Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Make Practicing Music More Enjoyable

Can you really make music practice enjoyable?

In this video, Robert talks about music practice and gives you tips on how to make it an enjoyable activity, not just a boring physical exercise.

Released on October 2, 2013

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi. I'm Robert Estrin here at and Today's subject, how to make practice enjoyable. Boy, I've talked to so many people who as kids, they hated to practice, and the truth is, when I was a kid, even though I love to play the piano, I actually hated to practice. Can you believe it? Well, that's right because practicing, if you do it right, is hard work. So how do you make practicing enjoyable?

Well, of course, one of the connections about growing up and becoming a mature adult is understanding the work and the reward. The work comes first and the reward comes later. However, everybody in life wants instant gratification of some sort, and there's nothing wrong with that, and you should strive in your practice to make it enjoyable and rewarding on a daily basis.

So what are some techniques you can use to do that? One, it's very important to keep yourself engaged in the practice process. There's nothing worse than seeing some kid being forced to practice by a parent and the kid just looking at the clock waiting for the time to go by. Why is that? Because practicing, you might think practicing is exercising your fingers on the piano or your lips on a trumpet, but no, practicing is a mental activity, and if you are not engaged in the thought process of practicing, you may be sitting on a piano bench in front of a piano moving your fingers, but you are not practicing. Conversely, you could be thinking your music away from a piano and be doing very serious practice, so being mentally engaged is paramount.

How can you become mentally engaged in your practice? Well, there are several things. First of all, choosing repertoire that you love, that you really are excited about. Now sure, there are some times or certain pieces you just need to study to overcome certain technical or musical challenges, formative repertoire to lead to some music you're more excited about, but you should always have something you're working on that you are passionate about. That is a great motivation.

Another terrific motivation for practice is having musical performances you're looking forward to. This is what did it for me. Starting as a young teenager, I started doing more performing, and what great impetus to practice when you have an impending date and you know you're going to be up there playing for people. That is a great motivator, plus you get the reward of the performance, so that's a great thing.

Now the other thing you want to do is make your practice like a fine meal with different courses. You can serve up an appetizer of scales and arpeggios, then move on to some main course of memorization, and then perhaps a dessert of refinement. You get the idea. Throw in sight reading and you could take an extended practice session and because it's in chunks of sections that utilize different parts of the brain, you can actually your practice and be very productive longer and make it fun. Maybe you have some music you would love to sight read through, so you save that for after you've done a particularly difficult section.

Now how to know when to move on from section to section. This is really critical. The first thing I notice that a lot of people who get frustrated with practice is the mistake they make is sometimes people don't understand that you'll have to accept your own limitations. This is true of any pianist or instrumentalist because once you accept the fact that why can't I do this, that's not an inappropriate question. If you can't do something accept the fact that you can't and build something so you can. A lot of times you might come to a place and you think you should be able to do it and you'd be, you might be angry at yourself that you can't, but the fact is if you just start from where you are and build, you will be surprised at how much benefit you can get and the results that you will get if you just accept where you are and don't be afraid that maybe it seems like you're going slowly at first because you will get a breakthrough if you give it the time.

Now, the other side of this coin is knowing when you have passed the point of diminishing returns. That is, you practice something, you get somewhere with it, then you get to a slump where it's really hard to get any further with the progress, and then maybe you eke out a little bit more progress, and you know what? Maybe at that point it's good to move on to another part of your music or another completely different discipline like improvisation or sight reading or something you haven't done yet in your practice. Knowing where the point of no return is where you're not accomplishing anything, you're beating your head against the wall, is critical. Now, a lot of people underestimate how far they have to push to overcome that, but it's just as easy to go too far, wear yourself out, feel exhausted and frustrated, and not want to practice at all.

Find that balance, and if you're practicing and you find something really difficult, ask yourself honestly, "Can I get this if I spend more time?" Try slowing down. See if you can eke out some more progress in a particularly difficult section, and once you hit that mark, move on and know that the next day you'll get further with those same sections.

So keep your practice engaging. This is the most important thing. Give yourself variety. Forgive yourself for being human and not being able to do things instantly. That's why we all practice.

Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on December 4, 2019 @5:27 am PST
Thank you, Robert, I really needed your lecture !! Sometimes I get frustrated and quit practicing.
Robert Estrin on December 4, 2019 @12:29 pm PST
Sometimes taking a break and coming back to the piano can really help! Check out this video:
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on December 4, 2019 @4:53 pm PST
I fully agree with taking a short break, and that works also for other activities. I was an avid dressage rider, but every 4-5 days I did not ride for 1-2 days. To my surprise I was a better rider when I resumed. And so were the horses !!
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