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Being an amateur pianist working on my own without a teacher I sometimes wonder if I could make my practicing more efficient. I obviously need to improve my playing, but unfortunately I rarely have the opportunity to play more than 3 - 4 hours a week.

It would be very interesting to know how advanced amateurs organise their practice. Do you focus on very little stuff at the time or do you work on many pieces at the time?
My own approach is the following:
I split the time between work on "new" pieces and maintenance (and if possible, improvement) of pieces I have played before. I usually have a selection of pieces I practice at least once a week. Right now I'm working on the following music:

A small selection of two- and three-part inventions and movements from French suites of Bach. (maintenance)
A Beethoven sonata (Op.14 no.1) (maintenance)
A Haydn sonata (A-flat major) (Maintenance of first and second movement, last movement new piece)
Rondo i a-minor of Mozart (maintenance)
Notturno of deFalla (new piece)
Consolation from Op.17 of Bortkiewicz (new piece).

I don't play all this music the same day, but distribute them over the week. Therefore I may for instance play the Beethoven sonata twice a week.

Is this too much to work on at the same time? The first 10 minutes of each practice session I always play Bach. Many of the "maintenance pieces" i know quite well, but have places I need to polish. Actually I seldom use more than 10 minutes a day working on new pieces.

Only occasionally I play for live audiences. But still I feel great pleasure if I manage to overcome technical issues and improve my playing in any way. Sometimes I wonder if I aim a bit too high. Maybe I should accept a bit slower tempo than what is indicated in Beethoven's sonatas. Any thoughts about this?

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It sounds to me like you are working on far too many pieces at once. Why do feel you have to maintain pieces you've learned?

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Hi Ganddalf. With only 3-4 hours a week to practice, I would have to cut back to just one piece at a time. And focus my attention on the problem spots like a laser beam. It has to be tough to make any progress under those conditions.

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With a full time job and three kids, I grab practice whenever I can find it. I try to get an hour or so a day. I usually split my practice between accompaniment work and "serious" work (not that accompaniment stuff isn't serious). As for the "serious" work, I'll usually just have one, maybe two, solo pieces that I'm working on just for my own enjoyment. I put more time into those than other stuff. As for the accompaniment stuff, that varies depending on how much is on my plate, but during festival season it's not uncommon for me to be working with a couple dozen students, with pieces ranging from rather easy to quite hard. But with accompaniment stuff, I feel there is a bit more leeway in how to approach it. For a lot of orchestral accompaniments, I'm not super concerned about being 100% note perfect, some of the reductions can be virtually impossible, and coupled with the fact that you don't typically have a lot of lead time with accompaniment gigs, I don't overly stress those. Of course you try to hit as many of the notes as possible, but if I have to drop some things here and there, I do it.

It actually makes for an interesting dichotomy, because with the serious stuff I work on, I try to get that down as perfectly as possible (for me, at least), but the accompaniment stuff I take more with a grain of salt.

But I also feel that this helps me to be a bit more rounded, because the accompaniment stuff helps me with sight-reading and getting my head/fingers around pieces quickly, whereas the other stuff lets me dig in and really try to work pieces to a high level.

At the moment, my "serious" focus is the 4 Chopin Ballades - I just recently finished the 2nd one, and I'm making some good in-roads on the first. Probably do the third after that and then finish with the 4th (saving the hardest for last). Accompaniment stuff, working with some oboists on the Goossens and Strauss Concertos.


What you are is an accident of birth. What I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been a thousand princes and there will be a thousand more. There is one Beethoven.
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Pianoloverus, Sam_S and 8tude,
Thanks for your feedback. Why I spend time on "maintenance" of old pieces is a relevant question, and I realise that I can benefit from cutting down this activity. I think I'll continue with some daily Bach, as this helps keeping the flexibility of my fingers at an acceptable level.

I decided to follow your suggestion of reducing the amount of practice stuff to one piece (if relevant - movement) at the time. In my case Chopin ballades are out of question, but I'll probably continue with the Haydn sonata movement hoping that I can move on to something else within reasonable time.

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Originally Posted by Ganddalf
Pianoloverus, Sam_S and 8tude,
Thanks for your feedback. Why I spend time on "maintenance" of old pieces is a relevant question, and I realise that I can benefit from cutting down this activity.
I have about 30 pieces that I keep in my rep (basically, all the pieces I bothered to spend time memorizing over the years) - some are easier to keep in my memory & fingers than others. Usually, the faster and the more notes, the more it 'sticks'.

But I don't play them from beginning to end - almost always, only the passages that I keep forgetting, or that my fingers start fumbling at if I don't practise them regularly. And I usually only practise them in 'blocks' - a group of them maybe twice a week for one month, then another group the next month.

If I am planning to perform them in the next month, of course I'd practise them properly for a few weeks beforehand, but my monthly recitals have been cancelled for the time being.........until we're all vaccinated.

In normal times, I'd be spending most of my practise time on mastering new pieces, but the pandemic (in which I'm right at the front of the combat zone, complete with flak jacket) has robbed me of my mental energies, which is why I've been spending most of my time at the piano sight-reading fun stuff, or playing pieces I can play in my sleep, rather than concentrate on delving into the intricacies of how to interpret Szymanowski's indication of ardende amoroso, when I don't feel at all amorous cry........


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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Originally Posted by Ganddalf
Being an amateur pianist working on my own without a teacher I sometimes wonder if I could make my practicing more efficient. I obviously need to improve my playing, but unfortunately I rarely have the opportunity to play more than 3 - 4 hours a week.

It would be very interesting to know how advanced amateurs organise their practice. Do you focus on very little stuff at the time or do you work on many pieces at the time?
My own approach is the following:
I split the time between work on "new" pieces and maintenance (and if possible, improvement) of pieces I have played before. I usually have a selection of pieces I practice at least once a week. Right now I'm working on the following music:

A small selection of two- and three-part inventions and movements from French suites of Bach. (maintenance)
A Beethoven sonata (Op.14 no.1) (maintenance)
A Haydn sonata (A-flat major) (Maintenance of first and second movement, last movement new piece)
Rondo i a-minor of Mozart (maintenance)
Notturno of deFalla (new piece)
Consolation from Op.17 of Bortkiewicz (new piece).

I don't play all this music the same day, but distribute them over the week. Therefore I may for instance play the Beethoven sonata twice a week.

Is this too much to work on at the same time? The first 10 minutes of each practice session I always play Bach. Many of the "maintenance pieces" i know quite well, but have places I need to polish. Actually I seldom use more than 10 minutes a day working on new pieces.

Only occasionally I play for live audiences. But still I feel great pleasure if I manage to overcome technical issues and improve my playing in any way. Sometimes I wonder if I aim a bit too high. Maybe I should accept a bit slower tempo than what is indicated in Beethoven's sonatas. Any thoughts about this?
I’m in the same boat as you with very limited time right now during the week to practice. I have my own business and 12 hour days from the time I leave the house and get home are the norm. So lucky on most days even getting an hour in. My teacher advised me that if I am very limited in time to play entirely through the piece I am working on on some practice days and then work on the problem areas on the other days. That’s what I’m currently doing with the Busoni Chaccone. During the lesson she has me play through it and then she goes over problem areas. Unfortunately because my time is so limited some of the problem areas are simply due to lack of practice time and being rusty. Can be frustrating to have solved an issue and play it well and then having to go back and rework the section again. She advised me also to pick a shorter piece like a Chopin Ballade if I’m planning to polish a piece to perfection as the Chaconne is a little long whereas the ballades are more manageable in size.


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Originally Posted by Jethro
I’m in the same boat as you with very limited time right now during the week to practice. I have my own business and 12 hour days from the time I leave the house and get home are the norm. So lucky on most days even getting an hour in. My teacher advised me that if I am very limited in time to play entirely through the piece I am working on on some practice days and then work on the problem areas on the other days. That’s what I’m currently doing with the Busoni Chaccone. During the lesson she has me play through it and then she goes over problem areas. Unfortunately because my time is so limited some of the problem areas are simply due to lack of practice time and being rusty. Can be frustrating to have solved an issue and play it well and then having to go back and rework the section again. She advised me also to pick a shorter piece like a Chopin Ballade if I’m planning to polish a piece to perfection as the Chaconne is a little long whereas the ballades are more manageable in size.

I see the importance of focusing on the difficult parts and not waste a lot of time on thinks I can play reasonably well. I got some comments from people who think I practice too many pieces at the same time. But most of the pieces I study are realtively short and not extremely challenging technically. I think that all the music I currently work on makes up a smaller challenge than e.g. a Chopin ballade. And I do focus on the hard parts.

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Originally Posted by Ganddalf
Originally Posted by Jethro
I’m in the same boat as you with very limited time right now during the week to practice. I have my own business and 12 hour days from the time I leave the house and get home are the norm. So lucky on most days even getting an hour in. My teacher advised me that if I am very limited in time to play entirely through the piece I am working on on some practice days and then work on the problem areas on the other days. That’s what I’m currently doing with the Busoni Chaccone. During the lesson she has me play through it and then she goes over problem areas. Unfortunately because my time is so limited some of the problem areas are simply due to lack of practice time and being rusty. Can be frustrating to have solved an issue and play it well and then having to go back and rework the section again. She advised me also to pick a shorter piece like a Chopin Ballade if I’m planning to polish a piece to perfection as the Chaconne is a little long whereas the ballades are more manageable in size.

I see the importance of focusing on the difficult parts and not waste a lot of time on thinks I can play reasonably well. I got some comments from people who think I practice too many pieces at the same time. But most of the pieces I study are realtively short and not extremely challenging technically. I think that all the music I currently work on makes up a smaller challenge than e.g. a Chopin ballade. And I do focus on the hard parts.
I think you are good then if you are comfortable with the pieces. As long as you feel like you are always making meaningful improvements with the pieces and not just reworking the same problems over and over again probably you are not playing too many pieces. The number of pieces you are work on I would think would depend on their technical difficulty and length. As for maintaining old pieces I find that I don't really lose that much muscle memory for pieces that I have practiced extensively in the past. The overall structure tends to stay intact but the pieces just need a few weeks to polish back up. So maybe you don't have to spend so much time working on maintaining old pieces. I can go a close to a year of not seeing a piece but it seems as if the majority of the fingering is still subconsciously in my memory.

This is an amateur's advice so also take what I say with a grain of salt. Other more experienced players may be able to give you better advice.


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Originally Posted by Ganddalf
Pianoloverus, Sam_S and 8tude,
Thanks for your feedback. Why I spend time on "maintenance" of old pieces is a relevant question, and I realise that I can benefit from cutting down this activity. I think I'll continue with some daily Bach, as this helps keeping the flexibility of my fingers at an acceptable level.

I decided to follow your suggestion of reducing the amount of practice stuff to one piece (if relevant - movement) at the time. In my case Chopin ballades are out of question, but I'll probably continue with the Haydn sonata movement hoping that I can move on to something else within reasonable time.

This all seems like very good advice. I'm surprised that it's a bit similar to my own approach. I only learn one new piece at a time. I find that my brain can't focus on new notes for more than one piece or else the progression is too slow to be successful.

If I make it far enough that a piece is memorized and I'm just working out issues, I could add another new piece to the mix. Another thing that helps with my limited time is that I focus on fairly short pieces most of the time. Usually 4 pages or less or collections of short pieces such as the Brahms waltzes. I will definitely do that if I have recently learned a long piece. Because being devoted to one pieces for a long time, I need to break from that and learn more variety in less time.

Maintenance is something I tend not to bother with. It's somewhat of a loss that I don't. For example, I played something I loved in the ABF recital last year. Now I can't play it. But...the rule for those is that I could restore it with about one or two weeks of focus depending on length. And the restoration is very good for my mastery of the piece. So I decide it's worth it to focus more on progression than maintenance.

Not sure if that helps. I'm not sure I would recommend what I do (I'm not at all advanced) One last thing...I don't have dedicated days, times or lengths of practice. If I feel that I want to play I will sit down to play and resume the pieces I'm working on. It might only be 5 minutes or it might be 45 minutes. Right now I haven't played for at least a few days. If I want to play but I'm really tired, I don't bother. So with this, every time I play I get the most out of it. I learned the value of very short practice sessions after injury.


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