by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
I saw an online discussion where a piano teacher shared his view that practicing piano should feel like a struggle or a difficult experience. Though I see his point that no one will get much momentum from simply playing piano for pure enjoyment during every piano practice session, I don’t agree that practicing piano must be unenjoyable.
I know from experience that practicing piano can actually be fun, can flow smoothly, and feel immensely gratifying as incremental musical progress is made.
You don’t have to feel like piano practice has to be difficult in order for you to make progress!
Rather, it's much more reasonable to know that the way you spend your piano practice leads directly (or not) to an enjoyable and fruitful experience. How to practice piano effectively is one of the most misunderstood topics for piano learners. But knowing how to practice makes all the difference in your levels of enjoyment, satisfaction, and piano progress.
These positive experiences are achieved when you approach your piano practice with clear goals and make a focused mental effort to achieve those goals. Reaching your goals will become an enormous boost to your positive feeling, self esteem, and love for music learning.
Of course, making concentrated effort itself can be a constant struggle to develop and maintain. But doing so provides the greatest progress in piano practice.
Keeping the fun in piano practice depends on the goals you and your piano teacher set, and how you challenge yourself to achieve them. The specific routes to achieve each goal is where the variety of piano practice comes into play (ha ha!). What I mean by that is there are plenty of ways to create an attitude of fun toward each piano practice goal.
You may incorporate a friendly piano competition, aiming for setting a record, making up various games, using piano or music apps for supplemental aid, and piano duets, group or masterclasses and public performance target dates.
If you’re a beginner piano player, your piano teacher should be able to break your goals down into manageable chunks for daily piano practice. As you learn to stay focused on this kind of goal-directed piano practice, you’ll eventually be able to determine your own piano practice goals.
Typically, goal-setting in piano practice hones straight in on whatever part or aspect of the music is unknown or problematic for the piano student. Troubleshooting is one of the most effective ways to attack piano progress. And of course, that’s where some may interpret the difficulty lies.
Concentrating on learning something new or challenging takes effort. But our attitude toward making the effort is where the power of fun versus drudgery makes all the difference.
If you only play things that are simple, easy and fun for you, your piano progress will stagnate. But you don’t have to be a martyr, either! Choose your most challenging goals to face at the start of your piano practice session (or immediately after a short warm-up). Give it your all.
At the end of your practice session, reward yourself by playing all the music you enjoy because you’ve already mastered it. You’ll be surprised that over time, if you consistently challenge the musical goals that force you to concentrate, think, and repeatedly practice, your reward repertoire at the end of each piano practice session will expand quickly.
Being able to play through a variety of musical works successfully is itself an incredible joy and accomplishment. But you must learn to balance the rewards of playing something that’s easier for you with the effort needed to challenge the next musical goal. That discipline is something that will naturally be forged over time if you choose your goals for each piano practice session and learn how to practice them effectively.
How to practice piano effectively is the main topic of my upcoming ebook, My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Effectively.
If you’re a new or returning piano learner, checkout my new ebook, What You Need To Know, Have & Do To Start Piano Right!
Watch my short videos below that summarize the piano tips from my new ebook:
Tip #1 from the ebook What You Need To Know, Have & Do To Start Piano Right!
Tip #2 from the ebook What You Need To Know, Have & Do To Start Piano Right!
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My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 1
My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 2
My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 3
What Do You Need To Know, Have, Or Do To Begin Piano?
Find A Good Piano Teacher
Your Top 5 Best Tips From A Piano Teacher
What’s The Best Way For A Busy Adult To Learn Piano?
What Keyboard Do I Need For Successful Piano Lessons?
How Learning Piano Benefits Aging Adults
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by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
If you’ve been following my piano practice blog series, you know my strategy for how to spend time at piano for the most effective progress.
If you missed those, check out: My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 1, My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 2 & My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Part 3, where I walk you through my effective piano practice strategy in detail.
Continuing in your piano practice routine, you should practice each goal in this manner (as described in previous blogs above) for as long as you are able to muster full effort. Repeat the same practice process with your next goal, aiming to successfully play through several times in a row.
Stop if you make a mistake, or when you lose mental concentration. Remind yourself of your selected goal and reset back to the start. If you’re unable to keep your mind on things after awhile, or continue making the same mistakes, it may be time for a change. This brings us to decide What To Do If You Keep Messing Up At The Piano!
Starting anew without success after multiple attempts means you’re either doing something to block your progress, or you simply need a break to refresh yourself. If you simply didn’t achieve your goal, in addition to stopping and returning to the beginning, you must change your approach.
Take A Closer Look At The Problem
When I’ve chosen a specific practice goal, but continue having problems getting through the music successfully, I take a step back. By that I mean to take a closer look at the problem section. Analyze the trouble spot, looking for clues about what’s tripping you up. This often reveals a less obvious practice goal that you must focus on first, before moving on to your previously selected goal. In other words, you’ve taken on too much at once. Bite off only what you can chew, one morsel at a time.
How do you find the trouble to know what to practice? Ask yourself questions relevant to your music and piano playing level. If you’re a beginner, you may ask;
If you’re more advanced, you must ask questions relative to your level, too.
Troubleshooting As A Target
These are simply examples of questions. You must look at your music specifically to break things down, one issue or item at a time, deducing where, within the music, you are completely confident you’ve mastered each aspect of your analysis. When you find a point where you are struggling to focus or answer a question, you’ve found a trouble spot!
An effective piano practice routine constantly involves this kind of reflection, and then zeroing in to practice only that section or areas that cause any issues. The way to accomplish more at your piano is determined by how much mental energy you’ve spent during your time at the piano. When you push yourself to be more conscientious of each moment and every phrase of your musical assignments, you will reap huge rewards with advancement as a musician.
But what if you’ve gone through this intense effort and you’re still having issues? I know how frustrating that may be, but there are two solutions that usually resolve any trouble areas.
Play It Slower, Sam
Most commonly, the solution to the problem is a slower tempo. Your next best step would be to stay focused on the originally selected goal, but play through your musical section at a much reduced speed. Playing music at a slower than usual tempo is often the most challenging kind of practice. Quite the opposite of most people’s impression that fast is impressive. (Though it can be, often piano players of fast passages easily find themselves relying on physical muscle memory, which, as mentioned earlier, is like a fragile house of cards!)
Sometimes we’ve made the mistake of relying solely on our muscle memory to play through musical passages. When the tempo is slowed down, that kind of false scaffolding is stripped away, leaving us to use our cognitive skills and tune in to refine our kinesthetic senses. This can feel like having the training wheels of a bicycle removed. We start off wobbly and lacking confidence or balance.
But when you slow the tempo, you allow yourself enough space in your brain to be fully mindful of each practice goal, whether it’s the notes, rhythm, fingering, dynamics or all these combined. If you’re able to play slowly enough to completely master each aspect of the music (whichever goals you’ve chosen to practice), you will gradually come away from piano practice with a deeper grasp of the music, both internally and physically.
But playing music that is familiar to us at a deliberately slower tempo can also cause us to trip up. This is even more basis for the argument to slow your playing enough to thoroughly choose and focus on one practice goal at a time until it is mastered.
Underwater Slow Motion Effect
One of the biggest problems with slowing down is that we’ve developed bad habits of playing at a tempo too fast. This tempo is stuck in our aural memory as well as our physical muscles. This makes for a tougher barrier to get through.
What I suggest is to look at your music through a new lens. Go to the extreme with your imagination. Pretend you’re playing through the musical phrase as if you are in an underwater film scene using a slow motion effect. Yes. That slow. Be intentionally and dramatically slower than the slowest tempo you can feel.
If it’s hard to keep the beat at that new tempo, set the metronome at the most ridiculously slowest tempo you can feel. Play the music along with the metronome. If necessary, count aloud before you play, clapping out or tapping the rhythm on your legs first. Then play through with this tempo using the metronome.
Once you’re able to sense the steady beat of this willfully chosen slow speed, go back through the passage following your effective piano practice routine. Stop if you make a mistake or lose mental concentration. Aim again to play at this slow tempo correctly three times in a row.
Discovering Your Musical Weaknesses
Typically, playing slowly in this manner will reveal problem areas you hadn’t discovered while playing at the faster tempo. Even better, playing slowly will allow you to more deeply and clearly master previously chosen practice goals. This kind of practice brings you much more quickly to the kind of cognitive engagement necessary for lasting piano progress.
Why? Because you’re finally going slow enough to allow yourself to fully think consciously and consistently toward your chosen practice goals. You may have thought you’d already surpassed this level of practice at your faster tempo. But the majority of the time, slower practice will take you further and, ironically, faster in piano progress.
What Should You Do If You Keep Messing Up At The Piano?
If you’re unable to keep your mind on things after awhile, it may be time for a break. This kind of prolonged, intensely concentrated effort cannot be sustained for long. Especially if you’ve just begun using this piano practice technique.
It’s perfectly normal and advisable to take a break when you’ve hit a plateau, lost your ability to pay attention to your set goals, or make mistakes repeatedly. Our brains need a moment to refresh.
You could choose to play through something without concentrating, just for the enjoyment of it. Choose something at a much easier sight-reading level, a previously mastered piece, or improvise for the sheer fun of it.
Play It Again, Sam
Once you’ve taken a short break, try again with renewed determination. You may find a burst of energy that helps you continue your intentional, slow tempo practice. You may notice already, a degree of improvement, fluency, muscle recall, or musicality emerging. This is a wonderful experience, bringing a joyful sense of accomplishment and newfound confidence as a piano player.
Enjoy that! It will keep happening again and again, each time you challenge yourself to give your all mentally to your piano practice sessions.
If you’re experiencing the opposite, unable to play without mistakes, or just can no longer focus at the practice goal with a slow tempo, you may need to leave the piano completely for a change of pace, scenery, a meal, drink, or even rest.
Celebrate and acknowledge your efforts no matter what! Each day, each hour, each moment that you’re forging your complete focus on piano practice in the way I’ve described in this series is an incredible accomplishment. You’re making progress step by step, sometimes without realizing it until you look back and see how far you’ve come in your musical skills!
I’d love to hear from you. It means a lot to me that my content is helpful. Please take a moment to join the conversation below to let me know if this blog is helpful to you, or if you have questions or suggestions!
If you’re a piano teacher, feel free to leave one of your favorite piano practice tips in the comment section!
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What You Need To Know, Have & Do To Start Piano Right! Ebook
A practical, down-to-earth, all-in-one resource and easy-to-read guide for anyone interested in getting started or returning to piano lessons.
As my gift to you, with every purchase of my ebook, you'll automatically receive a FREE download of my original photo with a self-care affirmation.
Get Everything You Need To Start Piano With My Ebook, "What You Need To Know, Have & Do To Start Piano Right!" A practical, down-to-earth, all-in-one resource and easy-to-read guide for anyone interested in getting started or returning to piano lessons. Topics include what kind of keyboard is necessary, how to find a quality instrument and piano method, whether you need and how to find a good piano teacher, whether online tools for piano learning are valuable, what’s needed for a successful start to piano learning, and how to maintain continued piano progress. This ebook provides answers to those seeking a successful start or greater momentum for piano progress.
As my gift to you, with every purchase of my ebook, you'll automatically receive a FREE download of my original photo with an affirmation. The affirmation poster is completely free to download, print, use as a desktop wallpaper or screensaver for your computer.
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In my PIANO blogs, you'll find ways to overcome boredom, get past musical and mental blocks, explore the creative process with piano, and improve musical progress through piano teacher recommended best practices and effective piano practice tips.