Former Homestyle Music piano / keyboard teacher Matt Wauchope shared some tips on how students can practice for success. He has years of experience as an educator, formerly for Dekalb County Schools, and now currently teaching private music lessons. Matt also has several years experience professionally performing music and is currently playing with his jazz & funk group The Mar-Tans, which played on numerous local sessions including the Grammy-Award winning gospel act, the Blind Boy's of Alabama. We asked Matt the following:
1.) How long should students practice playing piano/keys each week?
It is entirely dependent on what you want to do in music. If it is to have fun and be a hobbyist then 20, 30 minutes, or an hour a day is great. If you want a career performing, then hours and hours a day would be required. 6-8 (hours per day) is pretty standard for conservatory students, and some musicians are famous for obsessive and extravagant practice habits. Sonny Rollins, for example, took a couple of long hiatuses from performing and practiced all day, every day for months, reinventing himself. John Coltrane spent the last half of his life doing practically nothing but eating, playing, and sleeping (often little of the latter). He even made a stick with buttons on it so he could practice fingering when he was on traveling on airplanes. But the most important thing I would say is to not practice so much that you stop enjoying piano, or get burned out.
2.) Are there any particular finger or scale exercises that you recommend piano students practice?
Just make sure that the technique you are studying is appropriate to the style you want to play. If you want to play jazz, don't waste time with Czerny or Hannon (although there is a Jazz Hannon, I never did get around to checking out).
3.) What advice do you have for anyone who wants to work as a professional piano player?
Play as many styles as you can as well as you can. Or, be the best in the world at one style. Either way is good! If you want to play non-classical styles, you need to learn songs in more than one key. You don't really know a song until you can play it in several keys.
4.) What are good ways to learn piano music outside of individual lessons?
Listen to records and steal licks, learn songs, and immerse yourself in music, exposing yourself to as much different stuff as possible.
5.) Who are some of your major piano influences, and why do you recommend people listen to them?
I would recommend Horace Silver, Ray Charles, and Professor Longhair. They are the "meat and Potatoes" of playing Jazz, Blues, and New Orleans Piano, respectively. There are a million guys I could name (Art Tatum, James Booker, etc.) who are more dazzling. But these three are great to listen to for beginner and intermediates because they play melodic, simple lines that don't require you to already be a virtuoso (Although they are plenty-great players).
Interview questions by James Hester of Homestyle Music.