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!
I would 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 or if you have questions or suggestions!
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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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 be difficult. Though I see his point that no one will get much momentum from simply playing piano for pure enjoyment during every piano practice session, practicing piano does not need to be unenjoyable.
I know from experience that practicing piano can actually be fun, flow smoothly, and feel immensely gratifying as you make incremental musical progress.
You do not have to feel like piano practice should be difficult for you to make progress!
It is 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.
You achieve these positive experiences when you approach your piano practice with clear goals and make a focused mental effort toward those goals. Reaching each of your musical 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 directly impacts your progress in piano practice.
Keeping the fun in piano practice depends on the goals set by you and your piano teacher and how you challenge yourself to achieve them. The specific step-by-step routes to reach each goal are where the variety of piano practice comes into play (Hee! Catch my musical pun?). 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, that’s where some may interpret the difficulty of effective practicing lies.
Concentrating on learning something new or challenging takes effort. But our attitude toward making that effort is where the power of fun versus drudgery makes all the difference.
If you only play music that is 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. If you consistently challenge the musical goals that force you to concentrate, think, and repeatedly practice, you will be surprised by your progress. Your reward repertoire at the end of each piano practice session will quickly expand.
Being able to play through a variety of musical works successfully is itself an incredible joy and accomplishment. But, to keep progressing, you must balance the rewards of playing something easy for you with your effort to challenge the next musical goal. That discipline is something that you will forge naturally 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 ebook, "Start Piano: What You Need For Successful Learning!"
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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
🎹 I have exciting news for piano learners or those interested in playing the piano! Check out my ebook, Start Piano: What You Need For Successful Learning.
I am excited my ebook is now available for purchase directly from my website! This is the perfect gift for anyone interested in piano playing!
I created this valuable resource for those who:
My ebook is 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.
Want to know if this is the right book for you, your family, or a musical friend?
Here is an excerpt from the introduction of my ebook,
“Throughout my 30-year music and piano teaching career, I have been asked the same questions repeatedly by those interested in playing the piano. Beginner to intermediate piano students asked me these same questions again and again.
Even advanced players, lacking a foundation of good practice habits, and frustrated with how to pierce through a plateau or further progress in piano, exhibited a need to learn piano practice basics. Many of these piano learners did not lack piano skills. They were stumped by repeated mistakes or by their inability to breakthrough musical barriers. They simply did not know how to practice piano effectively for consistent progress.
In my experience with private lessons, small groups, and in-classroom school music classes, all my students and their parents or guardians had the same need for answers to these questions about successful piano learning. I combined their biggest concerns and most recurring inquiries in Start Piano: What You Need For Successful Learning ebook.
As a pianist and composer of piano-based music, I know well the rich benefits and joy of piano playing. The issues piano learners face and their desire to get started, return to, or keep pressing on to reap the rewards of piano progress, motivates me to provide this content. I offer help for piano learners to keep breaking through to new levels of piano performance.
Though I wrote blogs on these topics, many have expressed continued interest in starting piano or more successful piano practice results. My ebook (as well as my upcoming ebook, My Best Tips On How To Practice Piano Effectively) provides answers to these persistent questions in an organized, convenient way. I hope my books are helpful to those seeking successful, consistent momentum for piano progress.
You get all the basics you need about successfully starting piano lessons. You will learn how to find a quality instrument, piano method, whether you need and how to find a good piano teacher, whether online tools for piano learning are valuable, what you need for a successful start to piano-learning, and how to maintain continued piano progress.
I hope this ebook provides the answers you seek and helps you successfully begin or continue your musical journey with enjoyable, confident, forward-moving piano advancement.”
My new ebook is the perfect gift:
WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT MY EBOOK:
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"A great book that will inspire many people to take up piano lessons. It inspires me to continue playing and composing. Many people [will want] to start piano studies after reading [this] ebook. Looking forward to [the author's] next ebook."
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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.