Common Piano Beginner Problems 4

Today I answer a new question from a PianoBlog reader: “What was your early piano experience like, and what are some common mistakes made by beginning piano students?”

My early experience was nothing too out of the ordinary, by the way. I had a neighborhood piano teacher (who was very sweet) but my training in quiet small town Delaware was anything but formal. I think that having to figure out a lot of technique on my own gave me a definite leg-up in teaching later in life however.

As for common mistakes, I really boil it down to one big one I’ve seen over and over.

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4 thoughts on “Common Piano Beginner Problems

  • Alexander Siloti

    I decided to learn to play the piano when I was 25 years old. I had some success. I did once give a recital where the last piece I played was Chopin’s Nocturne in c minor op. 48, no 1. It was way over my abilities and I almost lost it in the finally where I was hitting half the notes wrong. I also played the Saint Seans – Siloti “the Swan” which I found relatively easy to play.
    Now the interesting part. I realized early on that I could not sight read music at all. I had tried to sight read the most simple childs beginning piece with the metronome set to a very slow rate and after struggling for 15 to 30 seconds to play it unsuccessfully, my brain just fried in exhaustion. How did I learn these pieces without sight reading? I would pick the notes and play them at whatever slow pace was required to play the notes and after repeating this many times, I was able to play the piece strictly from muscle memory. The problem was if I got lost, I was lost, I had no idea what the notes were. The one good thing I had in my favor as my mother identified when I told her how easy “The Swan” was, she said that was because I had good finger independence.
    Just you might find this interesting.
    Alex Siloti

    • Matt Post author

      Hi Alex – thanks for your comment. As far as sight reading, the main thing I’ve seen time and time again with students who have trouble sight reading is they aren’t focused enough on the process of thinking ahead, even if this means pausing. So for instance, if you are putting the metronome on like you say — even if it’s quite slow — you are more focused on keeping going instead of learning the mental process of sight reading.

      The mental process of sight reading is that you are looking slightly ahead, and hearing the music in your head and feeling it in your fingers so that you have a *very clear* picture of what you’re about to play before playing it. This means quite a lot of self control because you’re not going to want to pause and think ahead. Contrast this with what most people do — play and then stop *after* playing a wrong note…there is no visualizing ahead, only reacting to the error…so you are teaching your mind the wrong mental process (basically, take a stab in the dark, screw up and try again).

      What you can do is say – OK I’m going to sight read this line of very simple music, and I’m absolutely not going to play a note until I’m 100-percent sure like my life depends on it that I know what I’m about to play. This will teach your mind to think and visualize ahead.

      Does that make any sense? I hope you find it helpful!