A New Way of Looking at Piano Practice

May 27, 2019

A pianist posted a video in an online forum, along with the question “Am I doing this right?”

I spent a few minutes trying to decipher the motivations behind this post. I began suspecting that this pianist did not look at the world the same way I did.

But, I can’t blame them. After all, the traditional way of thinking about piano practice encourages that worldview.

The traditional way of thinking about piano practice goes something like this:

  • The score tells you the right way of playing.
  • There are “right techniques” and “wrong techniques.”
  • The teacher tells you if your technique is “right” or “wrong.”
  • The teacher tells you if your playing is “good” or “bad.”
  • Practicing means learning the right technique and doing it over and over.

In contrast, here’s a different way of thinking about piano practice:

  • The score tells you how the composer thought the piece should sound, as much as music notation can.
  • The “right technique” is whatever works to play the piece.
  • Your personal experience will teach you if your technique is “right” or “wrong.” A teacher can only point you in the direction of having new experiences.
  • Practicing means doing exercises that challenge you to have new experiences.
  • Your playing is “good” if it helps you achieve what you’re trying to achieve, and “bad” otherwise. A teacher can’t possibly know this better than you do.
About the author

I'm your worst nightmare. I will violate your expectations. Yes, you will feel violated. Fortunately, I'm a good guy.

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