There are a few things that I would suggest and think that most should do.
I’m not going to talk about singing notes and solfege, but I will be telling you how to apply those skills when playing.
1. Know the notes
Before we begin, a piece of advice I’d like to give you. There’s a fallacy that musicians love to get to the point.
This is not true. The whole point of playing music is to draw out the detail in your playing.
How can you achieve this if you only know what is expected of you, yet it’s impossible to know these details until you first know the notes?
If you don’t have a reference point, it’s a recipe for disaster.
I have a background in piano and will teach these aspects to my students, but that is not what I had as a student.
In my education, I only took general lessons that gave me only an understanding of a few basic chords and modes.
It didn’t take long before I was frustrated because I could not play the repertoire I was assigned.
The teacher, not knowing that I wanted to do more, let me sink further and further into learning and practicing these simple scales.
So, as it is with most things in life, first you must know the basics before you can understand the complexity.
As a non-professional piano player, I learned about music theory from reading books and from hearing experienced players explaining why some notes go up and down in the range, and others down, and why the different notes sound different when they are played.
As I had no formal training, I learned by comparing the music I heard in class with the music I was given, listening for similarities and differences.
Try to find similar-sounding music and let the similarity guide you. You can see differences that you didn’t notice before.
If you do this often enough, it will begin to turn the sound into something recognizable. You can even begin to recognize the sound of your instrument when it is coming from a distance, by using the principle of extrapolation.
This is important because that is how your brain will begin to fill in the gaps with new experiences.
This is also the reason that music instructors will often give their students a notation sheet to write notes down when they can’t remember what they are supposed to play.
Don’t take things at face value when a teacher says that you can play a scale or a passage when in fact you cannot.
While you may be able to play these in practice, it is not until you put them in front of you that you will begin to realize the full impact of your playing.
If you are performing a piece of music, listen to yourself while you are playing. If you cannot play a passage the way it was intended by the composer, find another way to play it.
Make sure that you are listening with a critical ear, because often you will hear errors that your teacher or pianist will not.
Being observant of your body language will also help you identify if the emotion you are conveying comes across correctly.
It’s not just about being able to play, it’s about being able to express yourself in the best way possible.
3. Just “work”
Play something, anything, and it’s amazing how you can put it away in your mind and it becomes real.
You can’t always know what notes you’ll need to play when you are practicing, so for every practice session, you’ll just need to “try and work out” what to play next.
If you see something that you can’t quite get, don’t give up.
Simply write it down and come back to it when you’re ready.
Try to keep your ideas as few as possible so that you can focus on just the notes you are trying to learn.
4. Put it on the page
If you find yourself getting frustrated or bored, write your ideas down.
It can be hard to remember all the details from every day playing and this way you can get ideas of where you need to focus your efforts.
You don’t need to write down everything you hear, but writing down a few notes at a time helps you start to learn how to recognize things and logically think through them.
It’s kind of like taking pictures of a house and then following the instruction manual to put the house back together again.
Think of it this way: as a piano player, there are many pieces you need to learn, and they all seem to be in different places.
When you’ve got the memory of a two-year-old, this can be very challenging.
Having everything written down like this is very useful because it helps you to put all these pieces back together in the right order.
Take your notes and ideas, and let the song play through your head.
Even if you have to fake it until you make it (or at least until you can play it), you’ll learn it eventually.
5. Make it doable
Getting better at playing an instrument doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
I have come across many parents who have tried to get their children to practice more, but their child doesn’t want to put in the effort, so instead, they simply sit there and try to hit the notes (which doesn’t really work).
The key here is to make practicing something fun, and the next best thing to doing something productive is to make it doable.
You don’t need to play long pieces or play every day.
In fact, some people prefer to just play one song or phrase for a month, with the goal being to get comfortable playing it and then adding more and more each time.
Playing one phrase a month can help to build up your muscle memory and the next time you are trying to play that phrase, you’ll have a better understanding of what to expect.
You don’t have to play for hours and hours. The idea is to practice, and when you’ve done enough, you can have fun and focus on something else.
Practicing an instrument is a hard thing to do and takes a lot of dedication and patience. You’ll make mistakes along the way, and that’s okay.
Just make sure that you don’t let yourself get stuck and don’t give up. You’ll get better, but it may not happen overnight.
There are a million ways to play piano, and there is a great deal of talent out there. Not everyone can make music their career, and that’s okay too.
Regardless of your ability, you should enjoy practicing and learn to love the sound of a well-played piano.