“I quit piano because I couldn’t make any progress.” This is an all-too-familiar phrase from disappointed beginning pianists who finally succumb to frustration after months of practice. Here you will find the most common 10 mistakes aspiring beginners make on the piano. Read on to discover easy solutions to stop stagnation.
Mistake 1: Being Too Ambitious on the Piano
Learning a new instrument is an exciting venture! Beginning pianists are often anxious to perform their favorite tunes immediately. The main reason is that some of these tunes seem too complicated and have complex structures. When beginners can’t reach their goals quickly enough, they become disheartened. And then they wonder if they will ever become proficient enough to enjoy playing their favorite songs. Here’s the good news – it’s possible! All it takes is a bit of patience and learning to temper excessive, unrealistic ambition.
It’s always beneficial to set high objectives and work towards them. But it’s also important to choose goals that are realistic for your current level. It also takes time to achieve success. Don’t expect to master a difficult piece in a few weeks or even a few months. Choose pieces that are appropriately challenging and work towards adding more difficult material. Always allow enough time to conquer each new challenge.
Mistake 2: Repetition That Fosters Frustration
It’s quite true that repetition is the quickest, most effective method of aiding the brain in mastering a new concept. Yet, the wrong kind of repetition is detrimental to the musical learning process. How do you know if you are implementing the incorrect type of repetition into your brain?
Watch for these red flags:
- Repeated, small mistakes in the same section
- Continually practicing unsteadily at tempo
- Repeated inconsistency with implementing and reinforcing corrections
- Noticing only little improvement over a long period of time
Use the 5x Method
Instead of practicing incorrectly by “fixing” issues in a hurry and moving on, use the 5x Method. Select 1-2 measures of music you are struggling with and determine which hand is the more significant one in the section. Once you decide whether your right hand, left hand, or combined coordination needs attention, play only the selected measures five times in a row. Do it slowly and perfectly by pressing every key on your piano with great attention. If you make a mistake on any of your attempts (even on the 5th try), be sure not to move on.
And begin again until you have successfully practiced your selected section 5 times in a row, at a steady tempo, with no errors.
Next, you can decide whether to increase your tempo (if you have not yet reached the piece’s given tempo). Or you put the selected measures into context with the rest of the piece and work on these transitions in and out of the difficult section.
Amateur piano players often balk at this method as it (understandably) can become tedious. But perseverance produces encouraging results – often times within just a few days. Rushing through repetitive exercises trains your brain to make the same mistakes and ultimately contributes to frustrating setbacks.
Mistake 3: Too Fast, Too Soon
Slow practice. Slow practice. Slow practice. This method of practicing can’t be emphasized enough. Especially on the piano.
Repeating a section without guidance and accountability from a metronome is a surefire way for beginners to end up frustrated when they don’t hear progress. They often rush difficult sections, repeating them over and over in hopes the passage will somehow correct itself.
Slow practice with a metronome may seem tiresome and laborious at first, but it is the fastest, most efficient way to make significant progress in a surprisingly short amount of time. Additionally, your sense of rhythm and steadiness will vastly improve.
Mistake 4: Consistency Isn’t a Priority
Let’s face it – life is busy. Schedules are packed and to-do lists are endless, and it never seems there’s quite enough hours in the day. Unfortunately, adhering to a consistent practicing routine is the first to get the boot for piano players when life gets busy. Often, these pianists will think that they’ll just cram in an extra-long practice session a couple days a week (or sometimes the day before their lesson) just because they don’t take their time for daily practice.
Although seasoned musicians fall into this all-too-common trap as well, inconsistent practicing especially hinders beginners. This especially refers to creating the solid foundation they need. It’s about consistently reinforcing concepts and training the brain to begin understanding a completely new language. Intentionally striving to carve out practice time each day – even if it’s just for thirty minutes – is the most effective. It’s a lot better than “making up” with a couple longer sessions while skimping on a habitual daily practice session. Try motivating yourself and tracking your daily progress by picking up a practice journal.
Mistake 5: Performing Instead of Practicing
This mistake is perhaps the most detrimental for pianists seeking rapid improvement. All too often, beginners play through the entire piece, stopping and starting throughout, and glossing over difficult passages. Practicing in this way only reinforces bad habits and heightens the likelihood that material will eventually become mis-learned and incorrectly memorized.
After practicing this way, many novice pianists eventually give up, irritated that they cannot seem to play the entirety of the piece without a plethora of mistakes. The remedy for this frustration is simple – practice, don’t perform. Of course, there will be times when it is important to play through your piece from start to finish. However, for most of your practice session, it is exceedingly more helpful to adhere to this loose formula:
- Break down a piece section-by-section
- Figure out which sections of the piece are the same and different – this is referred to as analyzing the form.
- Look for passages that seem more difficult and isolate these measures to practice separately
- Examine any accidentals
- Study dynamics and dedicate time to implementing artistry
- Designate a section at a time to practice, even if it’s the only portion of the piece you tackle that day. Don’t gloss over mistakes – break them down and figure out what’s amiss
- Dedicate a specific time set aside for performing the piece from start to finish once you feel confident
Mistake 6: Not Actively Listening
Have you ever been riding in a car or shopping in a store and suddenly realized music was playing that you had hardly been noticing? This is an example of passive listening. It’s not that you aren’t physically hearing the music – you’re just not participating in active listening. These same concepts apply to practice sessions.
Very often, beginning pianists become so used to their passive practice routines, that they forget to closely listen to how their touch and technique affect their tone, expression, articulation, and emotion of the music. Their pieces often grow bland and stale, frequently lacking life and feeling.
How should you avoid this pitfall of passivity?
Record Yourself Playing
What sounded good? What needed improvement? Did your recording sound different from what you thought you played? How did your performance compare to the original artist’s interpretation? After you’ve asked yourself these questions, record yourself again with your new perspective. Then compare the recordings – did the new recording sound different? If so, what did you change to accomplish this sound? Make frequent recordings a part of your daily practice and utilize them to improve your active listening skills.
Ask Yourself “Why Am I Playing This Way?”
Every note of a piece means something. If you are playing forte, why is that? If you are using rubato, what is making you do so? Be intentional and thoughtful with your reasoning, not just because the composer has written instructions into the score.
Don’t Go on Piano-Autopilot
It’s surprisingly easy to let your mind wander during a piece. Resist the urge to daydream and focus on the emotion you want to convey to your audience and how you can communicate that through your playing.
Mistake 7: Imbalance
When creating a practice routine, novice pianists tend to gravitate towards spending too much time on pieces they enjoy playing. While this is completely natural, it can prevent progress from being made when they ignore portions of their routine that demand attention. Of course, technique probably isn’t as enjoyable as performing that funky pop tune. However, your progress will certainly stagnate if you create imbalance by dedicating too much time to your strengths.
The solution? Make a checklist before a practice session. Be honest with yourself about what you really need to work on, what you want to play for fun, and how much time you should be spending on each portion of your practice routine. Try to tackle the most difficult tasks on your list first. Often we are most energized at the beginning of our practice time and we feel motivated to complete our session by rewarding ourselves with playing a favorite tune at the end.
Mistake 8: Not Connecting the Dots
Whether it’s technique drills or performing pieces: Beginners sometimes forget that every aspect of their piano practice session is interconnected. Spending time on scales, theory, or ear-training exercises sometimes seems like a wasteful distraction when they want to perform. But they are failing to understand the bigger picture of how every aspect of practice is an essential piece of the overall puzzle in becoming an adept pianist.
- Practicing technique exercises foster the development of greater dexterity and coordination.
- Incorporating music theory into practice routines improves the ability to quickly analyze and understand a new piece.
- Spending time on ear-training is a valuable tool when composing original music.
If beginning pianists connect all these dots, they will understand that even the most mundane aspects of practicing will still all contribute to their ultimate goal – making beautiful music. And in the end beginners will reach their goals a lot faster.
Mistake 9: Allowing Practice Routines to Become Stale
We previously talked about how a lack of consistency can be a major issue when beginning piano. But how do we prevent our daily practice from morphing into a monotonous mood-killer?
After all, rehearsing the same concepts day after day can leave pianists of all experience levels feeling so trapped and bored that they’re tempted to skip sessions until they’ve hardly practiced at all. But you have the power to create change in your routine! A little creativity is all you need to keep you on your toes during practice time. Search for new exercises, for instance check out these 3 warm up excercises!
Did you practice scales yesterday? Try arpeggios today and play them along to the chord changes of your favorite tune. Stuck on the same section of a song? Don’t try the same approach you tried yesterday. It’s completely within your ability to keep your practice routine fresh, so don’t give up!
Mistake 10: Playing for Perfection
When you first begin to learn piano, you’re not going to play perfectly. Guess what – that’s totally normal and totally okay! In fact, even pianists with years of experience don’t consider their performances perfect. If we performed perfectly all the time, there would be no reason for us to keep growing and learning.
Music isn’t about being perfect – it’s about exploring, discovering, enjoying, and immersing ourselves in a beautiful and fantastic expression of human emotion.
Don’t aim for perfection! Enjoy the journey and strive to be a little better each day. Happy practicing and enjoy playing!