The Ultimate Practice Routine

Lisa Witt  /  Practice  /  UPDATED Jan 16, 2023

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Your practice time at home is crucial.

Because it’s the time where you put in the hard work that leads to such great results.

The difference between someone who wishes they could play the piano beautifully and someone who actually can is not talent, or natural ability, or even divine intervention.

It’s practice.

So how do you get the most out of our practice time at home? How do you make sure that you’re not just wasting time but making real progress?

You need a plan.

Here’s my ultimate guide to make sure you get the most out of your practice time. It might look like a lot, but it takes longer to explain and read than it does to do.

The Warm-Up

Warming up is super important because it prepares your fingers and mind for playing the piano. The goal is to “wake-up” our fingers and prepare them for what’s ahead.

For this example, we’ll use Hanon #1. I love Hanon exercises for warmups because they also help build a bunch of other crucial skills, like finger and hand independence, control, speed, etc.

Hanon #1 is very simple, there is only skip each measure which allows us to play up and down. You can see it here:

Download Hanon No. 1 here.

But remember, simple doesn’t mean easy. It might take some time to feel really comfortable with this.

Start at a comfortable speed. If your fingers are really cold start slower than you would normally. We don’t want to get injured!

I’d recommend spending 3-5 minutes on warming up.

Scale Practice

Scales are SO important. They open up so much in the world of improvisation and having fun at the piano. They are the building blocks of everything that is cool about the instrument.

And the more scales you know, the more freedom you have to play and explore.

Practice scales you know so you can get better at them, but make sure to practice the scales you struggle with.

Remember this is practice, nor performance.

This is the time to make mistakes and learn from them.

F major is a great scale to look at because it has a different fingering pattern in the right hand.

Get the F major practice sheet here.

Here it is. Notice the Bb and see if you can spot the challenge:

How would you do a thumb tuck to get from the A to the Bb? It’s almost impossible! Instead, we’ll 4 notes up to the Bb and then do a thumb tuck, like this:

This also means that when we re-set our fingers we’ll be ending the scale on our 4 finger.

So if you were only playing one octave you’d come back down, but if you were playing a multi-octave scale you would do another thumb-tuck to reset again.

Scales can get boring to play (I know), so the best thing to do is find creative ways to practice them so you don’t end up on auto-pilot.

Try playing one hand staccato and the other legato, try playing one hand loud and the other soft. Try changing the rhythm and adding some swing to them.

For my practices, I usually recommend about 5-10 minutes on scales.

Song Practice

Students sometimes ask me what the point of all that technique practice is. If the goal is to play songs, why don’t we just use songs for the entire practice?

The answer is this:

Better technique means you will learn the songs MUCH faster than if you just practice with the song itself. It also means that by the time you reach the song stage, your fingers are warm, they’re flying and you’re feeling good.

Try it for yourself. Do a practice without any warmup, and then use the warmup and scale practice that I have just outlined, and notice the difference between your songs.

Your song practice will take up the most of your practice time because this is why we play the piano, to play songs!

But remember, this is practice! Focus on the parts of the song you’ve been struggling with. I find it often helps to start at those parts instead of at the beginning. This is not a concert, and if you only play the parts you’re already good at, you won’t get any better.

Embrace the grind, push through those barriers and you’ll see amazing results.

In this lesson, I’m using “Hallelujah” as an example. You can download the lead sheet here.

Or click here for a full song tutorial on “Hallelujah”.

Time To Have Some Fun!

You’ve done all the hard work, now it’s time to have some fun without worrying about being “perfect”.

I like to pick a scale (like F) and rock back and forth between the root and the 5th with my left hand.

Then I just play ANY note of the scale with my right hand. There are no wrong notes (some are just “less-right”).

I find it helps to put me in a zen mood. It makes me feel at peace and it’s a wonderful way to end a practice. I always think that if you end a practice by having fun, your brain will remember, and you’ll be much more likely to want to come back and practice again!

I hope you enjoy this template and all the resources.

Happy practicing!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others. Learn more about Lisa.

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