How to productively spend practice time?
June 29, 2010 11:05 AM   Subscribe

What's the most productive way to spend 45 minutes of daily practice time for the piano/keyboard?

Lately I've been interested in working on my piano-playing, but I'm not sure how to approach the practice time. I have seven or eight years of piano lessons under my belt, but I squandered a lot of my practice time, and as a result the last song I learned in those lessons was "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

I spent the last three or four years improvising and working on a single scale (C blues), and I think I have a much better idea about what kind of music I want to play on the piano. Good points of reference would be the works that Ronald Jenkees ( puts up (mostly hip-hop.)

One of the problems here is that my piano teachers only provided me with classical piano sheet music - I can appreciate these pieces, but I would rather be playing Jenkees-esque works. What's the best way to spend practice time learning this style, and how do you learn it?

I'm guessing that I'll be familiarizing myself with a large number of chords, scales and chord progressions, then experimenting with those.
posted by gacxllr9 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm guessing that I'll be familiarizing myself with a large number of chords, scales and chord progressions, then experimenting with those.

45 Minute break-down:

15 minutes on scales, chords and progressions. Learn one major/minor combo with the I IV V every week.
15 minutes practicing read music in some capacity - jazz or rock, if you like.
15 minutes improvising and screwing around (this is important)
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:15 AM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

+1 on what Lutoslawski said. Only I tend to have an A day and a B day:

A day: 20 minutes of technical exercises, 20 minutes of scales, chords, and progressions, 20 minutes of practicing whatever piece of sheet music I'm learning

B day: 20 minutes of practicing whatever piece of sheet music I'm learning, 40 minutes of screwing around.

(I usually have time to practice for 45 minutes, but end up practicing for an hour instead....)
posted by kataclysm at 11:40 AM on June 29, 2010

I would actually not worry too much about scales, etc. right now, and focus instead on building your ear. As your ear expands you'll know where to focus your technical skills. (I say this as someone who can happily practice technical stuff and considers themselves a bit of theory geek, and moved from the classical background to jazz)'s easy to build up technical skills and theory knowledge but not really know how to apply it.

Listen to your favorites recording of his, take the first section or so, work on being able to play the bass line along with him. Just the bass line. Play along and get the feeling. Then pick out a couple right hand motifs that he does and practice playing them along with him. Now try it on your own, play both parts together, make up new right hand parts, new melody lines, etc. Rinse/repeat.
posted by snowymorninblues at 11:48 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

These are all good tips — another good piece of advice I've been given about practicing is, rather than starting your practice time with scales or sloughing through tricky and boring note-learning, start by playing some music you already know fairly well.

It's fun, it'll give you confidence, and it'll remind you what's enjoyable about playing the piano and make you more likely to continue good practicing habits!
posted by Zephyrial at 1:06 PM on June 29, 2010

As far as learning to improvise, I'd say you should pay close attention to chord progressions that you hear which grab your attention or that you really like as you go about your daily life. Maybe write down the song a particular progression appears in. Then, during your next practice session, bring the song up on YouTube and figure out theoretically what the chord progression is and get it into your mind (in such a way that you can play it in any key). That way, when your musical sensibilities demand a certain sound at a certain time, you can supply it automatically.

Also, I'd say scales are important in terms of getting key signatures into your muscle memory, which will help you when working on the fly. Sight reading will also improve your thinking-on-your-feet skills.

Your piano teachers have probably already mentioned this, but as far as finger dexterity type exercises go, I really like Hanon.
posted by hoperaiseshell at 8:11 PM on June 29, 2010

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