5 Tips For Piano Success

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What is Piano Success?

Success very subjective and each student will have their own definition of success at the piano. For one student, piano success might be as simple as learning one song at the piano. For another student, success at the piano might mean writing songs, playing with others or getting more gigs.

No matter how you define success at the piano, there are 5 success tips that I want to share with you to help you find success at the piano sooner!

Success Tip #1: Lessons are part of the puzzle…but not the entire picture

Students have left comments on the lessons and reached out to me asking if I could show them “all possible lick ideas” to use over a song. While I appreciate the enthusiasm in the student, I get concerned as their teacher.

You will not find all of the answers in one lesson. There is no one lesson that I can recommend that will teach you improvisation or how to create a full arrangement.

Lessons are stepping stones. You start here (where you are in your playing right now…today) and you want to get there (whatever your piano goal is) and these lessons are the stones that take you across the river to the other side.

You already know that this piano journey is not as easy as: “This ONE Piano Lesson will make ALL Your Piano Dreams Come True.” I would ask as well, would you be happy if it was easy as one single lesson? Personally, I think the journey is what makes learning the piano fun. Yes, there are challenges along the way but you are a better pianist because of those challenges.

I know personally if getting my black belt (I’m take karate with my son Connor) was as easy as a 6-week class, it would not have the same meaning to my son and I.

Realize that you’re on a journey and these lessons are designed to work together to teach you how to find success at the piano. You won’t learn it all in one lesson, but if you stick with it, your piano playing will be transformed forever.

Success Tip #2: You can’t control mistakes, but you can control how you handle them

This should be obvious, but students sometimes get “crushed” by mistakes. I don’t think I need to explain to you that you really can’t control whether or not you’ll make a mistake. They just happen. However, what do you do when you make a mistake?

Since this piano learning process is a journey, it behooves us to learn more about how we deal with failure.

Are you crushed by failure?
Or, do you think of it as a learning experience?

When you make a mistake, do you yell? Bang the piano? Walk away? Take a breath?

Staying “in the game” as I tell students is how you’ll become the pianist you want to become. Don’t be afraid of a little self-analysis of how you deal with mistakes. Since we all make mistakes, there will be plenty of time to analyze your behavior.

After take a close look at HOW you respond to a mistake, think about how you’re going to DEAL with making a mistake next time. You might even write a note to yourself that says something like “The next time I make a mistake, I’m not going to get mad. Instead I will walk away from the piano, take 5 cleansing breaths and say to myself ‘I can do this’ before trying again.”

Might seem silly at first, but these types of messages and “directions” to oneself are what successful people have been using for years. So…they work!

Success Tip #3: 5-minutes a day of practice yields real results

Many students find it hard to believe that practicing the piano for only 5 minutes a day can produce results. 5 minutes of practice a day keeps you thinking about music on a daily basis. This is better than practicing only once a week for an hour because your musical mind is being “activated” daily.

So why 5 minutes and not 10 or 20 minutes?

Of course if you can practice 30 minutes a day, you’ll see greater results faster. The reality for many busy adults is that they just don’t have 30 minutes a day to practice.

In fact, the #1 reason that students give for quitting the piano is that they don’t have the time. See tip #5 for my thoughts on this one.

If you can practice for 5 minutes a day, the reality is that you are much more likely to practice longer. For most students just beginning their practice session is the real challenge. Once they are practicing, they magically have the time to practice for more than 5 minutes.

As adults, we often place a lot of barriers in front of the things in life that bring us joy. We say things to ourselves like: “I can’t spend time with the family because I need to work.” Or, “I don’t have the time to practice the piano because I’m so busy.”

There are many reasons why we say things like this to ourselves. And, if you don’t say exactly these statements, you might think thoughts like “I should have started the piano years ago.” Or, “My fingers can’t move fast enough.” See the pattern?

We have a tendency to feed negative thoughts to ourselves. It doesn’t make us bad people…it just makes us human!

So my suggestion is to think simple. Think of only 5 minutes a day of practice. 5 minutes is easy enough to accomplish, right? We can all spare at least 5 minutes a day.

Give it a try…you’ve got nothing to lose!

Success Tip #4: You can practice anywhere

Another tip that students find hard to believe is that they can practice the piano anywhere. “How is this possible?”, they ask.

When away from the piano…you practice music theory.

Right now I’m on a plane travelling cross country. While in the air, I don’t need any roll up keyboard or fancy app…I’ve got my brain. Here are some of the things I could practice right now at 35,000 feet:

  1. Spell out the notes of my major scales. So D major is D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D
  2. Name what the 9th, #11 and 13th are for each key. So for the key of B they are C#, E# and G#
  3. Spell my triads: major, minor, augmented and diminished
  4. Spell my 7th chords (try spelling only 1 kind at first. For example, spell out all dominant 7th chords)
  5. Name the ii-V-I progression for all keys. Key of G: A-7 to D7 to GMaj7.

There are easily 10 more music theory items I could quiz myself on at this altitude, or at sea level. Point is, there is always something to practice!

Another way I used to practice was to photocopy my music and take it with me. I would copy a song out of the real book, fold it up and stick it in my pocket. Whenever I had a moment, I would pull that paper out and try to memorize the chord progression. I learned MANY songs using this method!

Success Tip #5: Time isn’t given…it’s stolen

I want you to think of yourself as a “time pirate” and I want you to pillage, plunder and steal ALL the time you need to achieve your goals.

The reality is that we NEVER have enough time. There are always distractions that are just waiting to take up your precious time. I work 9-5 (actually usually 7:30am LOL) every day on Jazzedge, recording lessons, writing articles, sending emails and creating killer content for my students. But… my karate class now starts at 5pm.

There are days when I am up to my eyeballs working on a project and I think for an instant “Should I finish this project or go to karate?” Of course I go to karate! Why? Because it feeds my soul AND my body. I could easily rationalize why I can’t go. I’m busy, students count on me, team members count on me, my family counts on me. But I need to take that time for ME. Otherwise, I become useless to those around me because I am not FEEDING my soul.

I like to call this making “deposits” into my emotional bank account. If I don’t make those deposits, I have nothing to give and “withdraw” at a later time.

So take the time to do what feeds your soul. If you’re reading this post, it’s likely that piano feeds your soul… and so it should! Playing the piano is a gift from God, hands down. I am grateful for the skills that I have been given.

Make the time to find out what talent you have inside. I believe that EVERYONE has something to say and give at the piano. Don’t let the excuse of “I don’t have the time” stand in your way of finding out what talent lies within.

If you don’t have the time, be a pirate and STEAL 5 minutes a day for the piano!

Here’s to YOUR Piano Success!

 

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  1. Here’s a tip on how to spend your “practice” time wisely. Chances are you are “practicing” things you already know how to do. If you are practicing a song, and you play most of it fairly well, but have 1 or 2 trouble spots, spend your time on the trouble spots, not playing the entire song from beginning to end. That way you really focus on the problem area and can hit it over and over multiple times until you get it. If you keep playing the entire song every time, then you are only practicing those trouble spots a small percentage of your practice time, and the rest of time you’re practicing the stuff you already know how to do.