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When you teach piano lessons long enough, you start to see trends. You can’t miss it. There are certain things some adult beginners do, a way they approach the piano, that makes them more successful.
I’m convinced that success at the piano has a lot less to do with intelligence than people believe. In fact, for several reasons, intelligent people have a tendency to develop incorrect habits at the piano. The reason is that 1) they become over-analytical, and try to let analysis handle things that their “ear” ought to, and 2) they try to handle too much information at once, instead of using repetition to make one aspect of playing automatic before moving onto another.
So, success at the piano, to a large extent, is determined by getting the process correct. It has much more to do with developing good habits than it does with intelligence.
Having said that, here are some points to keep in mind:
1) Successful Piano Students are *ear oriented*
Successful students want to know how something sounds. They get as clear a picture as possible of what they are trying to do at the piano in terms of sound, and then work to create that.
Unsuccessful students try to do the reverse. They will analyze what is happening in terms of note names and intervals and try to move their fingers accordingly, without first asking themselves how a certain thing ought to sound.
2) Successful Piano Students automatize
Successful students have a policy of making things as easy as possible. They do this by repeating things until they are automatic. In doing this, they free up mental energy for other playing tasks.
Unsuccessful students try to handle everything at once. For instance, they will try to play a piece of music before they are comfortable naming the notes of the keyboard or reading music. They then wonder why its so hard to think about the notes, the letter names, hand placement, AND read music all at the same time. Often they feel like they are not smart enough, when in reality they simply haven’t taken the time to automatize the basic elements of piano playing.
3) Successful Piano Students look for Patterns and Harmonies
Successful students immediately look for patterns and harmonies. They do a lot of scale practice, and especially tons chord practice, so that they get a sense of the fundamental layout of the keyboard.
Unsuccessful students rush to learn music before understanding building blocks. For them every line of music is a new thing, unrelated to chords or scales they ought to be familiar with. This makes them feel extremely disoriented, and creates an extremely slow learning process.
4) Successful Piano Students Understand Before Playing
Successful students want to understand a section before playing it. They want to be in control of their actions to get a desired response.
Unsuccessful students take action haphazardly and hope for the best.
5) Successful Piano Students understand hierarchy
Successful students understand that piano is learned as a step-by-step process. They build their abilities one step at a time.
Unsuccessful students dive in without worrying about fundamentals. This is fun for a while, but they quickly burn out once improvement slows down.
6) Successful Piano Students learn to focus on problem areas
Successful students develop a knack for identifying problem areas, correcting them, and learning them through repetition. When a successful student encounters a problem, he or she works out a solution and repeats that area calmly and endlessly to make it more automatic.
Unsuccessful students usually start from the beginning of a piece every time and muddle through the areas that give them trouble. Instead of using problem areas as learning opportunities, they associate them with tension and unclear thinking.
7) Successful Piano Students look for the big picture
After practicing a small section, the successful student will go back and put it in context by repeating a larger surrounding section. More importantly, the successful student ties the physical *playing* of a problem area with how that area *sounds*.
Unsuccessful students might go as far as practicing a problem area, but then they won’t tie that in with the larger picture and sound of the piece.
8) Successful Piano Students practice
Successful students practice every day. For them piano is a long term, step- by-step project.
Unsuccessful students practice randomly and in spurts. Because of this they always feel rushed and try to handle too much at once.
If the above outline seems a bit general, don’t worry. The next couple posts will be devoted to more hands-on practical applications of the above that you can use in your own practice!