How to organise your practice time for technical gain

The study of scales and technical works is a very important aspect of your musical training, through which you will learn about all tonalities, intervals and the keyboard orientation.  The study of scales should be introduced only when the pupil has formed a good finger touch and understands the function of the thumb.

Technical exercises like scales should be practiced best in the morning when the mind and ear are ‘fresh.’ Scales should be played at least twice in all tonalities. Begin practice slowly, firmly and evenly, ensuring that all notes are perfect and fingerings are accurate. Eventually increasingly take the speed up while ensuring that both hands are well-coordinated.

When you encounter wrong notes, you must take the trouble to counteract this to prevent the habit from settling into ensure good and correct habits. Many inexperienced young pianists don’t practice such discipline since they often claim that playing scales is tedious and repetitive.

Josef Hoffman, a Polish American virtuoso pianist, whom Anton Rubinstein declared was an unprecedented talent , taught that time spent on the piano for technical study is fruitless if there is no participation of the mind and heart. These technically-pure mechanical exercises need to be transmitted and processed to the motor-centres of the brain through the eyes and ears to yield beneficial results.

Hoffman, in his book, ‘ Piano Playing with Piano Questions Answered’, addressed the  question of the duration of practice as follows:

Playing too much in one day has often a deteriorating effect upon one’s studies, because work is profitable, after all, only if done with full mental concentration, which can be sustained only for a certain length of time. Some exhaust their power of concentration quicker than others; but however long it may have lasted, once it is exhausted all further work is like unrolling a scroll which we have laboriously roll up. Practice self-examination and, if you notice that your interest is waning, stop.  Attention, concentration and devotion will make unnecessary any inquiries as to how much you ought to practice.

Hoffman also wrote on organizing practice time. Devoting three hours a day to practice would be sufficient and hopefully rewarding if one administers it intelligently.   Practice for two consecutive hours in the morning with little or no long pauses to avoid losing concentration. The first hour in the morning should be dedicated to scales in all tonalities, including the thirds, sixths and octaves.  The second hour is best devoted to working out the difficult passages on repertoires you are learning and may include the study of either Cramer’s or Czerny’s  etudes.  Advanced students who are technically more sufficient may study Chopin’s Études and the like.

In the afternoon, spend another hour solely on interpretation and applying aesthetical aspects on what you have gained technically in your morning practice.

It is never too late to establish this practice regime, which is also appropriate for pianists who have graduated from music conservatoires or who intend to pursue their music aspirations to the next level. Technical drills are a quintessential part of musical training.

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