Robert Estrin - piano expert

Why You Must Underestimate Yourself When Practicing the Piano

An interesting tip for all pianists!

In this video, Robert talks about a very interesting mindset that can help improving your piano performance a great deal.

Released on January 29, 2020

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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. This is, your online piano store with a very important message today, which is why you must underestimate your intelligence when practicing the piano. Now you might think, 'Why would you ever want to think less of yourself? Isn't that going to make it a harder to figure anything out if you'll underestimate your intelligence?'

It's quite the opposite and here's why. Particularly with adult beginners, any of you out there who are relative beginners as adults, it always feels like coming to the piano like, "Man, I can't do anything. I can't. I should be able to do this. Why is it so hard? Why can't I do this?"

Well, the fact of the matter is people who can play really well have figured out their baseline, how low they have to go, how simple they have to break things down in order to be able to achieve the desired results. So it's really important not to think that you can learn more than you could learn than if you can learn faster than you could learn. If you start accepting those limitations, that's when you could be really productive.

So you're always better off taking a smaller section, taking a slower tempo and really perfecting something than biting off more than you can chew because that's the surest way to get discouraged. Let's say for example, you're learning a piece of music and you take a section that is just a little bit more than you could absorb. You keep pounding away at it, you'll never quite get it. You'll leave the piano feeling dejected feeling, "What's the matter with me?"

Let's flip that now and let's say instead you went to the piano. You took a section half or even a quarter of the size and said, "I'm going to focus on this." You go, "I'm not even going to do both hands. I'm just going to take the right hand and see if I can really nail it down." That is extremely satisfying, to get something really perfected. Even if it's a small part, and by taking small sections and building them up and taking slow tempos and getting them gradually faster, you will develop tremendous security in your playing that you'll never get by overestimating what you can do. I have a video, as a matter of fact, how to approach a new piece on the piano in which I take Chopin Mazurka at random. I literally flipped through the book and started memorizing a piece. You'll see how many times I go over even the smallest sections to learn them.

I treat myself very gently in my practice. I don't over exert my mind. I try to just give myself something I know I can accomplish in a short amount of time and doing that again, and again, and again, it's possible to sustain a long productive practice.

So remember, when you sit down at the piano and you think, "Why can't I do this?" Try something simpler. Try a smaller section, maybe even a simpler piece. Maybe you're working on the last one of the Moonlight Sonata when you should be working on a Bach minuet. You're much better off learning that minuet and being able to play it on a high level than kind of butchering through and never really getting a satisfying performance or security with something harder.

So that's the secret, not just to piano playing, but in life itself. Don't overestimate your driving ability or your ability to do almost anything. Give yourself a break. We're all human. You have certain things that you're going to excel at and certain things that's going to take longer than other people. If you'll accept that one basic fact, you could be very productive by just giving yourself what you can master at that moment, and you can sustain a long practice. It's much more satisfying.

I hope this was helpful for you. Any of you who are beginners or just feel your practice isn't going well and you think something's wrong with you, there is nothing wrong with you. It's just hard. You've got to realize that. So break it down and put it together. You will be rewarded with much better performances and the satisfaction of doing something really well. Again, I'm Robert Estrin here a Keep those questions coming in.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

wayne russell * VSM MEMBER * on February 20, 2020 @2:54 am PST
Great tips, Robert! I was having those problems and you have given me more enthusiasm to solve them!
Robert - host, on February 20, 2020 @11:17 am PST
You will find it very satisfying to break things down to the most basic elements which you can master.
Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on January 29, 2020 @10:21 pm PST
Yes, great advice. I'm finally starting to take this seriously. What I call it, is practising at "mastery" tempos. I practice passages, riffs, exercises, or just simple phrases, at a tempo where I can feel I've mastered the material completely. After all, nobody else needs to know how slowly I'm playing! I can then increase the tempo gradually, while never straying outside of the "mastery" zone, and never making mistakes!
Jeanette Hamilton * VSM MEMBER * on January 29, 2020 @6:13 pm PST
This is very helpful advice! I’m not a beginner, but I tend to become discouraged if I can’t learn a new piece as quickly as I think I should. When I get very basic in my practice, and “see how low I can go,” it really turns things around. Setting small but achievable goals makes the difficult doable!
DB on January 29, 2020 @4:36 pm PST
This is great, I have just gone back to the piano after years away from it. Need memory training due to health problems. Years ago failed 3rd grade prac exams, always got 100% for theory but go to pieces when doing pracs, but now want do it for myself. Trying to find a two pieces in exams I took called "Study" and "The Race and Riding Smoothly" but can't find them, they were in Step 2 for AGMS Exams. My old piano teacher told me to start on those, but I can't find them online as I sold the books they were in and can't remember what the books were called. Can you help me or suggest something simple to start with
Robert - host, on February 3, 2020 @1:06 pm PST
I'm not sure what level is appropriate for you. But you might check out Burgmuller Studies:
DB on February 4, 2020 @6:41 pm PST
I have a very old book of Burgmuliers 25 Easy and Progressive Studies op 100. The piece in there La Hirondelle was a 3rd grade piece, so too adventures at the moment. Have emailed AGMS trying to find the Step 2 pieces, but no response and cannot find them on the net. Thanks for reply
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 5, 2020 @7:00 am PST
Thank you for posting this DB. We do have the Burgmuller's Etudes, and the piece you are looking for is the one before last in our collection:

Please, let me know if you have any further questions or need any additional help with anything else.

All the best,
DB on February 5, 2020 @7:27 pm PST
Thanks for the reply. Is the piece you are referring to that comes up when I click on the link Called La Candeur op 100?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 6, 2020 @9:00 am PST
You are very welcome.

"La Candeur" is the first piece in the collection. If you scroll down the page, you'll find all the pieces included with their respective audio previews. The one before the last, at the bottom titled "L'Hirondelle" is the one you are looking for, and it is included in the collection.

Please, let me know if you have any further questions.

All the best,
DB on February 6, 2020 @5:22 pm PST
Yes I heard that one, but I think you misunderstood me, sorry I did not make myself clear, as I want something for preliminary. I played L' Hirondelle for my THIRD grade music exam and failed miserably. I was told by my old piano teacher who no longer teaches to start from preliminary again, but I don't have those pieces as I remember she sold the book for me so I could buy the one for grade one and so on. I have been onto AGMS where I did exams and they said those pieces are outdated (the ones I told you about in my first post) I have asked who the composers are so perhaps I can trace them or if they can suggest what pieces they now use for preliminary step two. As yet have not had a reply. I am floundering now just doing chords, broken chord, sight reading and exercises and would like to start at least one piece. Thanks for your help.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 7, 2020 @5:45 am PST
Not a problem DB, thanks for clarifying. Fact is, I am not sure to have understood what you are looking for exactly. Was that a "simplified" version or a completely different version of the "Hirondelle"? Part of a collection of different pieces?

I'd really like to help you!

Thanks again.

All the best,
DB on February 7, 2020 @3:43 pm PST
It doesn't matter what they are as long as they are suitable for me for what the first exam I did which was STEP TWO. The three pieces that I played for the exam are listed in my first post, but cannot find them or who wrote them. The AGMS replied and said they are no longer used as they are old, so anything (three pieces) at that level is what I am looking for. Unfortunately unlike my other exam pieces thoses pieces did not have who wrote them and makes it hard to track them.L' Hirodelle I played for THIRD GRADE and is too hard to start with.
Sorry you aren't understanding what I am trying to say.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 7, 2020 @5:12 pm PST
I think I understood now, thanks for bearing with me!

Ok, I'll keep looking and I'll let you know if anything comes up.

Thanks again for your inquiry!

All the best,
DB on February 7, 2020 @5:15 pm PST
Sorry it has taken time for me to make myself understood, since my surgery etc, find it hard to express. Appreciate your time.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 8, 2020 @8:50 am PST
Absolutely, no worries! It's a pleasure for me to help.

I am sorry to learn about your surgery though. Please, feel always free to contact me with any questions or inquiries you may have, I'll be always happy to hear from you.

Have a great weekend.

All the best,
DB on February 11, 2020 @7:03 pm PST
I have finally found out who wrote The Race and Smooth Riding, it is by Dorothy Blake but I can't find it can you help please? Was told it was no longer on the exam list but I found out it is and would really love to get a copy. Thanks
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 12, 2020 @6:25 am PST
Thank you for your provided information. You are right, we don't have those titles, and it looks like they are hard to find around.

Have a look at the following books I found on different websites, maybe they include the titles you are looking for:

I hope this helps!

All the best,
Larry on January 29, 2020 @1:47 pm PST
Thank you for this, it really makes sense.
magari25 * VSM MEMBER * on January 29, 2020 @8:45 am PST
Excellent advice. This is how I mastered Chopin’s piano concerto #1. Small sections over and over for a considerable amount of time before tackling a faster speed and stringing together of the various sections. You have to be committed and not give up. It has taken me almost an entire year to master this concerto.
Robert - host, on January 29, 2020 @7:55 pm PST
Although it takes great amount of time to master a musical performance, it is incredibly gratifying. I would rather have a few pieces that are highly polished than vast repertoire that isn't spot on.
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