In My Mind's Zen Garden
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Zen and the Art of Piano Practice: Effort + Patience = Results

Grand Piano

This post is my attempt to share my practice regimen on the piano.

As many of my longtime readers have known, I’ve owned a beautiful Yamaha conservatory grand piano since December 2007. And although it’s for the whole family, it was given to me on my 50th birthday, beacause I’m a pianist who had never owned a real grand piano until that time. And I’m deeply indebted to my lovely wife for allow this reality to happen.

I am forever grateful.

Now, on to the task at hand, and that is to share my practice regimen, as I have since 2007 been dedicated to bringing myself up-to-speed with the piano playing.

Scales and Chords

Do I practice chords and scales religiously?

I confess that I am not one to faithfully practice my scales and chords as I should, at least not like I was taught at the university when I was studying marimba.

In order to practice scales properly, you have to start with:

1. Major scales in all keys!

2. Minor scales in all keys!

This alone will really get you to become much more familiar with the keyboard. Yes, just these two items. IN ALL KEYS!

The above is actually a reminder to myself because I neglect to do this. And my bad habits are that I like to practice my favorite keys like: C, F, Eb

In addition to major and minor scales, a pianist (or any musician, for that matter) should practice major and minor chords, and this can be done in a variety of different exercises.

The easiest method (although possibly boring to most pianists) is to simply practice major and minor triads. For example, A C major chord would simply be played with the notes C E G. And you can include the octave to practice stretching your hands, to include C E G C. And with the minor it would be C Eb G and C Eb G C, respectively.

You can also arpeggiate the notes instead of playing block chords.

And I think, this will be a good basis for mastering scales and chords at their most basic level.

Remember, these SHOULD be PRACTICED in all keys, daily.

Applying the Effort and Be Patient

The most important thing in getting good at the piano is “effort”.

You apply the effort to practice and eventually, the results will follow.

Now, people fall into the trap that they want to progress quickly. And, other than the natural talent and ability to excel at the instrument and in music in general, you’re simply gonna have to apply the effort to practice daily.

Sure, no one can physically practice everyday all the time. So, you start with a number of practice days, like maybe 4 days of practicing 1/2 an hour each time. This is a good start, and believe me, 1/2 hour goes by very quickly when you are immersed in your piano studies.

I practice 2 hours easy each time, and I have been known to go up to 5 hours. It really takes that much dedication and commitment to get good at the instrument.

You’ll have to concentrate on a few areas of piano practice:

  • 1. Learning specific songs.
  • 2. Practicing exercises and techniques.
  • 3. Practicing your chords and scales in all keys.
  • 4. Practice reading music notation and sight reading.
  • 5. Practice improvisation.

Remember, practice daily and patiently. It’ll all come to you.

Listen To Other Pianists

In addition, you’ll want to motivate yourself by listening to recordings of the best pianists playing all styles of music, or at least the style(s) you are going for.

A big part of playing music is developing your ear, or ear training. And the best way to get started is to listen to everything you can your hands on. And I recommend listening to Classical Pianists, Jazz Pianists, and pianists perform songs from the Great American Songbook.

From there, you can get more inspiration and motivation to continue practicing. I never have a problem searching YouTube for many great performances that get me inspired. I see many young and gifted pianists on YouTube, but it’s okay to start practicing at any age. I look at playing piano and music in general as personal therapy. It really affects me positively at a much deeper level than anything else.

Practice Slowly

One last note (no pun intended).

Practice everything very slowly at first. This is a common problem for me, I confess. But, wnenever I DO practice everything super-slowly at first, I tend to get better results in the end.

Let the music first sink in. Then it’ll start to become automatic.

I learned the practice-slowly-technique from a Wynton Marsalis documentary. He said he would practice everything very, very slowly at first. Then later play it up-to-speed. It’s a very effective technique that I recommend to all musicians at all levels.

I’ll be posting more piano practice notes in the future, so stay tuned…



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Carlos Rull is a musician living in the San Diego area. His interests include Yoga, Eastern Philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and Gardening. He plays drums, piano, and composes New Age & Ambient music, and his albums are available on iTunes and Amazon.com.

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