I’m going to confess something. I’m a practice nerd. Like Star Trek nerd. I get super excited about practice, man. We talkin’ bout practice. Today, I just want to share a few practical strategies and tips you can use right away to make an effective and efficient piano practice.
Now when I say “automatic,” I don’t mean to become a mindless practicing robot. What I really mean is that practice is just a habit. You can make practice feel as natural as tying your shoes or brushing your teeth (unless that’s not normal for you… ew).
The journey to get there is tough… but the reward is oh so sweet.
First, set up your practice “environment.” Make it conducive to you wanting to practice. Why do you think restaurants are dimly lit at night? I read about a study saying low lights make a person more hungry or comfortable enough to stay longer. I don’t know how much truth there is to that but all fast food places seem to be as bright as the sun 24/7 (think about that).
So hang posters, quotes, pictures, pretty much ANYTHING you can think of that will inspire you to practice. Get rid of ALL distractions, your environment is supposed to be 100% motivation. If phones are ringing, a TV is on in the background, or even the kitchen is luring you towards its refrigerator (FROZEN PIZZA!), that’s a no-no. I remember my most influential piano teacher actually had a practice “shed” in the backyard away from the main house.
Second, start small. You have to walk before you run and crawl before you walk. Too many people overwhelm themselves by setting gigantic, unrealistic, impossible goals. You’re not going to conquer Mount Everest on your first hike. Progress is made by baby steps, not huge leaps. Start as small as 5 minutes if you have to. When that feels normal, add a minute or two. If that’s too much, back off and try again. Small wins lead to huge victories.
Third, for those times you don’t feel like practicing. Two things are inevitable in life: death and taxes. In your pursuit of excellence, there’s a third one to add: plateaus. When you’re trying to build consistency over the long run, you will hit a wall guaranteed. It’s inevitable. But remember that you can climb over it and resume your journey.
So when you reach a plateau, remember to try something simple. Just sit on your piano bench/chair. That’s it. Literally just sit there and wait… set a timer and stay for at least 5 minutes. I’m pretty sure you’ll get down to business within a minute or two though.
But what if you sit there for the full 5 minutes and leave? Well… you got bigger problems I can’t fix buddy!
I actually got this idea from fitness. There would be days where I would rather count the hairs on my dog than exercise. When I was feeling this unmotivated I simply made it a point to change into my workout gear. That’s right, I made changing my clothes THE goal. And it worked because at that point you pretty much have no choice to exercise since changing back into your day clothes will make you feel as embarrassed as that time you peed your pants at school (everyone’s been there).
Fourth, make sure you get a calendar. Not an app, an actual physical calendar. There’s nothing more satisfying and motivating (notice a theme here?) than seeing your progress visually. When you “x” out each day of successful practice, you’ll naturally feel tempted to keep the chain going. Famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld did this. One day he woke up and made a commitment to write one joke every day for an entire year. Think of how accomplished he must have felt when he looked up and saw 365 consecutive X’s on his wall.
Fifth, make the commitment to do it 30 days straight. This will be your toughest challenge but once you accomplish a whole month it will be smooth sailing. If not, you’re going to struggle and your practice routine will resemble a roller coaster ride (not the good kind). Scientifically speaking, it takes about 30 days for your brain to register something as a habit, a.k.a. “normal.”
So to wrap things up, making something “automatic” does take some work. You want to think of it as a pyramid of little tasks that you do every day for that one big goal. Remember, it’s a mountain you have to hike one step at a time. When you get there it’s as easy as pie.
Hope to see you at the top.
“What am I looking for?” is the question that will lead you to the right piano teacher. In general, it’s always better to reverse-engineer your problem. Instead of finding a piano teacher and adjusting to their needs, a better strategy would be to find someone who’s more suitable for you or your kid.
So what are you looking for? Do you want someone who knows music fundamentals like the back of their hand? Do you want a fun and enjoyable experience? Someone who’s good with kids? Is it important for your child to build a personal connection or do you want the focus to be on a “music education?”
Once you clarify what you want, the next step is to accept that no teacher can deliver 100% of what you’re looking for. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses and that applies to professionals as well. Shaq was one of the greatest big men to ever play the game of basketball… and one of the worst free throw shooters of all time.
Make a compromise and think of the top 2 or 3 qualities you want a piano teacher to have and pay attention to the following caveats:
Know why? Because it’s EASY to teach talented students. They’re more or less what you would call auto-didactic, students who are really good at teaching themselves, or self-learning. These students will thrive in any environment and most likely with any teacher. I have a few of them and I’ll tell you the most important thing is to not get in their way.
Here’s the most important piece of advice: look at the teachers’ roster of students. If you’re looking for someone who’s good with kids and beginners, make sure their studio is packed with kids who are beginners and have a great connection with the teacher.
People are who they surround themselves with. Every studio reflects their teacher. It’s just like how a professional football team will take on the personality of their head coach.
So when looking for the right piano teacher, make sure you take your time and do your research. Your wallet and your child will thank you later.
When it comes to taking group piano classes or private piano lessons, have you ever wondered which is the better choice?
Today, I want to share with you my personal opinion on the pros and cons of each path so you can make an informed decision.
The immediate, obvious advantage of group piano is having a peer group. When we’re alone not all of us can stay motivated to do whatever it is that needs to get done. It’s hard to see the value (yet) of developing skill at something unless we can compare ourselves to others.
Advantages of Group Piano
So the greatest advantage group piano class can give you is one of accountability. The pressure of not wanting to be the one holding the class back is usually enough to make the average student want to put the work in every day. That’s why mastermind groups and team sports are such powerful social incentives.
And let’s face it, the piano is the loneliest instrument you could ever choose to want to play. Unless you have a rock solid self-discipline it’s hard to keep going without other people to relate to. If you don’t have a strong internal compass, private piano lessons are going to be a tough sell for you.
As a side note, I have to admit that I was always jealous of violinists and other instrumentalists. Having the orchestra as a creative and collaborative outlet is a luxury that pianists usually can’t count on.
Disadvantages of Group Piano
Learning is not a one-size-fits-all model! If you don’t fit into the “average” standard of the group you are placed in, you’ll always stick out like a sore thumb. For example, if you’re always ahead of the curve you’ll have to wait for the rest of the class to catch up each time.
But what’s worse is if you’re the one struggling. Do you really want to be the black sheep that’s always playing catch-up? This could be potentially even more detrimental for a younger student since they are more likely to identify with their peers and haven’t developed the backbone of an adult yet. Cue the feelings of shame and embarrassment.
Unrealistic comparisons and expectations can lead to traumatic experiences.
Another thing to keep in mind is the size of the class. Did you know that the larger the group, the less likely each member will be accountable to each other? In Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence,” he talks about this rule as being the law of numbers. I’d encourage you to read that chapter in more detail. The short of it is that people are more likely to be responsible when they are fewer in number than when they are in a big group. So if you happen to have 40 or more piano classmates… good luck.
Onto private piano lessons.
Advantages of Private Piano Lessons
The biggest advantage (provided you have the right teacher for you) has to do with choice. You can choose to progress effortlessly. Or you can work out of your comfort zone. You’ll become better at your strengths while addressing your weaknesses, all at your own pace. Most importantly, you can choose the type of music you want to play (I hope).
Of course there are many private teachers who don’t give students this option. Many of my transfer students were playing music that they weren’t interested in at all, some of them for a FEW YEARS. Talk about having their curiosity and passion ground into the dirt! In my studio I let my piano students choose all their own music. As a teacher I have a hard time understanding why you would take that freedom away from them.
Disadvantage of Private Piano Lessons
Now, the hardest part and biggest disadvantage of individual lessons is self-accountability. In my experience, adult students struggle the most and have a difficult time being consistent. An important lesson I try to hammer home for them is that they have to be responsible for their own actions. Mommy and Daddy won’t be there to make you practice. What I desperately try to communicate is they have to both create rewards and self-punishments for themselves.
No consequences = no results.
No rewards = miserable experience.
No system in place = a waste of time.
Younger students who have the benefit of a solid support system (parents, environment + teacher) don’t have to bear the responsibility of doing it all on their own. If the right structure and incentives are in place, they will practice.
Of course you can try giving ALL the responsibility to your kid. Let me know how that one goes…
In conclusion, I don’t have anything against group lessons but in my opinion they lose their benefits quickly. If you want to use them as a quick, short-term boost, go for it. Whatever gets you start.
Yes, private piano lessons are definitely more challenging and most of the responsibility will fall on you but ask yourself, do you really want to have to depend on other people for motivation?
I say rise to the challenge. It’s worth it. Because that’s what life is all about, isn’t it?