Live Video Piano Lessons

Author: Lory Peters

Playing vs. Practicing the Piano

Both are correct depending on why you are at the piano!.

Have you discovered the difference between playing the piano and practicing the piano? If not, let’s explore the differences together. If you already know the differences, then maybe you can pick up a few practice tips that will help you become more efficient and effective in your practice sessions.

Playing the Piano

What do we do when we play the piano? Usually, we play the whole piece from beginning to end without stopping. It may be the first time we play — or sightread — the piece in order to hear what it sounds like and to get an idea of which parts will be “easy” and which are parts may require a lot more practicing in order to learn and polish.

Performing a piece for others is also playing the piano. That’s one reason we don’t go back to make corrections! Or, it could be when we are playing pieces in our repertoire for our own enjoyment, or to keep them current.

Practicing the Piano

Practicing the piano is what we should be doing for most of a study session. It is when we are working on an assignment for a lesson or learning a new piece on our own.

Practicing requires many repetitions of disgestable sections of a piece of music. How big a section is and how many repetitions we make depends on level of difficultly. Difficult sections may be as short as one measure, or even only one or two beats, especially if you are working on a big jump between registers. And, that difficult section must be repeated at least three through seven times. It may need to be repeated more times than either you or your housemates care to hear! So, give yourself and them a break by splitting up these intense practice sessions or playing when they aren’t at home!

Over the years, students have asked how practicing this way squares with the saying credited to Albert Einstein that defines insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

If I may be so bold to agree with Al while still adhering to my assertion that practicing requires repetition. Here’s the key – if you repeat a section perfectly and expect perfection, then you aren’t insane – well, not for that reason anyway! However, if you repeat a section incorrectly and expect perfection, then you’ve got problems.

Each time you take a section to learn, actually learn it! If you have learned something, then,technically, you can play it perfectly on demand the first time. In order to do that, you must first know what you are doing correctly and what you are doing incorrectly. You do this by critiquing your result to find if you have any problems, then diagnose what the problem actually is. I say actually because sometimes a note is incorrect because the preceding note or fingering was the cause. Then, you must make the correction and play it at least three times in a row perfectly for a few practice sessions to delete the mistake and then implement the correction. That’s why it is so important to learn correctly the first time by learning slowly. If you mis-learn, you make more work for yourself and are less efficient in your practice. Sounds easy, but it’s not! If it were, every baseball player would bat 1000, every golfer would always play under par, and every pianist would never make a mistake! 

Tips

  • If you are making mistakes, slow down!
    • If passersby can’t recognize what you’re playing when you are practicing, then you’re practicing correctly!
  • If you are still making mistakes, shorten the section that you are practicing.
    • Some sections need to be only one beat or a measure!
  • When you practice, direct yourself in a positive way.
    • Positive: The second note is a G.
    • Negative: Don’t play an A as the second note. Guess what. You’ll play an A….not a G!
  • Practice your “trouble spots” in several sessions a day. 
    • This helps to learn how to recall or to play perfectly “on demand.”
  • Try playing your trouble spots just once as you pass by your piano during the day.
    • Again, you are testing your ability to play perfectly “on demand.”

Acoustic vs. Digital Pianos

Is one better than the other for beginning students?

The decision whether or not to purchase a digital piano instead of an acoustic piano for a beginner is not an easy one.

Initially, there is your budget to consider. Good-quality new acoustic pianos cost most than new good-quality digitals. So, for some people, the decision is made for them. Remember to include the cost of tuning an acoustic piano at least once or twice a year when determining your budget.

However, if your budget can handle either, you still may choose a digital. For example, if you live in an apartment or condo, a digital piano may be a better choice because you can lower the volume or eliminate it altogether by using headphones. In addition, a digital piano or keyboard takes up less space and can even be used completely outside of the main living area by placing it in a study or bedroom.

Next, you will need to make sure that your piano – acoustic or digital – has a good action and keyboard that includes 88 touch-sensitive, weighted keys. There are some digital pianos that have better actions than less-quality acoustic pianos! Your piano also must have two pedals — a sustain pedal and an una corda pedal. 

If you go with an acoustic piano, you also have to feel confident that the piano is of high enough quality to stay in tune between tunings. Poor-quality acoustic pianos often can’t hold their pitch and motivation slips when playing an out-of-tune piano. A beginner needs to like the sounds they are making!

If you choose to go with a digital piano, I would pay more for a better action and good quality piano sounds over computer teaching gadgets, especially if you will be taking lessons anyway. However, there are some benefits to the computer-enhancements of high-quality digital pianos. For example, some use samples of top-notch acoustic pianos that most people can’t afford to own, they stay in tune, offer motivation through additional instrument sounds, and can use optional rhythm settings in addition to the metronome to learn how to stay in tempo. Playing your favorite popular pieces using additional instruments and rhythm settings can be very satisfying and motivational because you can sound pretty close to the original. Also, many digitals have the ability to record yourself, which is a great way to learn to listen and critique your playing.

As students progress into intermediate literature, most will need an acoustic piano because of it’s inherent acoustic benefits. These include a keyboard action that is striking real strings, an acoustic sound versus sound coming from speakers, and pedals that are interacting with real strings. However, that doesn’t mean the digital piano will go to waste. It provides the pianist with an option to practice whenever they want by using headphones — a win for the entire household!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments regarding this article. I hope this information was helpful in your journey to learn to play the piano!

© 2021 Lory Peters Ph.D.

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