You are on page 1of 57



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! Im Zach Evans and heres how I got started on
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
(Cmon Mom, Im 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 Id 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, youll 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!
Thats 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; youll 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. Its 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 youve 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, youll

have the tools you need to drill in songs quickly and

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

Whats 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, youll maximize all the other
strategies in this book. Without them, all the strategies and
tactics in the world wont 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 arent
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 isnt something you learn by
reading, its 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. Id suggest you
read a chapter a day and then practice using that strategy.
That way you wont get overwhelmed trying to learn them all at

Watch the Video Lessons

Can I Use an Electric Keyboard?
I get asked this question a lot, so I thought Id 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 dont 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 dont need the video lessons, but a lot of people
have emailed me and said theyd want to see exactly how I do
some of the strategies. So itll just help you learn faster. Heres
the link to the lessons:
Or if you dont have access to the lessons and youd 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. 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 youre confused on
anything, if you have any other piano questions, or if you just
want to say hi, dont hesitate to contact me. Seriously, do it .
Heres my contact info:

The other reason I think you should trust me is because you

can contact me at any time. I didnt 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,
heres my contact info, contact me at any time:
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 dont
trust me for this reason. A music degree is just a piece of
paper saying youve passed some classes, it doesnt 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. Ive 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. Heres my YouTube channel if youd 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 dont, 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 youve 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 its so important to practice with accurate notes.

Play the notes right fro the start and youll 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. Heres 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 youve only played a section 10 times, that
section wont be memorized as well.
But heres the important part: your fingers dont 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 theyre 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 youre 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 its hard to play slow. Youll start practicing slow,
but gradually youll 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 doesnt lie, so pick
a tempo, set your metronome, and stick to it!

As you practice more, youll develop a higher concentration

stamina (youll be able to focus for much longer). Focus is like
a muscle, itll 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, its 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! Well talk more about in-depth goal setting in
the next chapter.

The second major pitfall is practicing without focus. If your

minds tired and wandering, youll 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 youre practicing. This will help eliminate
distractions and keep you focused on the music.
Take Breaks
Another reason youll lose focus is mental fatigue. Your brain
can only concentrate for so long before youll 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 youll 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 wont 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 dont. 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 itll
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 dont 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 youre having a tough time with the hands together
coordination, most likely you havent 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
its part and vice versa.
Remember, accuracy over speed, so dont try to put hands
together until you can play it at a slow tempo without mistakes.
Be patient and dont rush into hands together. If its 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 its 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
youre 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. Dont 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 whats 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 youre 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; youll
memorize pieces much faster.

Wrap Up and Key Points

And if you dont have the video lessons and would like to
upgrade, go here:
And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if you
need me to explain things further:
Twitter: @zachevansmusic
Off to the next chapter where we Ill 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, youll develop the
discipline for super efficient practice sessions every time.

Video Lesson
Want to review? Heres 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. Ive 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 didnt 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 youre going to be practicing, AKA the spots you dont
know well. Heres the best method Ive 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 youre playing by ear, you can print off the lyrics to a song
and just mark your sections there. Its 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. Its 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 its
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

youll have more mental energy to work on them) and put them
most often. These sections are going to take the longest to
learn, so youre 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 dont usually type this out, I just sketch it on a sheet of paper

but its easier to show on a computer when I can take
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, Ill
spend a total of an hour practicing. I would suggest starting
with a smaller interval (like 5 minutes) and working your way
You can also put more than one section together in a time
block if theyre shorter or easier (look at the section with F and
G together). I do that a lot if theres 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 its more efficient to let on section rest while you practice
other sections. Also, make sure you take one day completely
off a week. Thisll help you stay injury free and prevent
You can also use the ? symbol to indicate youll fill in that
section later. I usually put some of these towards the end of
the week because Im 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 its time to plan your practice session for today. Youll 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 doesnt 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 youll 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. Youll need a metronome to keep track of
the tempo (well 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 youre 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 youre playing by ear, a Completion Goal is the
same as a Memorization Goal. Also, if youre planning on
performing with sheet music you wont 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 arent quite as cut and dry as the
other ones (theyre 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 youll want to use mostly Hands Separate
goals, and gradually work to hands together goals. Similarly
youll 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 dont write
out goals for the whole week at a time because youre 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.
Heres an example of some goals I might set for day 1:

type youre working on. For example, if you have a tough left
hand Alberti Bass pattern and youre working on a Completion
Goal, using Rhythms (explained in Chapter 4) would be a
great practice strategy. If youre 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 youre going to use to achieve them. Once
you learn the fastest and most efficient ways to learn each
type of section, youll be able to piece these sections together
and learn entire pieces much faster.

So my goals for today would be the following:

Heres 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 Ill 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 dont worry if
you dont 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 youre in the zone and really practicing a
section well, you can go over the time limit a little and you
wont be interrupted by the beeper going off.
When you first start using this method, stay pretty strict to the
time limits. Its 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 couldnt 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 didnt
complete it, then youll write the same goal for the next
This is also the place to write any comments or insights you
have about the section. Heres what the Results section of
your Goal Sheet might look like:

Can I Just Use the Stopwatch on My Phone?

Im HIGHLY against using your phone when you practice. In
fact, I dont 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, itll cost you like a dollar at

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 didnt complete the goal, you
should still get the satisfaction that youve 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

Heres 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 Im at with each section.
Heres 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

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 youre 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 Youve Completed the List

When youve 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, youre 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. Its 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 dont! Studies show that goals that are written down
are 42% more likely to be accomplished. Imagine how good
youll get at piano if you accomplish 42% more each week!
Over a year those results will be huge.

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

Plan out which sections your going to work on at the
beginning of each week
Plan out which strategies youre 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 its easier to explain in a video:
And if you dont have the video lessons and would like to
upgrade, go here:
And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if
theres something in this chapter youre 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. Its always the first strategy youre 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

Step 2: Break it up Into Smaller Sections

How small should the sections be? Its 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, youll
get a feel for how long they should be.

Step 3: Write Them in Your Music

Id highly suggest actually marking the chunks in your music.
Itll help you stay focused. You can use brackets or just put a
where each section starts and ends. If youre 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 wont take long to learn, so you dont 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

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, Ill just
practice the two notes in that leap over and over until its solid.
Or if theres a section with a tough fingering, like playing a
third with fingers 24 and moving to a third played with 35.
If theres a passage with really tricky fingering Ill 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 youve 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 youre working on
makes sense next one, otherwise youll end up with a bunch
of chunks that wont 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 well go over my number

one practice technique to build in rock-solid muscle memory.

Chunking is the most fundamental of all the practice

strategies. Youll 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
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 links right
Want to review? Heres the link to the video lesson:
And if you dont have the video lessons and would like to
upgrade, go here:
And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if
theres something in this chapter youre confused about:
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. Its 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 wont 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 4s and 8s, 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 Ill 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 didnt 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 Ive
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 Ill show you step by step
how to systematically speed up your piece from slow to fast.

Use Rhythms when the passage youre 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 dont have the video lessons and would like to
upgrade, go here:
And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if
theres something in this chapter youre confused about:
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. Its an awesome way ramp up your song
from slow to fast, and its a great tool for keeping you

Using is a Metronome
If you dont know what a metronome is, its 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
I love using one because it
keeps me disciplined. Its
always tempting to try and play
a piece faster than you are able
to (which drills in wrong notes).
When youre using a
metronome though, youre
locked into a certain tempo, so
no matter how much you want
to rush, you wont. Its a great
way to keep yourself in check.
Its also a great tool for when you can play a song slow but
you cant 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 wont be distracted
by texts/notifications (I recommend not even having your
phone on you when you practice. Phones are way too
distracting IMO and youll save a ton of time by just turning it
You can get stand-alone ones pretty cheap on Amazon or at a
local music store. Dont worry about getting one with tons of
features; all youll really use is the tempo. I like the ones with
the dial on the front, theyre the easiest and fastest to operate.
Heres the one I currently use:
But seriously, if you dont have one, get one now! This is the
only tool Ill ask you to purchase, and I do so because I really
believe it is essential and fundamental to efficient practicing.
Youll 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 youve 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! Its important to keep track of where you are so you know if
youre 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. Its 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. Dont 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 dont 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 youre using the same metronome as me).
You should barely be able to even notice that its 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

So when I was looking up different metronomes I came across

the Wittner Taktell Pyramid Metronome. Guess how much it
costs $230!!! I cant see any reason why its better than a
$20 metronome; maybe its diamond studded or something.
Anyways, dont 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 thats 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. Its amazing sometimes how solid these
sections will feel the next day when you run them super slowly
the day before.

Then, when youre 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
youll 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, youre 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, youll
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 youll 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 youre 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, youll 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 dont 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 wont 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 isnt 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

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 musicians 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
youll drill in accurate notes

Video Lesson
As always, heres your video lesson:
And if you dont have the video lessons and would like to
upgrade, go here:

And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if

theres something in this chapter youre 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 heres your solution, using
Added Measures. Whenever I run this strategy on a piece
of music, the next day it just feels solid; its 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.
Youre 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 youre doing Added Measures.
Since this technique takes a lot more time than the other
practice strategies, its 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, were
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. Its easy to slip
into playing the section without concentrating and just going
through the motions. Dont fall into this trap! Remember, if
youre making mistakes over and over youre 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 youve completed the passage. Then repeat going
I only use the Added Note strategy on the realllly tough
sections. Ill 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 dont do the repeat
backwards step), but you dont 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

Wrap Up and Key Points

To wrap up this chapter, here are a couple key points to
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. Its 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 dont have the video lessons and would like to
upgrade, go here: | Page 27


And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if

theres something in this chapter youre confused about:
Twitter: @zachevansmusic
Now on to Part 3 where Ill 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 cant 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 youre playing too loud and could injure

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. Dont use pedal for this, make sure its
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, thats 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 Im
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
dont 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, its 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 youve 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
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? Heres
the video:
And if you dont have the video lessons and would like to
upgrade, go here:
And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if
theres something in this chapter youre confused about:
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 Ive done. Its 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. Its
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
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 youre playing in your practice
room, but they can fall apart during performance. For
example, if the piano youre 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 dont 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, youll 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

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 its 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 cant, 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 dont
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 Im 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 (youll 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 Id 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 youll know it on a whole
new deeper level. Here are some key points to using mental

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

Video Lesson
Want me to personally explain it to you? Watch the video
lesson here:
And if you dont have the video lessons and would like to
upgrade, go here:
And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if
theres something in this chapter youre confused about:
Twitter: @zachevansmusic
Alright, on to the next chapter where well 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

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 youre playing a smooth arpeggio. Thisll 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


Dont 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.
Heres the video lesson for the Arpeggio Practice Strategies:

Octaves Practice Strategies

Just as last time, its extremely important you use the correct
fingering, otherwise youll 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

Octaves can be one of the toughest things to practice, mainly

because they wear out your wrists and fingers fast if you dont
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. Its 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 youre playing your
octaves. Keep your wrist ridiculously loose, and dont worry
too much about the accuracy of the notes; youre mainly
focused on getting the feel of what its 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 youre still drilling
in the correct notes.
Heres 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
dont 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 its shorter, and youll 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 youre 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.
Heres 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,
youll 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 youll 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

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 dont have the video lessons and would like to
upgrade, go here:
And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if
theres something in this chapter youre confused about:
Twitter: @zachevansmusic
Now onto the final chapter. Youll 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 youll have an idea of what
strategy to use. | Page 39


11. Wrap Up and Summary

Congratulations! Youve made it through all my top
practice strategies. Hopefully youve implemented them
into your practicing and have started seeing some
results. Ive 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 youll 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, theyre not going to work perfectly for you
depending on your skill level. Its 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
Its not enough to just know these rules, but you must drill
these in to your practicing until they are so habitual you dont
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 youre 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 youre practicing youre practicing slow enough to
be accurate.

Heres the link to the video lesson with all these examples:

Example 1: The Pathetique Sonata

Here is a 2 bar section of Beethovens Pathetique Sonata.
Its part of a larger section that repeats a similar pattern in the
left and right hand. To practice it though, Id 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 theres 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, youll need a
couple extra days to drill it in. If a section is below your skill
level, youll be able to learn it much faster.

Example 2: Liszt Etude

Day 1: To drill this in, Id start off by using Rhythms. Id 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, its 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 Liszts Grandes tudes de Paganini

in E Flat. Its 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. Id 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, Id 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, Id 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. Heres 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 theres a
large leap in the last measure, so Id 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 its time
to ramp up the tempo with the Metronome. Notice its Day 4
and Im still practicing hands separate. This is an extremely
tough section, and I dont want to rush to hands together or itll
be sloppy. For the Right Hand Id use Style Variations just to
drill it in even more.

Id 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 (Bachs Prelude in D Minor), instead of
going day by day, Im going to give an overview on how to
learn the entire piece. Heres a couple measures, the entire
piece repeats this same pattern over various harmonic

To learn this piece, I would break it into one bar at a time.

There are so many notes per measure thats 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. Id start breaking it up

into 2 beat phrases and use the Super Slow Mo strategy. Then
Id 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 Id use a metronome on each hand separately and try to

ramp up the tempo. Once each hand is good on its own, Id
go back to Rhythms of Three for Hands Together. Then I
would use a Metronome Ramp Up to get hands together

Day 6: Time to use the Metronome to ramp up the tempo

hands together. If you still cant get the left hand fast enough,

Id keep using Rhythms and Metronome until each section is

solid. Then Id take a day and do the Added Measure Strategy | Page 42


to the full piece, forwards and backwards. Thatll 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, Id use the Emotional Extremes
strategy to add expressiveness.
So there you go, step by step how Id 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

Heres 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
1. Chunking
Use Chunking on almost anything. Any section that is too
large to learn on its own should be chunked down into smaller
2. Overlapping Chunks
Use this strategy when you can play one small section well,
and the next small section well, but cant 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 youre
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

9. The See Saw

If youve tried the Metronome Ramp Up but you still cant 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 youre trying to put the sections together to form the whole
song. This will help smooth out any hitches and pull the song

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 dont 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 youve tried the other practice
strategies, and you still cant seem to get the passage. You

can also use this strategy just to practice playing in different

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
18. Thumb Under Isolation
Use this strategy when youre trying to learn an arpeggio and
youre just having trouble with the tricky part when you move
from your 3rd or 4th finger back to your thumb.

Video Lesson
Heres the video lessons for you guys:
And if you dont 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 youre doing; Id
love to hear from you.

20. Floppy Wrist

Use the Floppy Wrist technique when youre practicing a
section with octaves and you are having trouble relaxing your

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,

Id 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
theyre sloppy and you really want to drill in the right notes. | Page 45


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

Top 5 Tips to Playing by Ear

For some reason theres 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 couldnt 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

Im a terrible singer. Im not being humble, Im being honest.
My vocal chords werent built for music, thats why I play piano
:P. But singing is still an essential tool for learning how to play
by ear.
If youve ever learned a language (lets 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
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 cant hear the pitch in your mind, you can still learn to
play the song on piano with the guess and check method,
but you wont improve at all. Every time you try to learn a new
song by ear youll have to go through the long process of
guessing and checking each individual note. So when youre
learning a song by ear, first try to hear the sound in your mind
and really think about which note might be next, dont 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 youll get a feel for what different intervals sound like.
Dont worry about your vocal tone, focus on whether or not
youre 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 cant find the notes,
turn the music on again. Its 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, itll 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 its time to start learning the actual song on piano. Its
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, youre going to need the sheet
music, but youre 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 youre in the key of C Major, youre only going

to be playing the white notes (for the most part, there could be
accidentals but there probably wont 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 cant find it, the
second step is to put the headphones on and try to find it by
listening to the song. If you still cant find it, then use the sheet
music to find the next note.

Youll 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 its one of those three

Keep doing this with all the notes of the melody. Youll 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 youre
learning a pop song, theres a lot of repetition, so once you
learn part of the melody youll 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
theres a way around this.

When youre using this method, its 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 dont know: you dont 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,
youll 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 dont worry
about using the correct chords, just find ones that sound
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

Tip 5: Learn to Recognize Patterns

When you learn enough songs by ear, youll 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, thats when your playing by ear
will really take off and skyrocket. Youll be able to string
together common patterns and start learning songs reallllly

Wrap Up and Key Points

Just like anything else, playing by ear takes time and
commitment, so dont 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 its fun its a lot more motivating to practice.

So put the time and commitment in to push past that first

phase of learning, I promise you itll 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 youre 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 thatll help you play by ear. You can
find out more by going here:
And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if
theres something youre confused about:
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 Ive
improved a TON since then, so here are my 5 top sightreading tips.

Tip 1: Sight-read Every Day

Sight-reading isnt something you can learn by practicing for 4
hours one day. Its 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. Heres 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 wouldnt really learn much, and some would be wayyy too
hard and I couldnt even get through them.

If you go through a sight-reading method book, it will give you

a logical progression so that youll be sight-reading material
thats exactly at that optimum difficulty level where youll make
the most improvement.
Its also nice because itll group together similar topics. For
example, youll learn a bunch of pieces in D major so youll get
used to that key. Then the next week youll 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
Personally Ive used a series of books called Improve Your
Sight-reading. I dont know if they are the best out there, Ive
never tried any other method books, but they work for me. So
find a method book or series that works for you, whatever that

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 youre accompanying someone, you have to keep going
when you make mistakes so the performance doesnt train
wreck. Theres 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 youre 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. Theres a certain level of toughness youll develop
when you do it enough.

Tip 4: Dont Look at Your Hands

Another thing youll 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. Its almost
impossible to sight-read fast music by reading each individual
Think about when you read words. You dont 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 theyre focus

is on whats coming up next in the music. They have whats
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 Id play
it like normal, and the second time Id 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! Its 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
youll 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 its an
extremely practical skill to have. So to wrap up, the five tips

Sight-read every day

Get a sight-reading method book
Keep going when you mess up
Dont look at your hands
Learn to recognize chords

And remember, youre ALWAYS welcome to contact me if

theres something youre confused about:
Twitter: @zachevansmusic | Bonus



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.