by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
If you follow my piano practice blog series, you know my strategy for how you should spend time at the 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 can muster your fully focused effort. Repeat the same practice process with your next goal. Aim for successfully playing through several times in a row.
Stop if you make a mistake. Stop when you lose mental concentration. Remind yourself of your selected goal and reset back to the start.
If you become unable to keep your mind on things after a while or continue making the same mistakes, it may be time for a change. Now you must learn What To Do If You Keep Messing Up At The Piano!
Starting anew without success after multiple attempts means you are either; a) doing something to block your progress or b) you need a break to refresh yourself. If you simply did not 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 choose 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 is tripping you up. Analyzing sometimes reveals a less obvious practice goal you must focus on before moving on to your previously selected goal. In other words, you have 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 are a beginner, you may ask;
If you are more advanced, you must ask questions relative to your level, too.
Troubleshooting As A Target
These are simply examples of questions. Look at your music specifically to break things down, one issue or item at a time, deducing where, within the music, you are one-hundred percent confident you mastered each aspect of your analysis.
When you find a point where you are struggling to focus or answer a question, you have 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.
How you spend your mental energy during your piano practice session determines what you accomplish in piano progress. 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 have gone through this intense effort and you are still having issues? I know how frustrating that may be, but two solutions 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 your initial 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.
Most people think that fast is impressive. Quite the opposite is true. The ability to play fast can be spectacular. But, often piano players of fast musical passages easily find themselves falsely relying on physical muscle memory. As mentioned earlier, this is like a fragile house of cards!
Sometimes you make the mistake of relying solely on your muscle memory to play through musical passages. But that kind of false scaffolding is stripped away when you slow the tempo.
Practicing at a slow tempo forces us to use our cognitive skills and tune in to refine our kinesthetic senses. This intensely focused practice can feel like having the training wheels of a bicycle removed. We start off wobbly and lacking confidence or balance.
When you slow the tempo, you allow yourself enough space in your brain to be fully mindful of each practice goal, whether it is the notes, rhythm, fingering, dynamics, or all these combined. Play slowly enough you can completely master each aspect of the music. Be focused on whichever goals you have chosen to practice. You will gradually come away from piano practice with a deeper internal and physical grasp of the music.
But playing music that is familiar to us at a deliberately slower tempo can also cause us to trip up. Making mistakes is, even more, the basis for the argument to slow your playing tempo. Thoroughly choose and focus on one practice goal at a time until you master each one of your selected goals.
Underwater Slow Motion Effect
One of the biggest problems with slowing down is that you have developed bad habits of playing at a tempo too fast. This tempo sticks in your aural memory as well as your physical muscles. The aforementioned makes for another challenging barrier to get through. Avoid developing additional barriers by practicing slow enough that you can mentally focus.
Look at your music through a new lens. Go to the extreme with your imagination. Pretend you are playing through the musical phrase as if you are in an underwater film scene using a slow-motion effect.
Yes. That slow. Play intentionally and dramatically slower than the slowest tempo you can feel. Exaggerate your slowest tempo.
If you find it 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, first clapping out or tapping the rhythm on your legs. Then, using the metronome, play through the musical selection with this tempo.
Once you can 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
Playing slowly in this manner will reveal problem areas you had not discovered while playing at a faster tempo. Even better, playing slowly will allow you to more deeply and solidly master previously chosen practice goals. This kind of practice brings you much more quickly to the cognitive engagement necessary for lasting piano progress.
Why? Because you are finally going slow enough to allow yourself fully conscious and consistent thinking toward your chosen practice goals. You may have thought you already surpassed this level of practice at your faster tempo. But the majority of the time, practicing at a slow tempo will take you further and, ironically, faster in piano progress.
What To Do If You Keep Messing Up At The Piano
If you cannot keep your mind on things after a while, it may be time for a break. You cannot sustain prolonged and intensely concentrated effort for long. Especially if you just started using this piano practice technique.
When you hit a plateau, lose your ability to pay attention to your set goals, or repeatedly make mistakes, it is perfectly normal and advisable to take a break. Your brain needs 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
After you take 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 already notice a degree of improvement, fluency, muscle recall, or musicality emerging! Incremental progress is a fabulous 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 experience the opposite, cannot play without making errors, or can no longer focus on the practice goal at a slow tempo, you may need to leave the piano for a change of pace, scenery, a meal, drink, or even rest.
CELEBRATE YOUR VICTORY
Celebrate and acknowledge your efforts no matter what! Each day, each hour, each moment that you aim to forge your complete focus on piano practice in the way I described in this series is an incredible accomplishment! You make progress step by step, sometimes without realizing until you look back and see how far you have come in your musical skills!
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If you are a piano teacher, please feel free to leave one of your favorite piano practice tips in the comment section!
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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.