Supercharge Your Piano Practice eBook

August 29, 2017 | Author: Luiziana Costa Melo Pereira | Category: Tempo, Rhythm, Musicology, Musical Notation, Rhythm And Meter
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Supercharge Your Piano Practice! 22 Killer Practice Strategies to Learn Songs Twice as Fast on Piano


By Zach Evans


Table of Contents Part 1: Fundamental Practice Habits 1. Introduction ……………………………………… 1 2. The Three Golden Rules ………………………. 4 3. Planning and Goal Setting ……..……………... 8

Part 2: The Main Practice Strategies 4. Chunking ………………………………………. 16 5. Rhythms ……………...…….………………….. 19 6. Metronome …………….………………………. 22 7. Added Measures ……………………………… 26

Part 3: Extra Practice Strategies 8. Style Variations ……………………………….. 30 9. Mental Practice ……………………………….. 33 10. Specific Practice Strategies ..……………… 36 11. Wrap Up and Summary ……………………. 40

About The Author Hey! I’m Zach Evans and here’s how I got started on piano. When I was in kindergarten, my Grandpa Evans started showing me how to play. I got a teacher and took lessons up until fifth grade. I quit because my Mom made me practice piano before I played basketball with my friends (C’mon Mom, I’m goin’ to the NBA! :P) Then I saw a YouTube video of a guy playing Lil Wayne on piano, and it sounded beautiful. I learned that song as fast as I could, and proceeded to learn song after song that I thought would sound cool. I got so into it that I switched my major to music in college. I had a great teacher who pushed me hard and taught me to play classical music. Over my college career I learned a ton of strategies and tactics to learn pieces faster and more efficiently, so I thought I’d share them with you in this book. I hope they can help you the same way they helped me. | Page 0


Part 1 Fundamental Practice The Basic Foundation to All of Your Practicing, and the Goal Setting Process



1. Introduction Hey! Thank you for buying a copy of this Ebook “Supercharge Your Piano Practice”. By the end of this course, you’ll know exactly how to make your practice sessions efficient, organized, and laser-focused so you can learn pieces faster and better. It includes 7 chapters lined with killer practice strategies I use all the time to drill in tough sections and smooth out entire pieces.

Learn Songs Faster and Better We all know learning a song on piano takes a lot of practice. But what if you could learn songs in half the time? What if songs that used to take 3 weeks to learn you could learn in a week? You could learn 3 times the songs every year! That’s what this book is about, strategies to cut down on practice time while still maintaining and even enhancing quality. This is not a substitute for practice; you’ll still have to practice a lot to get good. Think of it as a system to keep you laser-focused and help you learn each individual part as efficiently and effectively as possible. It’s a set of tools that can be used to enhance practicing. When you study for a test in school, there are a ton of strategies to learn faster and better (acronyms, flashcards, flowcharts, ext.). If you’ve ever tried these you know you can learn a lot more information in a much shorter period of time; they can be very powerful. Learning piano is no different. There is a set of strategies and tactics that help your brain and fingers rapidly learn and

memorize passages. Once you learn these strategies, you’ll have the tools you need to drill in songs quickly and effectively.

Practicing is a Skill Start thinking of practicing as a skill in itself. Just like you can be good at technique, sight-reading, and memorizing, you can be good at practicing. Someone who is good at practicing can see a passage and instantly know the best strategy to use to learn that passage fast and efficiently. Someone who is good at practicing knows how to organize their practice sessions and how to keep themselves focused and on track. Like any other skill, you learn by repetition, so start practicing “practicing!”

What’s All In This Book? This book is split into a couple different parts: Part 1 (Chapters 1 through 3) talks about some fundamental practice habits that are essential to every practice session you execute. Make sure you not only read through these but internalize them. With them, you’ll maximize all the other strategies in this book. Without them, all the strategies and tactics in the world won’t help you. | Page 1


Part 2 (Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7) teaches you step-by-step the four main practice strategies I know. I use these in every song I learn, and in almost every practice session. These strategies are essential to fast learning, so start implementing them as soon as possible! Part 3 (Chapters 8, 9, and 10) give you a couple other practice strategies to implement in case the main strategies still aren’t enough. It also includes a couple strategies specific to certain technical issues.I usually end up using these strategies only on the tough sections that require a little more time and effort. Chapter 11 is the conclusion, and simply includes a quick review of the entire book, some specific examples from actual songs and how to practice them, and a couple notes on where to go from here.

How To Get The Most Out of This Book You could simply read this book cover to cover, and you might pick up some good tips. But piano isn’t something you learn by reading, it’s something you learn by doing. So here are a couple tips on how to get the most out of this book:

Implement These Strategies Into Your Practice You learn things by doing them, so use them in your practicing right away! Pick a song right now to start working on so you have something to apply these strategies to. I’d suggest you read a chapter a day and then practice using that strategy. That way you won’t get overwhelmed trying to learn them all at once.

Watch the Video Lessons Can I Use an Electric Keyboard? I get asked this question a lot, so I thought I’d include it in this book. An acoustic piano is always going to be better than a keyboard, mainly because you get the “feel” of a real piano. However, you might need to get a keyboard if you don’t have much space or for financial reasons. If you do get a keyboard, the most important thing is to get one with “weighted keys”. This way you can still build finger strength when you practice. Personally I have a Yamaha Clavinova, but you can get any brand of keyboard as long as it has weighted keys.

Some people learn better by watching videos instead of reading. You don’t need the video lessons, but a lot of people have emailed me and said they’d want to see exactly how I do some of the strategies. So it’ll just help you learn faster. Here’s the link to the lessons: Or if you don’t have access to the lessons and you’d like to upgrade, you can get them here: Again, these lessons will just clarify exactly how to do each technique. Plus, some people are visual learners and simply learn faster through video. | Page 2


Have Some Questions? Ask Me! Seriously, email me. [email protected] I WILL email you back. You spent your hard earned money buying this book and I want to personally make sure you get everything you want out of it. So if you’re confused on anything, if you have any other piano questions, or if you just want to say hi, don’t hesitate to contact me. Seriously, do it . Here’s my contact info: Email: [email protected], Facebook: Twitter:

The other reason I think you should trust me is because you can contact me at any time. I didn’t sell you this book to take your money and hide away, I genuinely want to help you improve as a pianist, and I want to do what it takes to make sure you got all you could out of this book. So once again, here’s my contact info, contact me at any time: Email: [email protected], Facebook: Twitter: And remember, each chapter has a video lesson that goes with it, even this chapter! You can find it here:

Why Should You Trust Me? I do have a Music Degree from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, with piano as my primary instrument. Please don’t trust me for this reason. A music degree is just a piece of paper saying you’ve passed some classes, it doesn’t measure how much you practice or how much passion you have for your instrument. The only true test of if someone is a good musician is to hear him or her play. I’ve put up at least a piano video a week on YouTube. This was on top of jobs and school, and I had to be super efficient with my practicing in order to keep that up. That pressure is what helped me develop some of these practice habits. Here’s my YouTube channel if you’d like to hear for yourself what I can play: | Page 3


2. The Three Golden Rules Before we go on to the specific practice strategies you will be using, we need to talk about the Three Golden Rules of practicing. These are the most fundamental practice rules. If you follow them you will learn songs much faster and much easier. If you don’t, none of the other practice strategies will do you any good.

Once you drill in a wrong note, it takes even more practice to overcome it. If you’ve drilled in the wrong note 100 times, you might have to drill in the correct note 200 times to make up for it. And even then, the wrong note is still somewhere in your fingers, waiting to rear its ugly head.

Rule 1: Accuracy Over Speed

This is why it’s so important to practice with accurate notes. Play the notes right fro the start and you’ll drill them in solidly to your memory. You have to be aware of your practice habits and know when you are likely to break this rule. Here are the three most common pitfalls to playing with accuracy:

Accuracy (hitting the right notes) is the single most important factor to practicing. Here’s why. When you play piano, you rely heavily on muscle memory. Muscle memory, or “finger memory”, is when your hands just seem to snap to the right notes automatically after you have practiced a section enough. It is why once you know a piece well, you can play it without thinking about the notes. Your fingers know the song so they are able to remember the next notes without putting much stress on your mental resources. The only way to drill in muscle memory is repetition. If you play a section 100 times, your fingers will memorize that series of notes. If you’ve only played a section 10 times, that section won’t be memorized as well. But here’s the important part: your fingers don’t know what the right notes are. All they know is what has been drilled into them by repetition. So if you practice a section 100 times and one of the notes is wrong, your fingers will “think” that is the correct note, and their default will be to play that note.

1. Playing Too Fast I love speed. Songs tend to sound cooler when they’re up to full tempo. It is very easy to slip into the habit of trying to play faster than you are able to. This will lead to mistakes and poor muscle memory. So if you’re playing the wrong notes, slow down. Practice at a tempo you can hit the right notes almost every time. The end of a practice session is the worst offender of playing too fast. Have you ever finished a practice session, felt excited that you learned more of your song, then ran the whole thing at a tempo wayyy faster than you could play it? I used to do this all the time. Then my fingers would remember all the wrong notes I played and I would wonder why it was sloppy the next day. So be disciplined and always practice slow enough to be accurate. | Page 4


Quick Tip: Use a Metronome Sometimes it’s hard to play slow. You’ll start practicing slow, but gradually you’ll start speeding up without even realizing it. It happens to me all the time. Use a metronome to keep your tempo disciplined and where it needs to be (more about metronomes in Chapter 6). The metronome doesn’t lie, so pick a tempo, set your metronome, and stick to it!

As you practice more, you’ll develop a higher “concentration stamina” (you’ll be able to focus for much longer). Focus is like a muscle, it’ll get better the more you work at it. When I first started playing, I could only focus for 20 minutes before I needed a break. Now I can go about an hour before I start to lose focus.

2. Playing Without Focus

Set Goals Setting goals is another important way to stay focused. When you have a target to hit, it’s much easier to stay on track. Writing down goals has been shown to increase the likelihood you will complete those goals by 42%. So take the time and write them down! We’ll talk more about in-depth goal setting in the next chapter.

The second major pitfall is practicing without focus. If your mind’s tired and wandering, you’ll start hitting the wrong notes time and time again. There are a couple ways to combat this:

3. Playing With the Wrong Fingering

Get Rid of Distractions The first step to having a good practice session is to set up your environment for a good practice session. First, get all the distractions away from the piano. Turn off your phone and clean up the clutter. Tell anyone else living with you to not bother you when you’re practicing. This will help eliminate distractions and keep you focused on the music. Take Breaks Another reason you’ll lose focus is mental fatigue. Your brain can only concentrate for so long before you’ll start feeling tired and fuzzy. When you do, take 5 to 15 minutes and get away from the piano. Walk around outside or talk to some friends. Give your brain a break from piano. Then come back and refocus, and you’ll have a lot more energy and concentration.

Even if you play the right notes, if you play them with the wrong fingers you are practicing the section wrong. Certain fingerings work at slow tempos, but won’t work at faster ones. When you first start practicing, write the fingerings for the tricky parts right away. Then practice it with that fingering every time. How do you know what the right fingering is? You don’t. You have to make your best guess and go from there. You get better at guessing with experience. If you have no idea, use the bullets below to make your best guess. If you have a teacher, ask for their advice. Even when the fingerings are printed into the score, they might not be right for you. You might need a different fingering depending on the size of your hands. | Page 5


Fingering Basics • Keep fingerings consistent with normal scale and arpeggio fingerings • Try to keep your thumb and pinkie on white notes if possible • Use fingerings that are natural and relaxed whenever you can

Rule 2: Practice Hands Separate First The key to playing hands together well is to have each hand learned well separately. Then when you put them together it’ll be easy. The goal is to get one of the hands on “autopilot” (usually the Left Hand, or sometimes the Right Hand if it has the accompaniment part), meaning you don’t even have to think about it. The other hand should be to the point where you can play it well, even if you have to think about it. Once you have each hand at this level, it should be easy to put them together. If you’re having a tough time with the hands together coordination, most likely you haven’t learned the parts well enough hands separate. A good way to practice is to take a small section and work on the left hand alone 6 or 7 times, then switch to the right hand and run it 6 or 7 times. Keep alternating between the hands.

That way one hand can rest while the other hand is learning it’s part and vice versa. Remember, accuracy over speed, so don’t try to put hands together until you can play it at a slow tempo without mistakes. Be patient and don’t rush into hands together. If it’s a tough section, I might practice a couple days or even a couple weeks just hands alone before I even think about playing hands together. If it’s an easier section I might be playing hands together in five minutes. You will learn to gage yourself as you learn enough pieces, and you will be able to feel when you’re able to move to hands together.

Rule 3: Always Play Expressively The whole point of playing music is to convey an emotion. All this work of leaning notes, rhythms, and dynamics is just to get to the point where you can express yourself through your music. Don’t forget that. Playing expressively is a skill. I used to think it was just “something inside you”, and to some extent it is, but it takes practice to take what’s inside you and transfer it into music that can be felt by others. Like any other skill, it takes repetition to learn. So by always playing expressively in the practice room, you can develop this skill. Even if you’re playing at really slow tempos, or hands separate, or with a metronome, still try to put emotion into your playing. This emotion will transfer to the higher speeds once you get the technical aspects of the piece down. You can even put emotion into your scales and arpeggios; experiment with | Page 6


different dynamic and stylistic choices. Additionally, your brain remembers events that are emotionally stimulating more than mundane events. Think of parts of your life you remember most. They are probably times of joy, stress, or tragedy: all emotionally stimulating events. Use this to your advantage and practice with a lot of emotion; you’ll memorize pieces much faster.

Wrap Up and Key Points

And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here: And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if you need me to explain things further: Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic Off to the next chapter where we I’ll teach you the step-bystep method I use to set goals and keep motivation at an all time high!

So before you go on and start using the practice strategies outlined in this book, drill these three golden rules into your head and follow them every practice session: • Accuracy Over Speed • Practice Hands Separate First • Always Play Expressively It might be a good idea to print these off and put them up in the front of your binder or somewhere near your piano. By following these every practice session, you’ll develop the discipline for super efficient practice sessions every time.

Video Lesson Want to review? Here’s the link to the video lesson: | Page 7


3. The Goal Setting Method During the semester of my Senior Recital, I had to learn four new pieces in 6 weeks: two movements from a Beethoven Sonata, a Bartok piece, and a Chamber piece. In order to learn all these in time, I had to be super organized, with every second of practice time as focused and efficient as possible. So I developed a 6 Step System to stay laser focused, my “Goal Setting Method”, and it has worked wonders for me. I’ve been using ever since to learn songs in the shortest amount of time possible.

How to Use the Goal Setting Method Have you ever had those practice sessions where you kinda just futzed around but didn’t really get anything accomplished? By setting goals and planning you can eliminate all that wasted time and zero in on exactly the sections and spots that need the most work. 90% of wasted practice time comes from playing through the parts you already know well. So before each practice session set some goals and plan specifically what you’re going to be practicing, AKA the spots you don’t know well. Here’s the best method I’ve found to set goals:

Step 1: Break Your Piece Into Sections Before you even touch the piano, look through your piece and organize it into sections with A being the first section, B the second section, and so on. Break it into logical pieces so that the beginning and end coincide with the beginning and end of phrases. It helps a lot to listen to the song as you go through it so you can hear the logical places to end sections.

As for the length of each section, that depends on how difficult it is. You want to set it up so each section takes about the same time to learn. So difficult sections are going to be smaller and easier sections are going to be bigger. Personally, my sections average about 8 bars, but they could go anywhere from 2 bars to 16 bars or even longer. If you’re playing by ear, you can print off the lyrics to a song and just mark your sections there. It’s important to have a visual anchor to help you organize your song.

Step 2: Plan Your Week The most efficient way to plan your practice session is to use a weekly chart. It’s amazing how much better results I get when I use a chart and actually write my plan down than when just “wing it.” And it only takes about 5 minutes to do, so it’s totally worth it! Take out a piece of paper and start creating your practice plan for the week. If you want to, create a document on your computer with the outline and print off a bunch of copies so you have planning sheets when you need them. Create a grid with the days of the week as the rows (start with the day after your lesson) and label the columns “Sec (short for “Section”), Goals, Strategies, and Results”, you can look at the example below to see what I mean: | Page 8


Put the hardest sections early in practice sessions (that way you’ll have more mental energy to work on them) and put them most often. These sections are going to take the longest to learn, so you’re going to have to put the most time and energy into them. So in this example, section D is a difficult section and section B is an easier section.

I don’t usually type this out, I just sketch it on a sheet of paper but it’s easier to show on a computer when I can take screenshots. Now write in the sections you plan on practicing each day. Always start each day with a “W” in the “Sec” category, which stands for warm-up. If you set goals with your warm-up as well as your piece your scales and overall technique will improve drastically. Then move on and fill in the chart with sections you plan on working on that day. Each letter stands for a certain amount of time practicing each section. I use 15 minutes as my time interval, meaning if I work on four sections a day, I’ll spend a total of an hour practicing. I would suggest starting with a smaller interval (like 5 minutes) and working your way up. You can also put more than one section together in a time block if they’re shorter or easier (look at the section with F and G together). I do that a lot if there’s a section or two that only need a couple minutes to smooth over. That way I can spend as little time as possible on the easy section and have the rest of the time for the hard section.

Also, try not to practice a section more than three days in a row. Your brain needs a break from a section to let it sink in, so it’s more efficient to let on section “rest” while you practice other sections. Also, make sure you take one day completely off a week. This’ll help you stay injury free and prevent burnout. You can also use the “?” symbol to indicate you’ll fill in that section later. I usually put some of these towards the end of the week because I’m not sure which sections are going to need a lot of work at that point and which sections will be fine. Also, if a section is too long or difficult to improve on in a day, you can write “1/2 A” which means, “Learn the first half of section A.” Then the next day you could set a goal for “2/2 A” which means, “Learn the Second Half of Section A.”

Step 3: Set Your Goals for Today Now it’s time to plan your practice session for today. You’ll be doing this every day, so get into the habit! Look at the sections for the day and think of some manageable goals you could accomplish within that time period. There are three main types of goals: | Page 9


1. Completion Goals Completion Goals are achieved when you can play something without mistakes. It doesn’t matter how slow you need to play it as long as you keep a steady tempo. An example of a completion goal would be “Learn Section B Hands Separate”. These will be the main goals you’ll use when you start learning a piece. 2. BPM Goals BPM (Beats Per Minute) Goals are goals that are achieved when you are able to play a section at a certain speed with little to no mistakes. You’ll need a metronome to keep track of the tempo (we’ll talk about metronomes in a later chapter). An example of a BPM goal would be “Play Section C at 120 BPM”. These are the types of goals you use after completion goals, when you’re trying to speed up a section. 3. Memorization Goals Memorization Goals are exactly what they sound like; you achieve them when you can play a section without looking at the music. If you’re playing by ear, a Completion Goal is the same as a Memorization Goal. Also, if you’re planning on performing with sheet music you won’t need to set any memorization goals. 4. Expressive Goals When you know a section well enough that you can focus on being expressive instead of concentrating on the notes, you have achieved the highest level of goals, and that section is completed. Expressive goals aren’t quite as cut and dry as the other ones (they’re a little more subjective), but you usually have a pretty good idea how well you know a section.

For each section, decide on a goal. The first couple days you practice a section you’ll want to use mostly Hands Separate goals, and gradually work to hands together goals. Similarly you’ll want to go from Completion Goals to BPM Goals to Memorization Goals to Expressive Goals in that order. So go ahead and write out your goals only for today. You don’t write out goals for the whole week at a time because you’re going to want to leave yourself flexibility in case you end up needing more than one day to complete a goal. To make the goal setting process faster and easier, develop a shorthand system. Here are some common shorthand symbols I use:

Common Shorthand I Use • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

LH = Left Hand RH = Right Hand HS = Hands Separate HT = Hands Together mm7 = Measure 7 @128 = At 128 Beats Per Minute Com = Complete Mem = Memorize Ex = Be Able to Play Expressively Ch = Chunking Rym = Rhythms Met = Metronome +M = Added Measures +N = Added Notes | Page 10


So for example, “Mem D HS” means “Memorize Section D Hands Separately”, and “F @100 HT” means “have Section F at 100 Beats per Minute Hands Together.” You get the idea. Here’s an example of some goals I might set for day 1:

type you’re working on. For example, if you have a tough left hand Alberti Bass pattern and you’re working on a Completion Goal, using Rhythms (explained in Chapter 4) would be a great practice strategy. If you’re going for a BPM goal, however, a Metronome Strategy (explained in Chapter 6) would probably be the best method. So after you write out your daily goals, write in exactly which practice strategy you’re going to use to achieve them. Once you learn the fastest and most efficient ways to learn each type of section, you’ll be able to piece these sections together and learn entire pieces much faster.

So my goals for today would be the following:

Here’s an example of what your strategies might look like:

• Get my E Major Scale up to 100 BPM • Be able to play the Left Hand slowly for section D (since this is the difficult section I’ll probably only be able to learn one hand in the time period) So the strategies I would use to complete these goals are: • Complete section E hands separate at a slow tempo • 4. Complete section B hands together at a slow tempo (since B is an easier section, in this case I think I could learn it slowly hands together in the given time period.

Step 4: Determine Your Practice Strategies Each section of your piece has a strategy that works well for it (the rest of the book is about these strategies so don’t worry if you don’t know what they are now) depending on what goal

To get my scale at 100 BPM I would use a Metronome on each hand separately to ramp up the speed On section D, I would use the Overlapping Chunks strategy on the Left Hand Alone to learn it at a slow tempo On section E, I would use the Rhythms strategy on each hand separately to learn each hand at a slow tempo On section B, I would use the Chunking strategy on each hand separately, and then the Chunking strategy on hands together. | Page 11


Step 5: Follow the Plan Now is the time for actual practicing. Making a plan does no good unless you take action on it. Get a stopwatch or a kitchen timer. Choose a timeframe for each section. Start the clock and begin practicing that section using the strategy you outlined. Keep practicing that section until you have hit whatever time limit you have chosen for the sections. For the time limit, you can use either a countdown timer or a count-up timer (like a stopwatch). I like using a count-up timer better. That way, if you’re in the zone and really practicing a section well, you can go over the time limit a little and you won’t be interrupted by the beeper going off. When you first start using this method, stay pretty strict to the time limits. It’s good to get into the habit of being disciplined and consistent with them. As you get better at it and more used to it, you can use more flexibility. For example, if you achieve a goal before the time limit is up, you might go to a different, difficult section of your song and work on that section for the remaining time.

Step 6: Track Your Results After you practice a section, write down the results of each goal of your practice session. If you completed the goal, just write “completed” for the section. If you couldn’t complete the goal within the time period, write “not completed” or a note on what needs work. If you completed it, the next time you have that section you can move on to a different goal. If you didn’t complete it, then you’ll write the same goal for the next section. This is also the place to write any comments or insights you have about the section. Here’s what the “Results” section of your Goal Sheet might look like:

Can I Just Use the Stopwatch on My Phone? I’m HIGHLY against using your phone when you practice. In fact, I don’t even like having my phone anywhere near the piano while I am practicing. Every time your phone goes off it will be a distraction and leech time and focus away from your practicing. Get a kitchen timer, it’ll cost you like a dollar at Walmart.

Whether or not you completed your goal, as long as you spent the time working on it, cross the letter off under the “Sec” category. Crossing off items on a to do list has been shown to boost motivation, and even if you didn’t complete the goal, you should still get the satisfaction that you’ve worked on it and it has improved. | Page 12


These 5 steps are the key to having focus and clarity when you practice. Put your goal sheet in the front of your music binder and plan your practicing every day. Just by taking the time to plan you can wire your brain for the fastest results.

For the Expressive column, check off the box when you know the notes well enough that you can play the section while focusing on the expression and emotion of it.

Using a Master List

Here’s an example of what a Master List might look like partway through learning a song:

In addition to the goal sheet, I like to keep a Master List of the goals I have for the piece. The Master List is simply a list of all the sections in the piece and where I’m at with each section. Here’s how you make one.

Step 1: Create the List Make another chart, and label the columns “Section, Completion, BPM, Memorize, Expressive.” Label the rows A, B, C, and so on until you have written all the sections of your piece.

Step 2: Check Off Your Completed Goals Now every time you achieve a goal for a section, check the box for that section. For the Completion column, check off the box when you are able to play the section hands together at a slow speed. For the BPM column, first you’re going to have to set a goal for a final BPM you want to be able to play the piece at. Then check off the box when you are able to play a section at that tempo with little to no mistakes. For the Memorize column, check off the box when you can play the section without looking at music.

Step 3: Practice Until You‘ve Completed the List When you’ve checked off all the boxes, you have completed the song (you might still have to work out some continuity issues, but the main part of the practicing is done). Hopefully every day you practice, you’re able to check off a couple boxes. The nice part about the Master List is you can see exactly which sections of your piece are good and which sections need work. It’s kind of like an overview of specifically how well you know the song. Now when you set your goals, you can focus your attention on the sections that have a long way to go. | Page 13


Wrap Up and Key Points This planning stage is extremely important for keeping you on track. It can be tempting to skip it and just plan it out in your head, but don’t! Studies show that goals that are written down are 42% more likely to be accomplished. Imagine how good you’ll get at piano if you accomplish 42% more each week! Over a year those results will be huge.

Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic

Now on to Part 2 where we get into the fun stuff. The most powerful practice strategies I know, the ones I use every single practice session.

To wrap up this chapter, here are a couple key points to remember • Plan out which sections your going to work on at the beginning of each week • Plan out which strategies you’re going to use and follow the plan • Record your results • Use a Master List to keep track of where each section is in the learning process

Video Lesson Still confused? Sometimes it’s easier to explain in a video: And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here: And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something in this chapter you’re confused about: | Page 14


Part 2 The Main Strategies The Most Important Killer Tactics You Will Use Every Day You Practice



4. Chunking Chunking is the most basic and fundamental practice strategy. It’s always the first strategy you’re going to want to use when you first start learning a piece. It is also a technique that can be combined with all the other practice strategies in this book.

What Exactly is “Chunking?” Chunking is when you break part of a piece into small sections and practice them individually. Once you know each small section of your piece well, you can put the sections together and play the whole piece well. Chunking allows you to narrow your focus on only the parts that really need to be practiced. For example, lets say you have a 10 measure section that is pretty easy, except for measures 5-6. If you practice the entire section 10 times, you waste time practicing the easy measures, time which could be devoted to practicing measures 5-6. If you use chunking, on the other hand, you might only need to practice the easy measures 3 or 4 times, which leaves you a lot more time to drill in measures 5-6.

Main Benefits of Chunking: • Enables Rapid Learning • Increases Continuity • Improves Memorization

Chunking: Step by Step Step 1: Choose a Section of Your Piece Find a part of your piece to work on. I suggest practicing the most difficult section of your piece first while your mind is fresh.

Step 2: Break it up Into Smaller Sections How small should the sections be? It’s going to be different for each situation. Harder sections require smaller chunks, easier sections can use larger chunks. On average, chunks will probably be around two to four measures. After a while, you’ll get a feel for how long they should be.

Step 3: Write Them in Your Music I’d highly suggest actually marking the chunks in your music. It’ll help you stay focused. You can use brackets or just put a ‘ where each section starts and ends. If you’re learning a song by ear or a tutorial, print off a lyric sheet and mark your sections in there.

Step 4: Practice Each Chunk Simply practice each chunk until it is solid (hands separate first of course!). The nice part about chunking is that the easy chunks won’t take long to learn, so you don’t have to spend as much time on them. That frees you up to spend a lot of time on the tough sections. | Page 16


Step 5: Repeat the Process with Larger Chunks Now you can start combining your chunks into bigger chunks. The bigger chunks will be a lot easier to learn since you put in the work learning each individual little chunk. Keep building up larger and larger chunks until the chunk encompasses the entire song or section.

Variations to Chunking Using Overlapping Chunks Sometimes, even when you can play each chunk perfectly by itself, it might be hard to put them together because you still need to learn the transition between chunks. The best way to do this is to create another set of chunks that overlap the first chunks:

section A would be the same notes as the first couple notes of section B. And the last couple notes of section B would be the same as the first couple notes of section C and so on.

The Two Note Chunk For the really difficult sections, I like to break it down into super small chunks, sometimes consisting of only two notes. For example, if I have a large leap in one of my hands, I’ll just practice the two notes in that leap over and over until it’s solid. Or if there’s a section with a tough fingering, like playing a third with fingers 24 and moving to a third played with 35. If there’s a passage with really tricky fingering I’ll often times run the Two Note Chunk strategy over the entire section. So you practice the first two notes over and over, then you practice notes 2 and 3 over and over, then you practice notes 3 and 4 over and over, and so on until you’ve completed the entire section.

Caution: Watch Your Fingering So in this example, if your original chucks were A, B, C, and D, you could then practice chunks E, F, and G to cover all the transitions (by the way your chunks will probably be bigger than this, it was just easier to fit this graphic into the book. You get the point though). You can also try just creating your original chunks so that each chunk overlaps a couple of notes with the next chunk and the one before it. So for example, the last couple notes of

When using Chunking, be careful to use the correct fingering. Make sure the fingering from the chunk you’re working on makes sense next one, otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of chunks that won’t flow smoothly into one another. You might want to write in the fingering at the beginning of each chunk to make sure you practice it correctly. | Page 17


Wrap Up and Key Points

Now on to the next chapter, where we’ll go over my number one practice technique to build in rock-solid muscle memory.

Chunking is the most fundamental of all the practice strategies. You’ll use it as the first strategy in almost every piece you learn. Here are the key points to remember: • Chunking is when you break large sections of your piece into smaller sections to practice individually • Make Your Chunks small enough so that you can make some noticeable progress on them in each practice session • Piece your Chunks together by combining them into larger Chunks or using Overlapping Chunks

Video Lesson Want me to explain it in a video? No problem, the link’s right here: Want to review? Here’s the link to the video lesson: And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here: And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something in this chapter you’re confused about: Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic | Page 18


5. Rhythms Using Rhythms is definitely my favorite practice strategy to quickly drill in muscle memory. It works great for any section of a piece that has straight rhythm, especially for repeated left hand patterns. It’s also my go to strategy for practicing Scales, Arpeggios, and Broken Chords.

So in Notation they would look like this: Rhythm 1:

Rhythm 2:

Rhythm 3:

Rhythm 4:

What Exactly is Practicing With “Rhythms?” Practicing in rhythms (some teachers call them “groups”) is when you rehearse a section of a song using different rhythms from what is written. This technique is normally used for passages with “Straight Rhythms,” meaning all the notes are the same length (for example, a passage of running eighth notes, or a sixteenth note Alberti Bass pattern). Here are the four rhythms you will be using: • • • •

Rhythm 1: Long, Short Long, Short… Rhythm 2: Short Long, Short Long… Rhythm 3: Long, Short Short Short… Rhythm 4: Short Short Short Long…

Using Rhythms: Step by Step Step 1: Find a Section to Work on Find a short section of your piece (usually 8 notes or less) that has a straight rhythm (Left hand accompaniment patterns are especially good for this technique.

Main Benefits to Using Rhythms: • Solidifies Muscle Memory • Increases Evenness • Builds Finger Independence

Step 2: Play it 3 to 4 Times Using Each Rhythm So start with rhythm 1 (long, short long, short…) and play the passage 2 to 4 times using that rhythm. Then move onto rhythm 2, 3, and 4 and do the same thing. | Page 19


Step 3: Play it 3 to 4 Times Normally Now play the section without the rhythms 3 to 4 times (make sure you play it slow enough so you won’t make any mistakes!). After using the Rhythms, playing it normal will feel much easier. It kind of feels like your fingers “know” where to go on their own.

Step 4: Repeat Steps 1 to 3 with the Next Chunk Take the next chunk of 8 or so notes and rinse and repeat! It might be a good idea to overlap sections, that way the transition into the next section will be smooth.

Variations to Using Rhythms Using Rhythms of Three Most music nowadays is in 4/4 time, so notes are naturally grouped in 4’s and 8’s, which fits perfectly with the rhythms we use. However, sometimes we find groups of 3 or 6 notes (in 3/4 time, 6/8 time, or triplets for example), and it makes sense to use these three note rhythms instead: • Rhythm 1: Long, Short Short… • Rhythm 2: Short Long, Short… • Rhythm 3: Short Short Long… Just like the other rhythms, run each rhythm 2 to 4 times on a section, and then run it 2 to 4 times as written. These are great for learning Arpeggios or anything else that involves groups of 3 to 6 notes. Will the normal four note rhythms work on these groups? Sure. But the three note

rhythms can be more efficient. If you want to REALLY drill something in though, try using both. Run through the 3 note rhythms and then run it again using the 4 note rhythms.

Making Up Your Own Rhythms Creating your own rhythms is another way you can work through tough sections. Just create a series of short notes, and have a long note every so often. For example, when I do scales sometimes I’ll do groups of 7. So maybe short, short, long, short, short, short, long. Why 7? Because it takes 7 notes in a scale before the pattern repeats itself. You can also try being creative with it. Think of a riff from one of your favorite songs and try playing your scales using that rhythm! I personally love practicing scales in the rhythm of the Final Countdown theme.

Story: My First Time Using Rhythms I remember the first time I used rhythms to practice. I was working on a tough section of a Rachmaninoff piece. I had spent the last three days drilling it over and over, but I was stuck, it didn’t seem to be getting any better. A friend recommended I try using rhythms and she showed me how, and in one practice session I was able to play the difficult section flawlessly. I was super excited, and I started applying the technique to other songs, scales, and arpeggios and I’ve got great results from it ever since. | Page 20


Wrap Up and Key Points Rhythms are truly one of my most used practice strategies, and my personal favorite for drilling in muscle memory. Use them often: scales, arpeggios, octaves, and in your piece. Remember these points when using Rhythms:

Now on to the next chapter where I’ll show you step by step how to systematically speed up your piece from slow to fast.

• Use Rhythms when the passage you’re playing a section has a Straight Rhythm, meaning all the notes are the same length • Play through each rhythm 2 to 4 times, and end by playing the passage 2 to 4 times as written • When you have passages that are naturally grouped in 3s, use the Rhythms of Three

Video Lesson This is one of those lessons that might make more sense with a video explanation: And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here: And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something in this chapter you’re confused about: Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic | Page 21


6. Metronome A metronome, in my opinion, is probably the number one practice tool you can get. I use mine every single day when I practice. It’s an awesome way ramp up your song from slow to fast, and it’s a great tool for keeping you disciplined.

Using is a Metronome If you don’t know what a metronome is, it’s simply a device that keeps a consistent tempo. You can get set it to a variety of beats per minute (bpm) and it will click consistently at that rate. I love using one because it keeps me disciplined. It’s always tempting to try and play a piece faster than you are able to (which drills in wrong notes). When you’re using a metronome though, you’re locked into a certain tempo, so no matter how much you want to rush, you won’t. It’s a great way to keep yourself in check. It’s also a great tool for when you can play a song slow but you can’t seem to get it up to full speed. With a metronome, you can systematically and gradually increase the speed until you can play it at full tempo.

Buying a Metronome There are two main kinds of metronomes you can buy: standalone metronomes or a Smartphone app. The Smartphone app is free but I prefer a stand-alone so I won’t be distracted by texts/notifications (I recommend not even having your phone on you when you practice. Phones are way too distracting IMO and you’ll save a ton of time by just turning it off). You can get stand-alone ones pretty cheap on Amazon or at a local music store. Don’t worry about getting one with tons of features; all you’ll really use is the tempo. I like the ones with the dial on the front, they’re the easiest and fastest to operate. Here’s the one I currently use: But seriously, if you don’t have one, get one now! This is the only tool I’ll ask you to purchase, and I do so because I really believe it is essential and fundamental to efficient practicing. You’ll use it almost every day.

Main Benefits to Using Metronomes: • Bridges Slow Practice to Full Speed • Increases Evenness • Improves Practice Discipline | Page 22


Using a Metronome: Step by Step Step 1: Find a Section to Work on

Step 4: Solidify your Max Tempo

Find a part of your piece you want to speed up. It could any length, but choose shorter sections if they are more difficult and longer sections if they are easier.

Once you’ve hit your Max Tempo, really concentrate and practice it 3 or 4 times. Really try to play the section without mistakes. You will probably still make some, but really push yourself to play perfectly at that tempo.

Step 2: Start at a Slow Tempo

Write down your Max Tempo so tomorrow you can try to beat it! It’s important to keep track of where you are so you know if you’re making progress on your piece.

Put your metronome at a slow setting. And by slow I mean slow enough so you can play the section easily with no mistakes. It’s definitely better to start even slower than you need to, so set it a little slower than you think you should. Play through the section 2 to 4 times.

Step 5: Back to a Slow Tempo

At the slow tempo make sure you really focus on each individual note. One of the main benefits to practicing it slowly like this first is that you can drill in perfect muscle memory by really zeroing in on each note.

Now go back to a slow tempo and play through it 3 to 4 times perfectly. Don’t skip this step. Your brain remembers the last time you practice something best, and you want to make sure the mistakes from the Max Tempo don’t get drilled in. By playing it through slowly last, you will ensure your brain will learn the notes accurately.

Step 3: Ramp Up the Speed

The Most Expensive Metronome Ever!

Turn your metronome up anywhere from 6 to 14 bpm (I usually use three “clicks” if you’re using the same metronome as me). You should barely be able to even notice that it’s faster. Play through the section 2-4 times. Then turn it up another 6 to 14 bpm and play through 2-4 more times. Keep ramping up the tempo like this until you hit a speed where you start to make some mistakes. This is your “Max Tempo,” or the maximum speed you can play the section at.

So when I was looking up different metronomes I came across the Wittner Taktell Pyramid Metronome. Guess how much it costs… $230!!! I can’t see any reason why it’s better than a $20 metronome; maybe it’s diamond studded or something. Anyways, don’t bother shelling out anything more than $30 for a metronome; all you need is the basics. | Page 23


Other Notes on Using a Metronome

Metronome Variations

Setting Goals

Super Slow Mo

One of the best things about a metronome is it allows you to set very specific goals. Figure out the end tempo you want to be able to play your song, and that’s your Goal Tempo for each section.

Practicing ridiculously slowly can be a great practice method. Set your metronome to a painfully slow tempo and run sections. Really concentrate on each individual note in the slow tempo. This allows your brain to zone in on each note and play it perfectly. It’s amazing sometimes how solid these sections will feel the next day when you run them super slowly the day before.

Then, when you’re practicing, write your Max Tempo for each section (you can write it right on the sheet music or on your “Goal Sheet” from Chapter 3). Keep working at all the sections until your Max Tempo = Goal Tempo for all the sections. Then you’ll be able to play the entire song full speed!

Hands Together vs. Hands Separate Realize that you will not be able to play hands together at the same tempo you can play each hand separately, because your brain has to figure out both hands playing at the same time. So to get hands together at a certain tempo, you’re going to want to get each hand at a faster tempo than your goal for hands together. For example, if your goal is to play a section at 100 bpm, you’ll want be able to play your Left Hand alone and your Right Hand alone each at around 120 bpm. This way when you put them together you’ll be able to play around 100 bpm. Another way to implement Metronome practice is to combine it with other strategies. For example, try practicing the Rhythms to a metronome, and ramp up the tempo of each Rhythm.

When you’re practicing super slow, concentrate on hitting the middle of the notes. This is especially important for the black notes since they are skinnier. If you focus on hitting the exact middle of the note, you’ll eliminate those mistakes caused by your finger “slipping off” the black keys. This is also a good way to test your memorization. There are three types of memorization: Audio, Visual, and Muscle Memory. Most of us rely way too much on our muscle memory, or the “feel” of the notes, but we don’t actually know the notes! This is why when you play on a different piano suddenly you have memory slips, because the “feel” is different. By playing super slowly, you won’t be able to use your muscle memory, so you will be relying on your Audio and Visual Memory.

The See Saw If the slow ramp up in tempo isn’t working for you, try the See Saw method. This is where you put the Metronome super slow | Page 24


and play a small section 2 to 4 times. Then put the tempo back up to your goal tempo and play 2 to 4 times. Then go right back to super slow. Keep alternating between fast and slow until you start making some progress.

Wrap Up and Key Points

Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic

Now on to a strategy that will work out all the kinks in your entire piece and smooth everything out.

A metronome is really a key piece to any musician’s toolbox. So get one and use it! Here are some key points to remember about using a metronome: • Get a “Stand Alone” Metronome (i.e. not a smartphone app) to cut down on distractions • Start practicing at a slow tempo, and gradually ramp up the speed faster and faster • Always play 2 to 4 times slowly at the end. That way you’ll drill in accurate notes

Video Lesson As always, here’s your video lesson: And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here:

And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something in this chapter you’re confused about: | Page 25


7. Added Measures Are you ever practicing a song and you know each part super well, but when you try to play the whole thing you make tons of mistakes? Well here’s your solution, using Added Measures. Whenever I run this strategy on a piece of music, the next day it just feels solid; it’s probably the best strategy for drilling in consistency.

Main Benefits to Added Measures: • Improves Consistency • Irons Out Tricky Spots • Enables Fast Memorization

Why Use Added Measures? Using Added Measures is one of the more taxing practice strategies, but also one of the most powerful. It will take you a big chunk of time and it can be mentally draining, so be prepared! But once you complete the practice session it will have a big impact on your piece. The main perk to Added Measures is that they smooth out your whole piece. All those little kinks and insecurities will go away, the random mistakes get ironed out, and you will feel much more confident with playing your piece from start to finish. It also helps a lot with quick memorization. You’re going to want to use this strategy later in the learning process. I usually use Chunking, Rhythms, and Metronome strategies until each little section is pretty solid, then I use Added Measures to pull everything together. Remember to focus hard when you’re doing Added Measures. Since this technique takes a lot more time than the other practice strategies, it’s a lot easier to zone out and just go through the motions.

Using Added Measures: Step by Step Step 1: Find a Large Section to Work on Unlike most of the other practice strategies, for Added Measures your going to want to work on a big chunk of music, anywhere from a page to the entire song. Remember, we’re trying to drill in the consistency of the piece as a whole.

Step 2: Play One Measure, Then 2, Then 3… Start by playing only the first measure. Then go back and play the only first two measures. Then go back and play only the first three measures. Continue this until you have played the entire section.

Step 3: Repeat Backwards Now start at the end and play only the last measure of the section. Then play the last two measures. Then the last three | Page 26


measures. Continue like this until you get to the beginning of the section.

Caution: Focus, Focus, Focus Compared to other practice strategies, this one is much more time consuming and draining on your brain. It’s easy to slip into playing the section without concentrating and just going through the motions. Don’t fall into this trap! Remember, if you’re making mistakes over and over you’re literally practicing the wrong notes! So keep your concentration and play it right every time.

Variations to Added Measures Added Notes One variation to the Added Measure strategy is the Added Note strategy. For this strategy, choose a short section (2 to 8 measures). Play only the first note 2 to 4 times. Then play only the first two notes 2 to 4 times, then the first three notes and so on until you’ve completed the passage. Then repeat going backwards. I only use the Added Note strategy on the realllly tough sections. I’ll take left hand alone and run the added notes through the entire section, then the right hand alone, then hands together. It can really help solidify the tricky parts.

Added Measures for Memorization Added Measures is a great way to learn how to memorize songs as well. You do this the same way as the normal Added Measures strategy (except you don’t do the “repeat backwards” step), but you don’t look at the music. This is a great way to test yourself because it becomes obvious which parts you have memorized and which parts you need to work on.

Wrap Up and Key Points To wrap up this chapter, here are a couple key points to remember • Use the Added Measure Strategy to work out the kinks after you have each section of the piece learned well • Start by playing the first measure, then the first two, then the first three, and so on. Then repeat backwards • Remember to stay laser-focused. It’s easy to slip out of concentration and just go through the motions so stay dialed in

Video Lesson Still need help? Try watching the video lesson: And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here: | Page 27


And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something in this chapter you’re confused about: Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic Now on to Part 3 where I’ll give you some extra practice strategies to try just in case none of these do the trick! | Page 28


Part 3 Extra Stratagies Bonus Practice Tactics to Take Your Piece to the Next Level



8. Style Variations Our brain and memory systems work well with extremes. You remember the happiest and saddest parts of your life. Athletes train at the highest of intensities, but also realize their sleep and rest is equally as important. By practicing piano at these extremes, we can learn passages faster and better than normal practice alone.

Style Variations: Step by Step Step 1: Find a Section to Work on Find a section of your piece to work on. For this strategy I generally pick a shorter section, but sometimes I might pick a big section or even the entire song.

What are the “Extremes” of piano? Step 2: Play it at the Dynamic Extremes For piano, there are two main types of extremes: dynamic extremes and articulation extremes. They dynamic extremes are soft and loud, and the articulation extremes are staccato (short and percussive) and legato (smooth and connected). By playing at these extremes, your muscles will learn the notes in a couple different ways, which really helps solidify muscle memory. My favorite extremes are loud and staccato. When I play loudly I can just feel the notes being drilled into my muscle memory. And when I play staccato I really lift my hands off the keys. This makes it a lot more difficult to play because you can’t feel the note before you play it; you have to really hit the right spot. But by making it more difficult, when you go back to normal playing it gets a lot easier.

Play the section very loud 2 to 4 times. Really lift your fingers up and dig into the keys. Then play it 2 to 4 times as soft as possible, to the point where the piano is barely even making sound. (Note: be careful with the loud parts, never practice to the point where you feel pain in your fingers or wrists, if that starts happening you’re playing too loud and could injure yourself)

Step 3: Play it at the Articulation Extremes Play the section 2 to 4 times as staccato as possible. The notes should be super short and detached. Then play the section as legato as possible, with the notes as connected and smooth as you can. Don’t use pedal for this, make sure it’s finger legato.

Main Benefits to Style Variations: • Solidifies Muscle Memory • Increases Stylistic Awareness • Builds Finger Control and Dexterity

Step 4: Play Normally Now play the section 2 to 4 times with the written dynamics and articulation so you drill in the correct style. After practicing at the extremes, the normal style should feel much easier. | Page 30


Other Style Variations Combining Styles If you want to get even more out of this practice method, you can try combining the elements. So you would practice the section in the following ways: • • • •

Loud and Staccato Short and Staccato Loud and Legato Short and Legato

Extra Benefit to Style Variations The nice part about using Style Variations is that they help you practice different styles of playing within one piece. It will help you become a more well-rounded pianist. We all lean towards one style of music. If you watch my videos, most of them are smooth and legato, that’s the style I naturally lean towards. By practicing with Style Variations though, I learned how to make a more staccato style work. Now when I have a piece with a lot of staccato sections it comes easily to me because I’m used to practicing that way.

This just drills it in even more. Try them out and see which ones work the best for you.

Playing at Emotional Extremes Take a section of your piece and play it 2 to 4 times with as little emotion as possible. Play monotone, like a robot, and don’t get into the music at all. Then contrast this by playing it 2 to 4 times as emotionally as possible. It should just be dripping in emotion and feeling. In a performance setting of course, it’s never a good thing to play without emotion. But when practicing, its useful to play without emotion a couple times just so you can contrast it with tons of emotion. Playing emotionally will also help you memorize songs faster because your brain remembers emotionally stimulating events better than mundane, every day events.

Wrap Up and Key Points Style variations are a great extra way to drill in tough passages when you’ve tried the other strategies. They also have the added benefit of making you a more well rounded pianist by helping you play in different styles. Here are a couple things to remember when practicing using style variations: • To use Style Variations, play your section Legato, Staccato, Loud, and Soft • Play each variation to the extreme, your brain remembers extreme events more than mundane events • Try playing at Emotional Extremes to work on being more expressive | Page 31


Video Lesson Want to watch me implement this practice strategy? Here’s the video: And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here: And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something in this chapter you’re confused about: Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic Now on to a very powerful strategy to solidify your memorization. | Page 32


9. Mental Practice Mental practice is the most challenging practice technique I’ve done. It’s a skill that takes a while to develop and takes a tremendous amount of focus and concentration. If you do it right though, it can be an amazing tool to build memory and music comprehension.

How Does Memorization Work? Take a song you can play, and without going to the piano, try to think of the actual notes of the song on the keyboard. It’s surprisingly difficult. Even with pieces you can play flawlessly, its really tough to sit down and name the notes. Why is this? When you memorize music, your brain uses three different kinds of cues to remember what note comes next: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (muscle memory). Your brain uses all three to some degree to memorize a song. When you memorize music, you get a cue (the part of the song you are playing), and you have a response to that cue (the next part of the song). This response becomes the cue for the next part, and you keep cycling cues and responses until you finish the song. An example of a visual cue is the notes on the paper. You see a C chord notated on the page (the visual cue) and you respond with playing a C, E, and G with your fingers. For audio cues, you hear a sequence of pitches (the audio cue) and you can “hear” what the next series of pitches are, and you respond by finding the next sequence of notes with your fingers. A kinesthetic cue is where you memorize based on

feel. You feel the shape of a certain chord (the kinesthetic cue) and your fingers respond by moving to the next notes. These cues work great when you’re playing in your practice room, but they can fall apart during performance. For example, if the piano you’re performing on has heavier keys, this could mess up your kinesthetic cues. If the piano has a brighter or duller sound it could mess up your auditory cues. And if you change to a different version of sheet music, and a certain measure is on the top of page 2 instead of the bottom of page 1, this can mess up your visual cues. This is one of the main reasons you can play so well on your practice piano, but sometimes your piece falls apart in performance.

How to Solidify Memory To solidify your memory, you have to memorize your piece on a deeper level, where you can remember it without cues. This is where mental practice comes in. When you are visualizing yourself playing the piece you don’t get any visual, audio, or kinesthetic cues to help you out, so you have to rely on your true understanding of the piece. If you do this, even when cues are slightly different, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the piece. Mental practice is extremely tough, so start slow. Maybe only do 5 minutes or so a practice session, and gradually work it up to longer periods of time. | Page 33


Main Benefits to Mental Practice: • Develops Rock Solid Memory • Increases Musical Comprehension • Enhances Performance

Step 4: Visualize Hands Together This is the most difficult step. You might have to visualize hands separate for a couple of days and then try to put hands together.

Extra Tips for Mental Practice Using Mental Practice: Step by Step

Make it Vivid

Step 1: Visualize the Keyboard

Try to make the picture in your mind as vivid and real as possible. Imagine it’s on the big screen at the movie theater. The more realistic it seems the better it will work.

See the keys of the piano in your mind. If you can’t, you might want to try looking at the keyboard, then closing your eyes and trying to maintain that picture in your head.

Get Rid of Cues One at a Time

Step 2: Visualize the Left Hand Alone Take a small section and visualize your left hand playing the notes. The first couple times you do it actually say the note names out loud as you play them in your head. Then see if you can visualize it without saying the note names.

Step 3: Visualize the Right Hand Alone Now repeat step 2 with the right hand. Remember to go slowly so you have time to think of the notes. Mental practice should be just like physical practice, so go slow enough so you don’t make mistakes.

Instead of taking away all your cues at once, try taking away one at a time. Try closing your eyes and actually playing the piano to take away your visual cue. To take away your audio cue, try playing your piece on a keyboard with the sound off. Then try straight up mental practice, it should be much easier to visualize.

Alternate Physical and Mental Practice A great time for Mental Practice is when you hands start getting tired. When I have a passage with a lot of fast notes or octaves, my hands can get tired when I’m trying to drill them in over and over. By doing 5 minues of mental practice, you can learn the section in a different way and rest your hands at the same time. Then you can go back to physical practice with fresh hands and a better understanding of the section. | Page 34


Memorize Chords When learning and memorizing a piece of music, it can be almost impossible to memorize every single note. Instead, focus on memorizing the chords (you’ll have to know some music theory for this). This way, instead of memorizing 20 notes, you may only have to memorize 5 or so chords.

Story: My First College Performance For my first piano recital in College, I was playing a Debussy piece. I had learned it well, and it sounded great in my practice room. When I sat down at the piano on stage though, it felt different. The keys were a lot heavier than my practice room piano, and it freaked me out. I completely botched the middle section of the piece, a part I almost never messed up during my lessons. For my next recital, after I’d learned how to use mental practice, and even though the feel of the piano was different, I had a much deeper understanding of my piece and I could find the right notes.

Wrap Up and Key Points Mental practice is one of the toughest strategies in this book, but if you learn a piece in this way you’ll know it on a whole new deeper level. Here are some key points to using mental practice:

• To Use Mental Practice, close your eyes and visualize your fingers playing the notes on the piano in your mind • Practice Mentally just as if you were practicing physically. Do hands separate and slow tempo first • Memorize chords instead of individual notes. It will free up mental resources • Alternate between Physical and Mental practice to give your hands rest when practicing physically demanding passages.

Video Lesson Want me to personally explain it to you? Watch the video lesson here: And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here: And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something in this chapter you’re confused about: Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic Alright, on to the next chapter where we’ll talk about specific strategies for practicing Arpeggios, Octaves, and Large Leaps. | Page 35


10. Specific Practice Strategies The strategies outlined so far in this Ebook are global strategies, meaning they can be used in almost any section of a piece. For this chapter, I want to focus on three specific problem areas many people run into: Arpeggios, Octaves, and Large Leaps. These are the specific strategies I use to overcome these three tricky areas.

Arpeggio Practice Strategies Arpeggios are found everywhere in music, and they are one of my strong areas. You should use the other techniques on arpeggio passages as well (rhythms are one of my favorite), but here are a couple strategies that you can use to take your arpeggios to the next level.

Strategy 1: Playing Arpeggios as Chords One great way to practice arpeggios is to practice them as block chords instead of individual notes. So if you have an arpeggio F-A-C F-A-C, play it as two block chords FAC FAC. This way your hands only have to drill in two chords instead of six individual notes. So for example, if you have a passage like this:

Try practicing it like this:

Notice these are the same notes, just played as 5 chunks instead of 18 notes. Make sure you use the same fingering for the arpeggio as you do the block chords. For this example, you would use 1, 2, and 3 to play the chords (and add 5th finger for the top chord). That way you drill in the correct muscle memory. Next, try practicing the chords as a series of three fast notes. Keep ramping up the speed of the jump from chord to chord until you’re playing a smooth arpeggio. This’ll make more sense in the video lesson.

Strategy 2: Thumb Under Isolation The hardest part about arpeggios is the transition from the third finger (or fourth depending on the arpeggio) to the thumb. The best way to learn this solidly is to start by isolating these two notes. So start by alternating between those two notes, using the same fingering you would be using when you play the arpeggio. So if you were practicing a C Major Arpeggio it would look like this: | Page 36


Don’t worry about keeping your thumb and third finger touching the note, there is going to have to be a release, you are just practicing to make it as smooth as possible. To get your arpeggios fast, you have to learn to trust yourself to make that jump and hit the right notes. Now for the next step, practice by adding one more note:

Keep expanding the arpeggio like this one note at a time until you are playing the whole thing. This technique works great with rhythms too, just use the same notes, but practice them in the rhythms from Chapter 4. Here’s the video lesson for the Arpeggio Practice Strategies:

Octaves Practice Strategies

Just as last time, it’s extremely important you use the correct fingering, otherwise you’ll drill in the wrong muscle memory. Now we are one note closer to playing a full arpeggio. Then for the next step we add a note to the lower part of the arpeggio:

Octaves can be one of the toughest things to practice, mainly because they wear out your wrists and fingers fast if you don’t practice them right. Stay as relaxed as possible when practicing all these exercises. If at any point you feel pain, stop and take a break. It’s not worth getting injured. Just as with arpeggios, use the other strategies in this book (the “Added Note Strategy” works particularly well with octaves) as well as these specialized octave practice strategies. | Page 37


Strategy 1: Just Outsides First play the octave passage with only your thumb, leaving out the notes of your 4th or 5th finger. Play this through two to four times, keeping a relaxed wrist. Then play the passage two to four times only playing the notes of your 4th or 5th finger, and leaving out your thumb. Finally play the passage as written.

Strategy 2: Floppy Wrist The key to good octaves is keeping a relaxed wrist. For this strategy, you over exaggerate how relaxed your wrist is, and literally “Flop” your hand on the keys when you’re playing your octaves. Keep your wrist ridiculously loose, and don’t worry too much about the accuracy of the notes; you’re mainly focused on getting the feel of what it’s like to play with super loose wrists. Think about “throwing” your hand at the keys. After you practice with the Floppy Wrist technique make sure you go back and play through it normally so you’re still drilling in the correct notes. Here’s the video for the Octave Practice Strategies:

Large Leaps Practice Strategies Large leaps (when you have to move your hand quickly over a large distance of keyboard) can be extremely frustrating if you don’t know how to practice them right. Here are three practice methods I use a ton when working on large leaps.

Strategy 1: The Extra Octave Part of the difficulty of large leaps is just the mental factor. When you see how far you have to move in a short amount of time it can freak you out. Try practicing the section by leaping an octave further than you have to. Practice this leap five to ten times. Then when you go back to the normal leap it will seem way shorter. This rewires your brain to perceive the leap as easier since it’s shorter, and you’ll be much more confident with it.

Strategy 2: The Pause The Pause is a great way to practice speed while still maintaining accuracy. Start by playing the lower chord and immediately shift your hand to the higher chord without playing it. Pause and make sure your fingers are in the right place, then play the top chord and immediately shift to the bottom chord without playing it. Repeat this pattern of play-movepause between the two notes. When you’re doing the pause, focus on the fast horizontal movement. This strategy gets you used to moving quickly across the keys, and you can still be accurate because you have time during the pause to find the correct notes. Try these practice strategies as well as other ones in previous chapters to get your large leaps fast and accurate. Here’s the video for the Large Leaps Practice Strategies: | Page 38


Mindset: The Toolbox Think of these practice strategies as tools. By learning them, you are building up your toolbox for as many situations as possible. As you implement them into your practice schedule, you’ll figure out which strategies work well for which type of passages, and which you like the best. Eventually, you will get to the point where you will see a passage and instantly know what strategies you’ll have to use in order to learn the passage before you even play it. Once you get to that point, you can skyrocket your efficiency and learn songs extremely fast.

Wrap Up and Key Points Arpeggios, Octaves, and Large Leaps can be some of the toughest sections to learn in a piece. Hopefully this chapter has given you some ways to combat these difficult parts. Here are a couple key points from the chapter:

Video Lesson For this chapter, I split the video into three videos, one for each section: You can find them here: And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here: And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something in this chapter you’re confused about: Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic Now onto the final chapter. You’ll get a recap of the entire book, specific examples of how I use practice strategies, and a cheat sheet of all the strategies outlined in this book.

• Before you try these specific strategies, first try the other strategies outlined in this book • Try to pinpoint exactly why the section is tough. For example, if your Arpeggios are tough only because of the thumb-under part, use the Thumb Under Isolation • Try to remember which strategies work well for you for certain parts of songs. That way next time you come across a similar section you’ll have an idea of what strategy to use. | Page 39


11. Wrap Up and Summary Congratulations! You’ve made it through all my top practice strategies. Hopefully you’ve implemented them into your practicing and have started seeing some results. I’ve created this chapter as a final overview to help you review this entire book, and as a “cheat sheet” chapter in case you want to quickly look up something.

Besides the three golden rules, remember to set goals every week and every day. It can get monotonous and sometimes it might feel boring, but I promise you’ll get way more out of your practicing just by writing down your goals. Develop a shorthand so you can set goals faster.

Fundamentals of Piano Practice

Examples of How To Practice

Remember the Three Golden Rules whenever you practice:

Now that you know all the strategies, I want to give you a couple specific examples of sections of pieces and how I would choose to practice them. Note that these are just examples, they’re not going to work perfectly for you depending on your skill level. It’s meant give you an idea how I organize my practicing so you can do the same for yourself. Your days might be different, but you should have a basic idea of what to practice on what days.

• Accuracy Over Speed • Practice Hands Separate First • Always Play Expressively It’s not enough to just know these rules, but you must drill these in to your practicing until they are so habitual you don’t have to think about them. So constantly monitor yourself. Before every practice session, read through the Three Golden Rules, and after every session, reflect on how well you followed them and when you broke them. You might want to focus on one a day when you first start using them. So for example, maybe today you focus on always playing expressively. No matter what part you’re practicing, your going to put a ton of emotion into it. Then the next day, you could practice Accuracy Over Speed and make sure no matter what you’re practicing you’re practicing slow enough to be accurate.

Here’s the link to the video lesson with all these examples:

Example 1: The Pathetique Sonata Here is a 2 bar section of Beethoven’s “Pathetique Sonata”. It’s part of a larger section that repeats a similar pattern in the left and right hand. To practice it though, I’d chunk it down into 2 bar sections like this one: | Page 40


hands separate and hands together playing it loud, soft, staccato, and legato. So there’s a four day plan for learning this section. Each day will probably take only about 5 minutes. Realize depending on your skill level, it could take longer or shorter to learn a section. If the section is above your skill level, you’ll need a couple extra days to drill it in. If a section is below your skill level, you’ll be able to learn it much faster.

Example 2: Liszt Etude Day 1: To drill this in, I’d start off by using Rhythms. I’d take Left Hand alone, just the first measure, and run all four rhythms 4 times each. Then I would do the same with the Right Hand for the first measure. Next I would run rhythms on the second measure with the Left Hand alone and the Right Hand alone. After that I would take the full 2 measures and run rhythms on Left Hand alone and Right Hand alone, just to further solidify the section. Day 2: I would use the Metronome strategy on each hand alone and see how fast I could ramp up the tempo. On just the second day, it’s not going to be at full speed, but practicing with a Metronome will solidify the evenness and help work it into your fingers. Day 3: I would put hands together and run Rhythms on the first bar, then the second bar, and finally both bars. Day 4: I would run Metronome on both bars, hands together. Hopefully by this point I have it pretty close. If it still needed work after this, I would probably try Style Variations and run it

Here is a short section of Liszt’s Grandes études de Paganini in E Flat. It’s a section where the left hand has some fast octaves and the right hand has a fugal melody above it.

Day 1: Since the Left Hand looks tougher, I would work on it first. I’d start by taking groups of 8 notes (so half a measure) and run through the rhythms 4 times each. Since octaves can get tiring pretty fast, whenever I started getting tired, I’d move on to the Right Hand for a while, then pick up where I left of in the Left Hand. For the right hand, I would practice using Two Note Chunks. So I would take each group of 2 notes, and go back and forth between them. Once I went through 2 note chunks, I’d extend it to 3 note chunks and practice each 3 note chunk 8 times. | Page 41


Day 2: For the left hand, I would use Rhythms combined with Overlapping Chunks. Here’s what I mean: take 12 notes at a time (skip the first 2 notes because they are easy) and run each rhythm 4 times. Then start on beat 4 of the first measure and run Rhythms on the next 12 notes. Then start on beat 1 of measure 2 and run Rhythms on the next 12 notes. Finally start on beat 2 of measure 2 and run Rhythms on the next 11 notes. This way you hit all the notes in multiple groups and the overlapping smoothes out the transitions. For the right hand I would use a Metronome ramp up to see how fast I could get it. Day 3: For the Left Hand, I would use the added note strategy starting from the beginning and going to the end, running each added note 4 times. For the Right Hand, I notice there’s a large leap in the last measure, so I’d probably run The Pause and The Extra Octave on that 8 to 12 times each. Day 4: By this point I know the left hand pretty well, so it’s time to ramp up the tempo with the Metronome. Notice it’s Day 4 and I’m still practicing hands separate. This is an extremely tough section, and I don’t want to rush to hands together or it’ll be sloppy. For the Right Hand I’d use Style Variations just to drill it in even more.

I’d try practicing it with Just Outsides and the Floppy Wrist to help you relax your wrist and speed up the tempo.

Example 3: Bach Prelude For this last example (Bach’s Prelude in D Minor), instead of going day by day, I’m going to give an overview on how to learn the entire piece. Here’s a couple measures, the entire piece repeats this same pattern over various harmonic progressions:

To learn this piece, I would break it into one bar at a time. There are so many notes per measure that’s going to be the easiest way to do it. Since the Right Hand is in groups of three, I would use the Rhythms of Three first to drill them in. For the Left Hand, since it is a straight rhythm, I would use the normal Rhythms to build muscle memory.

Day 5: Now time for hands together. I’d start breaking it up into 2 beat phrases and use the Super Slow Mo strategy. Then I’d use Rhythms to drill it in even more. When you use Rhythms, play the Left Hand in the Rhythm, and just play the Right Hand when it coincides with the Left Hand note it is supposed to play with.

Next I’d use a metronome on each hand separately and try to ramp up the tempo. Once each hand is good on it’s own, I’d go back to Rhythms of Three for Hands Together. Then I would use a Metronome Ramp Up to get hands together faster.

Day 6: Time to use the Metronome to ramp up the tempo hands together. If you still can’t get the left hand fast enough,

I’d keep using Rhythms and Metronome until each section is solid. Then I’d take a day and do the Added Measure Strategy | Page 42


to the full piece, forwards and backwards. That’ll pull everything together and polish it up. If I were memorizing it, the next step would be to use Added Measures for Memorization. When you get to tricky parts, use Mental Practice to really memorize them deeply. Finally, once the whole thing is memorized, I’d use the Emotional Extremes strategy to add expressiveness. So there you go, step by step how I’d choose to learn the Bach Prelude. Realize even with these strategies, it still takes time and effort to learn a piece; these strategies are simply meant as a tool to make the most efficient use of your time and to help you learn pieces on a deeper more solid level.

from the end of the first section and the beginning of the second section to drill in the transition. 3. The Two-Note Chunk Use this on sections where there are just a couple of tricky notes that throw you off. Practice those couple spots in two note chunks, and the rest should fall together well. Large leaps are another good place for two note chunks. 4. Rhythms Use Rhythms to drill in any section with a “Straight Rhythm” (all the notes are the same length). Alberti bass, scales, and arpeggios are great places for Rhythms.

When To Use Each Strategy: Cheat Sheet Here’s your cheat sheet on all the practice strategies (including the variations) and a quick guide on when to use them. I also have it as a video lesson that goes through every strategy, with a link to the full explanation. You can find that here: 1. Chunking Use Chunking on almost anything. Any section that is too large to learn on its own should be chunked down into smaller sections. 2. Overlapping Chunks Use this strategy when you can play one small section well, and the next small section well, but can’t play them well one after another. Use an overlapping chunk that includes notes

5. Rhythms of Three Use these in the same places as Rhythms but when notes naturally fall in groups of 3, 6, 9, or 12. Especially great for triplets, arpeggios, or running notes in 6/8 time. 6. Making Up Your Own Rhythms Use this in the same places as rhythms, especially if you’re getting bored and want to try something to spice up the practice session. 7. Metronome Use the main Metronome “ramp up” strategy whenever you can play a section slow and you want to get it up to a faster speed. A metronome is also useful when a section is lacking evenness. | Page 43


8. Super Slow Mo Use Super Slow Mo on tough sections that require extra concentration. You can also use this strategy to test for memorization.

9. The See Saw If you’ve tried the Metronome Ramp Up but you still can’t get a section up to full tempo, try using the See Saw to speed it up.

10. Added Measures Use Added Measures when you can play each section well, and you’re trying to put the sections together to form the whole song. This will help smooth out any hitches and pull the song together.

11. Added Notes Use Added Notes for sections with tricky fingerings. Also really good for scales, arpeggios, and octaves.

12. Added Measures for Memorization Use this strategy to test for memorization. Once you hit a spot you don’t have memorized, practice it until you have it, then go back to the added measures to test where the next memory slip is. 13. Style Variations Use Style Variations when you’ve tried the other practice strategies, and you still can’t seem to get the passage. You

can also use this strategy just to practice playing in different styles. 14. Combining Styles Use this strategy in the same way as Style Variations. 15. Playing at the Emotional Extremes Use this strategy once you have the notes drilled in well. This is a tool to help you play more expressively, but it also will help you drill in memorization since your brain remembers emotionally stimulating events.

Combining Strategies As you get better at using these strategies, you can combine strategies to make them even more powerful. For example, you could use Rhythms, and practice each Rhythm with a Metronome and slowly ramp up the speed of each Rhythm. Or you could combine Style Variations with Rhythms, and practice the four rhythms loud, soft, staccato, and legato. Experiment with different combinations to see which ones work best for you

16. Mental Practice Use Mental Practice for spots that are really tricky to memorize. You can also use Mental Practice to give your hands a break while you still practice in your head. If you have | Page 44


an important performance, you might want to use Mental Practice on your entire piece so your memory is solid. 17. Playing Arpeggios as Chords Use this strategy to drill in the “shape” of arpeggios. Also helps with the horizontal arm movement needed to play them fast. 18. Thumb Under Isolation Use this strategy when you’re trying to learn an arpeggio and you’re just having trouble with the tricky part when you move from your 3rd or 4th finger back to your thumb.

Video Lesson Here’s the video lessons for you guys: And if you don’t have the video lessons and would like to upgrade, go here:


19. Octaves: Just Outsides Use Just Outsides to practice tricky sections with octaves.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the book and have started using the methods in your own practicing. Feel free to email me at any time and let me know how you’re doing; I’d love to hear from you.

20. Floppy Wrist Use the Floppy Wrist technique when you’re practicing a section with octaves and you are having trouble relaxing your wrist.

Also, if you have any recommendations on how I can improve this book, shoot me an email. I want to continue improving this book so it can be as helpful and informative as possible to as many people as possible, so any feedback on how I can make this book better would be awesome.

21. The Extra Octave Use The Extra Octave on large leaps, especially when you feel mental anxiety leading up to the large leap.

And lastly, if this book as helped you improve your practicing, I’d really appreciate testimonial, just a short paragraph on how this book has helped you or why you think its useful. Thanks again and good luck with your practicing!

22. The Pause Use The Pause on large leaps when you can play them, but they’re sloppy and you really want to drill in the right notes. | Page 45


Bonus Bonus Chapters My Top Tips on Sight-reading and How to Play by Ear


Top 5 Tips to Playing by Ear For some reason there’s a huge misconception that playing by ear is an innate “talent” that people “just have a knack for.” This is completely false; playing by ear is absolutely learnable by anyone by anyone willing to put in the effort. When I started playing, I couldn’t play by ear at all. I practiced for a while and now I learn new pop songs every week without sheet music. Here are the top tips that helped me.

Tip 1: Sing the Melody I’m a terrible singer. I’m not being humble, I’m being honest. My vocal chords weren’t built for music, that’s why I play piano :P. But singing is still an essential tool for learning how to play by ear. If you’ve ever learned a language (let’s say Spanish), you know you learn it much better if you learn words in each direction. By each direction, I mean you can see a Spanish word and translate it into English, AND you can see an English word and translate it into Spanish. Learning it like this helps your brain develop a true understanding of the language. There are two parts to playing by ear: hearing the pitch with your ears and creating a pitch in your head. When you learn a song by ear, you are taking the pitch you hear and translating it into a sound you can create in your mind. But you also need to practice in the other direction, creating a sound in your mind, and then hearing it with your ears and correcting it.

If you can’t hear the pitch in your mind, you can still learn to play the song on piano with the “guess and check” method, but you won’t improve at all. Every time you try to learn a new song by ear you’ll have to go through the long process of guessing and checking each individual note. So when you’re learning a song by ear, first try to hear the sound in your mind and really think about which note might be next, don’t just blindly guess. When you sing the melody, you are forced to create the pitch in your head. This is how you start learning pitch relationships, and you’ll get a feel for what different intervals sound like. Don’t worry about your vocal tone, focus on whether or not you’re hitting the correct pitches. Try singing along with the song playing for the difficult parts. Then turn the music off and see if you can sing it a cappella. If you can’t find the notes, turn the music on again. It’s going to be bad at first, trust me, but everyone goes through that tough first stage of learning. Once you get the hang of it, it’ll get much easier.

Simple Questions to Ask Yourself: • • • •

Does the pitch go up or down? Does it change by a small step or a large leap? Is the note in the key or an accidental? Does the interval sound major or minor?

Tip 2: Use the Sheet Music Just Enough

Tip 3: Learn Your Theory

Now it’s time to start learning the actual song on piano. It’s going to be challenging, so start with the easiest, most recognizable part of the song, usually the chorus.

Knowing your theory gives you a HUGE advantage when playing ear. It gives you “clues” to what the next note is and narrows down your possible notes.

When you first start learning, you’re going to need the sheet music, but you’re going to want to try to use it the least amount possible. You want to use it just enough to get you going. So start by using the sheet music to find the first note of the chorus.

For example, if you’re in the key of C Major, you’re only going to be playing the white notes (for the most part, there could be accidentals but there probably won’t be many for pop songs). So instead of 12 possible notes, there are only 7 possible notes to choose from.

Then try to find the second note just by singing it and trying to find it on the keyboard. Start by asking yourself simple questions like “does the pitch go up or down” and “does it sound like a small step or a large leap.” If you can’t find it, the second step is to put the headphones on and try to find it by listening to the song. If you still can’t find it, then use the sheet music to find the next note.

You’ll also get the feel for which scale degrees are more common than others. For example, the majority of pop songs start on the first, third, or sixth scale degree. So for your first note you can be pretty confident that it’s one of those three notes!

Keep doing this with all the notes of the melody. You’ll notice a lot of times its just a couple tricky notes that are tough to figure out, but the rest of the melody is pretty easy. And if you’re learning a pop song, there’s a lot of repetition, so once you learn part of the melody you’ll have actually learned much more of it.

Learning to identify the chords in the left hand is much more difficult and complex than learning the melody. Fortunately there’s a way around this.

When you’re using this method, it’s really easy to get lazy and just go to the sheet music more than you should. Really try to learn it without the sheet music, and only use it when you absolutely need to.

Tip 4: The Trick to the Left Hand Chords

A little trick that a lot of people don’t know: you don’t have to play the “right” chords. As long as it sounds good, nobody is going to care (or even notice) if you use the exact chords used in the song. Most pop chords use 4 chords, the I, vi, IV, and V (this is another good reason to learn your theory!). So in C major, you’ll be using the chords C, A minor, F, and G.

Even if the song uses other chords, you can still harmonize it with these 4 chords and it will sound good. So don’t worry about using the “correct” chords, just find ones that sound good. To figure out which chord to use when, just play the melody and notice which notes are played the most in that section. Then just play the chord that has similar notes in the left hand. And remember, the bottom line is if it sounds good it sounds good. So use your ear and decide which chords you want to use.

Tip 5: Learn to Recognize Patterns When you learn enough songs by ear, you’ll start to recognize common patterns in popular songs. For example, “do re mi” is a very common pattern used in a TON of popular songs. “Mi re do la” and “sol mi re do” are two other very common ones. Once you start learning these, that’s when your playing by ear will really take off and skyrocket. You’ll be able to string together common patterns and start learning songs reallllly fast.

Wrap Up and Key Points Just like anything else, playing by ear takes time and commitment, so don’t get discouraged when it gets frustrating! It might take a month or two before you really start getting the hang of it. But once you do, it starts getting really fun, and once it’s fun it’s a lot more motivating to practice.

So put the time and commitment in to push past that first phase of learning, I promise you it’ll be worth it. Here are the key points again for you to remember: • • • • •

Sing the Melody Use Sheet Music only as much as you need to Learn your theory Harmonize with any left hand chords that sound good Learn to recognize patterns

If you’re serious about learning to play by ear, I have a program on Piano University that has a step-by-step process on how to learn it. It includes video lessons, exercises, quizzes, and examples that’ll help you play by ear. You can find out more by going here: And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something you’re confused about: Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic


Bonus Chapter 2: Sightreading Sight-reading was a skill I really struggled with. Growing up, instead of reading music, I would just memorize songs or learn them by ear, and when I had to learn to sight-read it was really tough. I started learning some strategies and practice methods to sight-reading, and I’ve improved a TON since then, so here are my 5 top sightreading tips.

Tip 1: Sight-read Every Day Sight-reading isn’t something you can learn by practicing for 4 hours one day. It’s something that takes a while to develop over time. Your brain needs time to process the information and learn the skill. Even if you only sight-read one song, do it every day. Work it into your normal practice schedule. Here’s my routine: every practice session I do 10 minutes of technique and then 5 minutes of sight-reading before I even touch my pieces. Develop a daily ritual for yourself that incorporates sightreading.

Tip 2: Get a Sight-reading Method Book I started out trying to sight-read by just practicing with random songs. The problem was some songs would be wayyy to easy, so I wouldn’t really learn much, and some would be wayyy too hard and I couldn’t even get through them.

If you go through a sight-reading method book, it will give you a logical progression so that you’ll be sight-reading material that’s exactly at that optimum difficulty level where you’ll make the most improvement. It’s also nice because it’ll group together similar topics. For example, you’ll learn a bunch of pieces in D major so you’ll get used to that key. Then the next week you’ll move on to, say, A major and learn that key really well. Or one week might involve a lot of songs with dotted rhythms or arpeggio patterns or modulations ext. That way you really drill in one skill at a time. Personally I’ve used a series of books called “Improve Your Sight-reading.” I don’t know if they are the best out there, I’ve never tried any other method books, but they work for me. So find a method book or series that works for you, whatever that is.

Before Sightreading, Ask Yourself: • • • • •

What key is the piece in? What is the time signature? Are there any repeated patterns? What fingering will you use? Are there any accidentals? | Bonus


Tip 3: Keep Going When You Mess Up When you’re accompanying someone, you have to keep going when you make mistakes so the performance doesn’t train wreck. There’s a natural tendency to freak out when you hit a wrong note, and it takes a certain skill to control that mental freak out and keep going. And that skill takes practice. The main thing to remember is to take your sight-reading at a slow enough tempo so that you’re able to play the right notes. Even if that tempo is crazy slow you want to be mostly accurate. But if you do mess up, just keep the beat and keep playing. There’s a certain level of toughness you’ll develop when you do it enough.

Tip 4: Don’t Look at Your Hands

Another thing you’ll start to recognize are “chord shapes.” For example, a D major and A major chord have the same chord shape, a white note, then a black note, then a white note, with the same distance apart. Your fingers will learn to “snap” to various chord shapes, which makes it much easier to play without looking.

Tip 5: Learn to Recognize Chords Good sight-readers read groups of notes. It’s almost impossible to sight-read fast music by reading each individual note. Think about when you read words. You don’t read each individual letter, you see the word and instantly recognize it as a complete entity. This helps us read fast because instead of reading 100 letters, we might only have to read 20 words.

Great sight-readers almost never look down; all they’re focus is on what’s coming up next in the music. They have what’s called “keyboard topography” where they can find notes by “feeling them out.”

The same is true for sight-reading. Learn to recognize chords and patterns and you can read a group of notes all at once. Instead of reading 100 notes, you can read 20 chords or 20 “note groups.”

I had a really tough time learning this at first. It seemed almost impossible to find the notes without looking at them. So I started playing through each song twice. The first time I’d play it like normal, and the second time I’d play it without looking, no matter how slow I had to play it.

The best way to learn this is to say the chord out loud as you play it. You could “just think of the chord in your head” instead, but I find is easier to stay disciplined if you force yourself to vocalize it.

And no cheating! It’s super tempting to just cheat and look at your hands, but you have to break that habit to get to that next level of sight-reading. After you practice this enough times you’ll start to get the feel of where keys are without looking.

So in all, go through each song or exercise 3 times. The first time just try to sight-read it. The second time try to sight-read it without looking at your hands. And the final time, sight-read it while saying the chords out loud. | Bonus


Wrap Up and Key Points Sight-reading is one of those skills that really takes a while to develop. I know firsthand it can be extremely frustrating, but if you put in the consistent work it will come. And it’s an extremely practical skill to have. So to wrap up, the five tips are: • • • • •

Sight-read every day Get a sight-reading method book Keep going when you mess up Don’t look at your hands Learn to recognize chords

And remember, you’re ALWAYS welcome to contact me if there’s something you’re confused about: Email: [email protected] Facebook: Twitter: @zachevansmusic | Bonus


Acknowledgements !

I would first like to thank my piano teacher Eli Kalman for being a phenomenal teacher throughout college. Most of the techniques in this book I learned from him. Secondly, I would like to thank my Grandpa Evans for truly being an inspiration to me and for being the one who got me into piano to begin with. Lastly, I would like to thank my family, especially my parents, who have been the most supportive and loving family I could ever ask for. So thank you.

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