Reply To: Piano practice and ADHD

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Hi! I realize this is old, but maybe answering could be useful for people checking out the forums.

I’ve been playing since I was small and am currently in college. Practice can still be a challenge, but here’s what works for me.

My practice right now looks like:
Warmup (helps my brain transition to working/analyzing mode, also my teacher will make me play warmups for her so I want to be able to do it well)
Work on new or hard parts
Review previously worked sections (day before, etc)
Start from the beginning (working on the big-picture, whole piece)

Apart from the warmup, I tend to pick whatever is hardest or newest and do that first, because it can take longer than I expect and I’ll get sidetracked working on other parts if I don’t make that first priority. After I’ve worked on that for a while and feel more comfortable with it (or am too frustrated to keep working on it, lol), I switch down a level to something I’ve worked on before or is less hard. It’s easy to want to play what you’re already good at, or the easy sections, but that’s a trap!

It’s useful to know your tendencies. For example, I tend to want to rush in and play from beginning to end. That practice strategy is not so helpful. Breaking down a piece into sections is much, much more useful. Your teacher can make suggestions on how to break the piece into sections if that’s hard for you. Smallest > biggest works best, so a measure, then a few measures, then a line. Do this a line at a time (doesn’t have to be sequential necessarily). Sometimes I start from the last page, or a middle section–doesn’t have to be the beginning. The thing to keep in mind is that when you work stuff separately, you will need some time to practice stringing those parts together smoothly.

Resist the temptation to go fast or to-tempo all the time. My teacher often reminds me to go slower so I can be more accurate. That’s hard for me, but she’s right.

It’s easy to try and bite off more than you can chew, but trying to do everything at once or at tempo leads to a lot of frustration when you inevitably can’t play it as well as you like.

If you keep making a spot in the same place, stop on that measure and work it. Try hands separately then hands together very slowly. Often I realize it’s one transition between notes that’s messing me up, so I will rep just jumping back and forth between those notes. Then, I’ll add in the note directly before, or directly after, adding notes until I have the whole measure/group of measures etc.

If you don’t know what to practice, or where you need help, it can be useful to record yourself. When you’re playing, you’re thinking about what you’re doing and where to go next, but when you listen to a recording, you can just listen and realize “hey, I keep playing that note wrong!”

Sometimes practice is a managing-frustrations game. If you’re feeling down or angry or frustrated at your progress, it can be worth it to take a break and play something that you know well, or a section you like, to remind yourself that you can play stuff. It’s just the moment that’s frustrating.

You can also consider your distractions. I used to use my phone metronome app A LOT, but I kept getting distracted because of banner notifications, etc, and it was difficult to stay focused. I turned off most of those notifications, since I really didn’t need to see them as they happened, and practicing got way easier.

When I’m working a piece, my long-term process looks like:
1. Learn left hand and right hand seperately, a page at a time per week (how long this takes may differ from you depending on what kind of piece you’re learning, skill level, etc)
2. Put hands together, a page at a time (this generally takes 1-2 weeks per page, and again can vary with difficulty)
3. Start cleaning up the piece, notes, musicality.
4. (memorizing–haven’t gotten to this phase in a while)

The general process is learn–> cement–> next level of difficulty (hands together, faster, etc) learn–> cement–> next level of difficulty (musicality, flow, etc).

After the learning stage, you’ll want some time to practice performing and not stopping when you make mistakes. Some pieces can take a long time to get through and I find myself making careless mistakes and switching out of performance mode into practicing mode.

Lastly, some days are just bad days. I don’t know if this is the best advice, so please take it with a grain of salt and be careful, but sometimes I just have “bang-y” days where I rep stuff over and over again, very loudly, in the practice room, because I’m too frustrated to do anything else and I’m losing concentration. It’s hard for me to read and then do, so sometimes repetition and drilling gets things in my hands. I’ve learned to accept what my brain can give me, and sometimes that’s all I’ve got.

Sometimes I’m really tempted to get on my phone. I clap really loudly when I feel that urge. I’m in a practice room, so hey! no one has to know. I also talk to myself out loud when I’m struggling (yes, this is frustrating, we’re going to take it a part at a time, or no, you want to get on your phone but you’re going to regret it because your concentration will be shot afterwards).

I don’t like taking breaks because they make it harder for me to get into flow, but your mileage may vary. Sometimes I have to take breaks to keep me sane.

Oh, it also helps to have a quota in mind for yourself about practicing time. I try to go for a set time every day, because missing a day will make it harder to retain what I work on. In the past, when I didn’t have a schedule, I just made sure I filled a quota of 5 hours a week. Sometimes that meant practicing twice in one day, which isn’t ideal but I had missed previous days so that was how I dealt with it. (I practice for about an hour a day, but that’s not a universal time! 30 minutes tends to be more common at a beginner level. Go with whatever your teacher suggests).

Learning music really can take time and it’s really tempting to miss days, but consecutive practice really does help, as hard as it can be.

Wish everyone the best!