The 3 Worst Piano Practice Habits

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Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. Today we’re going to discuss the three worst piano practice habits. These might be things that you do in your piano practice. Maybe you’re scared I’m going to bring something up that you do! Maybe you’re not aware of these destructive habits that are part of your practice routine. But it’s better to find out now than to continue on the wrong path.

1. Hesitating before a tricky passage

Hesitation is a habit that I constantly work with students to eradicate. It’s such a bad habit! You get to a difficult part and you can’t quite get it, so you hesitate just for a moment, then you get it and go on. This is a very bad habit because it ingrains stopping into your playing. The more you do it, the more you will continue to do it. It’s self regenerating. So how do you break that habit? We’re going to get to that, but first I’m just going to list the three habits so you can see how they apply to you.

2. Starting over from the beginning after making a mistake

The second bad habit is, when you make a mistake you get frustrated and you go back to the beginning. I’ve talked about this many times before. This is such a destructive habit. In a performance, if you find yourself having difficulty, what are you going to do? You can’t just go back to the beginning. The audience doesn’t want to listen to all of that again just so you can get past that point.

3. Changing speeds in your performance

Maybe there are some parts of a piece that you can play really well, so you play them at a nice fast tempo. Then you get to the parts that are a little harder and you slow down to accommodate them. Once again, you lose the whole flow of the music. You might think that to play everything slowly is tedious for the audience, so you might as well play fast where you can. But that doesn’t make for a fluid performance.

What can you do in your practice to eradicate these bad habits?

1. Hesitating before a tricky passage: You’re going along and you pause for just a moment, and then you go on. This is incredibly disturbing to the audience. Maybe they are tapping along to the beat and then suddenly it hesitates. It’s off-putting. With something that’s lyrical, anytime there’s a hesitation it just doesn’t feel right. I’m going to tell you what you can do. First of all, make sure you’re choosing the right tempo so you can play through the piece without hesitation. But suppose that just doesn’t cut it. Suppose you’d have to play the piece at half the speed just to avoid a couple of hesitations. That seems like a brutal solution. Indeed there are more effective ways of dealing with hesitations, unless you’re hesitating every bar, in which case you obviously need to choose a much slower tempo. But if it’s just a few key places where you are hesitating, and you can’t quite eradicate it, I have a solution for you.

When you are practicing, get in the habit of stopping whenever there’s a hesitation. Stop immediately and find your place in the score. Find an appropriate place in the score just before that hesitation where you can start to get past the point of hesitation. You might have to start slowly and increase the speed. Maybe even do metronome speeds if you can’t quite get through the hesitation by playing it several times. Then after you’ve played through the trouble section several times in a row perfectly at a comfortable tempo, go back to the beginning of the piece, or the beginning of the section to pass that hesitation.

Interestingly, you may find that even though you can play it many times in a row perfectly starting at the previous phrase before the hesitation, once you go back further, you may still hesitate there. So you may have to go back a little bit further to get it fluid. Then go back to the beginning of the section or the beginning of the movement to finally eradicate that hesitation. You can work all your key hesitations out that way. I sometimes refer to this as the band-aid approach of practicing. It can be very effective, because if you just have three or four places in an entire piece where you’re hesitating, to take the whole piece painfully slowly will feel quite tedious. And it’s not the most productive way to solve the problem. So hopefully this solution works for you!

2. Starting over from the beginning after making a mistake: It’s so tempting when something goes wrong to just start over and try again. Well, the problem with this is if you get in the habit of doing that in your practice, when you get out to perform you’re going to do the same thing. More than that, it doesn’t solve the underlying weakness in your playing. So what you must do is find exactly where you had the problem, and study the score to figure out the solution. Then, much like I described before in avoiding hesitation, start just before the point at which you had the problem, pass that point several times, increase the speed, and use the metronome if necessary. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s a very valuable technique. You may have to go back a little bit further to finally be able to start from the beginning and pass that point without starting over. So the key here is to reference the score and nail down the correction. Be very deliberate with this. Find the specific correction so that you don’t just play on automatic pilot with your tactile memory. You don’t want to rely upon that because obviously, whatever made you miss it that time, will undoubtedly happen again. So you want to really focus on the correction. A lot of people want to know what they did wrong, but that’s of no value. Find the correction! Whatever you focus on is going to be apparent in your playing. If you’re focused on the mistake, you’re going to make the mistake. Focus on the correction and forget the mistake. This is a life lesson too!

3. Changing speeds in your performance: I have a student who’s extremely talented. He likes to play everything really fast and it’s pretty dazzling. He hasn’t been playing very long, and I’m constantly impressed by him. But being able to get through an entire piece or even an entire movement at the speed at which he starts is oftentimes all but impossible. So going faster and slower really isn’t the answer.

Here again, you want to focus on the parts you can’t play up to speed. The answer here is to work with a metronome. Once you get to the part you can’t play up to speed, find a speed you can handle and set your metronome to it. Then start from the beginning and play the whole selection at that speed. If you really want to play a faster tempo, zero in on the parts you can’t play faster and work with progressive metronome speeds and other practicing techniques in order to get them up to speed. Then you will be able to play everything at the tempo you want. But starting off at a tempo faster than you can play the difficult sections won’t work.

So these are three tips for you! You’ve probably noticed there are similarities in the solutions. Focusing in on the correction, going back, speeding things up, working with a metronome, going back a little bit further, then going back to the beginning. These are tremendous practice techniques that come into play in solving these common problems in piano practice. If you can break these bad habits, I promise you, you’re going to take your playing to a higher level! You’ll really have security, and you’ll be able to play through a piece from the beginning to the end at one speed without stopping, without going back, without hesitating, and without changing speeds. I hope this is helpful for you! Thanks again for joining me! I’m Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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