• Top Twelve Things Top Players Do In Their Practice Session

    in Piano

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    If you’re interested in learning what top players do in their practice session, then you’ve arrived at the right page.

    A vast majority of musicians who know the importance of consistent practice do not really know the right activities that should make up their practice session and that’s why we’re outlining and discussing top twelve things top players do in their practice session.

    Let’s get started with #12.

    Attention: I’m dedicating this lesson to my favorite student, Timi Dakolo — permit me to say he’s the  best soul singer in my clime and time. Timi, divide your practice session into twelve parts and be sure to incorporate these things into it and you’ll make monumental progress in a fraction of the possible time.

    #12 – Traditional Scales

    Traditional scales are basically long established scales in European/American music that are the springboard from other musical ideas like intervals, chords, chord progressions and songs.

    There are four traditional scales:

    The natural major scale

    The natural minor scale

    The harmonic minor scale

    The melodic minor scale

    …and these scales should be practiced in all twelve keys using both hands in similar and contrary motion.

    Learning and warming-up the fingers using traditional scale would pay off eventually if done consistently over a period of time.

    #11 – Modes

    Modes are older than traditional scales, however, they are pretty much like the scales we play today. There are seven unique modes on the piano:








    …and each of them are to be learned, mastered and transposed to other notes on the keyboard.

    Modes should be approached just like scales and integrated into the musicians warm-up routine.

    #10 – Arpeggios

    In Italian, the  term harpeggio means in a harp-like manner. The notes of a chord can be played successively in a harp-like manner.

    To arpeggiate the C major triad:

    …its notes should be played successively in this manner:








    …in ascending and descending direction.

    Every serious musician must learn and master how to arpeggiate four triads and five seventh chord types:

    Major triad

    Minor triad

    Augmented triad

    Diminished triad

    Major seventh chord

    Minor seventh chord

    Dominant seventh chord

    Diminished seventh chord

    Half-diminished seventh chord

    …starting from any note on the keyboard.

    #9 – Intensive Study

    One of the vital things top players do in their practice session is intensive study. Pursuant to that, there’s need for study aids in literary (book, charts, etc.) and multimedia (audio and video) format that are relevant to one’s style or skill level.

    It is through intensive study that you’ll learn from the wealth of the experience of other musicians who are ahead of you.

    It is recommended that 10-15% of the practice session should be invested in intensive study.

    #8 – Voicing Techniques

    Voicing is the rearrangement of the notes of a chord and the consideration of chord tones as voices.

    The concept of voicing requires techniques that include (but isn’t limited to) the following:

    Part-over-root voicing technique

    Upper structure voicing technique

    Skeleton voicing technique

    Quartal voicing technique

    Polychord voicing technique

    Part of the practice session should be invested in using these voicing techniques to rearrange seventh and extended chords.

    The goal is to take you to the realm of harmonic freedom where you’ll have so much tools at your disposal to play spicier chords.

    Instead of playing the regular C major ninth:

    …several voicing techniques can be used to rearrange the C major ninth chord:

    Part-over-root voicing technique:

    Upper structure voicing technique:

    Skeleton voicing technique:

    Polychord voicing technique:

    #7 – Chord Progressions

    Top players invest time in practicing chord progressions ranging from the major 2-5-1, to the minor 2-5-1, to the 12 bar blues progression and so on.

    Practicing chord progressions in all twelve keys may be demanding; however, it’s of the greatest possible importance because songs are based on chord progressions.

    A vast majority of gospel songs can be broken down into 2-5-1 chord progressions.

    Tons of Blues songs are based on the 12 bar blues form.

    That said, your practice session is incomplete without chord progressions.

    #6 – Research

    While studying in a practice session, it’s always common for one to stumble into unfamiliar or not-so-familiar terms. For example, in the definition of a scale below:

    A scale [which literally means ladder or staircase] is a melodic progression of notes in ascending or descending order based on a fixed intervallic formula

    …there are keywords you may need to research on like melodic progression, intervallic formula, and so on.

    The goal of the research is to equip you with more knowledge that would help you understand the definition of a scale.

    Most of the time, research leads to further research. For example, a research on melodic progressions may branch off into another research and it keeps opening you up to several related concepts and at the end of the day, you’re thoroughly informed and transformed — ignorance damaged beyond repair.

    #5 – Song Breakdown

    You can spice up your practice session by learning songs.

    As an expert, I recommend that you start out with easy songs and progress into songs that are challenging, then you can also end with easy songs as well.

    The goal of a song breakdown is NOT just for you to be able to play the song — No!

    While breaking down a song, be analytical and deductive. You should be able to apply the melodic patterns, harmonic structures, and fanciful endings in other songs after a proper song breakdown.

    #4 – Rehearsal

    In this section of your practice session, the goal is to practice with preparation in mind and repetition is the key.

    You can decide to focus on songs you’ve learned previously that you’re  yet to master and repeat them till you’re a couple of steps ahead of the way you used to sound.

    One of the virtues every musician must imbibe while rehearsing is patience, and then excellence. While rehearsing, don’t be in a haste to move over to the next item on your list.

    Invest quality time on each item, with an unbroken focus and be sure to be consistent — that’s all — it might not pay off immediately but it sure will in due time.

    #3 – Harmonization Techniques

    One of the top musical functions of the piano apart from accompaniment is harmonization.

    There are so many ways to harmonize (and maybe reharmonize) melodies which may include (but is not limited to):

    The use of primary chords

    The use of neighboring chord couples

    The use of the block chords

    The use of parallelism

    …and every serious musician must be able to use these harmonization techniques in all twelve keys.

    So, it’s important for a section of the practice session to be dedicated to learning and mastering diverse of harmonization techniques.

    #2 – Active Listening

    Within the premises of music, listening can either be active or passive.

    In passive listening, the listener enjoys the ambience of the music and feels the rhythm/pulse/groove, and enjoys the melodies, and resonates with the harmony.

    In  active listening, it’s a lot different because listening is done with the intent to analyze and breakdown.

    It’s through active listening that you can determine the estimated tempo of a song, figure out the key signature and time signature, analyze the contour of the melody, the texture of the harmony, the intonation of the instruments used and so on..

    Active listening can help you a great deal, especially in song breakdown. Don’t sweep it under the carpet!

    #1 – Technical Exercises/Practices

    Don’t end your practice session without practicing.

    Every musical instrument has its degree of mechanical difficulty and the piano is no exception.

    To improve your dexterity, there are choice exercises and studies (aka – “etudes”) that would help you improve considerably in speed, precision, fleetness, balance, independence, strength and so on.

    This segment is usually missing in the practice session of a cross section of musicians in the contemporary world and that’s why we have so many keyboard players who are overcome by the mechanical difficulty of the piano.

    If you want to stand out and belong to the league of musicians who are skillful, then you must integrate technical exercises into your practice session.

    Final Words

    There’s no further need for words. Take my word for it: these elements will improve your quality of practice and take you to the next level.

    See you in the next lesson!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 43 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Essien Nsikakabasi

    Thank you so much sir…will incorperate this into my 2star practice


    2 Edmond Edems

    Thank you sir for this.


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    God bless you Boss for this!…12 steps to going to the next level and I do only 2 #sobs


    6 Tobiloba

    Sir, this post really helped me ’cause this my first time of knowing the meaning of ‘ionian, phrygian…….’ stuffs.
    but sir, with utmost humility, I think there will be a need for a correction in that ‘aeolian’ mode
    The first half step is supposed to be between the second (2nd) degree and the third (3rd) degree.


    7 Chuku Onyemachi

    I’m not sure your request is understood. Could you let me know the section of this lesson you’re making reference to?



    8 Zino

    Nice one. … Sir


    9 Obiajunwa Chinedu Bright

    Great Lesson…i have alot to correct in my practice session…Thanks for this great lecture..its worth spending much time reading it.


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