Do you ever get into a rut with your practicing? I know at times I have gotten so focused on learning one piece, that it’s all I worked on, day after day. It seemed like I was pushing uphill and would never learn it. Finally, in frustration I would leave it alone for a few days – or even a week. When I tried again it was always much easier to play – probably because I wasn’t trying so hard.

Perhaps there’s a better way. When I mix up my practice into different activities, I notice that practice time becomes a lot more interesting and fun. There are lots of different possibilities for segmenting practice sessions. Here’s one way to do it. During each session spend some time playing music to sharpen your “chops”, some time on written music, and some time on your own music. Let’s see how this might look in an actual practice session.

1. Sharpen your “chops”: You can develop your technical skills by playing scales, arpeggios, or riffs; or choose a challenging phrase from a piece of music you are working on. But be careful – a lot of times we rush through these exercises just to get them over with. There is more value in playing one scale with love and imagination than trying to cram in all twelve of them with tension. It’s also fun to work on your ear training by singing a short phrase and then playing it on the piano, or playing simple songs by ear. Even a few minutes a day will make a big difference by the end of a year.

2. Play written music: Reading notes may or may not be your strong point, but most everyone can benefit from spending some time on this activity. Decide on your purpose in reading a piece. Is it to become more fluent in note-reading? Or to learn and memorize the piece? You might want to read favorite pieces as a warm-up. Reading lots of different styles of music will not only keep you interested, but will broaden your musical knowledge and make reading easier. 

3. Spend time on your own music: Can you imagine children in an art class never being allowed to create original artwork? Then why wouldn’t you want to create sound combinations of your own on the piano? You don’t have to pursue jazz improvisation, although that’s one possibility. Simple exploration of the keyboard can be a liberating experience – and can even enhance the quality of your playing in general.  Especially for those who play a lot of complex music, this is one time when there truly are no wrong notes!

There are lots of other ways to diversify practice sessions, if we expand the idea of what defines a practice session. What about listening to music? Playing along with a recorded accompaniment? Checking out YouTube performances? Inventing your own games and exercises? You’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to crafting an optimum practice session.

So mix it up and create practice sessions that make you never want to leave the piano!