This is a great article on a Guide to Practicing from Kevin M Coan
How well you practice determines how well you will succeed in piano lessons. You are your own teacher six days out of seven! Therefore, what you do at home is far more important that what takes place at your lesson. It is very important, therefore, that you follow these practice guidelines faithfully every day.
- Your first practice time should come right after your lesson. That way, you will remember the things I have told you to work on. My comments will be fresher in your mind the sooner you can do this.
- Always have your assignment book open when practicing. Make sure you are including everything that was assigned.
- Music is the movement of tones in a rhythm. The most important element of music is rhythm. Always begin by setting a beat at a tempo you will be able to maintain for the entire piece. Then maintain that beat throughout the entire piece unless the tempo marks tell you differently. If you play a piece with incorrect rhythm, your playing counts for nothing, even if everything else is correct!
- Only correct practice counts. The goal of practice is to be able to play each piece accurately, in rhythm, with correct notes, counts, touch, dynamics, and expression. When you arrive at your lesson, no corrections should be necessary when playing each piece for me.
- Begin each practice session with the warm-up exercises. The purpose of these is to get your hands and fingers ready to play your pieces.
- New piece assignments with stars (*) should be practiced first. Each of these pieces needs to be repeated until you have played it a minimum of five times correctly. If you make a mistake while playing, that time does not count as one of your five times. The corrective practice of measures and phrases (described below) also does not count as one of your five times. You may need to play some pieces many many times in order to play them five times correctly.
- Assignments without stars can be practiced after the starred items. Each of these needs to be repeated a minimum of three times correctly. If you make a mistake while playing, that time does not count as one of your three times. The corrective practice of measures and phrases (described below) also does not count as one of your three times. You may need to play some pieces many many times in order to play them three times correctly.
- Carefully follow the practice steps your teacher has spelled out for each new piece. Typically the steps include:
a. Clap or tap the rhythm of the piece first. Never attempt to play a piece on the piano without being sure of the rhythm first.
Be sure to pay attention to the time signature (2/4, for example) first.
b. Use the guideposts to find your first position for the piece.
c. Be sure you pay attention to the time signature (3/4, for example), the key signature (all F’s and C’s are sharp), and the key
(this piece is in D major, for example} before you begin to play.
d. Always set a steady beat before you begin to play. Set the beat slowly with new pieces. You can gradually speed the tempo up
as you become familiar with the piece through practice.
e. Play the piece while counting aloud. If you play the piece correctly, this counts as your first repetition.
f. Play the piece and say the intervals aloud. For example: C – 2nd up – 3rd up – 2nd down – hold – hold – hold. Remember to
say “hold” for the extra counts on half, dotted, half, and whole notes. If you play the piece correctly, this counts as your second
repetition. g. Play the piece and say the finger numbers aloud. For example: 1-2-4-3-1-hold-hold-hold. If you play the piece correctly, this
counts as your fourth repetition. This step is required only for starred pieces, but it can be done with all pieces.
h. Play the piece a final time while counting silently in your head. If you play the piece correctly, this is your fifth repetition.
This step is required only for starred pieces, but it can be done with all pieces.
9. Next, practice your review pieces. Each review piece should be played three times correctly, counting silently in your head each time.
10. Finally, practice your sight reading work. Each assignment should be played once only, counting silently in your head. Remember to set a
tempo that is slow enough that you can play the entire piece perfectly on the first reading. Remember, you only get one chance each day!
Do not “practice” sight reading pieces.
11. Set aside some time each week to complete your composition and other written assignments. The time spent on written work can count
towards your practice time.
12. When you first play a piece, play it straight through without stopping to correct note mistakes. If you find that you are making too many
errors, start over at a slower tempo. Never interrupt the rhythm of a piece to fix a note mistake. The rhythm is always more important
than the notes. As you play through the piece, make a mental note of where each mistake occurs.