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#2266536 - 04/24/14 05:25 PM Practicing songs vs. doing excersises
cowchin12 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/24/14
Posts: 6
I am entirely self taught and have been solely been practicing by sight reading and memorizing my favorite songs for six months. No practicing scales or Hanon exercises or anything like that. My two inspirations for playing piano (one also entirely self taught, one with a college level musical education) recommend playing challenging music that you love instead of doing exercises. My question is this: is it reasonable to continue practicing as I do (1-2 hours of just playing music every day) with the goal of nearing the skill level of my inspirations (kylelandry and tehishter) in some years time?

If, from personal experience or from hearsay, my goal currently seems unrealistic to you, what practice regiment should I adopt, or what are the most important and efficient exercises to improve my playing?
Thanks for any feedback

Edited by cowchin12 (04/24/14 08:54 PM)

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#2266554 - 04/24/14 06:16 PM Re: Practing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: cowchin12]
earlofmar Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 2991
Loc: Australia
Yes of course you should play music you love but that is not to say the music should only be personal favourites or stumbled upon. I think your unstructured approach may get you to your goal but find you limited in the end which you will find very unsatisfied.
Your approach will also take longer as it will be an ad hoc method so you could expect to take wrong turns and possibly waste years in fruitless endeavor or sicken yourself off piano all together.

BTW not everyone is an advocate of scales and Hanon but you will probably start scales when you feel the time is right. I have seen one teacher suggest not to start scales in the first year and I can relate to that.
Problems with piano are 90% psychological, the other 10% is in your head.


#2266640 - 04/24/14 09:33 PM Re: Practicing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: cowchin12]
Sand Tiger Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/25/12
Posts: 1349
Loc: Southern California
Welcome to the forum. I suggest breaking pieces into exercise bite sections (vs. playing from the start to the finish as if performing). Graham Fitch has a nice list of ten tips (link). The one that I find most useful is quoted below:

>> Graham Fitch wrote:
The Three S’s. If I had to recommend one formula for success, it would be this one: “Slowly, Separately, Sections”. Practise at a snail’s pace, if not slower, and start off in small sections which you repeat. Repetition will form habits. I like one bar plus one note, repeated at least three times. Then start from the next bar (from the note you have just ended on) and repeat that three times.

As you get more familiar with the notes, you can increase the length of the sections. Practising with each hand alone is also indispensable, especially the left hand. When you work like this, you need to listen intently and constantly evaluate your results as right or wrong, even or uneven, comfortable or uncomfortable, and so on. Learn to be your own teacher.


I would also suggest separating learning certain skills such as sight reading from learning pieces. Find new sheet music to practice your sight reading with zero intention of learning those pieces. Having new notes to look at virtually every day will be more beneficial than looking at those one or two difficult pieces for months at a time. There are tons online or at the local library. Practice sight reading with very easy music. Allocate 10% to 15% of practice time to this.

It wouldn't hurt to toss in a few easy songs into the mix either. Holiday themed songs, and folk songs often can be found with basic arrangements so a person can learn them quickly.

If everything is too difficult to sight read, as some beginners find, I found the baby step of looking at scores and reading single notes or chord names out loud to be a useful exercise. There are also websites and apps that help with sight reading. If classical or neo-classical is the goal, sight reading is a vital part of that.

Public domain music archive:

As for scales and Hanon, my novice opinion is that there may not be much benefit for doing those for a beginner without a teacher. Unfortunately, most of the self-taught get some bad habits, and scales may reinforce those bad habits. Hanon may result in injury.

Another suggestion is to break practice time into 15 to 20 minutes segments, with a minute or more break after each.

Those suggestions are plenty to start with. Again I am just another beginner, so keep that in mind when reading my suggestions. To summarize: Slow way down. Do small segments with repetition when learning a piece. Aim for small enough that it can be played without mistakes. If that means one measure, then do one measure. If a person can't do one measure, even hands separate, the piece may be too hard for now. Do 15 to 20 minute of practice then take a short break. Mix in some sight reading practice on very easy pieces, and also learn some easy pieces as well as the difficult ones.
my piano uploads

#2266648 - 04/24/14 09:57 PM Re: Practicing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: Sand Tiger]
cowchin12 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/24/14
Posts: 6
thanks for the advice and resources, i appreciate it.

#2266702 - 04/25/14 02:26 AM Re: Practicing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: cowchin12]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014

Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1393
Loc: Cameron Park, California
Originally Posted By: cowchin12
what practice regiment should I adopt

An efficient one. Do some self-research into efficient piano practice and it will be worth your time. The only other roadblock you may encounter is technical deficiency (considering we all start with zero technique, this isn't so much the issue as familiarizing with what constitutes a healthful technique and what doesn't, and being able to patiently and tactfully overcome the myriad technical challenges in the piano repertoire). This is best overcome, again, patiently and creatively and sometimes with the assistance of those more experienced.
"[The trick to life isn't] just about living forever. The trick is still living with yourself forever."

#2267680 - 04/27/14 10:51 AM Re: Practicing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: cowchin12]
TromboneAl Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/12/04
Posts: 798
Loc: Northern, Northern California
It's crucial to be enjoying what you are doing at the moment. You learn best when you are really getting into it.

I have a list of things I currently want to work on, and I put it up on my Nexus while I'm playing. But if I'm into just improvising, I'll do that for a long time. I enjoy scales and exercises, and sometimes I'll do that for a long time.

But for best results, love what you are practicing.

Here's my current list of tasks:

- Al

My Book: Becoming a Great Sight-Reader -- or Not!
My Blog: The Year of Piano Sight-Reading

#2267702 - 04/27/14 11:47 AM Re: Practicing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: cowchin12]
Greener Offline

Platinum Supporter until July 22 2014

Registered: 05/29/12
Posts: 2101
Loc: Toronto, Canada
Originally Posted By: cowchin12
My question is this: is it reasonable to continue practicing as I do (1-2 hours of just playing music every day) with the goal of nearing the skill level of my inspirations (kylelandry and tehishter) in some years time?

If, from personal experience or from hearsay, my goal currently seems unrealistic to you, what practice regiment should I adopt, or what are the most important and efficient exercises to improve my playing?
Thanks for any feedback

In regards to your specific question, chowchin, I will just say ... probably. With determination you'll be amazed what you can do. You may not notice much change as you struggle along, but when you look back at your footprints in the sand you'll be amazed at how far you have progressed.

There has been some excellent insight provided for you here already. I would just add that I think it is important, or at least a good idea to have things in progress at varying levels, and don't over do it.

1.) Sight reading brand new piece
2.) Working on phrasing and bringing to tempo a piece you have had in the hopper awhile now.
3.) Polishing, working on finalizing piece in preparation for recital

of course you can always add more and the mix will always be evolving.

I personally have never cared for exercises for the sake of exercises. What I do instead, when I feel like warming up, is I pull out a couple of Bach Preludes I like and use those as my finger/mind exercise. Then I go right to the list and always try to work on the hardest part first.

But that is just me. Whatever your practice regiment, it should align well with what you hope to achieve. If you are aiming for Carnegie hall, I do not think you will get by without lots of exercises, scales the works.


#2267871 - 04/27/14 05:16 PM Re: Practicing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: cowchin12]
Jessiebear Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/23/13
Posts: 190
Loc: New Zealand
I am a little the same as Greener. I did the hard yards as a kid, did what I was told and spent half the practice doing exercises. I have no doubt it improved dexterity and muscle memory but it was so boring.

Nowadays I have certain songs I use as warmups that I know will limber up the fingers.
Inspired by Einaudi and Tiersen.

#2267962 - 04/27/14 08:29 PM Re: Practicing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: cowchin12]
Dave B Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/01/11
Posts: 2575
Loc: Philadelphia area
For me the best warm-up, and the best exercise, is simple improvising; (which will occasionally develop into something interesting.) Improvising on the notes and harmonic structure of difficult passages has greatly helped my song practice.

#2268467 - 04/29/14 01:41 AM Re: Practicing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: cowchin12]
8 Octaves Offline

Gold Supporter until July 22 2015

Registered: 04/20/14
Posts: 1415
Loc: USA
While you may not necessarily wish to spend time on exercises just to learn an exercise, Hanon, Czerny etudes, it is helpful in mastering a piece of music to turn difficult sections of music into little exercises whenever there are challenging parts. This way, you play the entire piece as if it is effortless and it comes off much better than playing the hard parts like they are hard, which doesn't sound as good. You can simply make up your own Hanon or etudes as you need them, and it helps the hard part appear effortless. The key word here is "appear" as they never are.

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year
and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” - Bill Gates

#2269031 - 04/30/14 09:48 AM Re: Practicing songs vs. doing excersises [Re: cowchin12]
Lester Burnham Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/29/13
Posts: 640
When I was first playing the piano, I probably had around 2 possibly 3 years with a teacher / tuitor who never taught scales (she had a diploma and was qualified, but for whatever reason, had no interest in putting forward any of the people she taught, for exams).

I learnt some theory - and to be able to read music. But mainly it was simple, and after awhile intermediate pieces - largely modern-ish (by that I mean music that was perhaps decades old from my perspective, but relatively modern compared with a lot of classical stuff), as opposed to classical.

When I started at senior school, my mother thought it would be a good idea to sit exams, so I changed to another piano teacher, and the teaching was more structured and perhaps traditional. I had lessons with her for 7 years, and sat and passed several exams.

Then I mostly lapsed from around the age of 18, for perhaps around 25 years, and started playing again, probably about 6 or 7 months ago.

Certainly at first one of the main things I've been practicing has been scales, drills and other exercises, because to me, they seem the things that I seem more degraded in. Whereas, it doesn't take me long to pick up an old piece of music I used to play, and be able to be reasonable at it, with a small amount of practice.

Now I divide my time between practice of scales, drills, and exercises, and learning new pieces. I don't really play any of the stuff I used to play, because truth be told, I was never interested in it.

I think from the outset, they aren't necessary - but I think after a certain point, some kind of drill that encourages a certain degree of fluidity and natural progression in how your fingers move across the keys, is very good. Need that necessarily be traditional scales? I doubt it - but I suspect there's value in practicing some kind of drills or exercises beyond simply playing.

For myself, I intend to return to lessons at some point, I just want to get some proficiency and fluidity back, plus have conquered a few pieces to play for my own enjoyment, before I do.


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