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Fine-Tuning Piano Skills with Technical Practice

Updated: 2 days ago


black cat walking across piano keys

The peanut butter and jelly. The main course. The headliner…. I’m running out of metaphors. We’re at the main event! (Hey, another one!) Next to consider as you build a practice routine for (but should be more like WITH) your child is, well, the actual practice! We will look at two main phases: technical practice this week and repertoire practice next week. Each phase will vary weekly depending on what your child’s teacher or coach has assigned and your child’s goals.


Read the Directions


Always read the assignments and notes from the teacher first! It is only possible to know what or how to practice by reading what your teacher has written down or shared with your child. You’re paying your child’s teacher for their expertise and experience away from their instrument, not just in the lesson. Make sure your child takes the time to read each assignment carefully. Read it with them at the first practice after each lesson, then spot-check them throughout the week. If you or your child has a question or is unclear, communicate with your child’s teacher for clarification. Make sure you know the teacher’s preferred means of communication and use it whenever there is uncertainty. As a teacher, I'd much rather hear from my students so we can course-correct than have them struggling or practicing something incorrectly all week.


Technical Practice


Music is a seriously complex language, but that doesn’t mean it’s hard. We just have to learn it incrementally. Technical practice is where we do that. This is where your child will spend most of their practice time, and there are many choices for technical practice.


Scales, arpeggios, and chords


“Wait a minute,” you say. “You already said scales, arpeggios, and chords back at the warmup routine.” Yes. Yes, I did. But this is when you practice new ones. For the warmup routines, your child should use scales, arpeggios, and chords they know well. They’ve got to practice them at some point to get to the “know them really, really well” stage, though. While practicing scales is not the most thrilling part of practice (though practicing arpeggios, especially with the sustain pedal down, certainly can be), it is one of the most efficient and fundamental techniques for building all sorts of valuable skills that will benefit your child in every other area of playing. Most music is made up of scale patterns and broken and blocked chords. Practicing scales helps develop muscles, ingrains specific fingering patterns, and helps familiarize the student with the patterns and chords in different key signatures. In addition, scales are an excellent groundwork for layering other skills a student is working on, such as dynamics, articulation, tempo, finger independence, and more.


Note: Warmup and technical practice can absolutely blend with scales, arpeggios, and chords. In fact, this area of practice makes a great transition from warmups into the central practice time. After completing their body warmups and warmup set (see this blog post), have your child start with the scales they know well, then move into ones they need to work on. Your child’s teacher should assign technique skills. Many books are available for extra scale, arpeggio, and chord practice learning if your child is interested in further exploration. I really like a series from Alfred’s Basic Piano Library. There are three books, starting with The First Book of Scales, Chords, Arpeggios & Cadences. This series begins with full scales. For early beginners, also from Alfred’s, is the Pentascale Pro series that focuses on 5-finger scales.


Sight-reading


What is sight-reading, exactly? It is reading and performing music “at sight” without preparation. As beneficial as regular scales practice is, regular sight-reading practice is even more so. This is where it’s at, friends! Being able to quickly and confidently play a piece of music opens up many possibilities for music-making. And it is a skill like any other that improves with regular exercise.


Sight-reading is different from practicing music. You can really only sight-read a single piece of music ONCE. After that, it starts to become practice. I can write an entire blog post on how to practice sight-reading (and probably will at some point), but I don’t want to dive that deep into it today. Many inexpensive books with bite-size music selections exist to practice and develop sight-reading skills.

But really, any book of music can be used! You can check out music books from the library for sight-reading practice. When I searched “easy piano music” at my local library, there were 73 books that came up, with choices from the soundtracks of Glee and Twilight to books of Beethoven selections. For students not yet reading on the staff, Google “pre-staff sheet music.”. You will find a large selection of free printable sheet music (and many popular melodies your child will enjoy playing even after using the song for sight-reading practice).


I particularly like the Improve Your Sight-reading! series by Faber Music. The series starts with Level 1 Early Elementary and advances to Grade 8. Faber Piano Adventures has sight-reading books coordinating with their method books from their Primer level to Level 4. Music Theory and Other Assignments


This is going to vary from teacher to teacher. Some teachers will suggest you purchase music theory and technique books separate from the main method book. Others will assign additional work in other ways, whether apps to use or worksheets to complete. Several method book series have technique books and music theory books that accompany their series. Even if your child’s teacher doesn’t assign these books, you are welcome to pick them up yourself for your child to use to help structure their technique and music theory practice time.


Even if you don’t use a book and the teacher hasn’t assigned extra work, take a moment to review the music theory concepts currently being taught in the method book. Open the songs assigned that week (your child will need them in a minute anyway as they transition into repertoire practice) and read what is being taught on the page. Flip back a few pages and review concepts from the last few songs.


More complex concepts may have several songs to reinforce the idea with a primary explanation only on the first song or a whole page. For example, in the Carol Matz Online Interactive Level 1A book, the staff, clefs, and grand staff are introduced on page 26, but the first song introducing these concepts is on page 27. Help your child review new music theory concepts at the beginning of the practice week. You can quiz them on what they learned toward the end of the week. This is especially helpful if you aren’t a musician as it helps you understand the concepts so you can better help your child with their practice.


The Fun Part


Next week, we’ll jump into repertoire practice. For a musician, “repertoire” is just a fancy word to refer to the collection of songs a musician plays. This is where your child gets to make music! While that can be the most fun part of music, it is also the most rife with the potential for frustration.


Be sure to grab my free printable practice routine here and check out other posts in this series.












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