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Stage 2 - practising the basics. Using basics methods of skill acquisition

This is a very short section, but a crucial one.

Now, that you have gone through all this, let’s embody your knowledge. We need to get the things you have learnt out of your head and into your fingers. You don’t want to only understand how to play the piano. I guess you want to be able to actually play the piano as well. The only way to be able to play this confidently is to practise regularly. Finding practise material is difficult, which is why I have spent loads of time collecting and arranging material that you can use here in this guide.

This section includes a lot of practise material for you to practise the concepts you’ve learnt. This is available for free here [link to resources]. Before moving on to the next stage you should be quite confident with the concepts you have already learnt. If you practise 20 minutes a day, spend at least 2 or 3 weeks on this before moving on. When you feel you’ve got a good grasp of this, then you can move on to stage 3 where we are building on what you already know.

The reason I have dedicated a whole section about practising is because it’s the single most important thing about learning how to play the piano. You need to get your knowledge out from your head and into your fingers.

Maybe I should include a link to the practise material that links to the resources page. Probably. If this guide goes really well, I can potentially send this material to them if I get their email address.

Checklist of everything you need to be comfortable with before moving on

Here are all the things you need to be comfortable with before moving on to stage 3:
  • Playing the basic major and minor chords with both hands
  • playing and coordinating hands together
  • Playing chords with the left hand and melodies in the right without hesitating too much.
  • Get comfortable reading sheet music. You should be able to find notes in the treble and bass clef without taking too much time finding the notes.
These things take time to get good at, so please understand that much of your time learning the piano will be to solidify what you have already understood. You have to embody what you have mentally understood. Piano is about physically being able to produce sound from the piano, not just understanding how music works. When practising, it’s much more important regularly practising what you have already been through than regularly learning new concepts. You don’t have to learn new concepts every day. But you should practise every day.

Classical piano books

At this stage, if you’re mainly interested in classical music it would be a good idea to get some books. If you’re interested in other musical genres such as jazz, pop/rock or anything else, your best option would be to carry on working your way through this guide and use the practise material I have provided for you. If you want to get into classical music, you need to get more confident with sight-reading. The book series “Improve your sight-reading!” by Paul Harris is perfect for this purpose. Get these two books and work through them in order: Improve your sight-reading! Grade 1 Improve your sight-reading! Grade 2 After using these for a while, this book is great to get a lot of practise with easy classical pieces: The best of grade 1 After that, or alongside playing the grade 1 pieces, this is a great book for more classical practise: Classics to moderns This is a book that contains really easy classical pieces, and is purely a book that provides practise material for you. It’s not an instructional book. But if you absolutely love classical music, this is perfect for you to practise classical music. The pieces in it are really beautiful.

How to practise the piano

Even many musicians don’t understand themselves how practising actually works. Many musicians have only become good musicians because they started early and spent their whole childhood playing music, despite the fact that they didn’t know how practising and skill acquisition actually works. You can progress much faster than they ever did by using a better practise method. This comes down to using a few basic principles of skill acquisition. I have tailored these principles to learning how to play the piano.

Basic practise principles

Here are the basic principles you should follow if you want to get good at playing the piano fast.

Practise every day, or as close to every day as you can

The most important thing is that you practise consistently. 10 minutes a day is far better than two hours once a week. When you sleep, your brain works, improves and builds on what you have done the previous day. That’s how we improve a skill. If you go a day without doing any piano practise, you’re not giving your brain anything to process when you sleep. And that’s a day wasted – at least from the perspective of getting better at the piano. If you can practise a bit every day, that’s perfect. These practise sessions don’t have to be long. The longer the better, but 20-30 minutes of focused practise per day will give you a good amount of progress.

Choose short, regular practise sessions over long, sporadic ones

You improve when you repeat the same thing on a regular basis and gradually build on that. “Regular” means once every day if possible. Choosing short sessions over long ones will make sure you keep practising instead of giving up early. Short practise sessions are sustainable for most people. Long sessions are for those who dedicate their life to becoming a musician.

Focus intently on one single concept at a time

When practising, be super focused on one concept at a time. This often means a very short phrase of music. Repeat this several times in a row (5-10 times). Then repeat this again the next day for a few days or weeks, depending on how difficult that phrase is.

Science has revealed to us why some people become amazing at a skill while others become average. The difference is how intensely someone can focus in the time they have dedicated to practise. If two people spend the same amount of time practising over several years, one of them can outperform the other by miles if they are better at concentrating while practising. You have probably heard of the 10 000 hours rule. This rule tells us that you need to practise for 10 000 hours to achieve mastery in a skill. It’s a common misconception to believe that this is sufficient. The amount of hours required to practise is only one of two ingredients. Further studies have been made to prove that focus is as important as the amount of hours practised ( can quote that “Focus” book here). The things that affect your concentration the most are enjoyment or a need to become good at the subject. Some people get better simply because they enjoy it more. As well as practising more, this enjoyment will also naturally make them more focused while they practise.

Focus on the core concepts and leave out the rest

You need to focus on the 20% of concepts that make up 80% of music, and become really good at that. You don’t need the other 20%. It will take years of solid practise to get good at this, and what you’re able to sacrifice time on won’t add much to your playing. And it’s really true that most of music uses only the most basic concepts. This guide covers all of this.

How to practise the material I have supplied (and any other piece of music you will ever play)

There are methods you can use when learning a song or a piece of music. Let me walk you through the best one I know of.

Repeat short sections at a time

Do two bars or measures at a time and repeat those 5-10 times. When you can do those bars easily, move on to the next two bars. Don’t practise a section which is too long. It’s important to split long sections into smaller ones. Focus on learning 2-4 bars every day (depending on how difficult it is). The next day you will go from the beginning and up to where you got. The next day, do 2-4 new bars. And then you keep building like this until you have got to the end of the piece.

Get used to not always playing from the beginning of the piece

Going from the beginning is the easiest thing to do, but it’s a bad habit. Get used to going from a specific place in the music. You might have to become a bit more comfortable with reading sheet music to make this easier. Read the next point to understand why this is important.

Don’t solely rely on your muscle memory

When you know a piece well, it’s easy to fall into the trap of solely relying on your muscle memory. When your fingers just fly over the keys and play the piece by themselves without you having to think much about where you put your fingers, that’s your muscle memory taking over the playing. This is good to an extent, but it shouldn’t be the only way you remember a piece of music. If you did one little mistake so that you had to stop you might not be able to carry on playing. This is because you don’t have the momentum that going from the beginning gives you. Since you’re used to always play from the beginning, you will find it very difficult to go from a certain section if you ever need to do that in the middle of a performance.

One way to overcome this is to be consciously aware of what you play. At least to an extent. One of the best ways to ensure you consciously know what’s going on in the piece is to practise in a very slow tempo. This forces you to think about what chords and keys you have to play, and you will have to memorise the shapes of the different sections of the piece. If you can see the shapes that the piece you’re playing is making on the piano keyboard, you can be much more confident that you remember the piece. This extra confidence will make you less nervous when performing and you will be less likely to make mistakes if you play for others.

What to do in your practise sessions

In your practise sessions, try to include these 4 things:

  • Something technical. Scales, arpeggios etc (I have given you some great exercises)
  • Something to do with learning new concepts or solidifying/embodying something you already know.
  • Working on your pieces to get better at musicality and musicianship.
  • Some sight-reading, or chord reading, depending on what your style is

HOW you practise is more important than how much you practise.

This is an ideal framework. If you don’t follow this 100%, don’t worry. You can still get good at a fast rate. But the closer you are to this ideal framework, the faster you will learn.

Now go and practise. Start stage 3 when you feel confident about playing chords in your left hand and melodies in your right hand. Stage 3 is where we are going to make your music go from sounding ok to sounding great.