Unlocking your Full Potential: Tips for Maximizing Your Piano Lessons Investment
So you want to learn piano? With a new year dawning, it's a great time to start up again or to start fresh. The piano is a great way to start music making, it's a very accessible instrument and one that can play so many different styles and genres. I think it's the best instrument out there, but I'm quite biased!
I have been teaching piano for over half my life (17 years as of this post) so if you are looking to start, or are taking piano lessons currently, here are a few ideas of ways to really get the most out of it.
1. Find a great teacher.
Definitely first on the list for a reason. There are so many ways to learn now, through YouTube, apps, online courses, etc. and those may work for you initially, but if you really want a personalized experience, having a one on one session with a teacher is paramount.
I recommend searching first for a registered music teacher who has a lot of experience as well as great reviews from past students that resonate with you. You may find a teacher that has a lot of experience, but only teaches classical music and you want to learn pop, or vice versa. Make sure that when you read the student's reviews, they are saying things that resonate with what you want to learn and the style in which you want to learn.
Some teachers may offer a free consultation, and it doesn't hurt to just email them and ask questions before you settle on someone. It can be a really long and fruitful relationship so it pays to do a lot of research up front to find a good match.
2. Set personalized goals.
Be clear about what your goals are and articulate them to the teacher before you get started so they know which direction to take. Do you picture yourself playing the whole Moonlight sonata? Do you want to be able to jam at a local pub? Compose your own songs? Entertain at the next family Christmas party? The goals that each student has can vary wildly and so it's a good idea to have some idea of what you would like to do with this skill.
Perhaps you just want exposure to the instrument and what it's all about - and that's fine too! The more clear and honest you can be with the teacher, the more they can shape the lessons to suit your needs.
3. Take good notes.
Take good notes in the best way for you (recording, on your phone notes, paper notes, etc.) During the lesson, there will be a lot of great tips and takeaways from your teacher and you want to make sure that you can practice those specific things during the week as well as anything to look into online. Many teachers take notes for their students and perhaps email after the lesson or write down in a notepad. Perhaps it's easier to write notes on the sheet music or score. Make sure that you are able to fully absorb what is being taught and that the method the teacher is using works for you.
If the teacher allows, you could also record the lesson so that you can refer back to it later! This might work better than written notes for your learning style.
4. Practice soon after the lesson, and frequently.
Another way to make sure that you remember what was taught is to practice as soon as you can after the lesson. See if you can go through the same trouble spots in the pieces and do the exercises prescribed on your own. If you forget anything, you can always text/email your teacher so that you don't have to wait another week to get the answer.
I find that shorter practice sessions that happen frequently (daily or multiple times a day) usually work better than a few longer sessions a week - but having said that, find what works for you and see if you can stick to it as a routine as much as possible.
5. Don't over practice.
There are professional musicians that practice 6, 8, 10 hours a day. I wouldn't even try to attempt that as an amateur. At best, you will get really frustrated, and at worst you could injure yourself. There is only so much progress one can make at a time and see if you can notice when that point is where you've plateaued and take a break. It's better to come back to it the next day refreshed. Learning a new skill takes time and you do have to be patient with it. Learning the piano is not only intellectual, but physical and mental coordination that takes time to really become easy and fluid.
6. Groove & rhythm matter more than correct notes.
If you are just focused on correct notes, you are missing the music most likely. Always establish a steady beat either with a metronome, a backing track, or playing along with the original song. If it's too fast, too hard, take out notes until you really feel the groove and can follow along, then add more notes back in. A wrong note at the right time sounds a lot better than right notes at the wrong time!
7. Actively choose what songs you learn.
If you hate the songs you are working on, you won't want to learn or practice them. Make sure that you are at least a little bit involved in the process of choosing repertoire. If you have a certain song that you love or a playlist, show your teacher - see if they can incorporate some of that music into your set list! At the same time, trust your teacher if they say it's too difficult for you right now, and let them simplify it or find an easier version for you to start with.
8. Learn lots of songs that are well within your level of difficulty.
Diversification makes it easier to learn how to play as a general skill. If you've given yourself a mountainous goal (like learning the whole Moonlight sonata) - it will actually help to also learn other easier pieces along side it. It may seem like you are taking focus away from the the task but you are actually making the task itself easier by working on your note reading and other technical skills needed, just in a different context. It is always good to explore multiple genres to have a broad perspective. I also think it's more impressive that you can play multiple songs well then one hard one that seems like it takes a lot of effort. Effortlessness is impressive!
9. Enjoy the process and the sound you are making in the moment - practicing can be like meditation.
Try accepting where you are at and appreciating it. Music practice can be a form of self care if you are patient and compassionate enough with yourself. Love yourself and love the journey. Try not to make it into a chore, but rather an exploration of something really truly magical. Try some improvisation exercises to just be in the moment and enjoy the sound of the piano without it needing to be right or wrong.
10. Share your success!
Here are some quick ideas of ways that you can share what you are working on and build community around it, which is one of the most powerful ways to be motivated to continue as well as to feel satisfied and rewarded:
Make a video of yourself playing and post on social media or YouTube
Perform for friends when they come over
Participate in any events your teacher organizes
Record a clip and add it to your email signature
Record a clip of you playing and attach it to an e-card
Start a YouTube channel with you playing
Play at an open mic night
Do a video call performance for an elderly relative
Happy New Year Readers!