How to Achieve Small Goals at the Bench and Feel Amazing

We all know that practicing can be hard and sometimes feel like torture.  The job of piano teachers is to help students get through the rough patches and learn how to deal with frustration as well as learn what they need to know to help them play the piece well.

This is all well and good but most piano teachers are not in the practice room with their students for every practice and so we have to do our best within our 30-60 minute weekly lesson to impart how to practice well.  But what works well for me as a practicer may not work well for my student, however what I have learned is that if students can achieve small goals at every practice session regardless of how they get the job done, they will be successful.

So how do you achieve small goals?  First students need to know the procedure to learn a new piece or finesse a new section.

  1. Make sure you are playing the correct notes. You do this by going very very slowly. Sometimes you do this by playing hands separately until you are familiar with your piece. The first goal can be to get all the notes correct hand separately.

  2. Use a metronome. Always use a metronome. The second goal can be to get all the notes correct and play them on beat hand separately.

  3. Put it hands together slowly - this can be the third goal - to have the notes correct and play on beat with the correct rhythm with a metronome.

  4. Repeat the process for other sections or put sections together.

  5. Have a numerical goal for repetitions - what I mean is how many times in a row does the goal have to be achieved for a student to move on to the next goal? Usually I advise my students to do it 3, 5 or 7 times in a row depending on the complexity or the level of attention the student brings to any given task.

If students can follow this procedure and talk about what step they are on when learning a piece they are well on their way to developing good practice habits. And these are small enough goals that students can achieve them each week and have something to show for it - good music to play at their lesson!