If you want to improve at anything, you MUST work at it.
That is an absolute truth. And I definitely believe that you should work super crazy hard to achieve your dreams. And if one of those dreams is playing the piano, then you cannot avoid practice.
When I was a high school student, I coasted through my music classes freshman and sophomore year, even though I knew I wanted to be great. By the end of 10th grade, I was annoyed that I wasn’t the best in the school yet, but I knew it was my fault alone. I wasn’t practicing enough!
So I decided to change.
I’d say that was the year my WHOLE approach to life changed. I realized I would need to work my ass off at anything I wanted to do. So I did.
I auditioned for everything. Show choir, the high school musical, every solo. In my group piano class, I chose the hardest song out of everyone. I borrowed a guitar and taught myself how to play it. I spent every. waking. minute. becoming a better musician.
It worked. I learned pretty fast and I’m glad I did.
That kind of work ethic dripped into college when I decided to switch my major to Sociology, an academic subject that required much more critical thinking skills than music. It was tough. But I put my talent for obsessive focus to work and I felt proud of every paper I ever turned in and every grade I earned.
But there was a downside to this approach: Burn out. Fatigue. Frustration. The desire to just quit it all and do something else.
And that’s no fun at all. Maybe there’s a different way?
A couple years ago, I decided the obsessive come-home-from-work-and-play-for-2-hours-minimum-no-matter-what-approach was wearing me down. I didn’t have much of a social life because I refused to bend in my routine. It stressed me out when I needed to go to the doctor or get a car wash because it meant I had to change my schedule and possibly practice less.
On top of that, I was beginning to hate music.
Most of my students don’t practice every day. They make enough progress to feel accomplished though. And they like playing even after several years of study. THAT’S an accomplishment.
So I decided to copy their approach: Practice when I can. Don’t feel guilty when I can’t.
I’ll admit their approach used to irritate the hell outta me. But now after a couple years of doing this, I feel so much better about playing.
It’s absolutely true that if you want to progress at a fast rate, you need to practice every day, or at least almost every day. But if your goal is to enjoy playing piano, just play as often as you can/want to.
I’m sure there are some piano teachers reading this shaking their heads. I know it’s not a conventional approach to practice, but here’s the thing: I got into music because I love music. And obsessing about practice was making me hate it. So doesn’t it make sense to change my approach? Wouldn’t it be better if I could continue to love playing piano?
So here’s what I do now: A few nights a week, I sit at my piano and play through a few different songs. I keep about 3-4 going until I feel I’ve exhausted my progress. I also keep books nearby to sight read new songs.
I try to add pieces that are challenging just so I can feel like I’m improving. But the most important thing for me at this point is that I enjoy the experience.
Can you relate? What’s your approach to practicing? How has it changed over time? What would you like to do differently in your practice?
If you’re new to piano or frustrated by a lack of enjoyment, I invite you to sign up to my mailing list. I have a new course coming out in just a few weeks and it’s all about chords. Chords are an excellent way to get started or move ahead in piano playing. After just a few lessons, you’ll feel years better about your playing.
Also – please join me in my private Facebook group. We’re an intimate group of piano lovers and you can ask me anything about music learning. It’s called Go Learn Piano. Join us!
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Have a great week everyone and I hope you find time to GO PLAY PIANO!