Robert Estrin - piano expert

The 3 Worst Piano Practice Habits

Avoid these mistakes to improve your piano playing

In this video, Robert informs you of mistakes to avoid in your piano practice that you may not even be aware of.

Released on February 10, 2021

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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

Welcome to, I'm Robert Estrin. Today we're going to discuss the three worst piano practice habits, the worst. And you're going to wonder, Are these any things that you do in your piano practice that I'm going to bring up today? Maybe you're scared I'm going to bring something up that you do, or maybe you're not even aware of the things that I'm about to bring up that perhaps are part of your piano practicing that are really destructive. Okay one, the most important one in some ways, one that I constantly work with students in order to eradicate because it's such a bad habit is hesitation. Because you get to a difficult part and you can't quite get it, so you hesitate just for a moment, then you get it and go on. This is a very bad habit because it ingrains stopping and going on because the more you do it, the more you do it, it's self regenerating.

So how do you break that? We're going to get to that, first I'm just going to list the three habits so you can just get your head on if this is something that applies to you or how interesting this video is going to be, how applicable to you. The second thing is, as soon as you have a mistake, you go "Argh" and you go back to the beginning. And I've talked about this before, this is really not good either because in a performance, if you find yourself having a difficulty, what are you going to do? You're going to go back to the beginning. Well, guess what? The audience does not want to listen to all of that again just so you can get past that point. So that's another one, very important, and I have solutions for all of these. The last one is somewhat related to the first one, but changing speeds in your performance.

Well, there are some parts that you can play really well, so you play them nice and fast, and then you get to the parts that are a little harder and you slow down to make accommodations for them. And once again, you lose the whole flow of the music. You might think that oh, to play everything slow is tedious for the audience, at least play the parts you could play well fast, but really that's not where it's at. And let's talk about solutions. What can you do in the practice, in your practice, in order to eradicate these bad habits which cause difficulties in your playing and your performance? Well, the first one I talked about was hesitation. You're going along and Oh, you forget for just a moment, and then you go on. This is incredibly disturbing to the audience because the audience, let's say they're tapping along, it's got a nice beat let's say, and then suddenly it hesitates and ah, it's off-putting.

Or even something that's lyrical, anytime there's a hesitation, it just doesn't feel right. So here's what you absolutely must do. Anytime you have a hesitation, first of all make sure you're choosing the right tempo that you can play through it without hesitation. That's of course, number one. But suppose that just doesn't cut it. Suppose you'd have to play the piece like half the speed just to avoid a couple of hesitations. That seems like a brutal solution, and indeed there are more effective ways of dealing with hesitations, unless you're hesitating every bar, in which case, obviously you need to choose a much slower tempo. But if it's just a few key places that you just are hesitating in, you can't quite eradicate it. Here's a solution, find that spot.

The first time you hesitate, first of all get in the habit in your practice, not in performance, we're just talking about in your practice, whenever there's a hesitation, stop. Stop immediately and find your place in the score and find an appropriate place just before that hesitation, maybe a measure or a phrase, depending upon the nature of the score, where you can start to get past the point of hesitation. And until you can do it, you might have to start slowly and increasing the speed. Maybe even do metronome speeds if you can't quite get through the hesitation by playing it several times. Then after you've gotten it several times in a row perfectly at a comfortable tempo, then go back to the beginning of the piece, the beginning of the movement, or the beginning of the section to pass that as a station.

Interestingly, you may find that even though you can play it many times in a row perfectly starting just at that phrase, the previous phrase of the hesitation, once you come back further, you may still hesitate there. So you may have to go back a little bit and get that fluid, go back a little bit further and be able to pass the hesitation again, then go back to the beginning of the section or the beginning of the movement to finally eradicate that hesitation. And you can work all your key hesitations out that way. I sometimes refer to this as the band-aid approach of practicing, and it can be very effective, because otherwise, like I say, if you just have let's say three or four places in an entire piece that you're hesitating, to take the whole piece painfully slowly, you feel dejected doing that. And it's not the most productive way to solve the problem. So hopefully that works for you.

The next thing is starting from the beginning, and I've talked about this so much. It's so tempting when something goes wrong and you know you can play it, you just want to start over. Well, the problem with this is if you get in the habit of doing that in your practice all the time, when you get out to perform into you're playing for people, you're going to do the same thing, you get used to doing that. More than that, it doesn't solve the underlying weakness in your playing. So what you must do, and I've talked about this before, is find where you are in the music. Find exactly where you are where you had the problem, and study the score and figure out the solution. And then, much like I described before in avoiding hesitation, start just before the point at which you had the problem that made you start over, pass that point several times, increase the speed, use the metronome if necessary.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's a very valuable technique. You may have to go back a little bit and then further to finally be able to start from the beginning and pass that point without starting over. So the key here is reference the score and nail down the correction, and be very deliberate with this. Find the place that you go, "Oh, I need to play this D with a third finger over there in the right hand."so that you don't just go, "Oh, I should get this right." And not really think it through but just hope you get it on automatic pilot with your tactile memory. You don't want to rely upon that because obviously, whatever made you miss at that time, it's going to happen again. So you want to really focus in on the correction. And a lot of people, once again, I've talked about this as well, they go, "Oh, what did I do wrong? I want to know what I did wrong." No, you don't want to know what you did wrong, that's of no value.

Find the correction, that's what you want to focus on, because whatever you focus on is what is going to be apparent in your playing. If you're focused on the mistake, you're going to make the mistake. Focus on the correction, forget the mistake. This is a life lesson too, by the way, that's a subject for another video. Lastly, changing speeds, changing speeds in your playing. You know, if you have certain sections you can play at a nice clip, I have one student who's extremely talented, and he just likes to play everything really fast and it's pretty dazzling. He hasn't been playing very long, and I'm constantly impressed with him, but being able to get through an entire piece or even an entire movement at the speed at which he starts oftentimes is all but impossible. So going faster and slower really isn't the answer.

Now here again, you want to focus in on the parts you can't play up to speed, and the answer here is working with a metronome. Once you get to the part that you can't play up to speed, find that speed and set your metronome to it, and then start from the beginning and play the whole thing at that speed. If you really want to play a faster tempo, zero in of the parts you can't play faster and work with progressive metronome speeds and other practicing techniques in order to get it up to speed so you can pay everything at the tempo you want to play. But starting it off at a faster temper than you can play all of it really doesn't work. So these are some three tips for you, and you notice there are similarities in the solutions. Focusing in on the correction, going back, speeding it up, working with a metronome, going back a little bit, then going back to the beginning, these are tremendous practice techniques that all come into play in solving all these common problems in piano practice.

And if you can break these habits, I promise you you're going to be at another level in your playing. You'll really have security, and you'll be able to play through a piece from the beginning to the end at one speed without stopping, without going back, without hesitating, without changing speeds. And that's what you'll want, right? I hope this is helpful for you, lots more videos on the way, I'm shooting a bunch today for you. I have a little bit of time so I'm doing it all for you here at, your online piano resource. Ring the bell for notifications about future videos and Patreon, lots more there. If you can't get enough Living Pianos videos, join my Patreon. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Joyce Beck * VSM MEMBER * on February 10, 2021 @8:31 am PST
I find recording my playing of a piece useful. I may hear hesitations and tempo faults I wasn't even aware of while playing because they had become habitual.
François Leroux * VSM MEMBER * on February 10, 2021 @6:46 am PST
Dear Robert,
Thank you for reminding me these "essentials" of practising challenging parts of a piece.. 45 years ago, my piano teacher showed me this technical approach to difficult "measures". As a retired business man who has not played piano for decades, it is good to get back to these fundamentals.
François H. Leroux
Willene Botha * VSM MEMBER * on February 10, 2021 @5:28 am PST
Hi Robert,

Thank you for the tips. With my little ones, it seems to be the counting factor and hand position. Teenagers, some of them, do not use the ordinary fingerings for arpeggios on the black and white keys. They want their own.... What woyis you view on that. Adult students practising is a matter of not directly tackling a problem.

Have a good week,

John Beach * VSM MEMBER * on February 10, 2021 @4:11 am PST
There is no substitute for being thoroughly practiced--prepared--for a pre-programmed recital or a service. Congregational accompaniment is a demanding task providing wonderful experience because congregations may lead rather than follow and a musician has to adjust speed to that of the congregation. Spontaneous hymn-sings, in which choices are made after each hymn, are another occasion where the benefit of the pressure of having to play a piece without any foreknowledge or preparation will compel a musician to accompany the congregation at their speed. This is very beneficial experience.
Robert - host, on February 10, 2021 @9:43 am PST
This is true of all collaborative playing and accompanying. All too often, pianists play by themselves and don't have the opportunity to learn from others in this manner.
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