When I started writing this blog I wanted a term for the sort of nitty gritty, nuts and bolts general work we do in practice. I came up with The Three S’s, adapting Sir William Curtis’  The Three R’s (coined during the Victorian era).

“Reading, writing and arithmetic” are said to be basic to a school education and the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy for all further learning. My Three S’s – Slowly, Separately, Sections – are the basis of craftsmanlike, disciplined work leading to skillful piano playing and the pathway to artistry and mastery. This short series on beginning a new piece would not be complete without referring back to these basic principles.

Sir William Curtis

Sir William Curtis

Because I have already written extensively about them, I include links to my blog posts and the relevant chapters in my ebook series below.

The Three S’s

These tools are as vital for the beginner as for the experienced concert pianist – in short, a daily necessity. Practising like this is not just for the beginning stages of learning a piece when we’ve almost got no other choice, when we can’t yet manage the whole piece hands together and at speed. Going back to using The Three S’s even after we have got beyond the nursery slopes of learning a piece will help to reinforce and to refine.


I am aware that some teachers believe in putting a piece hands together straight away. The argument goes that if you have practised with separate hands you will need to learn another skill when you put the hands together, so why waste the time.

I would agree that we first need to understand how the music sounds – and feels – with both hands together. Thereafter, I am a great believer in working hands separately and together in the same practice session. This is not just to develop and refine motor control but also to hear vividly the sounds each hand contributes to the overall picture.

Practising each hand alone from memory is a great way to strengthen the memory, and I would not want to do without it.

For me, “separately” is not confined to “hands” but can mean “strands” – or working with the various elements that make up a composition regardless of what the hands are doing.

I advocate practising hands separately even after the notes have been learned – come back to this regularly.

For more on this, follow this link to my blog post The Three S’s Part One

… or follow this link to Volume 1 of my ebook series


I have written much on slow practice. Here is one of my favourite posts on the subject – Enjoying Ultra-Slow Practice. And here is the sequel, where I go into how to progress from slow to up-t0-speed playing – Slow Practice – the Sequel.

Here is my slow practice flow chart:

slow practice flow chart

Follow this link to the chapter on slow practice in Part 1 of my ebook series.


We practise in small sections as a way of processing and digesting information easily – in bite-size chunks.  The point here is how much information one can hold in the working memory (often referred to as the short-term memory) and then rehearsing it so that it can be stored permanently in the long-term memory. Choose a section of the music where, at the end of the section, you can still remember vividly what happened at the start – something you can hold in your consciousness as a complete entity. Short-term memory is limited. It is commonly suggested that short-term memory can hold seven plus or minus two items. What that translates into in bars of music is anyone’s guess – start with a bar and work upwards in units of 4 then 8, etc.

Follow this link to my blog post

Follow this link to the chapter on sections in Part 1 of my ebook series

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