Practice Tips from Mark Almond #1

by Mark Almond

Our goal is to know for sure that we are making efficient progress when we spend time practicing the piano. There are a few things that can prevent us from reaching this goal before we even get started. First on the list is our understanding of the thing we call “talent.” What really is the number one key element in talent, even when we consider the long history of those who have accomplished the most at the piano?

By far, the number one element is the willingness to develop our ability to concentrate! This is the ability to focus on the issues at hand, eliminating other distractions, during each practice session. Every single person willing to improve on this “mind set” will discover his or her strengths and weaknesses at the piano and amazingly produce what others call “talent.” If every student could only realize what they could actually accomplish just by working on, and gradually improving, their ability to focus! Knowing, without a doubt, where a student could be, and what they could really do, even in a matter of weeks, is a profound emotion with every true teacher. Most students, when they discover some things take time, are more focused emotionally on their assumed “lack of talent” than they are on the issues. Gradually improving our ability to focus is the key element in talent, but we also need to understand what to focus on, so pay close attention to the next paragraph. Go to a mountain cabin if necessary.

Another profound truth, in the world of the piano, is recognizing the particular features relating to your own individual learning style. It is nearly impossible to focus and maintain concentration unless we have a variety of options in practicing! No matter who you are, you will gravitate to a certain kind of practice when given the various options. The answer to this problem is simple but not understood by most. You just find out about your options and experiment! Some people, believe it or not, actually gravitate to note reading even when given other options. Most, however, will enjoy the more “right brain” experience of playing from the heart by means of a practical understanding of the basic harmonic patterns, or “chords” as we call them. This is by far the best way for most people to make it through the” initial barriers” when it comes to playing something emotionally satisfying at the piano. The long term goal for everyone, however, is to learn all of the important skills over time. Achieving the balance we all need will be discussed in detail in future practice tips:


  • What can be learned by listening to spirited piano solo music
  • Creative ways to make sure you are practicing on your own schedule
  • The “sky is the limit” approach to playing chord progressions
  • Playing creatively designed exercises when you are not in the mood to “practice”
  • Strategic improvement of note reading skills
  • Suggested reading for inspiration and information
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