25 Tips for How to Stay Focused When Practicing the Piano

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Do you start your piano practice sessions with intentional focus but quickly find yourself wondering what you’ll have for dinner?

If so, you’re not alone!

In fact, this blog post was inspired by my own struggles with keeping my mind focused during practice time.

Losing focus during your piano practice sessions can be frustrating! 

It can make you feel as if you’ll never make any progress and that practicing is a waste of time.

But there are easy ways to take back your focus and make any piano practice session epic!

This post has all the details, including 25 quick tips for staying focused during your next practice session. 

Let’s get to it!

This post may contain affiliate links. As affiliates of the Amazon associate program, Modacity, Dr. Josh Wright ProPractice, Musicnotes, Playground Sessions, and Piano Marvel, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information and privacy policy. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. Certain photos are courtesy of Canva. Although I am a nurse practitioner, I am not YOUR medical provider. The information in this post is for informational purposes only. It does NOT replace individualized health information from a qualified medical professional. Please see a qualified medical professional for individualized assistance with your health and wellness.

My Struggles with Effective Practice

I emphasized quantity over quality in the practice room for a long time.

Endless repetitions were a staple of my practice routine.

This was even the case when I studied piano in college.

However, I could never achieve the performance stability I was searching for by mindlessly practicing endless repetitions.

Even after playing specific pieces for months, I still experienced constant memory slips.

It was incredibly frustrating!

But recently, I had an epiphany.

I realized that all the “mindless” repetitions were a waste of time. 

The only way to truly learn something on a deeper, more secure level was to use my brain as much as possible while practicing the piece.

And I know that sounds like a really “duh” statement, but knowing something to be true and applying it in real life are two very separate tasks.

Since then, I have fully embraced being 100% focused during practice.

I’ve taken time to understand why I lose focus and developed simple tricks to achieve more focused sessions at the piano.

If you, too, are ready to uplevel your practice quality, keep reading because I’ve got all the secrets!

Why does the quality of your practice matter?

Woman practicing piano

Quality practice means better results, often in less time.

Staying mentally engaged with the music is the best way to improve the quality of your music practice.

In many cases, 5 minutes of intensely focused deliberate practice is better than an hour of mindlessly plunking away at the keys.

Better focus means you can intentionally work on problem areas by setting a specific goal and working towards achieving it.

Staying focused gives your brain a chance to stabilize all that hard work, resulting in more secure performances and higher overall satisfaction with your progress.

What causes a lack of concentration in the practice room?

The better question might be, “What doesn’t cause a lack of concentration in the practice room?”

As you probably already know, SO MANY factors can interfere with your ability to stay focused during practice sessions!

Lack of Progress

Sometimes, the feeling that you’re not getting better interferes with your ability to improve.

When it comes to playing the piano, it’s incredibly easy to focus on what needs to be fixed.

And it’s easy to lose sight of all the progress you’ve made in the past.

This can make it feel like you’re stalled and will never get better.

Focusing on your goal of playing the piano can be tricky when negative self-talk is constantly running through your head.

Interruptions

As a busy mom of 3 kids and 1 very spoiled Goldendoodle, I have extensive experience with how distracting interruptions can be!

Being a mom is one of the best things of my life, but it doesn’t always jive well with my other goals.

As an introvert and a pianist, I long for those practice sessions where I lose track of an extended period of time.

I love the sessions when I get into “flow” because of how focused and efficient it makes me feel.

But those types of sessions don’t happen with constant interruptions.

As a general rule, your brain wants to coast.

It doesn’t want to work hard.

But quality practice requires focus and effort from your brain. 

And every time you get interrupted, your brain must work even harder to hone back in on a task. 

Several interruptions in one piano practice session can result in a complete lack of focus, making progress impossible.

Anxiety 

Whether it’s about playing in front of a group of people or an upcoming work deadline, anxiety can completely derail any practice session!

Obsessive and intrusive thoughts can make focusing on that Beethoven sonata feel hopeless.

When your brain is focused on fear over the past or the present, your brain can’t retain any new information about what you’re trying to practice.

Considered from a different angle, your brain’s main job is to keep you safe.

And when it comes to a threat, your brain can’t tell the difference between a real or imagined threat.

The same stress hormones flood your system, whether you’re being chased by a lion or imagining your upcoming piano recital.

Thanks to those stress hormones, your brain is placing emphasis on fight or flight rather than remembering the notes of that Beethoven sonata you’ve been working at learning for months.

Thought patterns of excessive worry can completely derail your practice sessions and your life.

If you’re struggling with unrelenting anxiety, it’s always best to consult a qualified health professional.

There are ways to reduce anxiety and negative thought patterns without medication. Still, in certain instances, medication may be the foundation for recovery.

No Practice Plan

Nothing encourages distraction more than not having a plan.

Even if you’re taking piano lessons, you may have only a vague sense of what you need to accomplish but no real plan for how to get there.

Getting off track happens quickly when you have no idea where you’re going. 

It can be so easy to spend considerable time but not feel like you’ve accomplished anything of substance.

Not having a plan is an easy way to put in a lot of work without a lot of pay-off.

Perfectionism

Black and white picture of piano: perfectionism halts progress.

Although striving for perfection can be considered a positive trait, it can also be incredibly distracting.

It can be easy to become way too critical of your playing.

This, in turn, can set up a pattern of negative thinking that makes focusing very difficult.

You can become so focused on the areas that need improvement that you forget all the aspects of playing in which you excel.

After a while, the negative chatter in your head takes over.

Soon, your practice sessions are filled with unhelpful mental feedback from your inner critic, making focusing on learning new techniques impossible.

Brain Fog

It’s a real thing.

Sometimes, it’s caused by physical or mental health issues (more on that in the next section), medications, or even a lack of sleep.

For me, too much TV binging results in less creativity and more brain fog.

Hormone imbalances can also interfere with your ability to think clearly.

A lack of physical exercise, too much sugar, and a consistent lack of challenging mental tasks can all reduce your ability to concentrate.

Brain fog is trickier to work through because it can be caused by many different things or even a combination of factors.

Physical or Mental Health Diagnoses

If you have had a sudden change in your ability to focus, go see your primary care provider. 

Even if the change has not been sudden, but your lack of focus is frustrating or interferes with your life in other ways, it’s always best to rule out a physical or mental health issue by seeing your primary.

Pain-related issues, including arthritis, can impair your ability to stay focused, as can diagnoses of ADD or even depression.

To make matters worse, medications that treat these and other diagnoses can have side effects that impair your ability to stay engaged during practice sessions.

If you’ve exhausted the ideas in the post and are still struggling, schedule a medical appointment with a qualified health professional. 

Even if you haven’t exhausted the ideas in this post but feel that your symptoms impact your daily life, it’s time to see a qualified professional.

A qualified medical professional can help you figure out what’s causing the issue and help you figure out ways to reduce those impacts. 

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    How can you stay focused when practicing the piano?

    Although there are many reasons why you may be losing focus in the practice room, let’s take a look at some solutions so you can become even more epic at the keyboard!

    Shorter Practice Sessions

    Woman practicing piano: Shorter practice sessions mean better focus.

    It sounds weird, but focusing on only one thing at a time takes practice.

    In a world where it’s all too easy to find a distraction, the type of focus where EVERYTHING else is blocked out has become exceedingly rare.

    And practice, in and of itself, requires a great deal of mental effort.

    If you struggle to stick with it to the end of your session, you may need to shorten your practice sessions.

    Taking a short break during your practice session is another way to help your brain refocus during a more extended session.

    Multiple research studies suggest shorter, more frequent practice sessions are the most efficient way to practice.

    And you may find that there are days when you can stay focused for longer periods than others.

    Setting time limits on your practice sessions might be the easiest way to stay focused and build excitement to come back to the keyboard the next day.

    Meditation

    The art of mindfulness involves staying in the moment.

    It means experiencing the moment happening to you RIGHT NOW instead of fixating on things that happened either in the past or worrying about things that could happen in the future.

    Excessive worry and rumination frequently interrupt my practice sessions. I suspect I’m not the only one impacted by negative thought patterns.

    After introspection, I realized that much of my time was spent thinking about a past I couldn’t change or feeling distressed about something that had a vague chance of occurring in the future.

    I realized that it wasn’t a healthy way to live.

    I discovered meditation while searching for ways to stay grounded in the moment instead of letting my brain run down a path of negativity.

    Meditation has helped me cope with roaming thoughts and stay grounded in the present.

    It’s given me the ability to control my thoughts and choose my focus.

    Meditation is also a great place to start if you’re experiencing insomnia because the main goal is to clear your mind of distractions.

    If you’re interested in trying meditation, I highly recommend any podcasts dedicated to the topic.

    I especially love the ones dedicated to sleep, as they’ve given me the ability to naturally drift off and stay asleep after a long day.

    Exercise

    It’s no surprise that regular exercise helps your body. Still, abundant research also supports its effectiveness in mental health. 

    Moving your body is one of the best ways to shake off distractions and gain clarity.

    Exercise releases “feel good” hormones that make the world seem brighter and sunnier.

    Practicing after exercise significantly boosts your concentration, which is otherwise difficult to attain.

    A 30-minute walk around your neighborhood is a great way to naturally relax, reset, and refocus.

    If exercise isn’t already part of your daily routine, I recommend finding a physical activity you love and incorporating it into your schedule.

    Nutrition

    Your diet can significantly impact your ability to stay focused during practice sessions.

    Too much sugar can cause dips in your energy, making it nearly impossible to stick to any mental task.

    But a diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help you stay focused even when practice gets tedious.

    Hunger can also be very distracting, so make sure to time your practice after a snack or protein-focused meal for optimal brain function.

    And while you’re paying attention to your nutrition, remember water.

    Water is crucial to brain and total body health.

    Making a few simple changes to your diet is a straightforward way to become just a little bit more awesome at the keyboard!

    Limit Distractions

    The best, most effective practice sessions involve getting into a flow state.

    This is where you shut out everything around you and simply enjoy being in the moment with the music.

    However, getting into a flow state during a practice session takes time and happens gradually.

    It starts with an effective warm-up, gradually leading you toward deeper, more deliberate practice.

    Although you won’t achieve this flow state with every practice session, limiting distractions is one of the best ways to improve your focus.

    Try to schedule your practice sessions for times of the day when you are less likely to be disturbed.

    And although there are many great practice apps out there, having your cell phone active might be way too distracting.

    If so, try turning it to airplane mode during your next several work sessions.

    It’s also helpful to consider your practice space.

    Is it organized in a way that helps you stay focused on the music?

    Or are you constantly distracted by thoughts about your space’s lack of organization, temperature, or even the paint color?

    Taking time to arrange your space in a way that helps you stay focused is always time well spent.

    Being able to stay in the moment improves your practice efficiency, focus, and it makes the experience so much more rewarding!

    Identify Patterns

    Have you noticed that you feel most energetic in the morning?

    Or maybe you feel more focused around 2 p.m. but crash between 4 and 5 p.m.

    If possible, time your practice sessions for times of the day when you’re feeling most awake and alert.

    Paying attention to when you’re most and least alert can help you make positive changes on a larger scale.

    For example, if you’re crashing every day around 2 p.m., consider what you’re eating for lunch.

    Reducing carbohydrates and increasing protein and fluid intake at your noon meal might help you avoid that mid-afternoon slump.

    If you wake up every morning feeling like you were hit by a truck, it might be time to examine your sleeping patterns.

    Paying attention to how you’re feeling daily and making positive changes can dramatically improve your piano practice and overall quality of life.

    Pay Attention to Your Thoughts

    Whether you’ve been a piano player for 5 or 25 years, negative thought patterns can take over your brain and make practicing feel pointless.

    Negative thoughts about not being good enough can derail even the most well-planned practice session.

    And sometimes, the negativity is on an automatic loop in your brain.

    After a while, you become completely unaware of the negativity permeating your thinking and ultimately holding you back from your full potential.

    But by paying attention to your thoughts, you can recognize what you believe about yourself deep down.

    And recognition is the first step towards transformation.

    Once you understand the roots of the negativity, you can take steps to counteract it and start to feel more optimistic about your playing experiences.

    And who knows? Becoming a more positive thinker can transform your entire life in ways you never imagined!

    Joy

    Most people want to learn to play the piano because music brings them joy.

    Unfortunately, the experience of learning can introduce negativity into the equation, reducing or even eliminating the joy aspect.

    This is especially true for people who have perfectionist tendencies.

    But when it comes to playing a musical instrument, there is no such thing as perfection.

    There will always be something that can be improved upon.

    Sometimes, it can feel as if you’ll never “arrive” at a final destination because the goal keeps moving.

    For me, constant feelings of not being good enough have plagued me throughout my playing career.

    These thoughts make it very difficult to focus on practicing, the very thing that would elevate my playing. 

    Although this continues to be a lifelong struggle for me, the one thing that has helped me is to focus on joy.

    Make time in every practice session to work on something that brings you love.

    Maybe you love pop music, playing by ear, or even singing.

    Incorporate those aspects into your actual practice sessions and watch your playing elevate further than you ever imagined!

    25 Quick Tips for Staying Focused During Piano Practice Sessions

    1. Plan out your practice session in advance. (Tip: This app is the best for keeping you on track!)
    2. Look for new piano practice tips to incorporate into your routine. (Tip: Check out this YouTube page for the best tips on playing classical piano!)
    3. Devote your next practice session to ONLY playing music that you love.
    4. Shorten your practice sessions to naturally improve your focus.
    5. If you don’t usually include a warm-up in your session, try incorporating a simple exercise to help your brain transition from daily life to piano practice.
    6. Meditate before your next practice session.
    7. Keep your phone on airplane mode or entirely out of your practice space if you find yourself watching random cat videos when you should be practicing.
    8. Schedule practice sessions for times of day when you naturally feel most productive.
    9. Rearrange your practice space in a way that promotes comfort, relaxation, and focus.
    10. Make the entire focus of your next practice session about enjoying the act of playing the piano rather than playing the correct notes.
    11. Take time at the beginning of your next session to list 5 aspects of playing at which you excel. 
    12. Stop and take a 30-minute walk around your neighborhood if you lose focus during a practice session. Resume practice and enjoy the added focus that comes from spending time in nature.
    13. Have a protein-based snack before your next practice session.
    14. Record yourself playing a few measures of something you’re actively trying to improve. Immediately play it back to see whether you improved. If not, what can you try to improve it next time? (Tip: This app helps you practice this in a very deliberate and focused way!)
    15. End your session by playing something you love to encourage yourself to come back and practice tomorrow.
    16. Read this book if you struggle with perfectionist tendencies.
    17. Identify 3 goals before your next piano practice session and focus ONLY on accomplishing those goals when you practice. Make the goals small enough that you can attain them in one session so you can feel a sense of true accomplishment. (Example: Identify the best fingering for the left hand in measure 3.)
    18. Incorporate an activity into your daily routine that you find fun and relaxing. The activity doesn’t have to have anything to do with music but has to give you a sense of relaxation and stress relief.
    19. If you don’t currently study with a piano teacher, take a few lessons to get objective feedback on your playing and to give your practice sessions a sense of direction. 
    20. Record yourself playing a piece and then list 3 aspects of playing that you did well and 3 that could use improvement. Be specific. (For example, the notes in measure 3 were correct, but I played it soft when it’s marked at forte.) Focus on improving the areas you identified.
    21. Start identifying the thoughts you have about yourself away from the keyboard. (Tip: Writing down your thoughts is one of the best ways to start recognizing subconscious thought patterns.)
    22. End your practice session as soon as your mind starts to wander. With consistent “focus practice,” your brain will gradually be able to focus more intensely for more extended periods.
    23. Focus on getting better sleep at night. (Tip: Read this post for tips on how to sleep better tonight!)
    24. Drink a small caffeinated beverage before your next practice session. (Tip: Too much caffeine can affect your ability to sleep at night, so avoid this one in the late afternoon.)
    25. Incorporate gratitude into your next session. (Tip: Start your next session by listing 5 piano-related things you are grateful for.)

    Final Thoughts

    The ability to focus during practice and performance is a crucial aspect of being a musician.

    It’s a skill that takes time to master.

    And thanks to our busy “always on” world, staying focused has become more challenging than ever.

    ​Despite a distracting world, you can find ways to channel your focus. This skill applies to life even beyond the practice room.

    Hopefully, this post has inspired you to regain your focus and become even more awesome at playing piano!

    If you enjoyed this post, please help me spread the word by sharing it with a friend.

    And if you’re looking for more piano-inspired content, check out one of my previous posts:

    As always, thanks for reading, and happy practicing!

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