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  • Petrina Wong

Balancing Academics and Piano Practice - Piano Practice Planner



As Summer has come to an end and students are starting a new school year, many of them have shared with me their struggle in balancing their school workload and piano practice. Most of my students were on top of things, serious, and responsible, but have been missing homework and come to their lesson unprepared lately. When questioned why, they all told me that high school has been hard.

High school is tough. I understand that. And this is also a typical stage where piano students fall apart and question whether they should continue or not. That's fair, because on top of time management, students also need to juggle between homework, projects/presentations, tests/exams, other extra-curriculum activities, AND piano practice.

I am glad that many of them shared with me their struggles and asked for my advice on how to overcome them. And here are my two-cents.

  1. To-Do-Lists We usually struggle in staying focus on the tasks at hand when we are worried about the next tasks. And the main reason for that is because we are scared that we will forget what we have to do. And therefore, making a to-do-list would be helpful so you know that you won't forget them.

  2. Prioritize your tasks Prioritizing them is just as important. I usually list tasks into 3 levels of urgencies: Must Do TODAY, Must do (Another day ; before a due date), and Can be done later (not urgent). Then you go through each task base on their urgency. This will help set your mind at ease. For the things that are not urgent, you don't have to put much thought into it just yet, you can save it for another day another time.

  3. Setting Boundaries and Time Limit Many times, we sit down and start doing a task, and the next thing we know it's already midnight, and we don't have time for anything else unless we pull an all-nighter. This is also why students can't find the time to practice most of the time. Students should block out a certain limit of time to complete a task. We move on to the next task regardless whether we were able to complete it or not so we have time for all the tasks we've planned for the day. This is the same with piano practice. If you've planned 45min of practice that day, you are going to stop after 45min and not do more (even if you want to). Utilize this 45 min to complete your goals you've set for yourself using the piano practice planner. You will find yourself feeling accomplished after your practice time. If you cannot complete your tasks in the designated time, move on and come back to it after you've completed other tasks. This will ensure that you're able to achieve as much as you can for all the assignments you may have for school and other activities. How many of you have experienced this before? You are doing something, but your mind wandered elsewhere, worrying about something else? Oh yes, I've definitely have been there. But knowing there's a time planned for that task helps. You have already designated a time for the next task, now you can stay focus on what you have in front of you. Put all your heart and mind into what you're doing now. The next thing can wait for its turn.

  4. Set Realistic (Small) Goals In the piano practice planner, you will find that I have a list of sample goals that you can use for your practice. I want you to be honest and realistic, but also be able to challenge yourself for some fun. Many times students get stuck in practicing the same "good" piece again and again, and feels discouraged and overwhelmed to start practicing the challenging piece. This is why students come to the lesson playing their favorites in memory, but struggle to find the right starting position in a fairly new piece. You should prioritize and set goals for your practice in the most honest and realistic way. Start small when it's challenging, but always aim to progress and learn something new. Assumed you have already warmed up with some scales or other technique. Start with the most challenging piece. This should be the newest piece or the newest section of a piece that you are working on. Make small goals like: Learn 2 measures for the RH, learn 4 measures of the LH. Add in challenges like: play as fast as possible (e.g. Quarter Notes = 160). You may combine the goals you see on the list: e.g. practice adding pedal and dynamics while being aware of the balance between the hands. After the goals are set, use the practice strategies that you've learned in your piano lessons to help you achieve these goals. Are you trying to speed up some scale passage? Play the "group-of-3s". Are you trying to fix a wrong note or a wrong fingering? Punch the correct note with the correct fingering 5 times. Are you stuttering on the same place? Try reduction and expansion practice. Think about the things you've learned in the lesson and try to apply them in the way that will help reach your goals. As I always tell my students, you don't put on anti-itch relief ointment when you have a fever. You need the right solution to solve your problems. Setting the goals will help you realize the problems in your playing and use the right practice strategies to solve them.

I hope this helps a little bit on setting the right foot in the new school year. I trust and believe that all of you will have a blast and excel in everything you do. Please feel free to reach out if you need help and concern!


(The Piano Practice Planner will be emailed to current students. If you are interested in getting a copy, you may purchase it here.)

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