Improve your Piano Playing

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Many students write in to me every week asking how to improve their piano playing. In this article, I’m going to lay out some of my ideas and the concepts that I’ve learned over the years that will help you improve your piano playing skills.

Step 1) Be Realistic

This is not meant to sound harsh, but many students set unrealistic goals and milestones for themselves. I’ve been guilty of doing this myself. We’re all human and tend to “dream and scheme” which sometimes gives us lofty ideas of what we can accomplish and how long it should take. So, the first step in improving your piano skills is to evaluate or re-evaluate your piano goals.

Why do you study the piano? You should have a clear answer to this. The answer can be as simple as “Because it makes me happy to play the piano.” Start by answering this question and we will come back to this in a minute.

Second, what do you want to do with your piano playing skill? Do you want to play gigs? Record? Teach? Play at parties? Write music? All of these things? Having a clear idea of what you want to do with the skills that you are attaining will help to define your direction.

Step 2) Unlock Your ‘Inner’ Pianist

Getting better at the piano is dependent on both physical and mental practice. The physical practice, though time consuming, is the easy part. You learn songs, practice scales, rhythms, etc. The mental practice is often more difficult. So, what do I mean by mental practice?

Mental practice can be thought of as practice away from the the piano. Spelling chords in your head while in the car for example. However, this is not the mental practice that I am referring to here. The mental practice that I’m referring to is “how to keep yourself in the right frame of mind.”

Playing an instrument is a mind game. How many times have you said to yourself “I can’t play hands together,” or “I’ll never be able to improve my piano playing!” Maybe you’ve thought “I’m not as good as that piano player,” or “I don’t practice enough to improve my piano playing.” On and on it goes. We as humans have a wonderful capacity to be incredibly hard on ourselves. I personally have said every one of these statements and others!

Unfortunately, this mental “garbage” blocks us from progressing at our instrument. Let me share a story…

In my 20’s I had my own trio that I would play with and write songs for. When writing songs, I would often think “What will other musicians think of this piece? Will they like it or think that it is good?” I spent years thinking this way. I would often wonder if what I was playing was “right” or if I was even a jazz pianist at all since I really didn’t feel as though I sounded like other players. This was garbage thinking.

You can’t see the floor in a basement filled with garbage. In the same way, I could never know the pianist inside if I was so worried about the pianist outside. Luckily when I hit 30 I had an epiphany. For some reason, I just stopped caring about what others thought of my playing. I guess I figured that I had been playing professionally for 15 years at this point, I must be doing something right.

Letting go of my preconceived notions of what I should sound like as a pianist, an artist, helped me to unlock the pianist inside.

Step 3) Align Your Practicing With Your Goals

Unlocking the pianist inside might take just reading this article for some, while it may take years of introspection for others. Regardless of how long it takes, we can start aligning our goals with what we practice.

Let’s go back to the two questions I asked you earlier:

  1. Why do you study the piano?
  2. What do you want to do with your piano playing skill?

To align your practice with your goals I suggest this formula. Bear in mind, this is only a guide, not an absolute. You might decide to practice more or less than my suggestions.

1) Start with “Why do you study the piano?” Look below to see which answer is closest to yours:

  • Just for fun (2 days)
  • To play for friends (3 days)
  • To play with others (4 days)
  • To play professionally…to gig (5 days)

2) Next, think about your goal and pick the option below that most closely matches your piano goal:

  • In my mind, I think my goal is pretty easy to attain (30 minutes)
  • I think I can attain my goal, but it will take work (60 minutes)
  • I’d feel pretty lucky to ever attain my goal (90 minutes)
  • I’ll never attain my goal (180 minutes+)

Step 4) Piano Playing Math…

Taking the numbers in (parenthesis) from both lists, we can create a basic practice schedule for ourselves. The more honest you are with yourself, the better the numbers will be.

In list 1, the number that matched your answer the closest is how many days you should practice. In list 2, this number tells you how many hours per day to practice.

For example, if you said that you play the piano “To play for my wife once a year on our anniversary” and your believed your goal to “pretty easy to attain,” then you should practice for about 30 minutes, 3 days a week. A focused 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week would most likely get you to your goal.

You’ll notice, the closer to a professional player you want to be and the harder the goal…the more you should practice. This is just one way of looking at practice and in many ways it is more of a novelty than a scientific method of calculating how much you should practice. There is an ulterior motive!

My goal for you in doing this exercise is to gain a more realistic approach to how you see your piano goals and practice to help you improve your piano playing. So often I see students that are so hard on themselves. They feel really low about their piano playing skills and their abilities. This pains me because music should be fun! It usually comes out that their goals or expectations are just way ‘out of whack’ with what is possible.

Shooting for the moon is noble, but if you shoot for the moon and make it only to the couch you’re likely to feel pretty low. Small, attainable goals are the answer. Better to have a goal of playing one easy song than to try booking a gig at Carnegie Hall and feeling upset when they don’t call.

So here’s to you getting to the next level with your piano playing! In part 2, I will discuss a structure for our lessons based upon your goals.

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  1. I suffer from never feeling that I can attain the professional sound that I would like to on the piano. My problem is that I played professionally (Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Vibraphone) and know what a professional piano player sounds like. I am finding it hard to reach that level on the piano that I attained on the other instruments..

  2. At age 62 when I decided to start playing the piano, one salesman told me I had to understand it would be 5 years before I would be able to play a tune. Thinking this totally over the top, I continued on. It did take some time but certainly not 5 years. When I look back the best thing I did was to learn to play something quite simple. In doing that I knew I could at least play something. From then on, I tried more and more difficult things to the point now that I will pick up some music and realize it’s way over my head. That’s my reality check and I back off a bit. Willie’s DVDs have been one of the best things I’ve found in the way of continued learning. His teaching method is just my style.

  3. Willie, thanks for sharing the information. I saw myself there and I can tell you that this helps quite a bit for me. Knowing what to practice and how to practice it, has always been something I had to deal with. I’m looking forward to your next article. Again, thanks!

  4. Those are great tips and insights. I realized that trying to play Jarrod Radnichs fantastic piano adaptions such as pirates of the Caribbean – is shooting for the moon. It would be great to play like that, but in my case having first learnt to play as an adult – its just unrealistic. I have definitely put it on my wish list to buy a study programme from you before to long. Thanks for all your very ‘sage’ and inspiring input.

  5. Interesting perspective, I guess everything in life can come down to how much mental garbage we carry. I don’t believe I have ever seen someone do a good job of breaking down practice time towards a realistic goal. Well done.

  6. THANK YOU, Willie… good article. The only thing lacking (for me) is a section on where do I find the self-discipline to get off my b-tt and practice…. Gets harder the older I am (now 70)… Still, I love piano – the feel of it, the sound, the look of a beautiful piano.

  7. To develop a unique jazz style is not just hours spent–you never know when a good lick will occur to you. Therefore it is a question of what and how you practice. Anyone can learn written notes, but to develop improvisational skills, you need to practice special drills and chords and sequences and also different keys since some ideas seem to pop up in different keys. You should always try to improve and may find then find your goals going to a higher level
    I also find I am not utilizing well my annual membership with you—need to do something about that.

  8. Older players seem to learn slower than younger players. Some adults might benefit from understanding why this is true.
    One of the best explanations I have heard involves the following concept (simplified).
    The brain is initially composed of bundles of minimally connected nerve fibers. Learning consists of making permanent connections (synapses) or pathways between these nerve fibers. When a person is a child, few permanent synapses have been formed. As we grow and become adults, the number of permanent pathways in the brain increases exponentially., and the number of unused nerve fibers available for making new connections decreases exponentially. In order to learn a new skill, adults have to break some of the old synapses before forming new ones. Children merely have to form new connections. As a result more effort and repetition is required to learn a task as an adult than a child.
    But it is possible fpr adults to learn a new skill they just need to exert more repetition at the beginning of their learning. Usually, the effort gets easier as one progresses in learning the new skill.
    I hope this is interesting to some of your readers.

  9. Willie,
    I have enjoyed reading your articles. Very informant. Time seem to be a problem for me. Currently I am playing in 5 musical groups per week. Tenor Sax, Alto Sax, Clarinet and Bass Clarinet. We practice twice per week with each group and perform concerts 3 times per month. I started piano many many years ago and would like to be able to play a number of songs that you have in your library. I have resorted to practicing chords and scales when I get a chance. This is only about 1 – hour 3 times a week. Not sure if this will get me to my goal? My goal is to be able to sit down at the piano and play tunes i enjoy and can play for my friends. Is there any additional suggestion you might have to accomplish more at my level? I figure I have ten years to accomplish this goal.
    Should I be buying different DVD out of your library?

    Again enjoy your monthly articles.

    Regards’

    Garry R. Hyslop

    1. Hey Gary and others. First, thanks for your comments!

      Gary, I’ve found one of the best ways to practice is to use tunes right away to apply concepts. For instance, just going through and learning chords is okay for maybe 10-15 minutes of practice time, but more time should be devoted to the APPLICATION of these chords.

      I look at it this way…how often do you come across chords that move chromatically or by 5ths through all 12 keys? Sure, you’ll have sections that move by 4th/5ths like 2-5-1’s but they also move in other directions –right after– that short segment.

      Another way to look at it. Imagine a football player only training to run as fast as they can in a straight line. I’m sure that they do that, but I know they also learn how to dodge and weave between other players. I also know that they do this by playing several scrimmages with other players.

      So, think of application to a song as a “scrimmage.” You’re getting in the game right away with a concept when you apply it to songs as soon as you can.

      The other added benefit is that you create a larger repertoire. Personally, when I have something I want to practice, I write a tune around the concept. Then I have a song to boot!

      Hope that helps.

  10. The biggest problem for me is trying to get enthusiastic to learn songs that I’d rather not for the next gig. The reality of earning money as a solo or band player distracts me from wanting to go to the next level when the guys who play classic rock are getting more work than those who play the jazz standards.

    1. Ah yes, that is a challenge. But, it could be an opportunity to really “dig in” and try to get inside the tune as much as possible. In the past I’ve turned on the radio to a random station and forced myself to listen to the entire song (usually pop) and force myself to find good points about the tune.

      When you are playing stuff that is not your ‘cup of tea’ it can be a challenge. However, I think this is when your professionalism kicks in. this is when you say “I’ve got a job to do and darn it I’m gonna kick butt at this!”

      …or something like that 🙂

  11. Hi WIllie, I am very late to the piano – like 55 years too late and that’s assuming I should have started at age 3. Still struggling to read the notes and assimilate the note recognition to finger movements! This important question you ask us to ask ourselves, is relevant to everything but perhaps even more so to creative pursuits. When you play, paint, embroider, quilt, cook and you want to share with others, you are opening yourself up to criticism and potential failure. This is scary. I always wanted to learn music – and like many creative people my biggest problem is the desire for perfection. Perfection is a myth, an impossibility and the biggest thing to keep you from even beginning. Ironically, it is also the best thing to get you to practice, once you do start. I think that your advice about not caring about what others think is invaluable; it is not such an easy place to get to. I am middle aged – I have only just arrived there. I want to play for me, but I also want to play as well as I can, and given my late arrival at this particular gig in my life, your practice schedules are very useful. . I think it is much easier not to care about what others think, the more fun you are having. Sometimes it is a fight to carry on but don’t wait too long or let anyone tell you, you cannot learn. Thank you for your lessons.

    1. People like you and Steve give me confidence that i too can learn to play the piano. I am a very late starter – having just started at age of 55. i find my fingers too stiff and all over the place – not the smooth elegent manner likethe way i find my young tutor play. But i am only a week into this, but happy to know that ia am not the only one who started late in life learning music and at the same time gives me confidence to pursue my ambition.
      Srini

  12. Thanks for the advice Willie. I too started playing the piano seriously when I was in my late 50s (my parents made me take piano lessons in grade school but relented when I begged them to let me quit) and I agree with the comment that older players need a lot more practice time to achieve their goals. I am now the main hymn player at our church and that keeps me practicing knowing that I have to perform something weekly. I love Jazz and my goal is to someday be able to just sit down and play by memory 6 or 7 tunes in the Myette style. God has clearly gifted you with the ability the teach the piano. We are the beneficiaries.

  13. Hi Willie,

    Basically, I play because I always wanted to play the piano. Just loved looking at the instrument and hearing what talented players could do- and many are amazing. Will i ever be performing at a local jazz club? Not likely but definitely not impossible -if the work is done. The hardest part for me is knowing what to practise: I like learning new songs so this is what I end up doing, trying finally to do some sort of improvision as I master the piece. I have information from everywhere, the internet, other players, books, etc. which makes me realuze the enormity of the task. Still, once in a while, when I hit those notes just right, I feel elated and very happy.

    Thanks for your always sound advice.

    Rico

  14. Thanks for a great article. At 45, it seems I’m one of the ‘younger’ students on this forum. Your advice and tips really do ring true. All I want to do is to learn about music theory and play along to the songs I like to listen to. I’ve only been playing for under a couple of years but have been into guitar for over 25 years so I have some sort of head start there. Since I started playing, I’ve been trying to find the right way in to learning as not all methods suit everyone. The idea of learning theory through playing songs is a superb idea, as too much emphasis on learning chords and scales can lose interest eventually. I have managed to teach myself three funk, and rock tracks by using software to identify chords as there are very few transcriptions of songs from the soul and funk genre, so my main ambition is to work these songs out by ear, transcribe them, and understand the how and why of their construction. I certainly have no interest in joining a band and learning the songs they want as there would be no enjoyment in it for me.

  15. I’ve stopped using the word, “practice”. I no longer ‘practice’. I simply play. Regardless of what you are playing (scales, technique exercises, whatever), you are playing the piano and I think of it that way. It’s ALL playing the piano.

    I have also come to understand that, from my point of view, improvement is imperceptible. I’m never able to sense improvement from day to day, I have to step back and look at the bigger long term picture to see improvement. My wife also tells me I’m sounding better than I use to, so I go with that regardless of how I ‘feel’ about my playing.

    Try to play other pianos in other locations rather than just your own piano. It’s good for your mind. The distraction of a different action and different surroundings will challenge your focus and show you your weaknesses.

  16. Hi Willie,
    I really enjoyed your article on “How to get better at the piano”. It’s good advice. Thank you.
    I have one question: If I’m a gold member to your website, should I buy DVDs??
    Thanks.

  17. Howdy Willie

    Did you ever listen to ” Butterfly ” by Lee Ritenour , and on the
    ” Earth run ” album ( not some half baked live version ) like I
    recommended ?!? ( It’s not just for whatever the pianist might be
    doing either … BTW )

    Actually , that tune would make a great lesson ( but only in the context
    of that version , and actually hearing it … )

    Thanks for your precious tips …

  18. Great, thanks for that!!,, Will be looking forward to the “How to and what to practice”,,Cheers.

  19. Hi Willie…great article. I have been playing for 50 years in the church mostly. Have just finished working on a cd accompanying a southern gospel quartet. As much as I love this music my goal is to record a solo project of traditional hymns of worship using some reharmonizing in a tasteful way to bring another dimension of space and breath to these wonderful tunes. My entire life of piano work has always left me questioning if it’s good enough. Does the world really need another cd ? I love the piano ….I wish PIANO WITH WILLIE was around decades ago. Thanks for all you do for us!

  20. Hi Willie — Love reading your blogs, and this one in particular. Thank you so very much for sharing so much of yourself with us. I know I have not purchased anything in quite awhile, but would still like to remain on your email list. I hope that’s okay. Again, thanks so very much. Glad to see you’re doing so well. — Joy (P.S. I sure wish I had hands as big as yours … what a span!)

  21. Thank you, for such inshightful information, I know this has been my hold back wondering what others think about my playing. Am I good enough, or at least can I match up to the others. I have always desired to play piano, but my family was to poor to pay for lessions, or even to buy a worn and broken piano. Now I’m 53 no better off money wise but I own a 68 key electric keyboard. reading your words has opened my eyes to new me.

  22. Hi Willie: Always love your articles, videos etc about the keyboard. How to get better on the piano is also excellent. I am 65 years old, so naturally think a little different from younger aged players, but it’s the same approach. For me anyway it’s watching Navy Seal training videos and being inspired by the persistence, drive, and determination of the trainees, and instructors. “We don’t want your best – we want beyond your best – and then beyond that” The philosophy pertains to anything we do in life, but guitar picker Tommy Emmanuel suggest 8 hours a day, and Franz Liszt suggested 12 hours a day. grueling and sun blinding, but that’s how you get good – – Massive repetition. Only problem is that’s not what the average player wants to hear. Everyone want to play for 30 minutes a day and sound like you in 6 months. Jordan Rudess from Dream Theater was studying at Juilliard at age 9, and he is still learning to fly. Naturally you know all of this because you paid your dues in all of the above. I just really respect you and your teaching – – so just wanted to chat a little. I hope you keep on helping so many enjoy the keyboard.

    All the Best – – and Beyond
    Steve

    1. Hi Steve … like ur comments & am also a huge fan of Jordan Rudess … mayb Willie could do sum lessons on music of his… that would b awesum eh 🙂 … had the privelege n pleasure 2 jam with Tommy’s brother Phil in January he playd with me on a synthy improv i made up as i went … he is awesum… n Willie’s lessons has playd a big part in wot i can play 2day so thanx Willie… it would b good if he taught sum synth based lessons 2… 🙂 … keep enjoyin ur music Steve 🙂

      1. Hi Wendy: Great e-mail reply to my message. Tommy”s brother Phil is also amazing and can fly without wings on the guitar. You must have really enjoyed playing with him – for I know you understand the meaning of “Incessant Repetition” in learning a riff or song. Tommy can walk the walk when it comes to practicing something until it becomes part of your life and you can almost play it in your sleep. Tommy & Phil put on a great show together also, but Tommy is on the road over 300 days a year – and I still don’t know how he can do that, and stay healthy? It seems to me that everyone who writes on here seems to always ask ” How long should I practice “? – – which I don’t understand. People should play until they reach their — internal level of personal achievement. Because there is no answer for that question unless you ask yourself, and then follow through with incessant effort for your own desire. Thank you so much for your reply Wendy – and may all your musical dreams come true. Blessings, Steve

  23. Great article Willie. I never really thought of defining my goals. Personally, the piano is a hobby and I would love to play for myself and for friends. If the opportunity arose, I would love to jam with friends if the opportunity arose, but I think without actually seeking that out the chances of that happening is limited.. I guess my question though, is that I play the piano whenever I pass it for just a few minutes, but never play for a prolonged amount of time, probably for several reasons…ADHD..an intolerant partner and really time constraints.. Is this method of practicing counterproductive to my progress?

    1. I don’t think this is counterproductive at all. Practicing for just a few minutes at a time is not a problem. I would just make sure to practice some of the same stuff every time to “lock it in”

  24. Willie,

    I’ve been playing for a long time but just ingrained some very bad habits. I’ve struggled with being able to play different rhythms with both hands and mostly just played root/5 or root/root with the left hand. I’m much older now and there is a need to be able to play hymns at church. Yikes!!! There is a big difference between practicing 5 days a week and just playing how and what you’re already familiar with.

    On the “Mental Practice” aspect of your article I play by ear and rarely think about notes or scales but your lessons have helped me realize the importance of music theory.

    I appreciate the article and your lessons very much.

  25. Fear not good people. If I can do it, anyone can. I’m just starting out on piano at the age of 69. (Well I did do a few childhood lessons, but I’ve had to start from scratch again any way, so those lessons don’t really count). Also I have an old ‘boxer’s fracture’ sustained from a karate misadventure in my youth which pushed my right ‘pinky’ metacarpal (knuckle) back 1/4″ inch which has affected length and flexibility of this digit. But I’m persevering nevertheless. I’ve bought a few of Willie’s lessons against the future, but at the moment I fit about 60 to 90 minutes in most days or whenever I can. I’m learning a Bill Evans number at the moment and plan to stay with that until I get it right. So I do one session on this along with about 30 minutes of Hanon exercises. Thats the first day. On alternate days I do a few scales and arpeggios etc and look into the why’s and wherefor’s of that mysterious beginner’s beast – Improvisation. My approach to this is to just treat it as if you were learning a new language, say German of French. You can’t rush it. But just a little day by day, or every other day will see you speaking basically at first, but becoming fluent with constant use. I believe the trick is to read, listen, absorb and put into practise new ‘words and phrases’. It’s no use getting frustrated and trying to be an orator in a new language without learning basic phrases like ‘the pen of my aunt lies in the garden’. At the same time learn some tunes you like so that you can play for the sheer pleasure of it. Oh! and don’t forget to do a few minutes sight reading at practise time. Just 5 minutes or a page is all you need to do to develop the skill. My maxim is – a few minutes practise most days is better tha 12 hours once a month. Cheers – Ian

  26. Another important aspect is listening .With sites like Youtube and good jazz stations (radioswissjazz.ch for instance ) one can assemble examples of good performances. My home DAW runs Reaper , and I can slow a passage down without changing the pitch and loop it.

  27. Find a musical partner .Not wanting to let the side down is a big motivator !
    A lot of willie’s material is relevant to the bass , particularly the voicing and chord structures.

  28. Dear Willie
    Your article on learning piano, in my case jazz piano, certainly hits the spot. I have played guitar for years but only as far as playing rhythm in a group/band. However all that was in the past and for years I never touched any instrument.
    Along came a redundancy package and now I have no need to work . So I started playing guitar again and also thought I’d quite like to try keyboard.
    To say the learning curve was steep is an uderstatement. However perseverence has paid off and I am content with my progress. You notice I say content but never satisfied.
    Your advice about having goals or playing to a level is I believe again spot on. I have and still am very envious of hearing and seeing on the web and other places jazz pianists performances which are amazing. This also applies to you Willie when you have played by way of demonstration something in one of your lessons. Then I think, well I can’t do that. At least not yet!
    Still now I am at a place where in my mind ideas come and my own arrangements are being realised, something that two or three years ago I might have thought impossible.
    I do not wish to play in a band but am more than content to improve and enjoy the music I make for my own enjoyment. The great thing about jazz is it has no boudaries we are free to work around and interpret a song whichever way we want. Indeed the last thing I want to do is play it the way its been done a thousand times before. There’s always another way to do it.
    Not being content with jazz piano I continue with fingerstyle guitar, sometimes classical sometimes jazz. Recently I have become interested in Lute music. So plenty to keep me occupied!
    The points you make though are wise ones I think and apply equally to any istrument and I must remind myself of what you have said. Although my first instrument was the guitar I would say I am now more proficient on jazz keyboard than guitar!
    As far as practice goes I absolutely hate scales, however I can play pretty much all of them by now. I usually sit down for a while and try to learn a new keyboard skill and/or do a variation on a song I know and try a slightly different approach probably because I get fed up playing it the way I have been for weeks.
    Your advice and lessons are great and I have noticed you have urged many times students to be patient and it will come although at times it can seem tricky.
    Regards, Dan
    UK

  29. Hello Willie! I thoroughly enjoyed the article. It’s amazing. It’s as though you took those defeatist statements right out of my head. It’s also encouraging to know that you even had those thoughts at one time in your progression. We sometimes think that professionals like yourself are so gifted that you just stepped out of the womb and started playing the piano. Oh, and thanks for the formula. I plan to utilize it immediately. I look forward to your follow-up article. Thanks for everything. You’re great. Keep my name on your mailing list.

    C.L. Wright

  30. Hi Willie! Thank you for your time and thoughts, they help a lot. I also agree with most that has been written before in this blog. I am 68. My contribution is twofold: 1) If you are more than 30, you should have away of learning. What combination of reading, analysis, practice, comment you prefer? So it would be much better if you follow in music the same path, especially if you feel confortable with it. You can change, modify, etc. the way you learn but you have to be aware of what you are doing. 2) It is absolutely necessary to read and hear music, but the best advice is: play, play, play the piano. And one more thing: it takes time! You put the number. Willie’s excelent formula is fine but results is what counts. And if you need more time, ok. As Willie says there is no police waiting for you outside.

  31. I play piano because I love to sing! Now that I am learning the piano, I have my “band” with me at all times- my own two hands. Playing piano gives me such joy I cry sometimes just hearing myself play a cool jazz chord! I came back to piano three years ago after being a pretty good classical pianist as a kid- I like so many others put it off until much later- I am now 62. I started taking lessons a year and a half ago as I wasn’t progressing just on my own. I am playing scales, major, minors, blues, etc., studying chord structures and practicing just relaxing and playing. I am also learning classical pieces, Bach and Chopin, which are great for learning to focus and good for dexterity. Willie’s lessons have also been invaluable! So inspiring just to watch him teach and play! Happy playing, everyone! Keep it joyful!

  32. I started playing at age 58 about 4 years ago after I retired from the day job. I’ve found Willie’s lessons very helpful in my quest to someday start a second part-time career in retirement. I haven’t advanced near as much as I thought one possibly could with four years of practice and I’ve practiced a bunch. I feel stuck in a rut that I can’t get out of.

    My own self-diagnosed problem is my mind can’t concentrate on the piano playing during practice. Instead I often find myself thinking about other things while my fingers blindly strike the keys. Recently I’ve now started spending about two minutes before practicing just setting at the keyboard with the eyes shut trying to clear my mind by playing scales with my fingers in my head. Also if I catch my mind wandering during practice I’ll do the same and try to brain play what ever it is I’m working on. These time-outs seem to be helping.

  33. I have been playing piano semi professionally for the past 35 years. What has been my biggest obstacle, is the mental garbage. I have convinced myself for years that I could never solo over jazz changes. This thinking stems from my late teens. When I was totally blown away by the ability of an acquaintance of mine. I realize now that I was comparing myself to somebody with such a high level of skill from extensive classical training and who eventually went on to become a multiple Grammy winning producer. How is that for setting yourself up for misery! The point is: don’t compare yourself to others unless you want to feel bad about yourself. Oh, and I’m finally getting around to working on my jazz solo chops. Thoroughly enjoying the Courses With Willie improvisation class.

  34. I played jazz guitar for many years and reached a professional standard, although I never had a professional career; I got married early, had kids…the excuses are valid but the truth is I just didn’t try to market myself. I thought if I was good enough it would just happen.
    Well, it doesn’t.
    A year or so ago, I took up piano and have practically abandoned the guitar altogether. To be honest I have guitar indigestion. I have been doing it far, far too long without success (my concept of success has changed a lot over the years). I am 50 now and don’t have any illusions of the big stage, or the “life.”
    I have picked up the piano quite easily. Knowing the music has helped no end.
    Articles like this one of Willie’s helps enormously. From personal experience I know that the real skills are between my ears but I need to be reminded of it.
    Thanks so much for everyone who leaves a message. It encourages me to hear other oldies like me having a go.

  35. Hi a great read and as for myself it has been 5 year almost to the day that i began to learn to play the keyboard and it has been an awesome journey which has opened up so much understanding to me.Looking back it seems that my progress has been awful slow but it hasn,t.at all because there,s a great deal to learn and you know that everyone else has had to make the exact same voyage of discoveryso .enjoy the journey i know i have and will continue to do so..

  36. Willie,
    I have started and stopped playing the piano too many times to count in the last 58 years. Your lessons and website have been extremely helpful. Thanks for the clear direction and descriptions and examples! If I play and practice for enjoyment and because it absorbs me and helps me maintain mental agility, I find that it is easier to stick with it.

  37. Great article on how to get better at the piano. It’s just what I need at this critical time when I need to get better at playing and performing. I’ve started studying jazz piano and watching Willies jazz piano lessons and they have been very helpful. Great teacher. Also enjoy reading all the other comments from my fellow jazz piano players regarding this article. Keep up the good work yall and keep jamming.

  38. Hello Willie,

    Great article … I currently play tenor, alto and soprano sax and keyboards. Your article is helping me to focus on the time needed for me to reach my goals. I want to play (gig) piano more fluently. In some areas I am still a beginner and in other areas I am intermediate to advance. The mental part is a major part that I am learning how to overcome. Your DVDs fills in the gaps that I need to improve my skills.

    Thanks again for the article

  39. Yes this is another great article from Willie.I have been playing the piano for some time and have found all lessons from Willie to be the best I have come across.He goes into such detail and explains everything to the Nth degree,at a pace that suites everyone.
    I have learnt so much from him,and are now playing Jazz and the blues with great confidence.
    I think with everything that people want to do,and I mean want to,one must have the passion, and the love for it, and want to do it and achieve the goals they have set them selves.
    I think music is something that where there is always something to learn.
    I have spoken to many professional musicians,who say they are still learning,because in music there is so much to learn.
    When I sit at the piano,I do have moments when I go mad and just play everything for the pleasure I get out of it,but one must be realistic and see where ones weaknesses are.
    I often analyse my playing and know immediate when I am not playing or doing certain technics correctly.I will isolate this from my playing and practise this until I think I have achieved the standard I require.It is far to easy just to plod along and not really analyse what one is doing.
    Again if one enjoys playing the piano and has great passion and love for it,one will achieve all your goals,even if you first thought it would be impossible.
    Thanks ones again for allowing me to be part of the willie community,you have done wonders for my music.
    I cannot live without music and my piano

    Thanks once again

    Trafford reeder

  40. Hi Willie

    Nice article, very helpful for me. I’m 50 and I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. I always liked piano but never had the chance to learn it. I’ve recently got a piano and I wanted to learn a little bit, just to have a nice time.

    I got a few lessons from the store. Today I’ve managed to forget about my job and I’ve been working on the Improvisation With Chords & Inversions JGP10 DVD which I think is absolutely amazing.

    The concepts you explain in chapter 12 about how to use the slash chords to produce those nice transitions by using the dominant motion approach are so interesting… those simple progressions are sounding like heaven under my hands now!

    I wish to have more free time to practice but unfortunately I work in software programming and it’s very time consuming. Anyway, my goal is just to have some fun.

    (Sorry if my english is not that good 🙂

    Thanks a lot !

  41. Wow! This was a really eye-opening article, particularly the part about matching our goal to practice time. This was really helpful because it helped me mentally frame how best to practice with the time I have and think seriously about the time involved when I want to aim higher.

    Thanks Willie!

  42. For once… inFrench
    MERCI POUR TOUT WILLIE ET BRAVO A TOUTE L EQUIPE MARC

  43. Wow, this article was amazing. I think the fact that you quantified the amount of study/application to reach my goal REALLY helped me understand what I need to do to better strategize my practice routines. I think many people know what they want out of their piano playing, they just need some kind of tactical guide such as the number of hours to practice to align it with their goals. Very helpful Willie, thank you!