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

Michael Korman has played the piano in opera productions and recitals, as well as directing music at a church and coaching classical singers. He draws upon his experiences with meditation and mindfulness to inform his views on music. In addition to music, Michael also holds degrees in computer science. When he's not playing the piano or meditating, he might be practicing drawing or calligraphy.

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