7 Tips for Learning to Play Piano

7 Tips for Learning to Play Piano

Are you learning how to play piano and looking for ways to further improve your progress? Look no further as we give you several suggestions for doing that here. The following tips can benefit all sorts of piano beginners, no matter their ages, and can be observed in any order.

1) Do not over-analyze the process of learning to play

This is a mistake far too many older students make, probably because they have already gone through more years of cerebral study in school than younger pupils. You can over-analyze piano playing by reducing it to the sum of its technical exertions or you can over-analyze it by breaking it down using only your intellect.

Both these approaches are wrong, of course. Music is never an exercise merely in technique. There is feel too, and individual phrasing, and the many little vagaries of personal performance that explain why we call artist’s performances of compositions ‘interpretations’. The mere fact that we talk about interpreting tells you why the mechanical and precise repetition of a particular score is impossible — there is always something about it that will transcend technique.

This is also why you should not try to capture it in terms of logical reasoning. Yes, there are notes, and orders, and patterns. However, art is never merely about the mind. The ear has its own intelligence to which your reasoning should cede and muscle memory itself is not something one can reason into existence.

2) Focus on the sound

How should it sound? Stop obsessing where you fingers should be placed or what a note is named. How it sounds is still the most important consideration when learning to play a song on an instrument.

Remember: the names and notation mean nothing if you cannot produce the right sound. They all only exist to guide you there.

3) Practice a little, but very often

This means that you should strive to have a short practice session every day instead of long ones each week. Shorter sessions are better for avoiding mental fatigue and can still achieve the real purpose of the repetition. It can feel dull to play the same things again and again and may even seem pointless after a while. The truth is, though, that there is a form of learning at work that you cannot track very easily. Your body is learning by itself what the motions of piano playing are, even without your brain directing it to store that information. This is critical when playing an instrument.

The truth is, a lot of the professionals carry out most of their work on autopilot. Yes, there is a part of them that always stays conscious and volitional during their performances. However, this part acts in concert with a dozen other parts that fire their fingers into action even before their brains consciously send the orders for movement.

This sort of muscle memory is important because it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by the many things to be done when playing a score. Particularly when you progress into more complex songs, you might drive yourself mad if you try to break down pieces into individual notes, micro-managing each measure, splitting chords into tasks. This is not the way to approach music.

Practice builds the sort of memory you need to carry out a lot of your play under a form of autopilot. Your eyes see a particular notation — your body gets used to having your fingers do something without you telling it to do it.

4) Patterns are integral—but so is the whole

Pattern-identification is an inescapable part of learning to play music. Most piano teachers will actually drill an awareness of patterns into you as it fosters better playing and musical consciousness. Robin Hall’s Piano for All lessons, for example, treat patterns are core elements throughout the series, using them to demonstrate to students how seemingly advanced songs can be placed quickly within reach using pattern awareness.

Learning how patterns are used to build a composition and understand how they relate to each other is important for your progress. Find out how lines connect to each other and you will get a better feel for the music. In so doing, you will naturally find yourself identifying too the whole that the patterns are weaving. The pattern gives you a ‘logic’ for the song that both ear and brain can grasp; the totality of the song gives you an idea, a soul or emotion to marry to that logic.

5) Do not avoid your weaknesses

This is all too common — and it really does not help you become a better piano player. If you are weak at something, do not avoid it, because that will hardly solve your difficulties. You will very likely encounter that thing again, sooner or later, as you expand your song repertoire. The only way to deal with it is to work through it until it no longer becomes a stumbling block. Play through it again and again until you get it right and cease feeling anxious whenever you approach it.

Avoiding a weakness is really just nurturing a phobia. You are creating your own kryptonite if you do this, so face it down instead of giving in. And remember: mistakes are part of the learning process, so do not feel as though you should give up immediately just because you make several.

6) Practice your hands separately

This helps a lot with concerted (two-handed) play. Most professionals actually continue doing it well into their careers, so never feel as though it’s only for beginners. It can also be a good way to help one hand catch up with the other if one happens to be more naturally mobile than the other.

7) Do not beat yourself up over looking at your hands

A lot of teachers will tell you that the way to become a great pianist is to avoid looking at your hands. That is true to some extent, but it is really a challenge you can take on much later. Doing it too early will only hamper your growth early on, so do not be afraid to look at your hands if it helps you with your finger positions for now.


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