Incremental Practicing

I recently had a chat with multiple students’ parents about making their kids practice every day. This “no time to practice” along with “my dog ate my piano book!” type of excuses seem to be a common theme among piano students. Then, I gave a suggestion of “incremental practicing”, and for them, it is working very well so far.  

“Incremental Practicing” – which means to spread practicing into multiple short 5-10 minutes per session throughout the day (and make it as a daily routine)

Here are some examples (but not limited to):

 * practice 5-10 minutes during school recess (if any and if allowed)
   – or –
 * practice 5-10 minutes during lunch time (if allowed)
   – or –
 * practice 5-10 minutes right after the school finished
   – or –
 * practice 5-10 minutes before the dinner
   – or –
 * practice 5-10 minutes after the dinner

 … and so on

The key here is splitting the session into small segments, so that student can focus practicing small tasks (listen to the music, practice one page of the music per session, 4 measures of one music, last line of the music, etc.) within the short period of time. This plan looks very tedious, but it can be effective to focus for 5-10 minutes on a small task rather than one 30+ minutes session handling big chunks. With school being online these days, I discussed with parents that this is not impossible.

If this is too much to manage, no worries. This is just one example of practicing that worked for some people. It’s not a mandatory approach.

Another student of mine started having a regular short Zoom meeting with their grandparents to play their piano pieces to entertain grandpa and grandma weekly. This activity can be one of the segments of “incremental practice” and this approach is motivating them to practice regularly:)

Another student started sharing her piano playing to her friends via FaceTime. This is another activity of “incremental practice” and really motivating her to practice:)

I’ll keep you posted if I come up with other creative ways to get students motivated to practice.


My First Student Piano Virtual Recital

Just imagine… Hustling and bustling of piano students on concert stage performing; parents greeting each other; High Fives, Laughter, Lots of Smiling Faces….

Suddenly, in mid-March, COVID-19 PAUSED all of these excitements temporary on me.

When I had to force myself to cancel my piano students’ Spring Piano Recital in April, I was devastated. We’ve been working so hard for this! I don’t want to give up! Then a light bulb went on in my head.

Virtual Piano Recital!

To tell the truth, I didn’t know where to begin since I’ve never given a Student Piano Recital virtually before. My journey to the Virtual Recital began.


Emiko’s Virtual Online Piano Recital – Example 1

I started some research on virtual conference platforms. FaceTime would have been my favorite personally, however, I quickly had to rule it out because not everyone has the right device for that.

After all, I decided to use Zoom because:

  • From administrative perspective, Zoom is easy to manage and organize participants
  • I can easily disable any unwanted sound coming from participants
  • I can disable all the functionality and privileges which participants have (Voice, Q&A, Chat, Screen Sharing, Video Sharing, even Raising Hands!)

  • That said, I was fully aware that Zoom is not the best platform for sharing sound / video.

    Communication to the Students

    I sent numerous distribution emails regarding Virtual Recital to the parents and students. I explained everyone that I cannot generate professional grade sound / video quality with Zoom for this event. A few people raised a concern about Zoom’s security, however, after explaining that I’m disabling all the Participant’s Zoom features and privileges for everyone’s security, students and parents were very happy 😊 I was pleasantly surprised that everyone was on board for this crazy Virtual Recital idea.


  • I was preparing quite a few duet pieces with my students for the Recital. Since it was not possible to perform together for recital, I recorded all of my duet parts and sent it over to students. Therefore, they performed duets with my recorded accompaniment.
  • Since I did not know the internet connectivity or bandwidth outcome on the Recital Day (and the particular time which was Sunday early evening), I asked students to finish the piece clearly, and in some cases, play the cadence a bit louder (i.e. forte instead of mf), so audience would know that the music is  ending.
  • I gave options of performances: either Live performance or Pre-recorded mp4 video to be submitted to me a week prior to the Recital. Majority of students have decided to tackle Live performance 😊

  • Recital Day

  • I created a checklist of Zoom meeting prep and logged into Zoom meeting 2 hours prior to the Concert. Preparation makes perfect!
  • We had 2 Sessions, Session 1 and Session 2. 10 minutes break between Sessions.
  • I asked all the Session 1 Performers to login 5 minutes prior to the Concert, and they did 😊 For the same token, I asked all the Session 2 Performers to login prior to the Session starts. It was great to see that many participants stayed for both sessions!
  • Students invited their family and friends to login as well. I limited to 2 additional guest logins per household to avoid capacity more than Zoom can handle.

  • Emiko’s Virtual Online Piano Recital – Example 2

    Happy Results

    As you see on the videos (see snippet videos), everybody had a great time! Amazingly, friends and family logged in from all over the country AND as far from Japan and Indonesia! Yay! grandparents logged in LIVE from Asia! I LOVE internet😊

    Interestingly, Virtual Recital made some shy students to participate by submitting their previously recorded videos to share during the Recital. These are the kids who initially did not want to perform in front of the audience. Therefore, it was a win-win situation for all of us. For most of the students who performed LIVE, I drilled them the stage presence tactics beforehand. For example, when it’s good to look at the camera vs. when it’s not good to look at camera, etc. (“Please don’t look at the camera immediately AFTER you made a mistake!”) In some cases, I had to make sure that students’ pets will not be walking right in front of the camera during their performance! (They were so cute, but…) Very interesting learning experience for all of us.

    It was a lot of work setting Zoom, coordinating with parents, and making performers practice. But it was such a wonderful opportunity to see the interests of family members (especially grandparents) and to witness their attendance at our recital. This event somewhat helped students’ family members to connect with each other in this difficult time of COVID-19. Yes, COVID-19 did not stop us from our virtual social gathering! I highly recommend anyone to organize Zoom virtual Piano Recital to create a strong bond and communication with students and parents.

    Piano Pedal as a Crutch

    Let me share my story when I was a teenager. I thoroughly practiced my favorite Chopin Fantasie Impromptu inside and out. I memorized it very well. Now it’s the recital season. I was very excited and nervous at the same time.  Now here is my turn, at my teacher’s annual student recital in California. Getting up on the stage, played the first octave chord, then…..

    On the stage, my heart was pounding like locomotive train engine, my hands were sweating, my knees were shaking, I was rushing through the notes, and all the notes were so blurry that I could not hear anything!

    The rest of my performance was a disaster…

    Not sure if you have had a similar experience before. This type of disaster happened to me several times during my teenage years.

    Back then, I was given an instruction as “Don’t rush the music on the stage.”

    OK, but I still kept doing this “rushing” thing over and over again even after this incident. Something was not working for me.

    Now I think back, I believe that I was lacking the habit of “step back and analyze” WHY I am rushing on the stage. Now I can think possible reasons WHY I rushed on the stage:

    • My heart was pounding
    • I get nervous every time I get on the stage
    • I was pushing piano pedal like driving a car, meaning I never took off the pedal for an entire page of the music. It was my crutch.

    The third bullet is particularly important. I don’t know about you, but I used to hold onto pedal like a crutch.  It was my security blanket. I kept pushing it as if piano pedal was my savior from drowning myself. Actually, it is quite contrary. Holding onto the piano damper pedal all the way across the entire music (!) will definitely generate muddy, unpleasant sound. I was drowning the audience!

    Then you may be thinking: “Then you can take pedal off time to time.“ Yes, pedal is provided for the enhancement of sound quality, not for the crutch to hold onto the entire music. 

    It was all in my nerve.

    In another word, I needed to control my nerve not to hold onto pedal.

    It was all in my nerve.

    I am not a psychologist, so I cannot explain what was the state of my mind at that time. That said, I can say one thing. In order to confidently perform piano on the stage, we need to work on our nerves, not just mechanics of notes, musicality, and finger positions. It is natural to get nervous on a stage. Everybody gets nervous on stage! It is natural for our heartbeat to get faster than usual. That said, how to control our nervousness on the stage is the biggest lesson.

    When I practice for a performance, I imagine that I’m practicing in front of 50000 people out in the stadium (or big concert hall). I create my practice environment to get nervous at home. We all can do this. It is up to your imagination.

    • Pushing pedal like a crutch comes from nervousness.
    • Heartbeat nightmare comes from nervousness.
    • Knee shaking comes from nervousness.

    Within the 3 points above, the only thing I seem to be able to control is the pedal.  At home,

    • I experiment playing the music without using pedal
    • I use a minimal pedal
    • I play music using pedal normally

    By using imagination and working a music with options of pedal usage, my brain is programmed to cope with many choices, and it is sending a message to my foot.  Of course, the ultimate solution is to “listen” carefully to the sound I create on the stage. In order to do so, we may want to get rid of this “nerve” thing. It takes years of practice (at least for me) to get there.

    That said, there are genius who can do this without even thinking about it! I will leave them at “Genius Blogs”, haha 😊

    Controlling the damper pedal (foot) activity during daily practice can minimize some of the nervousness on the stage.

    Just remember, damper pedal is not the crutch. 😊

    Happy practicing!

    Piano Practice Disguised

    Occasionally I hear from my students “I practiced very hard!”.  Then I respond, “That’s great! Let’s hear what you’ve got!”

    Sometimes I realize that there is not much progress from the last time I heard the same piece of music that student played.


    Emiko Hori currently teaches piano at Mercer Island, WA.

    I have to admit that do this to myself, too. Culprit can be that I am indulging myself during piano practice time, “Piano Practice Disguised”.  What this mean is that sometimes I enjoy playing my favorite piano piece but neglecting practicing.  Oh, but it’s so much fun! Simply playing piano.

    However, “Playing” piano may be different from “Practicing” piano.

    What is the definition of “Practicing”?  Play the music from the beginning to the end without stopping and be satisfied?  No.

    “Practicing” means that we have to identify the weak spot(s) within a piece of music and work at it.

    Yes, “Practicing” = “Working”.  It is a workout.

    How can we identify weak spots?  Here are a few examples:

    • I always stumble on same technically challenging passage no matter how many times I play this same music
    • There is a particular measure which I don’t quite understand musically
    • I use different fingerings inconsistently on certain measure(s) every time I play
    • Balancing of sound between right hand and left hand is off; (1) teacher told me that is off (2) I can hear that is off (3) instinct tells me it physically doesn’t feel right
    • I blank out at the same measure all the time
    • I cannot play in desirable faster tempo throughout the piece
    • I cannot slow down a tempo throughout the piece; sounds out of control
    • … and so on

    Some possible weak spots as above (and even more) need to be worked on. It is a workout. Just like we need to strengthen muscles (do yoga, weightlifting, running, stretching, bicycling, etc.). After all, piano practicing is quite a physical activity, if you noticed.

    If we do not do workout properly during piano practicing time, obviously, we will not improve our musicianship. We cannot convey and deliver beautiful music for our audience. However, Piano “Practicing” (“workout”) doesn’t have to be lengthy. Once I determined that I need to work on 4 measures that I have technical challenges, I can plan my “Practice” time accordingly, say 15-20 minutes. Short, focused Practice to solve problems.

    Are you “Indulging”, meaning is your Practicing disguised instead of actually “Practicing”?

    Of course, we need to have fun time, too. Go ahead, play your favorite piece. But wait, if you want to improve your piano playing and want to play a variety of music, you cannot avoid “Practicing” / “workout”. 

    Happy “Practicing”!

    The Zen of Practicing Piano

    When I was a little girl, I did not like practicing piano at all. It is tedious, boring, repetitive, and there are much more interesting activities tempted me such as watching TV, reading comic books, hanging out with friends. There also has been a time that I boycotted practicing piano entirely. “Why bother?”

    Fast forward, number of years and months past. Now looking back those “golden” days, I often wonder why I was not serious about piano practicing. These days, our life gets in the way and we CANNOT practice even when we WANT to! Yes, my mentality has changed. Playing piano has become my passion these days. However, it is very frustrating sometime that I don’t have enough time to spend in front of the keyboard!

    Looking back, I started to reflect on “Why?” “Why didn’t I enjoy practicing?” This reflection is just like a meditation. It is a soul search, deep diving into my root cause. No, it was not because of the music selection. No, it was not because of the teacher (I LOVED my piano teachers; husband and wife pair back in Tokyo, Japan).

    After going through my soul search, some of the possibilities a can be the following:

    • I felt very comfortable playing piano music which I mastered and enjoyed playing them over and over. Rather than learning something completely new, I wanted to hang onto my old pieces to indulge myself 🙂
    • My teacher was emphasizing on perfecting mechanics of the playing such as finger movements, accuracy of fingerings, and accuracy of rhythms and such. I had a great foundation of rhythmical training such as 4/4 on left hand vs. 6/4 on right hand and so on. In other words, my piano playing was not coming from my heart. It was coming from my brain using metronome.
    • Annual Piano Student Recitals were rather boring. We could identify the progress of our skill levels but repertoire was practically same as last year, meaning different people are playing similar pieces every year…

    By going through this list, there are moment of “Ahhh, I cannot do THAT as a teacher!” It is not my intention to condemn my previous teachers. I simply want to do better job than them! That said, I will share my strategies in other blog. Please stay tuned 🙂