever had!

          Have a great Sunday and enjoy your practice,
          Ilinca

  4. Steve Rainbow says:

    Dear Ilinca

    I am a new person to discover your site. Thank you for your Correct Piano Practice video. The message of HOW to practice will improve my future for certain. The 35 minutes I just spent watching (and listening) to your tutorial was the best way I could have spent this most recent 35 minutes of my practice time.

    I look forward to progressing my piano playing enjoyment with your kind help.

    Steve Rainbow

    • Ilinca says:

      Dear Steve,

      It’s very nice to meet you! ;) Thank you for your comment – I’m really happy that you enjoyed this tutorial!

      Have a great day and enjoy your practice,
      Ilinca

  5. John Sprung says:

    Thanks so very much. This is amazingly detailed and useful. I’ll have to come back and study it at length.

    As for practicing “fragments” and then putting them together, one thing I’m trying is to add to the end of each fragment the first note or chord of the next. That makes a small overlap or “handle”, so I learn each fragment plus a hint for what comes next. Do you think that’s a good idea?

    – J.S.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi John!

      Thank you! ;)

      Yes, adding to each fragment the first note of the next one is a great idea! :D It is the best way of ensuring that when you put together these fragments, everything will sound and feel well-connected, without gaps or uncomfortable transitions.

      Have a great week and enjoy your practice,
      Ilinca

  6. stefy says:

    I Ilinca,
    I’m new in this site and I’m very interested in your tutorial and in the Russian piano method. It would be great to see a video tutorial about another Chopin Nocturne, the C sharp minor one.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Stefy!

      A detailed tutorial about Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor is coming soon (in about 3-4 weeks)! :) It will be available for the members of my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com.

      Have a great week and enjoy your practice ;),
      Ilinca

  7. natalia says:

    I am new to this site and this is amazing. I am a piano teacher in Jakarta Indonesia and sure I subcsribed to your newsletter just today. Thank you for posting this practice technique, especially the relaxation which is very helpful for me.

  8. Prasana kumar says:

    Hi Ilinca madam,
    The video is helpful.This video shows me the principles of correct practice. It shows how to practice slowly and the importance of focus.I learn to practice correctly from this video.I’m not good at analyzing and understanding the music . This video shows the “wrist navigation technique”.It changed my way of playing and practicing.you are also a teacher to me and my best teacher.Thank’s for sharing.

  9. Kendra says:

    Ilinca,
    Thank you for the informative HOW to practice video. I am recovering from thumb surgery and I loved watching your tutorial. I am 10 weeks from my surgery and have difficulty moving my thumb under the fourth finger in scales and arpeggios. Wrist navigation is what I am focusing on as my wrist is still stiff from the surgery.
    I know my strength and range of motion will slowly return. Do you have any practice suggestions while I continue to recover?
    All the best,
    Kendra

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Kendra!

      This is Natalia, Ilinca Vartic’s assistant at PianoCareerAcademy.com.

      Thank you for your comment!

      Ilinca is not a doctor and therefore she cannot offer recommendations for your specific problem (she only specializes in preventing or solving piano-related injuries). However, the safest course is always to take it one little step at a time (starting with very short sessions, taking plenty of breaks and gradually increasing your practice time) and practice mindfully and correctly, by using the professional ergonomic principles that Ilinca recommends in all her tutorials.

      I will also remind you that you can find many hundreds of other super-detailed video and written tutorials (including step-by-step courses) in the Members Area of Ilinca’s Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com. Find out more about its functionality by reading our super-detailed FAQs (http://www.pianocareeracademy.com/faqs/).

      If you have other questions about PCA (that are not covered in the FAQs), don’t hesitate to ask! ;)


      Sincerely,
      Natalia
      Customer Support
      PianoCareerAcademy.com

  10. Ron H. says:

    This tutorial (and some others) on this site will not go to full screen. I have no problem going to full screen on any other site, including this tutorial on the YouTube site, so I’m thinking the problem could be with your site. My eyesight isn’t that good, so I really need full screen, especially for the sheet music. Can you help?

    Thanks, Ron

  11. Ron H. says:

    Hi again – I forgot to ask if this would be an issue with the tutorials on your academy site. That would be a deal breaker for me to join.

    Thanks, Ron

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Ron!

      This is Natalia, Ilinca’s assistant :).

      Thank you for letting us know about this issue! Most tutorials on this site have the full screen option enabled – but a few older ones (including the video above) had a little error in the embed code, and for this reason the full screen option didn’t work.

      I just fixed this problem – and now all the free YouTube videos embedded on PianoCareer.com can go to full screen :).

      This is not an issue with the tutorials on PianoCareerAcademy.com: all the videos from the Members Area have the full screen option enabled.

      I hope that my answer was helpful – and we’re looking forward to welcoming you to our community! ;)

      Sincerely,
      Natalia
      Customer Support
      PianoCareerAcademy.com

  12. Ashish says:

    hi! Ilinca,

    Your Step by Step guide is very good starting point for learning the piano….!!!

    Thank you for sharing this video.

    IT will help many people who want to improve their playing skills…

    • Ilinca says:

      Thank you so much, Ashish! :D

      The video above comprises the most important principles of correct practice – but if wish to learn how to play piano correctly, from scratch, you can do so by following my step-by-step Video Course for Beginners (where all the artistic/expressive/technical/sight-reading/analytic/practical elements of piano playing are explained in a progressive, in-depth manner).

      Lesson No. 1 of this Course is available here on PianoCareer.com (for free). All the other Lessons (85 at this moment, and I keep posting new ones on a regular basis) can be found in the Members Area of my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com. You can find out more about this Course (and about the functionality of PianoCareerAcademy) by reading our super-detailed FAQs – especially my answers to questions No. 1-6 and 17 ;).

      Cheers,
      Ilinca

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