Assembly Line Practicing

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Hi, I’m Robert Estrin and this is I’m here with an incredible practicing tip that will turbocharge the work you do at the piano: Assembly line practicing. What is this all about? I’m going to tell you all about it and how it relates to your piano playing. Early in the 20th century, Henry Ford revolutionized automobile manufacturing by making the assembly line.

The assembly line lets people work on all stages of development simultaneously.

Another great example of this is the post-World War II housing boom. I grew up on Long Island adjacent to Levittown, where potato fields were transformed into whole neighborhoods seemingly in an instant. How was this done? Previously, houses were built from the beginning to the end. Then when the houses were finished, the builders would move on to the next house. Well, there’s a much more efficient way. If you’ve ever been to a neighborhood being built, you see tractors digging dirt. You go a little further and see foundations being laid. Further still you see frames of houses being assembled. Then the electrical and plumbing are being put in. When you get to the very end of the neighborhood, there’s the model home. All the work is being done on all these multiple stages of development simultaneously. It’s an incredibly productive way of building neighborhoods.

How does this relate to your piano practice?

If you have watched my videos, you are probably aware of the way I practice, and the way I teach my students to practice. Rather than practicing a whole piece and eventually trying to memorize it, you flip it. Read through the piece a couple of times, then get right down to work and start memorizing a little chunk at a time. However, this type of practice is incredibly mentally challenging. Everyone thinks that it’s hard just for them, but it’s hard for everyone if you’re doing it right! Let’s say you’re learning a new piece. You learn as much as you can and it’s enough for the day. The next day you can refine what you’ve done the previous day. But you also forge forward.

Eventually you have music at many different stages of development.

The first section is at performance level, like that model home or the finished car coming off the assembly line. Later on, maybe after the double bar in the development section of a sonata movement, it needs further polishing. So you work to refine that. You’re trying to refine what you learned the day before and solidify your memory. Yet you are always memorizing new material to add to the pipeline for the next day.

Your practice becomes exponentially more productive.

You can’t just memorize for an entire practice session. There’s a point of diminishing returns of your effectiveness. There’s only so much you can absorb at one time. So you memorize what you can. Then you refine what you did the previous day and the days before that. The first sections of a piece may be at performance level, especially a multi movement work. You might have the first movement at performance level. The second movement is coming along. This is what I mean by assembly line practice. It’s so effective if you can work on different stages of development all at the same time. Instead of just working on a whole piece and trying to get it up to a high level, then go on to the next piece, you work on all different stages of development within the work. You can even be working on the second and third movements while you’re doing the final polishing on the first movement. I hope this is helpful for you! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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5 thoughts on “Assembly Line Practicing”


  1. Well, I never thought of it this way, but that’s a little bit of how I teach. When a student reaches a particular point in a piece, I introduce a new one or movement, hands alone. Most of the time we they are working on 3-4 pieces at a time. Keeps it interesting for them and moves them forward.

  2. Thank you -Mr Ford has fortunately thought carefully in his time of manufacturing cars! Excellent reference for teaching the piano works to students and yourself.
    We have to see and experience the effort more than we think. Students just want instant results- but looking at it from a assembly line , you will convince them.
    i find practising with memorizing very efficient too. You practise your brain and feel on top of the piece. Question:
    Fingering legato in modern pieces eg, Pure White or Satie Gymnopedie Could you please give advice ?

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