How to Play At Your Piano Lessons

Piano Lessons / Uncategorized / How to Play At Your Piano Lessons

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The topic for today is about how to play at your piano lessons. You prepare all week and you’re ready for your lesson, but when the moment comes to play for your teacher, everything goes wrong! Why does that happen? Is there anything you can do about that? Yes! I’m going to give you some tips today to help you play for your teacher.

Preparation is key.

First I’m going to talk about the basics of how to play for your teacher. This applies to any performance, even just playing for friends. You practice and practice and everything is going fine. You can play your piece over and over again, no problem. But as soon as you play for somebody, everything goes wrong. What’s going on? There are a number of things you can do. You want to be prepared so that you can play the piece through without stopping. You want to be able to do it successfully a number of times.

It’s important to realize that performing is nothing like playing by yourself.

When you’re playing at home for yourself, there’s no self-awareness. You’re just thinking about the music, which is exactly as it should be! But when you’re playing for other people, suddenly you’re thinking about yourself. That self awareness distracts you from the music. You always want to stay focused on the music. How can you do this? Number one, realize that when you’re playing for your teacher, or playing for anyone, you naturally get a little bit excited. Your adrenaline is pumping, you’re going to be breathing faster, your heart’s going to be beating a little bit faster, even if it’s only slightly. Everything is elevated. So you have to combat this with relaxation. Take a deep breath before you start playing.

Take a moment to establish a tempo in your head.

Think of the tempo you’re going to play, not only the beginning of the piece, but think through a couple of other places in the piece. Think about the hardest part. Establish a speed not just for the beginning, but think through a couple of key sections. When you go to a concert, the performer gets to the piano and then they stop, they adjust how they sit, they put their hands on the keys and they take a few moments before starting to play. They’re doing all the things I’m telling you. They’re thinking through the music! They’re not going to start without thinking about it because they may take the wrong tempo. Once you start at the wrong tempo, you are sunk. You’re stuck with that tempo. You can’t just slow down in the middle of a performance. Take your time establishing a speed. And because your body is heightened, take it a notch slower then you just established and you might be spot on your usual tempo.

What I want to talk about today is how to approach playing at a lesson.

Let’s say you have a piece you’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s a long piece and it’s taking you a while to learn it. You have the beginning section in great shape, you can play it up to speed and everything is in good shape. But then the next section, you sort of have it, but if you take it up to speed, you’re going to have problems. Then you get to the later section that you just learned in the last couple of days, and you have to take it much slower. So what tempo do you take? Should you take the whole thing really slowly from the beginning so you can accommodate the part you just learned? Or should you take it at the speed you are comfortable with on the second section so at least you can get through the first two sections at the same speed?

I’ll tell you what I do with my students.

If I know they have been working on a piece, I tell them right out of the gate not to just start from the beginning and gradually slow down. That would not be in anybody’s best interest. But if they have a chunk of the music up to tempo, I’ll have them play that part up to tempo. Then when they have to slow down in another section, they let me know. When they get to the part they just learned, they may have to take a much slower tempo. By playing for your teacher that way, they can understand the level you have the different sections of the piece on, then they can help you appropriately. Maybe the first section you’re playing up to speed, but there are problems with how you are approaching it that wouldn’t be revealed if you played it under tempo. Ask your teacher if that is what they want you to do, or if they want you to take everything at that much slower tempo so that you don’t have to change speeds along the way. Naturally, in performance, you never want to change tempo! But for the sake of the lesson, for your teacher to understand the work you’ve done, and the level you have different sections of a piece, I think it’s a great way to approach your performance at a lesson.

I’m interested in your opinion! What does your teacher have you do at lessons?

Does your teacher have you play the entire piece at a consistent tempo, or do they have you play each section at the tempo you have mastered? You can let me know in the comments here at or on YouTube. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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4 thoughts on “How to Play At Your Piano Lessons”


  1. It’s the same when you try to record a piece you can play just fine on your own. As soon as you start recording you are on edge because you know that just one wrong note will ruin the recording and you have to start all over again so of course you start messing up because you are not concentrating on the music! As soon as you start recording try hard to forget you are recording and try to play the piece as if you are playing just for yourself!

    1. At least with recording, you can always do, “take two!” But the psychology is at play. That’s why I had investigated a recording system that records 24/7. That would be the ideal situation. I looked into security camera/audio systems trying to find high quality solutions.

      One positive is with digital pianos, there is software that records everything you play. After the fact, you can save anything you like!

  2. I occasionally have my students learn a piece backwards: start at the last page, then the penultimate page, and on and on until page one. Or, as in the case of a rondo, perhaps isolate the recurring theme, learn that in each of its iterations, then learn the connecting sections. I’ve found both approaches to be effective.

    1. That can sometimes be a viable way to learn a piece. But learning sequentially helps to understand how a piece unfolds, and how themes and motives develop.

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