Joshua Storay, PMI Piano Instructor
What is the most effective way for a beginning piano student to practice?
The piano is very intimidating to many newcomers, because it is a physically intimidating instrument with many more keys than we have fingers! Students are often apprehensive as to whether they will ever be able to understand the piano, much less reach some degree of master over it. Some beginning students become discouraged over this seemingly overwhelming endeavor.
One of my initial goals is to help my students to begin to see as quickly as possible the rudiments of the system of music as it applies to piano, to further help them see it as something that can understand, and therefore do. I teach my students to analyze a song before they attempt playing it. Within the resources I use for beginning piano students, we find that there are patterns within the training songs. As they become aware of and then more familiar with these patterns, they begin to see that there is a certain predictable logic in piano music, and then they find it easier to practice and perform.
For example, there are only seven letters for the notes on a piano: A B C D E F G. These notes repeat in this order across the keys. We keep it simple for beginners by sticking with only the white piano keys which play these simple notes from the familiar literary alphabet. Recognizing the pattern of these repeating notes along the keys immediately uncovers some of the otherwise intimidating mystery of the piano keyboard.
Another helpful pattern I employ is mirrored notes. In other words, some songs use the same fingering for both the left and right thumbs, and the remaining fingers in like sequence. Recognizing this type of fingering pattern helps the student finger notes accurately. Other songs feature patterns in which the student will play the same keys, but with opposite fingers. Some beginner songs will have the student skip a note for each finger, where the upcoming note is next to the note just played. Since the training songs are typically not very long, the beginning students are able to quickly become familiar with the patterns, and this enables them to reach a level of playing a melodic piece of music very quickly.
My students have become more efficient in their practice and more confident as they recognize and implement these patterns. This provides a sense of accomplishment in enabling the student to play a recognizable song. I usually ask my students to practice a particular song until they can play it three times through the entire song without mistakes. With the help of these patterns, students can reach this level of proficiency very quickly, further building their confidence and satisfaction with piano!
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