Piano Practice Myths

#1 - I'm going to see progress every day, during every practice.

Nope. Sorry. It's just not true!

Some days you'll feel as though you've actually gone backwards. (You haven't, by the way.) The way you view your practice sessions has to do with time of day, emotions, blood sugar, what you were doing before practicing, what color shirt you're wearing... :-) OK. You get my point.

Feelings are not an accurate indicator of practice success. Your internal gauge of progress is faulty.

Progress happens in fits and starts. You'll be working on a difficult passage, and for days it seems you're banging your head against a brick wall. Then, one day, you put your hands on the keyboard and - magic!

The other tip to remember is that others - your piano teacher or your family - are much better at tracking your progress. They can remember a month ago when you couldn't play the first measure of that song, much less the first page. You'll forget - but they'll remember.

Keep practicing piano. When you see your progress and when you don't. Trust that it's there!

#2 - Two and a half hours of practice on Saturday is just as good as 30 minutes per day Monday through Friday.

This is a biggie - probably the most difficult one for my students to accept.

Think for a moment about how you get really good at something. Like talking. Or walking. Or tying your shoes. Do you get better at it through sheer effort and force of will? Marathon sessions of shoe-tying? Of course not.

The way we learn piano best and most naturally is repetition over time. The fastest way to get better at something is to do it for short periods of time every day. So that it becomes so familiar that you barely have to think about it. This is the goal of your daily piano practice sessions.

Sure - we all want to play well. But the real goal is mastery. Mastery is the point at which an action becomes as close to automatic as human beings can get.

Repeat this mantra:

The fastest path to mastery of the piano
is to play a little every day.

#3 - If some is good, more is always better.

It's true that the further you advance in your musical journey, the more practice you'll require. If you decide to become a professional musician and major in performance, you can expect to need 3-5 hours of daily practice, or more. However, this kind of practice requires endurance and stamina - and is built over time.

This natural building process is quite different from the student who forces herself to add more and more practice time to "get better faster." Soon, frustration and desperation accompany every practice session. Trying harder and harder, she finds herself less and less satisfied with her playing and herself. Burned out, piano becomes more like torture than self expression. Feeling like a failure, she quits. And feels guilty every time she walks by the piano.

I've seen it happen. Don't let it happen to you!

If you really want to practice more, split your time into more frequent, shorter pieces. Practice for twenty minutes, once in the morning and once in the evening, instead of 40 minutes all at once. You can only process so much at one time. You can only focus deeply for so long.

More importantly, trust your teacher's guidelines for practice. If she says you work and progress well on 20 minutes per day - don't force more to try and force more progress. Let your playing naturally grow and expand.

Allow yourself to be a beginner. Or an intermediate. Or whatever level you are. Enjoy your playing and let your practice grow naturally.

#4 - My piano lesson is where the magic happens.

Piano teachers aren't magicians. Although sometimes we'd like to be! ;-)

Parents and students often have expectations that run something like this: "Well, she's supposed to be a great teacher. So my child (or I) should be really learning every week." Sounds logical, right?

Here's the reality. Learning doesn't happen in a half-hour or hour long piano lesson. Learning happens as a function of time and repetition - remember Myth #2?

Sharing of information and teaching happen during a lesson.
Coaching and correction happen during a lesson.
Encouragement and inspiration happen during a lesson.

Learning - and the magic - happen in the practice room, at home.

Learning is a discovery process where you - the student - process the knowledge that was passed on (lesson time) and absorb it. Learning is when you take that knowledge and make it your own. Really understand and apply it.

So, your teacher isn't the source of the magic. You are.

Isn't that great news?

#5 - The goal is perfection.

Competitions. Adjudications. Tests. Comparing yourself to other musicians. Modern society is positively obsessed with rankings... and with being number one. The musical world is no exception.

Many adult students are so judgmental of their own playing that they won't even play piano while their spouses are at home. This is so very sad!

Excellence is certainly a worthy goal, and of course you want to get better at playing piano. But perfectionism - the need to be the best - can rob you of the joy and satisfaction of expressing yourself at the keyboard. Self expression isn't just for the elite few who manage to make a living as performers.

Perfectionism is also a very quick route to performance anxiety - also known as stage fright. Don't choose this for yourself!

This is one of those piano practice myths that I wish I could instantly erase from every student's mind.

Let go of the habit of self-judgment. Enjoy your playing now! Playing music is for everyone, not just for the professionals.

Perfection is a myth.