Practice that doesn’t get scheduled doesn’t get done.

In order to keep getting better at piano, you must make sure you are sitting down in front of the piano keys each day to practice. Let me say that in another way because this is SUPER important. If you want to achieve your piano goals, you absolutely MUST have a daily practice schedule.

Normally, when you take lessons from a teacher, your teacher will be setting your practice schedule and learning goals with you, however if you’re teaching yourself, you normally have to do this alone. This can actually be one of the greatest things holding you back from teaching yourself since many people don’t know how to set up a proper practice schedule. Since I’m a teacher who does this for his students for well over a decade, let me help break down how to do this for yourself.

First, choose a time in the day that you are mentally sharp and are less likely to be distracted. Learning piano is mentally intensive and if you aren’t able to focus you will get poor results and waste time. Some people think best in the morning, others at night or maybe even some other random time. I find that either later at night or early in the morning tends to work best for people, but take some time and be honest about when you notice you can think and learn the best while being interrupted as little as possible. But let’s make one thing clear, there is almost never a “perfect” time to practice, so don’t wait to start practicing until you can have a perfect time. Just begin with where you’re at and go from there.

Second, don’t over commit too quickly. You need to maximize the chance that you stick to your schedule, otherwise you could get discouraged and give up on your piano dreams. I’ve found that setting a small goal of 2-5 minutes of practice per day is surprisingly the most effective thing you can do to help. Why? When you’re trying to start a new habit, it helps if the good feeling you have is much bigger than the hardship of keeping that habit. If you’re able to keep that small habit of practice going, you will feel great about it and once you get in the habit of sitting down everyday, that momentum will naturally build on itself and you will find yourself practicing more and more without even trying. On the other hand, if you start with 2 hours a day, there’s a very high chance you will not be able to keep this up very long, and as soon as you miss a few practices you’ll be feeling guilty, and the thought of getting back to 2 hours a day will be too hard to recommit to. If you were trying to jump from one roof top to another, what do you need more than anything? Momentum! And the only way to do that is to take a few steps back and give yourself a running jump. Your best move is to start small, establish a habit that you can keep every single day, and then build up your practice. So remember, LESS TIME, BUT MORE FREQUENTLY is best.

Third, it doesn’t matter when you get knocked off the horse, it only matters how quickly you get back on. There is absolutely no chance that you will always be able to practice every single day without fail. Life throws curve balls at us, we get sick, there are accidents, emergencies, deadlines, weddings, vacations and everything else that goes on in life. You must accept that it’s inevitable that your practice will get interrupted sometimes, and don’t waste one second feeling any guilt about that missed practice. Instead, focus on making that interruption be as short as possible, if you’re out of town for 2 days, and you get back home at 8pm after a 6 hour flight, getting back on the horse means going to play the piano for 2 minutes when you get home before you go to sleep. The next morning you’ll have already restarted your piano habit, and you’ll be much more likely to practice again, rather than if you skipped the night before, you will be tempted to wait a little longer….and longer….and longer. However, if you just get back on track as fast as possible, you’ll have less guilt, and make faster progress.

Fourth, have a goal and a plan how to get there. When you practice you need to know what you’re aiming to accomplish and a way to tell if you were successful or not. Because if you show up to the piano and just expect to figure out what to do while you’re sitting there, that would be like a construction crew showing up to a building site without any design or blueprints to work from. VERY BAD IDEA.

In order to go into your practice prepared, you need to create a weekly goal. It’s not hard to come up with a goal, just think of some kind of piano progress that you also have a 99% chance to achieve within a week, and make that your goal. Then break that weekly goal down into smaller steps to do each day. For example: If a weekly goal is to learn one line of a piece hands together, and there are 4 bars in the line, then make your daily goals to absolutely MASTER one bar each day for the first 4 days, and then put the bars all together in the last 3 days up to full speed without any mistakes. At the end of the week you’ll be able to measure if you were successful or not, and learn if you need to make adjustments.

Remember: You must always know what you’re trying to accomplish when you sit down at the piano to practice, and if you don’t have a plan, go make one. Don’t worry about if your plan is the best plan right off the bat, as you gain more experience making plans, you will get better at it.

To recap:

  1. Schedule a time to practice, write it down, or use a daily TODO list, or schedule it in your app to remind yourself.

  2. Only commit to a practice time you can very very easily hit. 2-5 minutes.

  3. When you miss a practice, don’t waste time with guilt, instead just get back on your schedule as fast as possible.

  4. Create goals so you know what you’re working towards during every practice session.