How to Set Realistic Piano Goals and Achieve Them

How to Set Realistic Piano Goals and Achieve Them

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!

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. All photos are courtesy of Canva.

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.

Time

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.

Uncertainty

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.

Mindset

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.

Impatience

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.

To recap:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Anything that is mentally draining/demanding
  3. Other things that need work
  4. 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.

If you’d like to read my Modacity review, click here. And to try it for yourself, click here.

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!

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Final Thoughts

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:

The Best Christmas Piano Sheet Music to Celebrate the Season!

The Best Christmas Piano Sheet Music to Celebrate the Season!

Christmas is a time for celebration! What better way to get in the Christmas spirit than by playing seasonal pieces on the piano?

We have entertaining holiday favorites for everyone! So get your holiday spirit started by checking out these lovely pieces today!

Stay tuned for my top recommendations for Christmas sheet music for beginner, intermediate, and advanced pianists.

This post may contain affiliate links. As affiliates of the Amazon associate program, Modacity, Dr. Josh Wright ProPractice, Musicnotes, 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. All photos are courtesy of Canva.

Christmas Sheet Music for Beginner Pianists

Christmas Carols for Piano – Christina Levante

This Christmas song collection includes 45 easy and popular piano pieces. It’s the perfect book for beginner pianists.

It contains the very best Christmas songs written in an easy-to-follow format, ideal for beginner pianists.

The melody lines in the right hand are straightforward; although there are occasional 16th notes, most notes are eighth, quarter, and half notes. And the left hand accompaniments are also very simple.

The book takes it a step further and includes note names for every note in the book. Thanks to the note names, this is a great book to try if you’re brand new to the instrument.

Purchasing the book also gives you access to recordings of each piece. This is an exceptional bonus because finding recordings of specific arrangements for other books online can be difficult. And being able to listen to the song helps you learn it on a deeper level.

Here are just a few of the more popular songs in this book:

  • Silent Night
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • Jingle Bells
  • O Holy Night
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

This book is appropriate for either adult or children beginner pianists. Skip this collection if you are irritated or distracted by having written note names on your music.

Easy Piano Songs: 40 Christmas Carols for Beginners – Thomas Johnson

This next volume includes a variety of very familiar Christmas pieces. All songs come with and without written finger numbers.

Specific selections also come with lyrics, so if you want to sing along, this may be an excellent volume for you!

Song selections include:

  • In the Bleak Midwinter
  • Good King Wenceslas
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • O Holy Night

The downside of this volume is that it’s not spiral bound, and with over 150 pages, keeping it open while playing may be challenging. Despite this drawback, it might be a good option if you’re looking for songs with and without notes and lyrics.

Christmas Sheet Music for Intermediate Pianists

A Contemporary Christian Christmas – Lorie Line

Known for her unique arrangements of familiar songs and hymns, Lorie Line has produced several Christmas books over the years.

Her newest has been out for a year and features contemporary Christian songs from Amy Grant, Lauren Daigle, and Carrie Underwood.

My favorite song from the book is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Casting Crows. It’s a gorgeous rendition of one of the lesser-known Christmas carols.

If you’re looking for Christmas arrangements of newer music, this is your album.

Be aware that the difficulty of Lorie Line’s music books varies. In any given book, there are songs that lean more towards intermediate and others that require more technical prowess to perform.

This book is no exception, and if you’re easily frustrated by a slightly more challenging repertoire, you may look elsewhere.

Jazz Piano Christmas Carols Book – Alicja Urbanowicz

If you’re looking for a jazzy interpretation of classic Christmas carols, this next one is right up your alley!

This volume includes 12 traditional Christmas favorites with a hint of jazz. It is accessible for late beginner and early intermediate pianists. Several songs in this volume include:

  • Jingle Bells
  • Silent Night
  • What Child is This

The volume also includes video tutorials, so it may be a great option if you’re a do-it-yourself piano player.

Christmas Sheet Music for Advanced Pianists

The Professional Pianist: Solos for Christmas – Dan Coates

This collection of 50 Christmas songs runs the gamut of seasonal music. Selections include:

  • The First Noel
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem
  • Sleigh Ride
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • O Christmas Tree
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  • Winter Wonderland

Thanks to the variety of songs included in this book, it would work well for a holiday party, Christmas Eve service, or other events where you need to play several solo piano pieces.

It’s included in the advanced section because of the variety of song difficulties included in the volume.

Although it’s intended to be used as a take-off-the-shelf tool for professional pianists, the book is relatively large and not spiral bound. Depending on the size of the book, playing from a traditionally bound book can be cumbersome, so you should keep that in mind when deciding whether to order this book.

The arrangements of the songs in this book tend to be more traditional arrangements without the degree of artistic liberty taken by Lorie Line.

In other words, this might be a good choice if you’re looking for traditional interpretations of the familiar Christmas favorites.

Francesco Parrino Christmas singles

If you’re looking for a more contemporary take on select Christmas favorites, check out Francesco Parrino.

Francesco has many highly entertaining covers of songs, including “Let it Be,” “Bad Guy,” and “Listen to Your Heart.”

Although he doesn’t have a book of song selections, you can purchase many of the songs he performs from Musicnotes or his website.

Download Sheet Music at Musicnotes.com

If you’ve never heard his covers, check out his piano performance of “Carol of the Bells.” It’s absolutely spellbinding!

Although the difficulty of his songs varies, I would consider them to be advanced, so consider when deciding how much time you will need to perfect the piece.

Final Thoughts

I hope this post has given you inspiration and insight into the best Christmas piano sheet music for your level. From contemporary Christian to jazz and traditional arrangements, there’s something out there for every pianist!

No matter what type of music you decide to play this holiday season, the important thing is that you enjoy it! Have fun!

Do you have a favorite book of Christmas songs? Please share it by commenting below!

And if you loved this post, check out a few of my other piano-related posts:

Can You Really Learn Piano Without a Teacher?

Can You Really Learn Piano Without a Teacher?

Whether it’s possible to learn piano without a teacher is hotly debated in piano circles.

Some say you can’t get the same level of instruction or feedback from a book or online tutorial. Others argue that with enough practice and self-discipline, anyone can teach themselves how to play the piano. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore both sides of the argument and give you some tips on how to start learning the piano on your own!

This post may contain affiliate links. As affiliates of Amazon, Modacity, Dr. Josh Wright ProPractice, Musicnotes, 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. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. All photos are courtesy of Canva.

What does playing the piano mean to you?

It may seem like a strange question, but it’s the most logical place to start.

Students of all ages are drawn to the instrument for entirely different reasons. Some students aspire to be able to play any piece of music put in front of them.

Other students want the skills to play their favorite songs by ear. These students may not be particularly concerned with learning the correct technique. They simply want to enjoy the experience of making beautiful music.

Other prospective piano students love learning new things. They are obsessed with classical pieces and may even aspire to become a concert pianist. You may find these students eventually auditioning for several different music schools.

Then some view playing the piano as a way to relax. They don’t want to pressure themselves and enjoy exploring the different sounds the instrument can create.

All of these reasons are perfectly valid! And they will all lead you to different conclusions about whether or not you need a teacher.

It’s important to understand the motivation behind your drive to learn the instrument before we dive into whether it’s possible to learn piano without a teacher.

The “You Must Have a Piano Teacher” Camp

Those who argue for teachers believe that teachers are the key to learning the instrument and developing as a musician. They assert that teachers provide an exclusive and essential service.

This camp believes that, without a teacher, you will never achieve the level of playing you desire.

Members of this group believe a piano teacher can give immediate feedback on your progress and help you identify and correct bad habits.

They also contend that teachers can help instill good practice habits, which is essential for anyone who wants to improve their skills on the instrument.

There are some great points made by this camp! A good piano teacher can provide a wealth of knowledge and support to their students.

And for those who aspire to become a classical pianist, traditional piano lessons are still the best choice, at least in the beginning.

Once you reach a certain level in your piano journey, you can advance your skills with only occasional oversight from a teacher and the help of various online resources.

The subtle techniques required for playing classical are challenging to master unless you have oversight from a good teacher. Without a solid foundation in technique, completely self-taught pianists expose themselves to long-term damage.

And as you start playing more challenging pieces, the risk of injury increases.

The “You Don’t Need a Piano Teacher” Camp

This camp believes that teachers are not essential for learning the piano. They argue that anyone can teach themselves how to play the piano with the right resources and a bit of discipline and motivation.

One of the main arguments made by this group is that teachers often follow a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. They believe that the path to teaching piano is outdated and isn’t easily adapted to individual learning needs.

This camp also believes you can save money by avoiding traditional piano lessons. They argue that the cost of a private teacher can be prohibitive, especially for those who are just starting out.

This camp also has some valid points! Self-discipline and motivation are essential for anyone who wants to learn the piano independently. And plenty of piano-playing resources are available online, many of which are free.

Is it possible to learn piano without a teacher?

Yes. Many self-taught students are out there improving their piano skills daily without the help of a teacher.

Although I grew up taking piano lessons, I don’t believe traditional piano lessons are a good option for all adult beginner piano students.

I believe that both camps have their benefits and drawbacks. You can succeed on either path if you honor your motivation for learning and stay on course with your goals.

Let’s dive deeper into why you may want to choose one path over the either.

You Might Want a Piano Teacher If:

No one is more vocal about the necessity of having a piano teacher than the teachers themselves!

And as someone who has had years of individual instruction, I can understand their point of view in several different situations.

Shiny Object Syndrome

Are you someone who gets really excited about starting something new but is easily distracted by the next shiny opportunity that crosses your path? If so, you might want to find a piano teacher.

A great teacher can help you stay focused on learning, and with their help, you can stay focused on your goals.

If you’re serious about wanting to learn the instrument, invest at least 6 months into dedicated one-on-one time with a teacher. At the end of the 6 months, you can re-evaluate whether learning the instrument is for you and move forward knowing you gave it your best shot.

Coordination is Challenging

Some people can rub their bellies, pat their heads, and chew gum simultaneously. Others can’t clap a steady beat.

Playing the piano involves coordination between your eyes, brain, and hands. Coordination is something that doesn’t come naturally to some people.

If you fall into this category, don’t give up on your dream of learning! But do know that getting your left hand to work with your right hand may require some oversight from an experienced teacher, especially if you’re a beginner.

Motivation

Do you find yourself starting new projects but quickly stopping progress because you lack the motivation to finish?

Motivation is tricky. Although many people believe motivation inspires action, I think the exact opposite. It’s been my experience that I only feel motivated to do something after I’ve already started taking action.

If I wait to feel motivated, I’ll never do the things on my list.

But finding the right teacher can be a great way to stay motivated to learn piano. This is especially true when you find someone who inspires you to accomplish your goals and challenge your negative assumptions.

You Have No Idea Where to Start

Are you confused and overwhelmed when you think about how to start your piano journey? If so, then you should seek out the help of a teacher.

A great teacher can help you establish a solid musical background and fill in all the gaps that might happen if left to your own devices.

Classical Music is Your Passion

You will want a teacher to help you form a strong foundation if you aspire to play classical music.

Developing the correct technique is crucial for playing this genre without injuring yourself. And it’s challenging to learn the proper technique yourself without any experienced teacher’s feedback.

You’re Not an Independent Learner

Are you someone who thrives on interactions with others? And did you learn better in a group setting than on your own?

If so, finding a teacher might be the best way to learn the piano. Some people learn by reading, others by hearing, and still others by doing.

But if you learn best through feedback and discussion, you should find a teacher, at least in the beginning.

Next Steps

If you’ve decided that finding a piano teacher supports your learning goals, read “How to Find the Right Piano Teacher for You.” This post is a deep dive into what you should consider when searching for a teacher.

It also includes a link to a list of different piano teachers currently offering online lessons. Many teachers have shifted to providing online lessons over the past couple of years, so there’s never been a better time to start playing!

You Can Skip the Piano Teacher If:

It’s also worth noting that even if you start with a teacher, you don’t have to continue lessons forever. There may be times in your life when having a teacher doesn’t work for your schedule or budget.

And that’s ok! As long as you’re enjoying the instrument, it doesn’t really matter.

Although I studied with a teacher throughout my childhood and teenage years, I believe that having a teacher isn’t the best choice for all students.

People come to the piano for various reasons, and not every path to mastery involves a teacher.

You Only Want to Learn a Few Pop Songs

Suppose your motivation to learn piano involves being able to play a few pop songs. In that case, it may not be worth finding a teacher.

There are so many tutorials on YouTube that can give you the information you need for free.

And if you want to learn to play by ear, free apps can help you with that too. My favorite app for ear training is called “Chet,” which helps you learn to play melodies and recognize harmonic intervals.

Its game approach is very addicting!

Beyond the Basics

If you’ve already mastered the basics with a teacher, even if it was years ago, advancing your skills without a teacher might be a good option for you.

You can find many great piano-based courses online tailored to your learning interests.

If classical piano is your passion, then make sure to check out Dr. Josh Wright’s ProPractice course! I first heard of Dr. Wright on a podcast and started following his YouTube channel.

His videos were so helpful that I eventually decided to invest in his course and felt an immediate transformation in my playing.

Although I’d love to incorporate regular lessons into my week, it’s not feasible with my schedule right now. His course has been a lifesaver for me because I can still study pieces on a deeper level but don’t have to feel guilty if I don’t have time to practice every day.

In fact, I recently did the Grade 5 ABRSM exam, and one of my selections is a piece he covers in detail in the ProPractice course. His instruction helped me pass the grade with distinction, and I am so grateful for this course!

La Huerfana and The Storm

If you’d like to find out if the ProPractice course would be a good fit for you, read my complete review of the course.

Independent Self-Starters

Are you someone who would rather be left alone to figure things out? If so, then you can probably skip the teacher.

Figure out your motivation and exact learning goals. Once you nail down your goals, find the most appropriate online program. There are many great apps for learning piano; your learning style would be an excellent fit for almost all of them.

Piano Marvel is one option for learning piano. It offers a guided approach to learning the instrument, so you don’t have to try and figure out where to start.

Although it has a variety of songs at different playing levels, this particular app has a very classical approach to teaching the instrument. You may want to consider a different app if this approach does not appeal to you.

And for my take on the app and whether it might be a good fit for you, read “The Best Unconventional Ways to Learn the Piano.”

You Want to Play for Fun

Formal lessons may not be for you if your only motivation for learning is to have fun. If you never aspire to play for anyone else and simply want to enjoy the process of making music, then you can get by without a teacher.

There are still ways to improve your skills and knowledge if you want to, but it’s not necessary.

You can find plenty of online resources that will give you tips on improving your playing. But for the most part, enjoy exploring the piano on your own, and don’t worry about becoming the next Beethoven.

Composition and Songwriting

If your motivation for learning the instrument comes from a desire to write your own music, then traditional piano lessons may not be the best path.

Many piano teachers focus on teaching the correct body mechanics and technique for playing, skills that are not particularly relevant to composition.

But you will need a solid foundation in music theory. There are many great online resources for learning theory.

SkillShare offers an incredible deep dive class taught by a university professor on music theory. There’s also a website called www.musictheory.net that provides a wealth of information on the topic.

YouTube can be your best friend when it comes to learning the art of songwriting. And you might be surprised to learn that most pop music is based on the same basic chord structure.

Next Steps

Although there are benefits to having a piano teacher, it’s not realistic for everyone. I’ve seen many people put their dreams of playing the piano on hold because they didn’t think it was possible to learn without a teacher.

Don’t let outdated ideas about learning piano stop you! There are so many paid and free resources out there that can help you realize your dreams of learning to play.

There are many online teachers offering lessons on an as-needed basis. And not every teacher expects you to attend weekly lessons.

You could also consider combining online resources and teacher oversight if finances or time are barriers.

For more inspiration and ideas on pursuing your dreams of playing the piano, check out “How to Learn Piano as an Adult.”

The Myth of Talent

It’s also worth noting that musical talent can only get you so far. Many people feel they’re not “musically talented,” which keeps them from learning.

But the truth is that talent only gets you so far. In the long run, effort wins out over raw talent every time. And one of the most crucial factors to making progress is having a solid practice plan.

Consistent and focused practice will help you progress regardless of whether you have a teacher. Although some teachers will help you establish a practice routine, many will not.

And plenty of teachers are still focused on the concept of repetition versus thoughtful and meaningful practice.

The topic of practice is one I find fascinating, and you can read my thoughts on the subject in the following posts:

Don’t let the fear that you’re not “musically inclined” stop you from even trying!

Final Thoughts

I hope this post has inspired you to think about what’s motivating you to learn the piano and to figure out whether a piano teacher is essential for learning.

Although I have had several great teachers throughout my life, I can understand why some learners hesitate to reach out to a teacher.

And I feel there are situations where a teacher isn’t necessary.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that you stop wondering “what if” and start going after your piano dreams!

If you loved this post, please help me out by sharing it on social media. And don’t miss my other posts on mindset and the piano!

Your Ultimate Guide to The Perfect Piano Practice Routine

Your Ultimate Guide to The Perfect Piano Practice Routine

Do you struggle with getting into a piano practice routine?

Are you confused about how much time you should be spending on practice?

Do you feel confident about how you spend your practice time? Or does it feel like you’re not getting the results you want enough though you put in practice time?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and disheartened by your current piano practice habits, this is the perfect blog post for you!

Whether you’ve been playing for 1 week or 10 years, you will find helpful tips and resources to make your piano practice time effective.

We will cover when to schedule your practice sessions, what you should be working on, and how you can stay motivated.

Ready? Let’s go!

This post may contain affiliate links. As affiliates of Amazon, Modacity, Dr. Josh Wright ProPractice, Musicnotes, 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. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. All photos are courtesy of Canva.

Why should you take my advice about how to practice piano?

The short answer is that I’ve been where you are right now. Although I’ve played piano for 30 years, I haven’t always had good practice habits.

And even though I studied piano in college, I firmly believed that talent, not effort, was the key to excelling at the keyboard.

I absolutely loved to play piano but had so much imposter syndrome around the instrument for most of my life. This led to anxiety and depression about my skills as a pianist.

And believing in talent over effort led to inconsistent practice as a form of self-sabotage.

It wasn’t until several years after I graduated with a music degree that I realized how hard work trumps talent every time. I began spending my free time researching ways to improve my mindset around practice.

And I started focusing on establishing good habits to support a regular practice routine despite a busy schedule.

With consistent practice, my skills improved, and I started looking forward to my daily piano practice routines. Most importantly, my love and passion for the instrument intensified.

My transformation inspired me to share what I learned about practicing mindset and establishing an effective routine with others.

The Myth of Motivation

The first thing you need to know about effective practice is that mindset matters. If you don’t manage your thoughts around practice, it will be easy to talk yourself out of it.

Other than the lie about talent versus hard work, I used to believe that motivation comes before action. I can’t tell you how many times I missed a day of practice because I didn’t feel like practicing.

But the truth is that you’ll never feel like putting in the work. Your brain will always try to trick you into believing the effort isn’t worth it. And one of the most effective ways it does this is by getting you to believe that you have to feel motivated to do something.

Although I love the thought that practice makes me a better player, I still don’t always feel like putting in the work.

The only way to get around the tricks your brain plays on you is to set a practice schedule and stick with it. Whether you feel like practicing or not, keep the commitment you’ve made to yourself to improve your piano skills.

Action creates motivation. The more action you take, the more your motivation will grow.

How much should you practice?

One of the first questions that come up around practice is how many minutes of practice you should log.

Although many people will tell you that you should plan for a 30-minute practice session daily, I disagree.

I have minimal time available for my various pursuits on any given day. And between a full-time job, husband, kids, dog, horse, and multiple side gigs, there’s NEVER a perfect time to practice!

Setting a specific amount of time for daily practice was ineffective for me because of my busy lifestyle.

I’ve experimented with many ways to develop a solid piano practice routine. The most successful has been committing to daily practice.

One of the best things I did was release myself from the prison of 30-minute practice sessions.

I stopped setting a specific number of minutes because I started feeling guilty whenever I didn’t hit my goal number of minutes. And I learned that the best way to progress was to be flexible.

Some days, I have enough time for 30+ minutes of practice. But on others, I have only 5 minutes.

And that’s ok.

If you’re serious about working on the necessary skills to become better at the piano, I highly encourage you to be flexible in how you get there.

When should you practice?

The easy answer is whenever it’s easiest to fit practice in as a part of your routine. Some adult piano students find that morning is the best time to fit a session in.

Others swear by practicing late at night. I’ve found that fitting a piano playing session in before I pick my kids up from school works the best.

The first step in planning your practice routine is considering what time of day is best for you.

When are you most mentally engaged in tasks? And when do you seem to accomplish the most?

Although it’s not always possible to schedule practice sessions at your peak productivity time, awareness is the first step.

Try to avoid practicing at those times of the day when your brain is on autopilot because your progress will be slow. Those are the times when you’re most at risk of picking up bad habits.

Practicing at night is the hardest because I’m a morning person. And there are times when I practice under less-than-ideal circumstances. But I try my best to coordinate practice when I’m most alert.

What should you practice?

Coming up with a practice plan is crucial whether you are studying with a piano teacher or taking online piano lessons. Coming up with a plan before you practice makes your practice much more efficient.

Start setting small goals because you’ll feel even more motivated to practice as you accomplish them.

And being clear on a specific goal ensures you will spend the time needed to achieve that goal.

Piano Practice Routine: The Warm-Up

The warm-up is a great time to set your intention for the practice session.

There are many different ways to warm up. But think of this as a time to prepare your brain and body for what’s coming.

You could spend some time working through small sections of difficult passages in your music. Separate the left hand from the right hand and focus on pinpointing the exact spot where you struggle.

Technical exercises are another fantastic way to warm up. I recommend the Hanon exercises because they have patterns that aren’t terribly difficult but get your fingers moving. Czerny and Brahms also have books on finger exercises to improve your technical skills.

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Scale practice is a popular warm-up. You can choose one major scale and its relative minor scale to work on per week. Working on scales strengthens your music theory knowledge and finger technique.

I enjoy spending some time sight reading during my warm-up sessions. It helps with my note reading and playing confidence when performing a somewhat unfamiliar piece.

Piano Practice Routine: New Pieces

After my brain and muscles are warmed up, I like to tackle whatever requires the most effort. Examples include working on a new piece of music or memorizing something you’ve already learned.

It’s at this point in your practice session that everything is primed and ready to go. This is why it’s best to tackle whatever needs the most work. I like to use this point in my practice session to practice whatever I want to practice the least.

There are always practice tasks that are difficult or boring. It’s easy to skip right over them, but it’s often these areas in which you can make the most improvement.

Other ideas for filling this part of your practice session include:

  • Focusing in on any hard parts in your music
  • Working with the metronome to solidify rhythms
  • Engaging in slow practice

In any given practice session, there will be things you NEED to work on and things you WANT to work on. The best sessions are a balance between the two.

Piano Practice Routine: The Fun Stuff

And once you’ve tackled the work, it’s time for some fun! I always save the last part of my practice session for the pieces I’m dying to play. It could be stuff that I’ve already mastered or fun projects.

If you love to improvise, save your noodling for this part of the session. I love to work on playing by ear, so I will spend the last part of my practice playing whatever pop or country song I’m obsessed with.

You could also work on accompanying yourself while singing. Try to find piano-related activities that drew you to the instrument in the first place.

Saving the most fun and exciting activities for the end ensures you leave the keyboard on a high note. And that way, sitting down the next day will be easier.

What if you only have 5 minutes to practice?

My advice is to take what you can get. Prioritize what you want to work on and get to it!

Even 5 minutes of focused practice is better than nothing.

Do you have to practice every day?

Getting better at anything requires consistency. I’ve found that practicing daily keeps everything fresh and makes it easier to progress. But consistency is different for everyone.

And making time every day helps me establish piano practice as more than a habit. It’s not as easy to talk myself out of practice when it’s part of my daily routine.

Are there tools you can use to help make your piano practice routine more effective?

Absolutely! One of my favorite tools is an app called Modacity. It tracks your practice time and keeps a daily log, so you can see your practice streak when you log in.

This app has been pivotal in helping me establish the perfect piano practice routine. Aside from the practice log, Modacity can give suggestions for improving your practice. You can also track improvements you’ve made on individual songs.

I’ve been using Modacity for the past 3 years and can’t say enough good about this app!

If you’d like to try it, take advantage of a special deal for readers by clicking my affiliate link here.

There’s a fantastic book by Gerald Klickstein called The Musician’s Way, which breaks practice down into individual components. It resets any negative thoughts you may have about practice. And it helps you form new patterns of more positive thinking that you can use in the practice room.

The Musician’s Way revolutionized how I approach practice, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking to do the same.

What about tools to improve your mindset around practice?

Aside from The Musician’s Way, there are a few other books that I have found helpful in reframing a more positive mindset. And with a positive mindset, you can excel in practice and life.

One of the most inspirational books I’ve read is called Relentless. The book is written by Tim Grover, athletic trainer for the biggest names in athletics, including Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. If you struggle to stay motivated about your goals, reading this book will revolutionize your approach to goal-setting!

Indistractable is another essential read for transforming your mindset. It helps you identify distractions in your life and take steps to improve efficiency. This translates into practice that is infinitely more effective.

And if you’re interested in learning how the best in the world become the best, you have to read Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. The book explores the traits that the most successful people in the world share. And more importantly, it gives you the tools to transform your own skillset.

Are there tools specific for classical pianists?

If you love playing classical pieces but struggle with finding a piano teacher or attending weekly lessons, I have an incredible resource to recommend!

I discovered the ProPractice course by Dr. Josh Wright several years ago while on the search for ways to improve my playing. Dr. Josh Wright is a world-renowned pianist and put together a fantastic set of resources to help pianists who may struggle with regular lessons.

ProPractice is a course that includes tutorials for some of the most well-known pieces in the classical repertoire.

And he walks you through each piece, guiding you on fingering and interpretation so you can improve your ability to play each piece from the comfort of your home.

Dr. Wright has an active YouTube channel with helpful resources for everything from keeping pieces fresh to dealing with performance anxiety. He is the absolute best if you’re interested in improving your classical skills! You can check out his YouTube channel here.

And if you’re interested in learning about his ProPractice course, click this link.

If you want to see how the course has improved my playing, here’s a recent video of me playing two different pieces for the ABRSM Grade 5 exam. The second piece played in the video, composed by Friedrich Burgmuller, is included in Dr. Wright’s ProPractice course.

By following his suggestions on this piece and others, I completed the Grade 5 exam with distinction. Again, it’s a fantastic resource for anyone who doesn’t have time for regular lessons with a piano teacher.

Two pieces from the 2021-2022 ABRSM Grade 5 Exam: La Huerfana and The Storm

Final Thoughts on Developing the Perfect Piano Practice Routine

I hope this blog post helped outline the perfect piano practice routine! Remember, it’s all about approaching practice with flexibility and a positive mindset.

Regardless of whether you aspire to play at church on the stage at Carnegie Hall, keep at it and never give up on your dreams!

And if you loved this post, please help me by pinning it or sharing it with a friend. And check out more of our unique piano-related content you’re guaranteed to love!

ABRSM Piano Exams: What They Are and Why You Should Take One

ABRSM Piano Exams: What They Are and Why You Should Take One

Whether you are an independent learner or have a piano teacher, you’ve probably heard of music exams. And maybe you’ve always thought exams are for kids rather than adult learners.

But exams offered through organizations such as the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) are designed for piano learners of all ages. They provide an opportunity to improve your technical skills and overall practical musicianship. And they offer performance opportunities in person or from the comfort of your own home.

Although I was aware of piano exams through several organizations, including the ABRSM piano exams and those through Trinity College London, I had never participated in one until recently. But last week, I took my first piano exam and found the experience oddly motivating.

Keep reading to learn more about ABRSM piano exams and my experience preparing for ABRSM’s grade 5 online exam. And who knows? Maybe it will inspire you to film your own exam video!

This post may contain affiliate links. As affiliates of Amazon and Dr. Josh Wright’s ProPractice course, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. All photos are courtesy of Canva.

What is the ABRSM?

The ABRSM started in 1889 as a joint collaboration between the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. They aimed to create an examination board to inspire people to hone their musical skills.

And they did this by creating a series of performance grades guiding the musical development of a musician on their journey from beginner to advanced musician.

Today, the organization administers 650,000 exam sessions annually. Musicians can participate in practical exams, theory exams, or even online exams to gauge one’s performance skills.

There’s also a section on jazz if classical isn’t your passion. And singers even have the option of musical theater.

Why should you take an exam?

Learning a musical instrument is a journey. And there’s so much to know! Whether you’ve been playing for 3 months or 30 years, there’s always something you can improve upon.

Musicianship

Exams give you a structured learning plan. Through their gradual introduction to more complex material, they give you a pathway to musical success.

And they fill in the gaps where your musical knowledge may be lacking.

For example, the practical piano exams offered by ABRSM include grade-appropriate sight reading and aural tests in addition to piano pieces learned ahead of time.

Sight-reading and ear training are valuable skills for all musicians because they improve your accuracy and overall comfort with the instrument.

I regret not taking full advantage of learning music theory earlier in my life.

Although I took music theory in college, I didn’t realize the value of this knowledge at the time. I didn’t retain the information in a helpful way that benefitted me long-term. But now realize that I can augment my weak areas by following syllabi set out by organizations such as the ABRSM.

And if you want to be a well-rounded musician but music school is not practical right now, practical grades are the perfect way to improve your musical knowledge and skills.

Goals

Whether you’re enrolled in regular piano lessons or are learning the instrument independently, having goals is crucial. Without goals, things can feel aimless and haphazard.

And even though I love to sit down and play piano, that passion isn’t always enough to get me to practice daily. My practice self-sabotage usually presents in the form of procrastination and, sometimes, self-doubt. This is especially true when life gets busy.

But having definite goals on your calendar, such as several exam dates, can motivate you to sit down and practice. Your exam preparations suddenly take on a sense of urgency when preparing for something more significant than mock exams.

New Music

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of repeatedly playing the same composer and types of pieces.

But taking an exam forces you to play outside your usual box of repertoire. Each piano syllabus contains a list of selections from which you generally must select 3. A 4th piece is one of your choosing and doesn’t have to come from the list.

Some pieces on ABRSM piano exams are part of the standard piano repertoire, but others are more contemporary pieces that you may have never heard of before. Playing through examination pieces is a fantastic way to broaden your musical horizons!

Performance Experience

After graduating from high school and college, the opportunity to get involved in musical groups and performances shrinks. It suddenly becomes much harder to find chances to perform for others.

Although not everyone relishes the opportunity to play in front of others, performance is a massive part of being a musician. And there’s something intensely satisfying about putting in all that hard work behind the scenes and being able to share it with others.

But exams allow you to perform in front of an audience.

And you can choose to participate in person or partake in digital exams. If you have any hesitancy about performing in front of other people, going for a digital performance grade is a fantastic option because if you don’t like your performance, you can simply re-record it. It’s a performance situation without all the pressures of a live performance.

Are there different ABRSM piano exams?

ABRSM offers several paths to participation in exams. Most exam routes have an initial grade level followed by 8 additional levels, referred to as “grades.” The organization sets an updated syllabus approximately every 2 years, listing the different pieces students can select from at each level.

Performance Grades

One of the best aspects of ABRSM, as opposed to other exam options, is that they offer performance grade exams that allow you to record and send your performance for evaluation.

There are no prerequisites for initial through grade 5; you don’t have to start at the first level and work towards higher grades.

Grades 6-8, however, do have a prerequisite. You must have passed grade 5 in music theory, practical musicianship, or solo jazz before you can participate in the higher grades.

As I was completely new to the exam process, I chose performance grade 5 because there were no required prerequisites. I love the flexibility of being able to record and submit ABRSM exam pieces at any time rather than needing to wait for an in-person date.

This grade level also offered several fun pieces I had never heard of before, which made preparing for the exam a fun experience!

Practical Musicianship

The practical exams emphasize overall musicianship in combination with performance skills. This route offers the same opportunity to prepare individual pieces for performance. It also includes various sight reading, improvisation, and memory exercises.

At this time, all practical musicianship exams are held in person. And if you take the grade 5 practical musicianship exam, you can proceed with grades 6-8 for either performance or practical musicianship.

Scoring is similar to performance and practical musicianship. Each piece is given up to 30 points, with an additional 30 points for the performance. In total, the score is marked out of 150.

Music Theory

You can also opt to pursue music theory exams.

ABRSM offers 8 levels of music theory, and levels 1-5 may be taken as an online music theory exam. If you choose to do grade 5 music theory and pass, you are eligible for levels 6-8 for either the performance or practical musicianship exams. Grades 6-8 theory exams must be done on paper.

Diploma

ABRSM also offers ARSM exams for anyone seeking additional performance experience and feedback beyond grade 8. You must have completed grade 8 to qualify for a diploma exam.

The exam includes at least 20 minutes of prepared music from the syllabus and up to 10 minutes of additional music selected by the candidate. And the exam can be done in person or as a digitally recorded exam.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you take ABRSM exams on any instrument?

Most instruments, including brass, woodwind, percussion, and strings, have their own exam syllabus. You can also take an exam if you play the organ or sing.

Do you have to pay to take ABRSM piano exams?

Yes. There are different fees depending upon the instrument, grade, and exam. Consult the ABRSM website for the latest information on exam fees.

What is the benefit of taking ABRSM piano exams?

Exams give you structured goals to work toward. They also guide your development as a musician, whether or not you’re working with a music teacher. ABRSM offers various supplemental materials, including app recommendations and other online resources, to help you gain the skills you need for success.

Are there similar exams offered by other organizations?

Royal College of Music and Trinity College London offer similar opportunities to enhance your learning through structured exams. Stay tuned to Only Getting Better for additional information and reviews of other exams.

Final Thoughts on ABRSM Piano Exams

Taking a piano exam has been on my goal list for several years now, and I’m ecstatic to have finally checked it off! As I’m not currently working with a teacher, I chose to take an exam at a lower level. And I elected not to memorize my pieces because I wanted to take the exam as quickly as possible.

From start to finish, it took me around a month to prepare the pieces to the level where I felt they were ready for evaluation. I had been playing the fourth piece I chose off and on for a couple of months, so this one was, more or less, ready when I decided to submit it for evaluation.

As I’m not studying regularly with a piano teacher, I rely heavily on Dr. Josh Wright’s ProPractice course. In fact, my last piece is a piece he goes through measure-by-measure in the course, and I feel that I gained so much from his guidance and interpretation of the piece. I love this piece and enjoy its technical and interpretation challenges.

You can check it out for yourself in the video posted below. And if you’re interested in more information about Dr. Josh Wright’s ProPractice course, please read my review.

Although I’m still waiting on the results from the exam, I’m already weighing out different options for my next exam. I am considering taking the grade 5 music theory exam in preparation for moving on to a grade 6 practical musicianship exam.

I’m also considering taking either an RCM or Trinity College exam to make a comparison between the different organizations. Regardless of what I decide, I will keep you posted! Stay tuned because there’s definitely more to come!

Please take a few minutes to leave a comment below about your experience with exams. Have you ever taken one? What was your experience like? And would you recommend taking an exam?

You May Also Enjoy Reading

References

ABRSM: Our history

The Best Unconventional Ways to Learn Piano

The Best Unconventional Ways to Learn Piano

Does the thought of attending piano lessons week after week bore you? Perhaps you took piano lessons as a kid and still have nightmares about scale drills and mind-numbing exercises. Or maybe you’d love to learn piano but don’t have time for regular lessons.

If you fall into any of these categories, I’ve got exciting news! Gone are the days when you could only learn piano from the crotchety old teacher down the street. Thanks to technology and a little ingenuity, you can take charge of your own learning!

Enter with me into a new era of apps, online programs, and an array of online resources, all accessible from any location with reliable WiFi.

Stick with me as we explore a couple of unconventional ways to learn piano. And make sure to stay with me until the end for a special discount and bonus practice tools to ensure your piano journey gets off on the right foot!

This post may contain affiliate links. As affiliates of Amazon, Modacity, Piano Marvel, Musicnotes, and Dr. Josh Wright’s ProPractice course, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. All images courtesy of Canva.

Do unconventional ways to learn piano actually work?

Absolutely. With a few caveats.

If you have aspirations to become a concert pianist, I highly recommend finding a piano teacher. It’s challenging to grasp the nuances of technique you will need to master to achieve this goal all on your own.

And if you are a complete beginner, it can also be very helpful to find a piano teacher to guide you in the beginning stages of your learning.

But I also understand trying to juggle a hobby with life. Ideal and realistic are often very different things.

Learning from an app is often the most realistic option. Especially if it means the difference between getting started today or putting it off indefinitely.

If you’re looking for a piano teacher, check out my Resource page for an array of online teachers accepting new students.

Unconventional Ways to Learn Piano: Piano Marvel

Looking for a program that teaches you the basics of the piano? Basics that will get you up and running on the keys quickly? Then Piano Marvel just might be for you.

Designed by a piano teacher, Piano Marvel helps you master essential fundamentals like music theory, sight-reading, and ear training. And did I mention that it also teaches you HOW to practice?

Let’s dive into specifics.

As Addicting as Netflix

Do you know that feeling when you’re bingeing your Netflix guilty pleasure, and the episode ends? That moment when you’re forced to choose between resolving the cliffhanger or cleaning the bathroom?

How many times does the desire to scrub your nasty sink win over a plot twist?

Almost never.

What if I said that you could have a similar level of addiction to your piano learning?

Like Netflix, Piano Marvel has mastered the art of keeping you motivated and engaged. Through various levels and trophies, acing the next concept becomes a no-brainer. At stake are bronze, silver, or gold trophies depending upon how skilled you become at the songs in each level.

As Efficient as a Prius

Travel back in time with me to your favorite high school or college class. Was it gym? Or maybe you loved band.

What did strolling into that classroom feel like? Do you remember how time seemed to magically fly by? And yet somehow, you always seemed to walk out of that class having learned something new.

Time sailed by, and you were a bit sad when the bell rang. Learning felt effortless. And your energy level at the end of the class felt higher than at the beginning.

What if learning piano could feel as efficient as time spent in your favorite class?

It can, thanks to Piano Marvel! The app chunks learning into small pieces, making each lesson easy to remember. There’s no wasted fluff material that you’ll never use again.

Piano Marvel packs only the most relevant information into your learning. Efficiency at its best.

As Motivating as Accomplishing Your Goals

Sometimes it’s not a fear of failure that holds you back from goals but rather a fear of starting something and losing motivation halfway through. It’s happened to everyone at some point.

You sign up for that shiny new course promising all the answers. And at first, you’re super excited. You put in the time and the work and feel the warmth of accomplishment.

But at some point, your motivation starts to fade. You wake up one day and realize that it’s been months since you’ve even logged into that course.

The sting of disappointment takes over, and your motivation sinks lower than ever. You’re now more hesitant than ever to set new goals.

Motivation is counterintuitive. Many people believe that you must FEEL motivated to ACT.

But the truth is actually the reverse. In most cases, you will only FEEL motivated AFTER you ACT.

Action comes before feeling.

And the more progress you make toward your goals, the higher your motivation.

Piano Marvel helps you attain a series of small goals that fuel your motivation to keep learning. Through bite-sized lessons and incentives to continue your piano journey, learning to play the piano has never been more motivational.

The Nuts and Bolts

There are many apps designed to help you learn piano. But if you want a solid foundation in music theory, Piano Marvel is the best. It also guides you through chords, arpeggios, and scales. Once you learn the basics of theory, playing becomes more effortless. It also opens up a whole new world of improvisation and playing by ear.

And if you connect your device to a MIDI keyboard, the program will give you feedback on note accuracy.

Other apps and programs give feedback as you play. But Piano Marvel waits until you’re finished with the song to provide feedback. One huge advantage of this type of feedback is that it eliminates distractions while you play. Yet by giving timely feedback, you have an opportunity to correct mistakes in a more effective way.

And did I mention that Piano Marvel comes with an extensive library of songs to learn? It even includes several popular lesson books, including Alfred’s premier and adult all-in-one books. Songs are graded by difficulty from 1 through 18, so you can gradually advance your skill level without the frustration of playing something too challenging.

It’s yet another way that Piano Marvel’s system encourages consistent learning over flashy gimmicks.

If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, use promo code OGBB22 for $3 off the monthly fee. And at $12.99 a month, you really can’t go wrong! Click here to go to the Piano Marvel website.

If you’re interested in learning more about music theory, check out this post!

Unconventional Ways to Learn Piano: ProPractice

And if you’re looking for more unconventional ways to learn piano, you need to hear about ProPractice! Also created by a piano teacher, ProPractice is a phenomenal resource for people who aspire to play classical piano.

ProPractice was created by Dr. Josh Wright. It can successfully be used alongside traditional lessons or all on its own.

The program is designed to be helpful for either complete beginners or people who have prior playing experience.

My ProPractice Story

As a music major grad, I have a massive bucket list of classical pieces I want to tackle eventually. But between working full-time and having a husband and 3 kids, I simply don’t have the time to make weekly lessons work.

I discovered Dr. Josh Wright one day while listening to a podcast and started following his YouTube channel. And a few videos later, I was hooked on his teaching style and depth of knowledge.

I began to see positive changes in my playing and how I thought about the instrument. And so I decided that if I had taken so much away from his free content, how much would I take from his paid course?

I invested in ProPractice and have only seen improvements in my playing ever since!

In fact, I was so impressed with the course that shortly after joining, I became an affiliate.

The Nuts and Bolts

ProPractice is currently set up on the Teachable app. You have the option to start at the beginning and work your way all the way through lessons. Or you can pick and choose which pieces you would like to learn.

Dr. Wright started the course because he found students asking the same questions as they learned various pieces from the classical repertoire. He, therefore, decided to record video lessons to address common questions and problem areas for these pieces.

The course is separated into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. He further subdivides material into repertoire and technique.

Dr. Wright is constantly adding new pieces to the course, so it will only continue to expand.

As mentioned previously, the course is almost exclusively classical repertoire, so if that’s not your jam, you may want to explore other options. But it is designed to be used as a complete beginner, so whether you’ve never played a piano in your life or spend your free time expanding upon your repertoire, you will find value in the course.

If you’re interested in checking it out for yourself, click the link here.

Bonus Unconventional Ways to Learn Piano

Aside from the two programs listed above, I have a couple more tools up my sleeve to skyrocket your piano playing!

The Art of Practice

One key component of learning any new skill is practice. Although we love to think that talent determines how proficient someone becomes at a skill, the truth of the matter is that quality practice wins over talent every time.

And if you don’t believe me, check out this book! It’s a fascinating exploration of some of the world’s most “talented” people and how they became the best at what they do.

Quality practice is key to making progress, but what does that actually mean? Is it mindless repetition? Or is it something else entirely?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app that helped you understand how to effectively practice? Luckily for you, there is!

It’s called Modacity, and I credit this app with my progress in piano playing over the past few years.

The app helps you identify your trouble spots and generates ideas about fixing these areas. It also has a “day streak” practice counter. And there’s nothing more motivating than building on your practice streaks!

If you’d like an in-depth review of the app, check out this recent post.

And if you’re ready to give the app a try for yourself, click here to take advantage of 35% off the price of an annual subscription. With the discount, you’ll still pay less than the cost of a single higher-end piano lesson. It’s a valuable investment into your growth as a pianist and one of the best unconventional ways to learn piano!

Find Music You Love

Nothing motivates me to practice more than finding a piece I love.

While listening to Pandora several years ago, I heard a song that I fell in love with. It was hauntingly beautiful, and I just HAD to get my hands on the sheet music.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it on my usual go-to place, Amazon. So, I started looking around for other sources of sheet music.

I stumbled upon Musicnotes and struck the jackpot! I found the exact arrangement of the piece I was looking for, but I found a treasure trove of just about any song at any level you could ever need.

Due to its larger size, music is best viewed on an iPad. And as someone who regularly plays paid gigs, I’ll tell you that bringing an iPad is a lot more convenient than dragging a bunch of music books! Musicnotes has an app downloaded on my iPhone, so I can access my purchases any time and anywhere.

One of the features I appreciate most about Musicnotes is the ability to mark up the music within the app. This feature allows me to interact with the music exactly the same way I would if it was a piece of paper in front of me.

You also can print out the music if you prefer paper to electronic.

But the best part of this app has to be the ability to instantly access anything you could ever want. It’s an incredible tool to add fun and variety to your playing!

And in case you’re curious, here is the piece that led me to Musicnotes in the first place.

Once Upon a December, arranged by Emile Pandolfi

Click below to browse some of Musicnotes’ most popular downloads!

Browse the Most-Popular Sheet Music Downloads

It’s Your Turn to Try Unconventional Ways to Learn Piano

And there you have it! I hope this post has inspired you to try a few unconventional ways to learn piano.

In case you missed them, here are links to the various products mentioned in this post.

Piano Marvel: Use promo code OGBB22 for $3 off the monthly fee. Find the website here.

ProPractice: Find the website here.

Musicnotes: Browse the Most-Popular Sheet Music Downloads

Modacity: Click here to take advantage of 35% off the price of an annual subscription

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And for more piano inspiration, check out the following posts:

If you found value in this post, please help me out by dropping a comment below or by sharing the post with your friends. I would sincerely appreciate your assistance in spreading the word about my mission! I’m working hard to bring you only the best products and services.

Thank you so much for stopping by, and I wish you all the best in your piano journey!

A Complete Review of ProPractice by Dr. Josh Wright

A Complete Review of ProPractice by Dr. Josh Wright

Looking for an online piano course that covers piano technique and repertoire? Regardless of your reasons for considering an online piano course, please accept this review of ProPractice as an invitation. An invitation to an entirely new level of playing that you may not have thought possible before.

Maybe you started piano lessons as a kid, but life got in the way. Or perhaps you’ve been playing piano all your life but need a little extra something to keep your playing fresh.

Either way, “ProPractice” just might be what you’ve been missing.

I initially discovered the course while looking for a way to continue studying classical repertoire without consistent lessons. And I was so impressed with the quality that I became an affiliate for the course shortly after purchasing it.

Whether you’ve heard of the course before or not, stick with me as I break down all the details. And if, by the end of the post, you’re still not sure whether the course is right for you, please don’t hesitate to drop a comment below, and I’ll be happy to answer your questions!

With that, let’s dive into the force behind the course, Dr. Josh Wright.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as affiliates of Amazon and Dr. Josh Wright’s ProPractice course, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. I take no credit for the images appearing on this page. All images courtesy of Eduardo Romero from Pexels, TMGZ2021, & Nomadsoul1 from Getty Images Pro via Canva.

Who is Dr. Josh Wright?

Dr. Wright is an avid teacher and performer. He has earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan and was a prizewinner at the 2015 National Chopin Competition. His accolades include a host of prizes from other acclaimed competitions as well. Check them out here.

He is also a Steinway Artist and was inducted into the Steinway & Sons Teacher Hall of Fame in October 2019.

In other words, his backgrounds both as a performer and a teacher are entirely legit.

But don’t take my word for it. Check him out for yourself:

Dr. Wright has an active YouTube channel with new content added regularly. You can get a feel for his teaching style by checking out the videos below:

Review of ProPractice: The Content

ProPractice includes video lessons ranging from effective practice to technique and artistry. The course is divided into early and mid to late beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Each level is further divided into technique and repertoire sections.

The course itself is designed to facilitate learning for students from a wide range of levels. In the early beginner level, video lessons assume the learner knows nothing about reading music. Gradually, learners are guided through various exercises to solidify understanding of the basics.

Meanwhile, learners who have experience can dive into the levels most applicable to their current skill level.

ProPractice additionally covers scales, arpeggios, triads, and 7th chords. This is a handy feature if you’ve never had to play scales before.

One of the best features of the course is his in-depth coverage of how to play specific pieces from the classical repertoire. This was the selling point for me because I love classical piano and have a massive list of pieces I eventually want to master.

Dr. Wright covers repertoire from early beginner through advanced. Here is a tiny sampling of the pieces he gives play-by-play instructions on:

  • Bach: Prelude in C Major
  • Beethoven: Fur Elise
  • Beethoven: Moonlight Sonata (all movements)
  • Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G minor
  • Chopin: Nocturne in C-sharp minor
  • Debussy: Arabesque No. 1
  • Debussy: Clair de lune
  • Rachmaninoff: 1st movement of the 2nd Concerto
  • Ravel: Jeux d’eau
  • Satie: Gymnopedie No. 1

Who should consider this course?

This course is for anyone who aspires to play classical piano. Dr. Wright’s mission is to peel back the curtain on performing classical piano, so anyone who desires to learn can improve their skills. Through ProPractice, you have instant access to tips and tricks from a professional concert pianist.

At its core, classical piano is about the expression of emotion. Through dynamics, phrasing, and the individual articulation of each note, pianists communicate emotions ranging from ecstasy to melancholy.

And it’s the tiniest details that make all the difference in every spellbinding performance.

Through advice ranging from organizing a practice session to how to phrase one of Rachmaninoff’s most hauntingly beautiful melodies, Dr. Wright covers all the secrets to classical piano success.

Depending upon your level and learning style, the course could stand by itself or complement instruction from a piano teacher.

Again, the insight into the interpretation of an unprecedented array of classical piano repertoire is what makes this course shine—once learned, information that can apply to other pieces and outside the classical genre.

Who shouldn’t invest in this course?

It’s difficult to execute a thorough review of ProPractice without this one crucial detail. If you hate classical piano, this course is decidedly not for you.

And if you’re looking for a course on simply the basics of playing the instrument, you would likely benefit from an alternate course unless your end goal is classical.

Although Dr. Wright has recently added a few videos by a different piano teacher on playing jazz, don’t invest in this course if jazz is your passion.

You also won’t learn much about improv. Nor does it cover in-depth information on music theory, harmonizing pop tunes, or playing by ear.

And although there is an argument to be made about the value of learning classical techniques, it may be tough to get through such in-depth teaching if you can’t stand classical. Or if you’re learning for the sole purpose of playing with your church’s worship band.

The course does not offer any direct feedback on your playing from Dr. Wright, so you may want to look elsewhere if that is an important feature.

ProPractice is dedicated to playing classical piano. And if you’re interested in advancing your classical repertoire, this is the course for you.

If you’re looking for help with music theory or memorization, check out this post for resources!

Review of ProPractice: My Story

A review of ProPractice wouldn’t be complete without a personal story, so here is mine.

As mentioned earlier, I decided to invest in ProPractice after following Dr. Wright’s YouTube channel for several months. Although I started lessons around age 7, I never took piano very seriously until college.

I loved to practice, but my version of practice included playing whatever I wanted. This resulted in relatively ineffective practice and slow improvement. And I never set out to major in music. In fact, I was a pre-veterinary medicine major when I started college in the fall of 2003.

Shortly after classes started that fall, something drove me back to music. I called one of the piano faculty on campus, and she asked me to come in and play something for her. To this day, I have no idea what I played, but whatever it was, it was enough to convince her that I could be a music major.

And just like that, piano became my main focus.

Although I ultimately pursued a career in healthcare, I have never lost my love for playing classical piano. But after college, studying with a teacher became difficult due to demands from a full-time job and kids. I knew that I wanted to keep improving my skills but was at a loss as to how exactly to do that without consistent lessons from a teacher.

It was at this point I discovered Dr. Wright. And I’ve been a firm believer in the value of the course ever since. If you’re interested in reading more of my story, make sure to check out the links at the bottom of the post.

Elegie in Eb Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff – Although not included in the ProPractice course, I did learn principles from other pieces that I could apply to this one and which pushed the performance from drab to dazzling. It’s one of my all-time favorite pieces from the classical repertoire!

How is the course organized?

The content consists of separate videos covering a wide range of topics. Videos are further subdivided into early, mid to late beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Information is further separated into technique and repertoire sections.

Dr. Wright uses multiple angles to film each video so you can both observe his entire body and hands during demonstrations. The video and audio quality are both excellent.

And the course uses the Teachable platform, which means you can also download the app on your phone.

What is the time requirement for the course?

Videos range in length from several minutes to over an hour for a complete interpretation of some pieces. You have the option of picking and choosing which videos you find most relevant.

Or you can start at the very beginning and watch all the videos.

You’ll find value regardless of how you choose to interact with the course.

Are there bonus perks of enrolling?

Absolutely! One of the best perks is access to a members-only Facebook group where you can interact with other people who love playing the piano as much as you do!

Dr. Wright also offers discount codes for music and other products within the course. He additionally offers a trial membership for his other course, VIP MasterClass. The MasterClass offers a weekly video addressing specific subscriber questions and access to all previously recorded videos.

He additionally provides his personal email for questions, and in my experience, he has been very responsive.

Is going through the course as effective as instruction from a piano teacher?

Yes and no. It’s always helpful to get outside feedback on your playing. Unfortunately, getting feedback from Dr. Wright himself is not part of this particular course.

But members do frequently post videos of themselves playing in the Facebook group to get feedback.

Aside from feedback, however, this course does offer something that can be difficult to find from many piano teachers. And that something is step-by-step instruction on playing classical piano from a concert pianist.

There are scores of outstanding piano teachers out there. But most have not had either the educational or performance experience of Dr. Wright. And it’s therefore difficult to find the type of knowledge he has.

Watching videos of pianists on YouTube is one thing. But seeing a thorough demonstration of how you can pull off the angst in the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s moonlight sonata is quite another.

It’s the difference between flat, shaky performances and performances that are vibrant and confident. Even if you’re only playing for an audience of yourself, wouldn’t it be exhilarating to find out for yourself just how far you can take your playing with secrets from the pros?

Review of ProPractice: It’s Your Turn

I genuinely hope you have found this review of ProPractice helpful in determining whether the course is right for you. If you’re still on the fence, I highly recommend following Dr. Wright’s YouTube channel because it gives an accurate picture of his teaching within the course as well.

And if you find value from the YouTube channel, consider investing in his course. It’s difficult to find a pianist with his level of educational and performance experience who is also down-to-earth and an effective teacher.

In a world filled with false promises and fancy ads, Dr. Wright is a refreshing beacon of hope. He doesn’t promise perfection by taking his course. Nor does he guarantee that you will be good enough to become a concert pianist. In fact, his videos often feature the mistakes he makes and how he overcomes them.

He simply gives all his best information in hopes that you can use it to be slightly better than you were yesterday.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take “slightly better” over “perfection” any day!

Click here to check out the course for yourself.

As mentioned previously in this review of ProPractice, the course emphasizes classical playing. If classical isn’t your jam, ProPractice may not be your course. There are scores of websites, courses, and apps dedicated to all kinds of piano playing. I encourage you to keep looking until you find that one thing that resonates with you and your goals.

And if you’re looking for more great piano inspiration, make sure you check out the following posts:

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Kids to Practice Piano

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Kids to Practice Piano

You’ve signed your kids up for piano lessons. Everything was going smoothly in the beginning. Your kids were excited about starting, and getting your kids to practice piano was effortless.

But something shifted.

Suddenly you find yourself begging, bargaining, and pleading to get them to practice. Or yelling. And maybe the yelling is as mutual as the frustration surrounding the topic of practice.

What gives? Your kids were thrilled at the prospect of learning to play the piano. And you, being the well-informed and conscientious mom you are, were eagerly awaiting their transformation into brilliant, well-rounded tiny humans.

Was enrolling your kids in piano lessons a mistake? Maybe you’re questioning your parenting abilities and secretly fear their practice aversion is somehow your fault.

As a pianist and a mom, believe me when I say that getting kids to practice can be as much art as creating music. But you can do it! You can guide your kids into the opportunity of a lifetime WITHOUT tears and screaming.

And it all starts with understanding why your kids avoid piano practice.

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. I take no credit for the photos appearing on this page. All photos courtesy of twinsterphoto and FamVeld from Getty Images via Canva.

Why is getting your kids to practice piano so difficult?

I will go out on a limb and say that most kids hate piano practice for two reasons. The first is that it can be tedious. For the most part, kids are constantly overstimulated. Flashing screens, bouncing cursors, and billions of on-demand videos seem way more exciting than a piano, a book, and a pencil.

I’m not here to deny the many benefits that come with being constantly keyed into the online world.

But I will point out that our attention span is now around 6 seconds. According to several sources, this is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.

Maybe this article should instead be about teaching your pet fish to play the piano?

But in all seriousness, piano practice requires focus, which no longer comes naturally to most people. It’s instead something that must be trained.

The second reason kids hate practice is that they have no idea how to spend their practice time. Your kids know they need to practice because you and their teacher tell them to, but they don’t actually know how.

And because your kids don’t know how to practice, their piano practice time often becomes monotonous.

Practice: Stuck on Repeat

Between the boredom and uncertainty of what practice should entail, it’s no wonder piano practice gets such a bad rap. And it’s no wonder kids instead gravitate toward other activities and learn to dread practice time.

But at its core, music is about creativity. It’s about the expression of human emotion. And it’s about individuality.

Music is the exact opposite of boredom.

So how can you convince your kids that piano practice is a really fun and exciting way to spend their time?

We’ll get there, but first, let’s explore what practice is and what it is not.

Somewhere along the line, piano practice became synonymous with repetition. In other words, practice means you play something repeatedly until you can suddenly play it correctly. And then you come back the next day and simply repeat what you did yesterday all over again. You do this day after day until you go back to your lesson, at which point your teacher assigns new songs, and the cycle continues.

And so on and so forth until the end of time.

Seriously. How boring does that sound?

Repetition vs. Practice

On the surface, repeating something until it’s perfect seems to make sense. Isn’t that why they say, “practice makes perfect?”

But let me ask you something. Does simply repeating something mean you will automatically get better?

Let’s say I want to dunk like Michael Jordan. I decide to “practice” by making 500 shots. But by the end of my session, I’m still nowhere near his skill level. What gives?

Repetition does not guarantee improvement. Actual progress comes first from identifying exactly what you want to improve. You then must find a specific tactic to get better at that thing.

I realize that this may seem far into the weeds on a post about getting your kids to practice piano. But I think it’s important to understand both the barriers to and significance of practice.

At that point, you can help your kids find excitement and meaning in their practice sessions. And you can kiss the tantrums goodbye!

If you’ve fallen into the repetition as practice trap, please don’t feel bad about it! There are far fewer resources out there on effective practice than there are about playing an instrument.

Teachers everywhere expect students to practice and somehow assume students know what that means. I’ve been playing piano for nearly 30 years and will be the first to say that I associated repetition with practice for far too long.

I still fall into the repetition trap from time to time. But thanks to this post, you have the resources to help turn all that around for your kids!

A Controversial Practice Philosophy

This next section may seem contrary to everything I’ve said thus far, but it still deserves telling. Piano lessons are about introducing your kids to new skills and an outlet for their creativity.

The right kind of practice is essential for growth, but every kid is an individual. And chances are, your kids will not grow up to be concert pianists.

But could every kid who takes piano lessons foster a hobby they will enjoy for the rest of their lives? Absolutely.

The art of practice is valuable in and of itself. It’s an opportunity to teach your kids how to improve at something. It teaches them about persistence and creative problem-solving.

And these are lessons that are applicable beyond the keyboard.

Many piano teachers out there have mandatory practice requirements. And I agree that practice is vital for improving. But not every kid needs the same amount of practice to make improvements.

And depending upon the goals your kids have for themselves; their practice sessions may look different.

Let your kids explore piano in a way that excites them. Make practice something they look forward to instead of something they dread. Now let’s dive into getting your kids to practice piano!

Get Your Kids to Practice Piano by Setting Reasonable Goals

My very first recommendation for getting your kids to practice piano is to sit down with them and talk about practice goals. Their teacher may have a weekly practice expectation, but how do your kids feel about this requirement?

And how does this requirement fit into their current obligations?

Many piano teachers would love to think that kids devote themselves to the piano at the exclusion of all else. But this kind of thinking isn’t realistic in today’s world.

Kids are involved in many activities, and why shouldn’t they be? Life is about exploration and learning new things. The truth is that you can fit regular practice into any schedule, regardless of how busy that schedule is.

But everyone has to be on the same page about the goals your piano kid has for themself.

Start with the following questions to get the conversation started with your kids:

  • What other activities are you involved with, and how much time do you realistically have available for practice?
  • Does your teacher have a minimum practice requirement?
  • When is the best time to get your practice done?
  • What are the barriers you see to getting practice done daily?
  • And are there strategies you can use to overcome those barriers?

The keyword here is REASONABLE. There’s no room for guilt, and if you have 5 minutes a day for practice, it’s better than nothing!

Stick to a Consistent Daily Practice Time

Once you’ve had the practice discussion with your kids, it’s time to set a consistent daily practice time. Again, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve decided on 5 or 50 minutes of daily practice time; the key is consistency.

Consider whether your kids may benefit from multiple short practice sessions rather than one long one. Research shows that keeping sessions short promotes more effective learning. As an example, if your goal is 30 minutes a day, try to break it up into three 10-minute sessions.

Try to attach practice time to another established habit. An example of this might be sitting down at the piano immediately following their afterschool snack every day.

Some families find that practicing before school works better than after. Our family is not quite that evolved yet, but it’s something I’m considering for the future.

Again, the key is consistency. Your kids will take more away from multiple, short daily sessions than one long session once a week.

Help Your Kids Structure Their Practice Time

Now it’s time to get creative! If you take one thing from this post, I hope it’s that practice should be anything but dull repetition.

Have a conversation with your kids’ piano teacher about what should happen during practice. Get ideas for how you can help your kids spice up their practice time.

Send a notebook to lessons so their teacher can write down weekly practice goals.

Find out what drives your kids to learn the instrument. Are they really into pop music? Do they love classical? Or do they adore video game music?

Whatever your kids are into, I guarantee there’s piano music for it out there. Ask the teacher for recommendations on music that’s level appropriate and accessible.

Incorporate the music they love into their practice routine. Use it as a reward for getting through the stuff that’s important but not as fun.

Find out whether they can use apps or websites during practice time to beef up their musical knowledge.

I know this sounds like a fair amount of work but staying active in the process will help your kids have a better experience. It shows that you’re invested in their learning.

Get Your Kids to Practice Piano by Learning with Your Kids

And speaking of learning, have you considered taking piano lessons along with your kids? Sharing the experience of learning is a great way to bond with your kids.

It gives you more patience and empathy for your kids when you come home tired from a long day at work and aren’t necessarily enthused about practice either.

And it allows you to show your kids that you’re never too old to learn something new.

Whether you’re a total beginner or dabbled as a child, now is the best time to get back into it!

If you’re intrigued by taking lessons, make sure you check out my post about how to learn piano as an adult.

Reward Their Efforts

Help your kids feel good about their efforts by rewarding them for a job well done. Maybe it’s a small weekly reward for hitting their goal time. Or perhaps it’s a larger reward for mastering a particular piece.

Many parents find success with practice charts. I use an app to document practice and find it both motivating and rewarding.

Whatever the reward, it’s important to teach them the art of celebrating their wins.

Perhaps fidgets or stickers from Amazon will be enough to entice them?

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For information on the practice app that I love, check out this post.

Connect with Other Learners

Some of my most memorable musical experiences have come from performances with others. Music is not meant to be a solitary pursuit, so look for ways to help your kids get involved with other musical kids.

One of the major benefits of learning piano is countless opportunities to collaborate. From chamber music to choir to solo accompaniment, the possibilities are endless!

I even recently discovered how fun worship band playing could be.

Introducing your kids to the world of musical collaboration may be just the secret sauce you need to spark their learning!

Many teachers have performance requirements built into their studio policies and encourage collaboration with other kids.

And if your kids are shy about performing, a friend may be vital to helping them have positive performance experiences. It’s truly a win-win situation that will hopefully foster a lifetime of teamwork and collaboration skills applicable outside the realm of music.

Student/Teacher Fit

I’ve mentioned piano teachers here and there throughout this post, but if your kids are quite opposed to practice, it’s worth a conversation with their teacher.

There may be a mismatch between the teacher’s expectations for your kids and the expectations your kids have for themselves. Piano teachers have a reputation for being rigidly type A, and although not all teachers are that way, many are.

Personality clashes can result in and make lessons a drag for your kids. And I’m not saying lessons should be all rainbows and sunshine, but the mark of a good teacher is how your kid feels when they leave lessons for the day.

Do your kids feel inspired to reach new musical levels? Or are they guilt-ridden about not achieving some hypothetical practice requirement?

To minimize practice resistance and maximize learning goals, you must have a good fit between the teacher and the student. If your goal is to expose your kids to music and foster a love of music, it’s crucial that the teacher understands and supports these goals.

But if your kids have a more serious goal of achieving mastery of the instrument, you must find a teacher capable of guiding their journey.

Neither goal is right or wrong. And there are all kinds of teachers out there. Make sure you find one who fosters the type of learning most beneficial to your kids.

Don’t Sweat It

Although this has been a post all about the ins and outs of getting your kids to practice piano, don’t sweat it if none of the above advice works. All kids are individuals and take different things away from their learning experiences.

Will the teacher become frustrated if they have to guide your kids through something they should have practiced at home? Possibly.

But there’s no way of knowing the future impact continuing lessons will have on your kids. This is true whether or not they practice.

I’m a firm believer that even if your kids are not fond of practice, there’s value in the experience of taking lessons and learning something new. I don’t believe that kids should quit lessons because they don’t practice.

I believe that there is an opportunity to explore goals and have a conversation about the value of the experience.

And maybe your kids decide that they really hate the piano.

That’s ok too. Maybe you can use this opportunity to get them involved with a different instrument.

And maybe they will discover an instrument they are deeply passionate about, and you will never need to have the practice discussion ever again.

All this to say, never guilt yourself about your kids not putting in the practice time. There is a massive range of reasons why daily practice may be unrealistic. And it’s pointless to take a turn to negative town for things beyond your control.

Know that by enrolling your kids in lessons, you are opening them up to a world of new experiences and possibilities. And isn’t that, in and of itself, enough?

It’s Your Turn

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. What are the barriers you face to consistent practice? Are there ways you have found to spice up your kids’ practice time? And have you pursued piano lessons for yourself?

Whatever your feedback, I’d love to hear all about it!

More great piano inspiration is to come but, in the meantime, make sure you check out one of the following posts:

5 Simple Reasons You Should be Calling Yourself a Pianist

5 Simple Reasons You Should be Calling Yourself a Pianist

“At what point do you get to be called a pianist?”

I recently stumbled across this hotly debated topic in a Facebook group for adults learning to play the piano. And the feedback by fellow adult learners were more than a little shocking.

Responses ranged from anyone who can find middle C to only those who accept money for their skills. Many replies fell somewhere in the “you can only consider yourself a pianist when you can play the 3rd Rachmaninoff concerto blindfolded and handcuffed in front of a live studio audience” camp.

People argued. Tempers flared.

Responses appeared in ALL CAPS. Exclamation marks peppered the entire exchange.

Who knew that such a seemingly humdrum question would result in an outright clash of egos?

And more importantly, what does any of this have to do with you?

This post may contain affiliate links, and as an affiliate of Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. I take no credit for the photos appearing on this page. All photos courtesy of pixelshot, Sbringser, and Negative Space via Canva.

Why You Should Care About This Definition

A definition sets you apart. It tells those around you that you’re serious about what you do. And it dramatically increases your success rate.

How you think about yourself changes the actions you take. If you see yourself a certain way, taking the steps necessary to develop into that person becomes more effortless according to James Clear, author of the phenomenal book Atomic Habits.

As an example, let’s explore getting into shape. There are two ways you can think about getting more exercise.

The first involves focusing only on all the work to become more physically fit. You could spend your time thinking about all those early morning workouts. And all the time it will take you to get back into shape. After a while, it becomes easier and easier to sleep in rather than hit the gym.

The alternative is to think of yourself as an athlete. Does an athlete skip their workouts because they had one too many the night before? Hardly. Does an athlete avoid the gym because it’s too cold outside? Nope.

Do you see how establishing an identity rather than focusing on the action steps themselves sets you up for success? Decisions become a no-brainer.

And you quickly start seeing the results of all those decisions you’ve made add up. Pretty soon, you’re much closer to your goals than ever before.

If you’re looking for more identity-based habit change inspiration, make sure you check out Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Pianist vs. Piano Player

You’re reading this because you’re serious about the piano. But a tiny part of you worries that you’ll never be good enough to call yourself a pianist. You fear that because you’re not into classical and don’t play for money that you don’t have the right to label yourself a “pianist.”

I call bullsh*t.

You’re a pianist. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been playing. Or whether you only sit down to plunk away at show tunes.

Pianists come from all genres and levels. The one constant is how you see yourself.

And if piano brings you joy, you should be calling yourself a pianist. Not a piano player. Or someone who plays the piano.

You’re a pianist.

But if you’re still stuck on the words of those piano trolls who insist that you can only call yourself a pianist if you memorize ALL your music, it’s ok. I’ve got you.

Trolls are loud, but the loudest are usually the ones doing the least amount of work. And trolls thrive on criticizing others.

But you don’t have to be on the receiving end of that criticism. You know the truth and, thanks to this article, have five reasons to be calling yourself a pianist.

1) You Should be Calling Yourself a Pianist Because You’re Passionate

“The important thing is to feel your music, really feel it and believe it.”

Ray Charles

Do you find yourself thinking about the piano, even when you’re away from it? Does something about playing the piano feel right even when it’s hard? As if you were always meant to do it?

Does playing the piano give you a deep sense of fulfillment?

If you can answer “yes” to the above questions, you should call yourself a pianist.

Passion means losing track of time when you’re doing what you love. It means daydreaming. And it means ignoring the naysayers because there’s nothing that can replace the feeling you get from playing the piano.

2) You Love Practicing

Do you look forward to that magical time of the day when you are free to play whatever you want? Sure, you have a few goals but for the most part, do you long just to play?

If so, you should be calling yourself a pianist.

It doesn’t matter what you’re practicing. It could be scales, pop, or movie scores. Maybe you love to play songs by ear. If you can’t wait to sit down and get a piece of music under your fingers, you’re a pianist.

3) You Watch YouTube Videos About Playing Piano

A true sign of passion is your YouTube history. Does yours reflect a watch list of piano videos? Maybe it’s tutorials on classical technique. Or outstanding performances by world-class pianists.

Maybe you’re trying to understand music theory, and your watch list consists of minor chords or the circle of fifths.

If so, then you should be calling yourself a pianist.

4) You’re Getting Better Every Day

Regardless of how yesterday’s practice session went, do you constantly aspire for more? Do you start every day by thinking about how you can improve, even by 1%?

You’re a pianist!

And between the practice and all those YouTube videos, you are well on your way to massive improvements!

5) You Should Be Calling Yourself a Pianist Because You Love the Piano!

“When you play, never mind who listens to you.”

Robert Schumann

Can’t stop talking about playing the piano? Maybe you’ve just written an entire blog post about one comment in a piano-related Facebook group. Or you can’t wait to apply the latest self-improvement book you’ve read to the topic of playing the piano.

If any of this applies to you, you should be calling yourself a pianist!

I hope you’ve caught on to one simple theme by this point. A theme that excludes the opinions of others.

The theme is that calling yourself a pianist is NOT about any objective measure of your skill. It’s not about your skill level compared to anyone else around you.

Calling yourself a pianist is about your love for the instrument. It’s about appreciating the music of others. Getting goosebumps when you hear that piece you love.

It’s about feeling a deeply rooted passion for the instrument. And a constant desire to take your artistry to a deeper level. It’s about never giving up, even when it seems like you’ll never master that new technique.

Forget about all those nasty internet piano trolls. Isn’t it about time for you to write your own story?

It’s Your Turn to Start Calling Yourself a Pianist

Pianists exist in all genres.

If piano brings you joy, start calling yourself a pianist.

Can’t wait to get home so you can try out that new practice technique you saw on YouTube? Start calling yourself a pianist.

And if you can’t imagine your life without the instrument, start calling yourself a pianist!

Do you love playing pop tunes? You’re a pianist. Maybe jazz is your jam. You’re a pianist. Or perhaps you love playing worship music at church. It’s time to start calling yourself a pianist. Or organist (as applicable).

Stop letting others dictate how you see yourself. Let’s you and I make a pact. We are no longer falling into the comparison trap from here on out. We’re not giving in to the myth that we need permission from anyone else. And we’re not letting those piano trolls win!

Being a pianist is something that comes from within. It’s not a label anyone else can give you. And if you’re looking for more piano inspiration, make sure you check out the following posts:

As always, don’t forget to leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the post. 🙂

Easy Brain Hacks to Upgrade Your Piano Playing

Easy Brain Hacks to Upgrade Your Piano Playing

Do you ever feel stuck in your piano playing? You feel as if you put in the practice time but just aren’t making the progress you’d like.

Or maybe you do feel like you’re making huge strides in your playing but want to take things to the next level.

As a lifelong pianist, I’m always looking for that slight edge to take my skills to the next level. And I’m ecstatic to present you with a few easy brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing!

This post may contain affiliate links, and as affiliates of SkillShare and Amazon, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information. All images on this page courtesy of Canva.

Background on Brain Hacks to Upgrade Your Piano Playing

I’ve written a bit about my academic background in other posts but will mention it again for readers new to the blog. My first degree was in music, but I have since obtained a doctorate in nursing practice.

This means that I LOVE to research and pass along credible information to my readers, especially as it pertains to the science of playing the piano. In other words, I am constantly looking for the crossroads between art and science.

And because there’s an absurd amount of inaccurate information out there, my goal is always to cut through the crap to present you with only the truly useful stuff.

The Book

With all that being said, I recently stumbled across a fantastic book written by a development molecular biologist named John Medina. His mission in writing the book is to bring forth simplified research findings of how the brain works to the general public.

The book is called Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. And although the book is not written specifically for pianists, I feel it is both relevant and crucial information to anyone interested in upgrading their piano skills.

The Research

For me, one of the very first things that struck a chord about the book is Medina’s equal attention to quality. All research he presents must first be published in a peer-reviewed journal. This means that it must pass an extremely rigorous process to make sure the information is scientifically accurate.

Medina then requires the research to be repeated, meaning it wasn’t simply some type of fluke. He then takes it further by boiling the research down to information that anyone can understand.

As someone who has read countless peer-reviewed articles, believe me when I say that researchers don’t write for clarity! Deciphering this type of writing is an art in itself. And so, I appreciate Medina’s mission to present high-level research to anyone in plain English with a side of humor.

The Brain

This sounds crazy, but despite massive research advances over the past century or so, we still understand little about the brain’s inner workings.

To put it into perspective, Medina makes this comment, “In truth, if we ever fully understood how the human brain knew how to pick up a glass of water, it would represent a major achievement.”

Take a minute to process that statement. We still don’t even understand the fundamental task of how the brain takes us from thirst to drinking. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

And if we don’t understand something as simple as picking up a glass, we are lightyears from a solid understanding of something as complex as playing the piano.

Although I don’t promise a complete understanding of the complex interplay between cognition, memory, muscle, and emotion that occurs when playing piano, my goal is to present a few of my aha moments from the book.

And as the title suggests, my goal is to present brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing. But keep in mind that Medina’s brain rules apply to life in general.

So take this gift of knowledge and apply it liberally, both at and away from the keyboard. And if you’re thirsting for more, make sure you pick up the book for yourself. I promise that it’s both exciting and informative, and you will come away with tips to improve your life and relationships.

And so, without further ado, let’s dig into brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing!

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Brain Hacks to Improve Your Piano Playing: Exercise is Key

I promise to come back around to the piano in a minute but first, let me take you on a detour with my alter ego in the healthcare field. My career in healthcare started in the nursing home. And to this day, my practice continues to be based in this setting.

What this means for you is that I have extensive experience working with a population heavily impacted by cognitive decline. So much so that up until a few years ago, I never realized the significant bias I had developed by my work in the nursing home.

You may be asking yourself what cognitive decline has to do with playing the piano. My response to you would be that it has everything to do with it. Playing the piano begins and ends with cognition.

And by understanding the factors that impact healthy cognition, you can understand how to become a better pianist.

My Anecdotal Evidence

Until a few years ago, my only frame of reference for people older than 80 had been exceptionally frail people who seemed to show a steady pattern of physical and mental decline.

And so, imagine my surprise when I began my outpatient clinical rotation and was suddenly introduced to a whole new world of older patients. These were patients well into their 80s and 90s who continued to lead full and vibrant lives. They were driving, working, and even functioning as (gasp!) organists for large congregations.

I distinctly remember almost falling off my chair when one particularly delightful 90 something-year-old told me that he continued to mow his own 1+ acre lawn. With a push mower.

Mind. Blown.

This was the moment when my curiosity around the distinctly different outcomes in aging was first sparked. It left me questioning whether there are distinct actions people can either take or avoid to preserve cognition over time.

And although countless factors ultimately contribute to cognitive function over time, something deep inside whispered that this 90-something push mowing his lawn was on to something.

The Research

It turns out that my hunch was correct. According to Medina, “A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary.”

And he goes on to describe research-proven time and again that points to an improvement in areas including long-term memory, attention, problem-solving, and even fluid intelligence in people who consistently exercise.

If you’re thinking those skills are suspiciously similar to those needed for playing piano, then you too are on to something!

You may be asking yourself what this means if you haven’t exercised regularly up to this point in your life. Hang on because I’ve got some great news for you!

As a whole, research supports the idea that even if you haven’t been a regular exerciser in your life, it’s never too late to start. And bumps in cognition come with even relatively mild exercise regimens.

Exercise has proven to preserve cognition over time, and there is also research to support its effectiveness in treating anxiety and depression.

I’m not sure about you, but this might be one of my favorite brain hacks to improve your piano playing!

Brain Hacks to Improve Your Piano Playing: Make it Exciting!

Would it surprise you to learn that our brain ignores boring things? And yet, how much attention do we give to making our learning experiences, including piano practice, interesting?

Zero.

Up until recently, I’ve had a very dull approach to practice. My practice sessions start with a scale warm-up or two, move on to some technical practice, and finish with one or two repertoire pieces.

Repetition has historically been at the core of what I do in the practice room. And I suspect many (if not most!) pianists have been conditioned to take the same humdrum approach to their practice.

It does leave you wondering whether all this boring practice does anything to advance your skills.

The Research

The short answer is no. According to Medina, “The more attention the brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded – and retained.” In other words, “Better attention always equals better learning.”

Not only does improved attention translate to better retention, but our attention spans have a very short expiration date. As a general rule of thumb, sustained attention is only maintained for about 10 minutes before our mind starts wandering.

Given that my practice sessions typically last around 30 minutes, how much am I actually retaining? Most importantly, how can I improve retention to make the most of my practice time?

Improve Retention With Short Practice Segments

My first thought comes straight from Medina’s lecture model as described in the book. Given our short attention span, chunk material into 10-minute sections.

Spend the first minute on a broad concept and the next nine looping in details related to the larger one. Once the 10 minutes are up, start with another broad concept.

For example, spend 10 minutes on a very specific task, such as improving rhythm in section A rather than attempting to improve all aspects of an entire piece over that same time frame. And once the 10 minutes are up, move on to the next clear-cut practice task.

Incorporate Emotion Into Practice

Any time you can incorporate emotion into learning, retention will be enhanced. To demonstrate this phenomenon, think back to a song that holds special meaning for you.

I’m willing to bet that every time you hear that song, you’re flooded with a very specific emotion. Whether it’s your wedding song or a break-up anthem, you probably go right back to a distinct time in your life whenever you hear it.

My suggestion for you is to attach emotion to your playing. Hone in on a unique feeling with every section. And get creative with this. Don’t limit yourself to happy, sad, or mad.

Try incorporating euphoria, despair, and angst into your playing. Maybe spend time differentiating between just how different you can make “boredom” and “apathy” sound.

Find the Meaning

Our brains love patterns. And any time you can make a connection between new and previously learned information, retention becomes both more accessible and potent.

My previous post lists a couple of resources for creating meaning in playing the piano. One involves creating a visual map of a piece, and the other consists of brushing up on music theory. Both are fantastic ways to transform tiny figures on a page into a compelling musical performance.

Check out the post here.

Other Thoughts on Brain Hacks to Improve Your Piano Playing

It’s difficult to articulate all the valuable information contained within this one book. But if there’s one thing to take away, it would be that our brains are designed to solve problems by exploring.

In the (admittedly somewhat morbid) words of my favorite Downton character, Violet Crawley, “All life is a series of problems which we must try and solve, first one and then the next and then the next until at last, we die.”

Our brains have been helping us navigate complex problems for centuries. We learn by doing. And by exploring.

So I would encourage you to keep trying. Keep searching for ways to improve. Look for unconventional ways to improve your piano practice. Experiment. Play what you love. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to be creative.

If you’re a classical pianist, try jazz. Or improvisation. You could even try your hand at composition.

And get some sleep! Medina has an entire chapter devoted to the massive impact sleep has on learning.

Most importantly, you can conveniently get your copy of Brain Rules by clicking the picture below.

It’s Your Turn

I hope you have found a few brain hacks to upgrade your piano playing after reading this post! If you’re looking for more inspiration and piano playing resources, make sure to check out my previous posts:

And that’s it for this week. As always, I wish you all the best in the practice room and beyond!

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