Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to make music practice enjoyable

Discover how to practice and have fun all at the same time!

In this video, Robert gives you ideas on how to make practice interesting, fun, and not at all boring.

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.

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 loved 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, becoming a mature adult, is understanding the work and the reward. And the work comes first, 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 the 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. Sure, there sometimes are 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 gonna 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 wanna do is make your practice like a fine meal, with different courses. You can serve up an appetizer of scales or 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 extend your practice and be very productive longer, and make it fun. Maybe you have some music that you love to sight-read through, so you save that for after you've done on 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 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 appropriate 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 might be angry at yourself that you can't. But the fact is, if you just start from where you are and build, you'll 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's 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 are past the point of diminishing returns. That is, you practice something, you get somewhere with it, and then you get into 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, and 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 wanna practice at all. So find that balance. If you're practicing, 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:

Ruth on December 17, 2015 @12:11 pm PST
I have what may be just a stupid question. What can I do to make turning pages work? I've had a Baldwin studio console for 30 to 35 years. I've never been able to turn pages without stopping to use both hands or pretty much throwing the whole music on the floor trying to use one hand. I've wondered if it is the way the piano is built--it has no music rack, just a flat spot with a ledge on the front where the pages catch. When I was a kid, I lost my piano teacher and was never gotten another one, so I really didn't do anything until I took a strong interest as an adult. I had to beg my husband for a piano and he finally gave in. I work on playing all by myself, trying to advance my ability. I love to play classical and I'm not TOO bad if I play slowly; I think maybe too slowly on some pieces. Having to stop to turn the page is so frustrating. Do you have any suggestions for me, please? Thank you very much.
Robert - host, on December 18, 2015 @1:40 pm PST
The good news is that Virtual Sheet Music has technology that turns the pages for you in one of two ways: AirTurn is a wireless pedal you can connect to your iPad which turns the pages for you.

Another great way to deal with turning pages also through Virtual Sheet Music is to set it up so that simply tilting your head can turn the pages! You can set how far you tilt to make it responsive to you.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on December 20, 2015 @8:48 am PST
Yes, thank you Robert. You can learn more about our free iPhone/iPad app from the link below:

And about the AirTurn Pedal Device from the link below:

All the best,
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on December 10, 2015 @5:05 pm PST
Great video as always, thank you Robert. I have a question regarding practicing study books. Would you say that 3 books and 3 studies for each at the same time is adequate, too much or too little? I am talking about books of Czerny, Hannon, Koehler, fairly low level. And do I need to practice each study until I know it by heart? Merry Christmas and a very prosperous and Happy New Year!
Robert - host, on December 11, 2015 @11:38 am PST
How many pieces or exercises you should work on at a time is an excellent question I have addressed in the following link:

In addition, the question of how much time to devote to just exercises is addressed here:

Thanks for the question!
Tony Lockwood * VSM MEMBER * on December 9, 2015 @4:16 pm PST
Thank you again, Robert, just what I needed at the right time. Thanks again.
Jil Bellchambers * VSM MEMBER * on December 9, 2015 @2:53 am PST
Robert, your videos are great - thank you so much. Can you change your 'intro music' for 2016 - I find it unappealing and I'm really tired of it! Thanks so much for all your do and Merry Christmas
christopher Slevin * VSM MEMBER * on October 25, 2013 @10:18 am PST
Great help. Thank you Robert.
Michael S Johnson * VSM MEMBER * on October 6, 2013 @2:53 pm PST

I just wanted to say thank you for your video's and teaching. You do a great job. You are much appreciated! Keep them coming!
John Bosko on October 2, 2013 @6:13 pm PST
Thanks for the inspiring video. I will start practicing with the songs I like most.
Edens on October 2, 2013 @5:12 am PST
Great post Robert! Practicing can be fun and adventurous! I like what you said about practicing happening in the mind more so than in the hands. Staying engaged is important. What helps me is setting small manageable goals for each practice session, at which I try and accomplish each goal. It gives me a great sense of achievement, even if the progress may be minute. Then I look forward to the next session with great eagerness and anticipation, always learning something about myself, my instrument and the music I'm playing.
Mary Maine Roberts * VSM MEMBER * on October 2, 2013 @3:32 am PST
As a hobbyist cellist, this was very good information for me to hear today!
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