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How to use your limited piano practice time effectively

Mizue Murakami

Upright piano & clock

Frequently I get asked by enthusiastic adult piano practitioners, learners, and students this question. "I run out of my practice time with just doing piano exercises." Or "How can I focus on all the important things I need to do in my limited time?." It's hard for me to come up with a suitable answer for each of these people because I actually don't know how their personal and professional lives are. Each person's situation is different.

If you are serious about your piano practice and about how to use your limited time efficiently and effectively, I suggest you sit down and figure out how your entire life is first; your family life, social life, work, hobbies, health, etc. You may even need to consult with a personal coach. You need to prioritize the entire life in your daily life. And after you do that, you also need to prioritize many elements of your piano projects. What are you actually trying to achieve? How much time are you able to allocate for piano practice? What's more important, this song or that song?

In our current society, we are too eager to do too many things. We all are quite enthusiastic (at least at the beginning) about the activities we are participating in. But I can say that we are also too greedy about the outcome. We want us to be able to do everything that we chose to do. But it is just not possible to do all. Most people's plates are already full. And we keep putting new things on top of it. So, first, reduce things that are not important in your life that you have been doing. Or if you can't get rid of them completely, do those less frequently. It'll create extra time for the more important things, for example, your piano practice if that's what you like to do more.

Then, I advise you to lower the expectation of your progress on the piano. And start enjoying the small steps, slow improvement, and small accomplishment each time. Instead of practice too many different things, limit to fewer things but more important things. I know you may get itchy when you can't get to do all. But constrain the materials a little. And focus on fewer essential things. You will have time to enjoy other materials at another time in the near future. (Please see my other blog talking about this topic in a blog "Be a marathon piano learner, not a sprint piano learner."

Some may ask, "But how about warming-up and boring but important exercises? Those take time." For warming-up, you don't have to wait to warm up until you finally sit down at the piano. You can warm up while you are driving, while you are standing in line at a grocery store, and while wining down and watching the news on TV, etc.. How? You may ask. You can move your finger slowly and independently away from the next finger. For example, you can pick finger-2 and finger-3. You can move finger-2 away from finger-3 slowly and alternate. Then, try another set of fingers, for example, finger-3 and finger-4. And do the same.

For piano exercises, let's use scales as an example. Instead of doing the scales in all 12 keys, work on only one key a day if your time is minimal. If you have more time, you can do, for example, E major scale, E major tonic arpeggio, E major inversions, etc. But that's all. That's going to take only a few minutes. If you try to do all the exercises in 12 keys, of course, your time will run out very quickly. However, you probably should do a little of these exercises every day if that's also something that you are working on.

If you are very serious about your piano progress, to achieve a better result from your daily practice, make sure to be aware of your physical and mental energy reserve as well. This is so important. Of course, it's better to practice when your mind is fresh, and you have enough physical vitality. That's another deep topic, though. So, I'm going to talk about that in a later blog. But today, the take away is to sit down and assess your entire life, prioritize your life and piano practices, warm-up when you are not at the piano, do only a small amount of exercises each day, and get into fewer important materials that you chose to practice.

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