Why Not Playing is Practicing

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about repetition in your piano practice. Repetition is an essential part of piano practice, but did you know that the essential element of repetition is not the repetition itself? It’s the time between the repetitions. All too often, I’ve seen students fall into a trap. If you don’t take the essential time between each repetition, you can fall into an endless loop of missing things over and over again, essentially practicing playing badly. That’s what you want to avoid!

There are myriad ways you can practice.

I would suggest practicing slowly. You can turn the metronome on at a comfortable speed, and do progressively faster metronome speeds. You can work on note groups. You can do rhythms. You can do so many things! But that’s not what I’m showing you today. I’m showing you how to deal specifically with just repeating something until you get it right, which I’m sure all of you do on a regular basis in your practice. But you have to remember that the repetition is not where the value comes in.

The time between the repetitions is the practicing; the playing of the passage is not the practicing.

The playing is only a check of your work. The work happens in your head between each repetition. So if you play, and something isn’t clean, identifying the correction is number one. Find where the correction is. Focus your attention on the correction, and then you can come up with a strategy for cementing it. You want to find a spot to start just before it so you can repeat the correction. Once you get the correction solidified, go back and see if you can put it into context by starting at the beginning of the passage. Each time you play it, take a moment to think about what you just played. If it comes out absolutely perfectly, see if you can repeat it perfectly again. If there’s anything that isn’t quite right, identify the specific correction before you repeat it. This is essential. Each time you play it, stop and think about what you just heard.

Take the time between repetitions to mentally study what you just played.

Find the correction in the score, then implement the correction by starting strategically at the exact right spot before it at the beginning of the phrase. You don’t want to start right on the correction. However, initially, just to know what the correction is, you might play the notes you are having trouble with, but then find where you can start just before it. You have to be able to get into it in the context of the piece. You want to find the closest spot before the correction to start from. You can either land on that note or land right after that note, then cement it and go back. Initially, you may even want to stop just before the correction, then play the correction so you are sure to play it accurately from the get go. With each repetition, you must analyze your work and think about what you want to accomplish. If you fall into mindless repetition, where you are just repeating things without listening to what you did and coming up with a strategy to improve it, you are not practicing at that moment.

Remember, practicing is a thought process!

Playing is not practicing! It’s the analysis of what you’ve played that is going to improve your playing. That’s the lesson for today! If you have any questions, you can ask them in the comments here at LivingPianos.com and YouTube. I hope this has been helpful for you! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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2 thoughts on “Why Not Playing is Practicing”


  1. Very helpful tip .
    I think it gives you a very solid feeling of achievment after correcting a mistake!
    With which Board of practical examinations do you enter your grade piano students for in the USA?

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