How to improve piano skills without a teacher
Ask this question in a Facebook group and you’ll be admonished by hordes of piano teachers that it’s impossible to improve at the piano without a teacher.
What does your own experience tell you? Have you ever, without a teacher:
- Changed a light bulb?
- Sent an email?
- Cooked dinner?
- Made your bed?
Of course, the teachers are going to tell you it’s impossible.
(Follow the money. 💰)
Ready to ignore the naysayers? Great! Here are the 6 steps you should follow:
1. Improvise freely
Give it a beginning and an ending. No correcting mistakes. No hesitating. No stuttering. No matter what. Enjoy whatever happens.
Sit at the piano and play whatever your hands want to play. Trust them to do the work. It’s fine to judge them, but don’t try to stop them. Get comfortable with that first.
This is useful if you feel bored by the music you’re working on. Keep experimenting. Remember that it’s called “playing the piano” and not “working the piano.”
It’s also useful if you’re scared to play without looking at music.
(This is a better use of your time than mindlessly scrolling social media.)
2. Sit on the bench, doing absolutely nothing
Feel what it’s like to physically sit there, not playing, not hearing anything. This is called “meditation.”
From beginning to end. No stopping. No hesitating. No correcting mistakes. No stuttering. Full tempo.
Make it fun. If it’s not fun, you won’t do it.
Tip: Feeling dispirited after seeing little progress after a year of practice? Don’t measure your practice time in years. Measure it in hours. You need more hours.
4. Play hard music
With zero expectation of playing it “well”. Go for it. Pretend to be a great virtuoso, even if it’s all wrong.
When I was in college, I had a roommate who was on the golf team. Every morning, he woke up at 5:00 to run with the team.
Well, yeah. Training should be hard, so that performance is easy. Play hard music so easy music feels easy. If you’re always performing at the edge of your ability, you’ll never play well.
“But, shouldn’t I practice the piece only in small sections until I’m confident enough to put it all together?”
Practicing the piece in small sections is the standard advice you hear from every piano teacher. Ignore it. Build mental resilience by playing all the way through.
“I like to challenge myself to play some pieces that are at least slightly above my level, so when I’m able to master it I know I have improved.”
I don’t care. Play pieces with no intention of mastering them. That’s a different mindset and it will open doors.
5. Record your playing and post it online
Not to ask for feedback, but rather to get uncomfortable. This is called “exposure therapy”.
If you already do this, increase the frequency. Instead of once every 3–4 months, do it once a month. But, I would do it once a day… (and you will too if you’re serious about this.)
6. Play from memory
Especially when you don’t feel confident. If you get lost, improvise. Play for your phone, or for an audience.
If you’re a timid performer, this will get you used to being watched.
Learn ALL the skills
Practice these, and also practice their opposites. Master all the skills.
To build your confidence, make mistakes on purpose to get over your fear of being wrong. If you always avoid mistakes, you’ll never learn how to recover from them, and then you’ll hate performing.
Go outside your comfort zone. Only look at your left hand while playing. Then, only look at your right hand. Then, look at a point off in the distance. Each one gives you a totally different experience.
If it’s not fun, you won’t do it and won’t improve. Learn to enjoy frustration. Be an artist and turn your difficult emotions into creations.
Find your own way of practicing that contradicts everything I’m saying here. Argue with me about it (you’re wrong, anyway).
Tell the gatekeepers and naysayers to get lost.