How to Create a Piano Practice Routine: An Essential Guide
The art of mastering any instrument requires dedication, discipline, and consistent practice – and a piano practice routine is essential to making progress. Following a structured practice routine can be daunting, especially when first starting out. In this post, I will provide you with some guidance and tips to create a piano practice routine that will help you to make progress and reach your goals.
Let’s get started!
Understand Your Goals
Set realistic goals for yourself and the amount of time you can dedicate to practise.
Before you can work out how, how much, or even what to practise, you need to take stock of where you are in your journey, what your strengths and weaknesses are, so you can formulate a plan moving forward. You will also need some insight into your daily life to figure out how to fit piano practice in to your daily routine.
Start by assessing your existing skills. You’ll need to have a clear idea of what your current level of proficiency is so you can set yourself realistic goals. If you are unsure of your level of playing, ask your teacher. If you don’t have a teacher, you could try and self-assess by looking through online exam syllabi from ABRSM or RCM. Check the syllabus for any pieces you’ve previously mastered. This will give you an approximation of your current level.
For example: if you have previously mastered the Burgmuller Ballade Opus 100 Nr 15, you’ll find this on the RCM syllabus for level 4 – which is early-intermediate level. At this level, I recommend adults practise 30-45 minutes a day to be able to learn similar level pieces in a reasonable time frame.
Create a Schedule
Build a practice schedule that works for you and that you can stick to.
The most important element in becoming a good pianist is practice. It’s not talent, or “being gifted” – it’s practice. So if you want to get good at playing the piano, you have to… PRACTISE!!
Yes, I just repeated myself 3 times, because it’s that important.
Becoming a confident, competent pianist is not going to happen by itself. Professional pianists and competent amateur pianists have spent 1000s of hours practising to get where they are. They have put a HUGE amount of effort into their piano playing, just like any other highly skilled person does. If you want to become competent at anything, you need to commit and act!
So that means making time to practise your instrument.
Once you’ve analysed your daily life, you will need to commit to daily practice. You may want to practice at the same time each day, or, if you have a flexible schedule, you might want to schedule your practice slightly differently each day.
If you struggle to find time, and you’d like some super practical tips on how to make time, check out my blog post here.
Establish a Practice Routine
Establish different types of practice activities as part of your routine and identify what works best for you
Having a set practice routine can be a very comforting and effective way to practise your instrument.
To establish a practice routine, you will need to break up your session into different segments, with each segment focusing on a different task. Having some variety is important for a few reasons. Firstly, it keeps boredom at bay. Secondly, switching between tasks helps you become focused on each task in turn, effectively allowing you to single task.
If you’re a bit stuck how to structure your practice, you can create a new routine based on your weekly assignments as set by your teacher.
Here is a (very) generic example of a 60-minute practice routine for a musician:
- 5 minutes: Warm ups
- 15 minutes: Practice Piece A
- 10 minutes: Technical exercises
- 15 minutes: Practice Piece B
- 10 minutes: Develop musicality with ear training/theory/improvising/performing etc.
- 5 minutes: Reflection on practice session
Develop a practice routine that works for you. Depending on your level, and whether you’re taking lessons, you will probably need to adjust the routine based on what you’re working on with your teacher. One week you may need to work on more than 2 pieces, so you’ll have to adjust your routine accordingly.
Make sure to balance your practice between different types of activity, such as sightreading, music theory, improvising and other creative endeavours. Becoming a good pianist requires musicality and musical intelligence. These are NOT the privileges of the ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’, but rather, these are practised skills that you can and SHOULD develop alongside your technical playing skills. They will ultimately make it easier to play the piano well and they’ll make you a more balanced and wholesome musician.
Take Breaks and Listen more
Breaks in practice sessions can help you stay focused and motivated, and listening to master players can provide valuable insights.
Taking frequent breaks in your piano practice can help you improve your performance for several reasons.
First, it gives you time to reflect on what you’ve learned and identify areas where you need more work. This will help you focus on problem areas when you sit down to practice next.
Additionally, taking breaks gives you a chance to recharge mentally and physically, which improves your concentration and helps you stay motivated.
Finally, frequent breaks can prevent physical fatigue and help ensure that you are practicing with proper technique, which increases your chances of success.
My experience as a teacher has taught me that this is an area where students make the most mistakes: they don’t take enough breaks, and they don’t reflect enough either during or after their practice session.
Skipping the reflection phase will lead to ineffective practice: you will forget the things that went well and what needs more work if you don’t write this down after each session. Having those notes will also make planning your next practice session MUCH easier (and faster!).
Another piece of advice I have for you here is to frequently listen to professional recordings, even if they are of pieces you are not yet capable of playing yourself.
You’ll feel inspired and motivated to practise when you watch a professional’s fingers fly across the keys with apparent ease. It’s also an important activity to expose yourself to high level piano playing, so you can gain a deeper understanding of the musical possibilities inherent in piano music. Finally, it will also help you develop your musical taste, if you are open to listening to a variety of different piano styles.
Resources to Help You Along the Way
I know that planning and organizing your practice routine can be a challenge. So here are some resources I recommend you use to help you be more productive in your practice:
Your Lesson Notes
Your first resource should be your teacher and the notes you took during your lesson. Diligent students will make notes either during or immediately following their lesson. They jot down the activities and practice strategies demonstrated in the lesson and can then proceed to implement these in the next practice sessions.
Keeping a practice notebook or diary is one of the oldest and best ways to track your practice.
There are many options available to do this.
You can simply use pen and paper (like a notepad or notebook) and jot down your practice structure each day. Remember to write a brief reflection at the end of the session.
Some creative students like to set up a bullet journal – others prefer a simple, lined notepad.
What’s most important is that you aim to be a little organised. You not only want to have a dedicated space to write your plans and thoughts, but also invest in a way to keep everything in the same place. If you prefer to use single sheets of paper, pop them all in a folder at the end of the session to keep them together. Try not to leave your notes strewn all around your piano!
Practice Tracking Apps
There are also a few phone apps you can use to track practice, though I personally find note-taking quite cumbersome in all apps I’ve tested.
The app I most prefer is Modacity. This phone app is pretty good at helping you stay on track and has some really fun practice strategies to mix up your sessions. I recommend reading through their help guides to understand HOW to set up your practice playlists, as it’s not intuitive (no shade here, it’s just that practice is complicated and this app caters to ALL types of musicians.)
The downside is that this app is only available on iPhone (at the time of writing) and (also at the time of writing this) I find it (too) expensive. There is a free version, but it’s quite limited and doesn’t really compare to the full version.
In my studio, all students get a log-in to Better Practice, a browser-based tool that may be used as a practice tracker. It has a built-in timer function, and reflection features, and it allows you to take notes as well as private recordings (video and audio) to keep yourself abreast of the effectiveness of each practice session.
Dedicated Piano Practice Planner
The best way to practice for people who are new to practice planning is quite simply… a practice planner!
If you need a planner that is specifically designed to help you practise more deliberately, may I recommend my Practice Planner Pro?
My Piano Practice Planner Pro was created to facilitate everyday practice with goal setting and progress tracking tools to help you reach your goals more quickly. With minimal effort, you can create a personalised daily practice plan to help you stay motivated and organised.
The planner will not only aid you in setting longer-term goals, the daily planner pages help you to break down those goals into manageable chunks. You’ll be able to track your progress as you move through your practice plan week to week.
The planner also features a dedicated space for musicality related goals. It will help you narrow down a practice routine each week or month that is workable, so you can balance your musical practice.
The daily and weekly reflection pages will ensure you focus on progress, making your practice more effective.
The planner is only available digitally, but you can print the pages and pop them in a binder if you prefer a paper version instead.
Creating and following a practice routine for any instrument can be difficult, but with the right guidance and tips, it is possible to develop a routine that works for you and will enable you to achieve your goals.
This post provides guidance on how to create a piano practice routine and how to make the most of your practice time, and provides some handy resources for you to try out in your next practice session.