Tips for Piano Pupils
1) You need short, regular (i.e. habit-forming) practice sessions – with no room for excuses (e.g. ‘I’m too tired’ etc.).
2) Use ‘FaceBook’ to identify keys on the piano (i.e. ‘F’ and ‘B’ are ‘bookends’ with the three black notes between them.
3) Play beginners’ pieces: a) saying the letter names b) counting beats in each bar.
4) In the early stages have fingertips ‘glued’ to the notes.
5) (Again in the early stages) it’s about reading the notes not remembering them.
6) Understand that any finger can play any key – there are no ‘right-hand’ keys and ‘left-hand’ keys.
7) Remember the 4th finger is the least popular/least ‘loved’ so make a special effort to use it when required.
8) If you can’t quite manage a stretch with your hand over the notes, play on the very edges of the keys.
9) Always call notes by their names, never by finger numbers.
10) Use mnemonics such as FACE to read notes in treble clef spaces and the initial letters of All Cows Eat Grass for notes in bass clef spaces. Then count on one letter name to work out note on the line above.
11) Don’t move your hands around the piano saying: “Is it there?” Instead, work out your hand position using the following steps:
a) Read the note and decide its letter name (possibly using FACE etc.)
b) Find the key with this note name on the piano (making sure you know whether it’s above or below middle C)
c) Read the finger number and put that finger number on the key you’ve found
d) Repeat steps a)-c) for the other hand
12) Get to know ‘Mr Dreadfully Unpopular’ (i.e. bass D on the middle line).
13) Understand that ‘sharp’ and ‘flat’ mean a semitone higher or lower: they do not mean ‘black note’.
14) Don’t pause at bar lines.
15) Aim for perfection in your practices.
16) In order to ‘practise very slowly’ you must leave a big gap between playing the first note and the second.
17) Scales must be played more times correctly than incorrectly otherwise all you’re doing is ‘negative practising’.
18) Circle ‘problem’ notes on the score.
19) Don’t say: “I always do that bit wrong”. Instead say: “I’m determined to do that bit correctly next time”.
20) Be consistent with fingering patterns in scales – even if different patterns ‘work’.
21) When playing scales hands together always know which note your 4th finger plays.
22) If you tend to play dotted rhythms too evenly, try thinking of the dotted note as an infinitely long one. Then play the next two in quick succession.
23) Practise a difficult bar or section several times, then with the preceding bar, then with the preceding line and build up (backwards) until starting from the beginning.
24) Don’t add pedal to a piece until you’re confident of your notes as pedalling can blur mistakes.
25) If you’re asked which sharps or flats are in a scale, always say them in the order they’d appear in a key signature.
26) When playing a chromatic scale hands together, watch your LH on the way up and RH on the way down.
27) Remember that a pianist’s worst enemy is repeated mistakes: if you play something the wrong way enough times, you’ll become very good at playing it the wrong way.
28) Write yourself reminders of your most common mistakes at the beginning of the score and read these BEFORE you start playing the piece.
29) Use logical fingering – don’t move your hand about unnecessarily.
30) Read the notes of a chord starting with the bottom one first, then place the correct finger on this while reading the other notes.
31) Before you start playing a piece decide whether it’s a ‘practice practice’ or a ‘performance practice’: in other words, are you going to allow yourself to stop and make corrections during the piece or are you going to push yourself to carry on (and then go back over the mistakes afterwards).
32) When there are several sharps or flats in a key signature, focus on remembering the last sharp or flat.
33) When sight-reading try to actually count the beats in the bar (practise doing so out loud) rather than just having a vague idea that you’re playing in time.
34) Learn to recognise high A in the treble clef and low E in the bass (these notes are frequently misread as middle C).
35) For the timing question in music aural exams, make sure you are saying ‘one’ on the strong beat of the bar and continue counting: “two, three etc.” until the next strong beat.
36) In some parts of the aural exam, you have 50% chance of ‘guessing’ the correct answer: make sure your ‘guesses’ sound confident.
37) No matter how many mistakes you may feel you’ve made in an exam, never give up – the mistakes may not be as bad as you think they were.
38) If you are planning to take ABRSM exams beyond grade 5, consider hour-long piano lessons to incorporate theory-learning.
39) Be careful when choosing pop music – so called ‘easy-to-play’ books are not always that easy and the ones which are may not sound much like the original. It’s worth trying one out (e.g. on a piano in a music shop) before you buy.
40) Always know which key you’re in before you start playing a piece.
41) Work on specific bars – don’t just start at the beginning and play the piece through.
42) Take the book away from the piano and analyze the score. Look for repetition and sequences.
43) When you have complex pieces with a lot of accidentals, it’s easy to forget which notes were sharps, flats or naturals at the beginning of the bar by the time you reach the end. Sometimes saying them out loud can help.
44) It is possible to learn to play piano online but by far the best and most enjoyable way is to find yourself a reputable piano tutor.