It’s no secret that learning to play the piano can be a daunting task. Many people start lessons with high aspirations but eventually give up because they need help to stay consistent with their practice routine.
Or they get discouraged because they don’t make the kind of progress they’re hoping to make quickly. And other aspiring pianists get distracted by the promise of the newest piano program or app.
I’ve been all those aspiring pianists at various times in my life. But since getting serious about wanting to progress at the keyboard, I’ve learned a ton about setting realistic goals.
And I’ve been able to achieve some of my biggest goals.
Since it’s almost time to think about setting a new year’s resolution, now is the perfect time to help you figure out how to set realistic piano goals! And since practice is tied into learning any skill, I will also touch on how you need to spend practice time.
Lastly, I will cover a few of my favorite practice tools. And, with that, let’s get to it!
Why don’t people accomplish their goals?
If you want to achieve your goals, understanding your potential barriers is crucial. And there are a few very common things that can derail your progress.
Your perception of time has a significant impact on goal attainment. If you don’t believe you have the time to work towards a goal, you won’t even try to make room for it in your schedule.
And although it can seem as if you need huge chunks of time to achieve big goals, the truth is that 5 minutes here and there is sometimes all you need for massive progress.
If you’re serious about making progress with your piano playing, you need to carve time out of your schedule to make it happen.
Anyone can set a goal. But not everyone follows through with figuring out how to transform a dream into reality.
And figuring out the “how” is often the trickiest part. But one of the best ways to get yourself unstuck from uncertainty is to find a mentor.
The first step is finding someone who is in the spot where you want to be. That person can guide you and save you countless hours of struggling on your own.
And in the case of learning to play the instrument, finding a piano teacher can mean the difference between success and failure.
There’s nothing that derails goals faster than having a negative mindset. The way you talk to yourself matters!
And your brain will find evidence to support whatever you believe about your abilities.
Although I’m not suggesting that mindset erases hard work, it all starts with belief. And with stepping outside your comfort zone.
Result vs. Progress
Many people gauge their progress on how far they are from their goals. But discouragement often comes from looking ahead instead of behind.
The more encouraging way to measure progress is to consider where you are now compared to where you started.
Start looking for ways to enjoy the daily habits that will accomplish your goals, and life suddenly becomes more about the journey than the destination.
Success takes WAY longer than you think it does. So many people make the mistake of giving up too soon.
It takes YEARS to master the piano. Whether you love classical, jazz, or pop or aspire to play in your church’s band, it will take much longer than you think.
But in most cases, the people who succeed are simply the people who never give up. They find their passion and stick with it, regardless of the obstacles.
What are realistic piano goals?
Now that we’ve explored potential barriers between you and your goals let’s discuss setting realistic piano goals.
The most crucial factor is ensuring your goals are specific and achievable within a certain timeframe. It’s easy to want to jump from one level of playing to another overnight, but it rarely happens like that.
So, instead of going from zero to one hundred overnight, try setting smaller goals and daily practice habits.
For example, let’s say you’re struggling with playing hands together. Instead of making a goal of “playing the whole song hands together,” try something like this:
Play the first line of Prelude in C Major with the right hand ten times without mistakes by Tuesday.
Play the first line of Prelude in C Major with the left hand ten times without mistakes by Thursday.
Play the first line of Prelude in C Major with hands together at 40 bpm by Saturday.
Aim to break your goals into small steps. Your goals should be so tiny that you can accomplish them in a few days or weeks.
Although making long-term goals is okay, breaking them into a bunch of very tiny steps is how you can make steady progress without becoming disheartened.
What is the relationship between practice and piano goal setting?
Although there are many people out there who believe talent is the key to success, it’s not.
Hard work trumps talent every time.
Learning to play the piano is a skill, much like learning to play a sport or getting better at writing. The only way you’ll get better at it is by practicing.
And tying consistent practice into your overall goal setting is one of the best ways to make progress.
Setting practice-related goals are also one of the best ways to prevent feeling like you need to make more progress.
My suggestion is that instead of “learning the last movement of Beethoven’s moonlight sonata,” make a goal of “practicing 5 minutes a day.”
Regardless of whether you’re an adult beginner or a concert pianist, you can accomplish the goal of practicing 5 minutes a day.
5 minutes a day is measurable and attainable. And even if you don’t learn a Beethoven sonata, you can use that time to hone your technical skills, learn a new piece, or have fun playing the instrument.
And by setting small, attainable habits, you’ll be well on your way to achieving any larger piano goal you set for yourself.
How should you divide up your practice time?
I always recommend starting with a short warm-up. This is the time to prepare your mind and body for what’s to come.
Scales, arpeggios, 7th chords, and Czerny or Hanon exercises make great warm-up material. You could also play a song that you have previously mastered.
Sight reading also makes good warm-up material.
After warming up, I like to tackle my most mentally demanding tasks. And for me, that means memorization. I use this time to learn a new measure or phrase in anything I’m working on committing to memory.
If memorization is easy for you, use this time to work on technically demanding tasks within a specific song or for metronome work.
I generally have 3-4 pieces I’m working on at once, and I try to run through all my pieces during a practice session.
And once I’ve gotten through all my practice “work,” I love unwinding by playing whatever I want. Sometimes this means playing a pop piano cover or working out a song by ear. It could also be playing a piece of music that’s fun to play.
- Anything that is mentally draining/demanding
- Other things that need work
- Fun stuff!
How long should your practice sessions be?
Although the standard advice is 30 minutes daily, I take a more flexible approach.
I aim for at least 5 minutes a day. And I exceed that goal on most days.
But there are days when 5 minutes is plenty.
Keeping flexibility in my goals leads to less guilt when I have a day here or there that isn’t very productive. The key to making progress is a regular practice routine.
When starting a new practice goal, keep the amount of time you’ll practice each day small. And before long, you’ll be exceeding what you thought was possible!
Are there tools to make your practice time more effective?
Absolutely! My favorite tool is an app called Modacity.
The app allows you to keep track of what you’re practicing. It gives you practice goal suggestions and lets you add personalized goals.
One of my favorite features of the app is the ability to record yourself. You can record a short snippet or an entire piece.
Recording yourself is the fastest way to improve, and I love how integrated recording is into this app.
Aside from the app, I wholeheartedly recommend a couple of books to improve your practice efficiency.
The first is called Peak. This book unveils the secrets behind how the world’s best and, more importantly, how they achieved success.
The second is also a book. It’s called The Musician’s Way and gives solid practice advice. It’s a fantastic resource to help troubleshoot practice challenges.
The book also advises setting and achieving performance goals, so it’s a fantastic resource if you struggle with playing for other people!,
Setting realistic piano goals and establishing a consistent practice routine are the keys to piano success.
Start small, break up your practice time, and use tools like Modacity to help keep you accountable and improve more quickly.
Good habits stack up over time, resulting in unbelievable progress in a relatively short period of time. And with a solid foundation in habit forming, you can progress in every area of your life.
Playing a musical instrument has many incredible benefits for your brain and overall well-being.
And have fun with it! Piano playing is meant to bring joy.
If you loved this post, check out my other piano-inspired posts:
- Secrets to Setting Yourself Up for Success in 2023 and Beyond
- The 30 Most Famous Classical Piano Pieces of All Time
- Can You Really Learn Piano Without a Teacher?
- Your Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Piano Practice Routine
- ABRSM Piano Exams: What They Are and Why You Should Take One
- The Best Unconventional Ways to Learn Piano
- Finding the Best Digital Piano for Your Budget