How much practice should I do?
The important thing about practice is regularity and focus. Try to practise at least 4-5 times a week and always have a target for that session. It's better to concentrate on a few bars or a particular section rather than just playing the pieces all the way through. Set yourself a precise target, tell yourself that you have to play a particular section correctly 3 times in a row, before you can move on to the next bit. Also try to concentrate on what you are doing - listen carefully to the sound you make and always try to make it better.
Why can I play the piece at home and it goes wrong in lessons?
A common problem and there are a couple of issues here. Firstly you are playing in front of an audience - even if it's only me! - and that can unsettle you. Secondly, when you practice at home you have a few goes at a tune and probably make a few mistakes along the way. If you've practised well, you will be able to play quite well by the end of it. However in a lesson, you have to get it right first time - just like a concert or an exam - and this is very difficult. You need to compare your performance in the lesson with your first performance in practice.
Would more/longer lessons help?
Well, I'm not going to say never but in reality a weekly lesson of half an hour for early grades, maybe an hour for the later grades is probably enough. Remember, I can't 'teach' you to play - I can only help you to 'learn'. The work is done by you, I'm afraid. Someone once asked a famous golfer if he felt he was lucky in his play and he replied, 'The strange thing is, the more I practice, the luckier I get!'
Would a better instrument help?
Probably, if I'm honest, but unless there is something actually wrong with your instrument you will be able to improve with careful practice. Look after your instrument - have your piano regularly tuned, (twice yearly is quite enough), change the strings on your guitar every 4 months or so (depending on how much playing you are doing), and have wind instruments serviced from time to time. If you take these precautions your instrument won't let you down when you need it.
Do I have to do exams?
Exams are useful for a number of reasons; 1. It shows your progress in playing and is useful for University application, 2. It makes you get some music ready for a particular time and place, which is always good, and 3. it acts as an incentive to practice - you don't want to fail an exam! However it is perfectly possible to continue to progress without taking any exams. It's a matter of finding the right approach for you.
Finally, an old colleague of mine used to say, 'Amateurs practice till they get it right, professionals practice till they can't get it wrong!'
Have fun in your playing, there are few more satisfying experiences than being able to perform for friends, family or the public and feeling that you have done well.
Good luck, Steve.
All Content © copyright Steve Pogson 2011