Work Smart! Tips for a Productive and Enjoyable Piano Practice

Yes, learning to play piano is a challenging process. It is definitely not easy, but is it really as hard as it seems?

Hard work is undoubtedly effective. At the same time, it is time consuming, frustrating and extremely tiring. It is most of the time blind and mechanical. It often affects our health and our emotional balance. The results it brings are rarely worth the effort.

Smart work, on the other hand, is based on correct information and it uses wisely the natural laws of our existence. When we work smart, we don’t waste our energy on useless things. We don’t take blind shots. We don’t lose time throwing ten or twenty stones and hoping that at least one of them will reach its destination. We replace superstition with knowledge. We focus, we throw one stone and it reaches the target.

‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.’ ~Lao TziWhat is smart work in piano playing?

Working smart means being focused and relaxed at the same time. It means practicing in a positive state of mind. It also means being mindful and aware of what you do – it’s very important to avoid mechanical playing (when your fingers are playing automatically and your mind is absent, thinking about something else).

Working smart also means having a correct posture – a straight back and relaxed, flexible arms – no matter what you play. It means taking good care of your wrist (which is the most important ‘breathing point’ in the pianist’s arms) – it should never be tensed and immobile. It means not forgetting to breathe when you play – with your mind, your abdomen and your arms!

It means being always aware of the quality of your sound – it should be expressive and beautiful – the result of pressing, not hitting the keys. It means playing from the entire weight of your relaxed arms (not from the separate movement of your fingers) and allowing this relaxed weight to flow into each note and dive freely into the keyboard. I already mentioned this principle a few times and I will keep emphasizing its importance – this technique is the key towards a quality sound which is soft and deep at the same time (and for which the Russian piano school is famous).

It means analyzing a piece and listening to several good recordings before beginning to learn it. It also means reading at least something (or asking your teacher) about the composer’s style and about the message of the piece – this method is another way of accelerating your productivity!

Smart work means understanding that technique should always be subordinate to meaning. It means warming up before your practice, but not forgetting that scales and Etudes deserve a quality sound and beautiful phrasing as well!

Working smart means taking a break when you’re tired and never forcing yourself.

It means being patient, calm, confident, and believing in your powers and your potential.

When you work smart, you never hurry. You simply know that there is time for everything. Hurry creates tension and tension is a productivity killer!

When you work smart, you don’t allow negative thoughts or doubts to ruin your day and your practice. Just like psychological and physical tension, negative thoughts are considerably slowing down your progress, at the same time affecting your health. Invest enthusiasm and positive energy in everything you do and you’ll be surprised by the results!

Smart work means taking care of your health. It means breathing deeply and spending time outdoors. It means paying attention to the birds and the squirrels and actually noticing (!!!) how each season slowly passes into the next one. It means eating healthy and working out at least 5 days per week.

When you work smart, you know that by investing in your well-being, you’re investing not only in your productivity, but also in your success and your happiness!

Working smart also means conquering your laziness and having the wisdom of knowing the difference between laziness and fatigue ;). It means being perseverant, keeping your goals and your passions in front of you, but not forgetting to live in the present and enjoy every step of the way!

It also means never, never, never giving up on doing what you love! If it is your true passion and your true purpose, you’ll always find time and enthusiasm for your practice.

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If you enjoyed this piano tutorial, here are some other piano practice and learning topics you’ll like:

Wrist, Arm & Shoulder Warm-Up for Pianists

Finally! A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing

No Time to Practice? 5 Powerful Solutions for Lack of Time

Take A Deep Breath – Relax Your Wrist!

The Secrets of a Correct Piano Key Attack

6 Responses to “Work Smart! Tips for a Productive and Enjoyable Piano Practice”

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  1. Dan says:

    Hi Ilinca
    i know i have asked a few questions already i won’t take all your time up but one thing that bothers me when people say practice what is a good practice session/routine and what would you recommend?
    I would try to aim for an hour a day what would you suggest for apportioning the time? and any particular exercises/and or pieces for overall improvement of technique thanks all the best

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Dan!

      Happy Holidays and welcome to! 🙂

      In my articles and especially in all my replies under the page “Ask Me a Piano Question” (we have already reached 3 pages and about 300 questions and answers!) I talk a lot about the basics of a correct, relaxed, mindful practice.

      I also mention in many of my articles and video tutorials that everything begins with a positive state of mind, a correct posture, a sharp hearing, a good imagination and a relaxed, deep key attack. You can watch one more time my videos The 5 Basic Elements of a Correct Piano Posture and The Secrets of a Correct Piano Key Attack.

      HOW you practice is always much more important than HOW MUCH you practice. If you’re playing mechanically, if your arms and wrists are tensed and your sound rigid and ‘percussion-like’ – it doesn’t matter how many hours per day you practice: your progress will still be extremely slow.

      On the other hand, if you practice with awareness, if you understand what you play and WHY you play it, if your posture is correct, your back straight, your key attack gradual and relaxed and your hearing activated – then you can play only one hour per day – but you’ll still have amazing results.

      As a matter of fact, one of my future projects is making a detailed tutorial about ‘correct practice’ – where I’ll show exactly how to work on a piano piece.

      Good luck! 😉

  2. Iris says:

    This article is just AMAZING!!!

  3. Stanley says:

    Do you have any books that you would recommend for finger strengthening and finger speed?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Stanley!

      Welcome to! 😉

      The best way to develop the strength and velocity of your fingers is to practice scales.

      Click here to read a detailed description of the scale system we use in the Russian piano school!

      Also, you can find lots of detailed video tutorials about scales and technical exercises on the Private Members Forum at It’s an exclusive Piano Coaching Program where I share the unique secrets of the Russian piano school, also giving detailed, personalized, professional answers to each piano question!

      You can get a 10% discount if you subscribe to my email newsletter (and you’ll also get a free copy of my report ‘A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing‘).

      Good luck and have an enjoyable practice! 😉

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