Updated: Oct 23, 2020
During these difficult times in part- lockdown, many piano lovers turned to playing the piano, and it's a great thing! People enthusiastically started playing their newly bought or dusted instruments. However, after an encouraging start, many started feeling dissatisfaction with their progress. Despite spending more time on piano practice, they could not achieve what they wanted. This is not surprising, as after observing many of my students for years, I could see the common mistakes many amateur pianists make, so I suggest that you go through this list below and check if any of these patterns apply to you:
1. Play from the beginning until the end without dealing with mistakes.
As much joy as it brings for you to play the piece all the way through (sometimes even imagining it that you play it like Lang Lang or Horowitz), the reality is often different. And this is why: in our heads we sometimes hear the desired result, failing to listen to our own interpretation. Playing through many times without acknowledging the 'problematic' places means that unfortunately, we are wasting our time in terms of learning the piece. However, if you enjoy doing it, it is a good thing, as you are still having quality time, because it makes you feel good. Nevertheless, it is important to be realistic and know that this way of practising will not necessarily help you to improve your performance.
2. Ignore working with separate hands.
This is another classic mistake made by amateur pianists. Once they manage to put two hands together, they think that they no longer need to practice with separate hands. This is a great mistake, as perfecting the sound and articulation of each hand is a continuous task. Imagine that the piano is an orchestra, with each hand representing certain groups of instruments: violins, violas, cellos and so on. Within each group the sound needs to be differentiated. Then all the groups need to be merged into an orchestra (both hands).
From time to time we change our mind about which sound we would like to show more (play louder). Then we need to go within each group and perfect that expression. In my books, until you know the part of each hand separately by heart (playing from memory), you cannot say that the piece is learned. Hence I urge you not to under-estimate the necessity to work with separate hands.
3. Playing too fast instead of practising slowly.
'The slower you go, further you will get' is a famous Russian proverb. It seems to be totally appropriate in this case. Many of my students try to play at a certain speed, equal to the speed of great masters. Once I had a case where my student came to the lesson with the first Chopin Ballade and played a certain passage from this piece, claiming that his speed was the same as Richter's. Whilst it was true that he managed to get from the first to the last note of the section as fast as Richter, unfortunately he managed to lose quite a few notes on the way and played the whole section very unevenly. I had to explain to him that this does not constitute 'learned'!
Another famous proverb comes to mind: 'Quality over quantity'. In order for us to achieve the evenness and control of the phrase, we need to start slowly, as this gives us a chance for our brain to absorb the desired task, then send a signal to our hands in order for our hands to perform this task and send a signal back to our brain to register the result. It is that simple! If we play too fast, too early, this is not going to happen. We need to cultivate this experience, starting with 'baby steps', so the body learns to understand this process, and only then to start increasing the speed. An interesting phenomenon may happen one day when, without planning, you suddenly play the fastest you have ever played, without even trying, and it feels comfortable. This means that our brain is ready for a new speed and our body is in sync.
4. Finalising the dynamic before you can play properly.
This is another common mistake made by amateur pianists. My teacher one day asked me: 'Do you put makeup on your face before you put the foundation on?' I was so surprised to hear this from him, that I remembered this for the rest of my life. My answer was 'Of course not! First, we need to make sure that our foundation is set up correctly.' This applies also to architecture, design, cooking (getting the right ingredients) and medication (establishing the correct reasons for taking certain medicine). Whilst it is important to anticipate which dynamic you may want to use, I would put perfecting the sound (crescendo, diminuendo, pianissimo, fortissimo) toward the later stages. Why? Because you may want to change your mind and, most importantly, you need to master the correct notes, and a speed, which includes tempo changes, at a comfortable level first. Again, anticipating the dynamic is a good thing, but perfecting it before the basic steps are done is a waste of time, as without knowing your foundation well, you would not be able to play well anyway!
5. Adding the pedal too early and practising with the pedal.
Another common mistake of many amateur pianists is adding the pedal too early, and practising with the pedal from the beginning of learning a piece. Using the pedal (especially without the correct pedalling technique) often 'camouflages' the real issues, like legato and phrasing. It is sensible to practise with the pedal from the start when one works on pieces by Chopin, as in his works pedal forms a substantial part of the expression. However even there, one needs to be careful and try to achieve the desired sound solely by hands, before adding pedals.
These are the most common mistakes I find when I work with amateur pianists. If you have any questions you are welcome to leave those underneath this blog and I will aim to answer them in my forthcoming posts!
GéNIA is the founder of the Piano-Yoga® method which offers a holistic approach to music education. In the heart of her method lies the book 'Transform Your Hands: A Complete 10 week course' described as 'It really does work' by Piano Professional Magazine and 'Transform Your Practice: A Complete 11 Stage Guide' described by Professor Douglas Finch, Professor of Piano and Composition, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London as "GéNIA is one of the most exciting, dynamic and daring pianists I've met in recent years. Her approach to the development of piano technique and personal development are both highly effective and original, combining the Russian tradition with a modern holistic musical outlook. I recommend the Piano-Yoga® course ’Transform Your Practice: A Complete 11 Stage Guide’ most highly."