How to Get “Good”

I get a lot of new students asking me how long it takes to get “good.”

Assuming “good” means being able to play something comparable to a popular piece by Chopin, my answer is, “It depends on how much you practice well.” So, in a way, you choose how long it takes to play well (within reason).

This depends on three things: (1) your inclination and desire to practice; (2) knowing how to practice effectively; and, (3) the amount you actually practice effectively.


1. Your Inclination and Desire to Practice.

Let’s face it. I can’t do much to make you want to practice. Sure, maybe you can be inspired by performance videos or attending live piano concerts, but I simply can’t give you the kind of desire that would actually make you practice daily. So here is where you choose how much you want to practice.

2. Knowing How to Practice Effectively.

Here is where I come in. My job as a teacher is to help you learn how to practice effectively. I have quite a bit to say about this topic, but I will keep this post fairly short and leave you with one of the most important points:

Play S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Playing a section over and over at full speed to correct a mistake is a big no-no. You barely progress, if at all, and end up wasting hours of what could have been effective practice time. For those of you who are complete beginners, simply play everything you learn slowly. For those who have been playing for a while, you probably already have noticed that repeating a passage multiple times at full speed doesn’t get you very far.

Separate the problem section and play slowly while counting out loud. If you’re learning a new piece, take it small sections at a time and play each section slowly.

Even scientifically speaking, your brain needs a lot of time to really solidify something new that you learn. Going slow and focusing on the tougher sections builds myelin, a material created by our brain that is necessary for developing skill and talent. If you missed my last post about myelin, you can check it out HERE.

Keep your eyes open for more on practicing effectively. I want to give each bullet point to you piece by piece so that you have time to really absorb it before learning the next concept.

3. The Amount You Actually Practice Effectively

Combine parts (1) and (2) and we get part (3). Now that you know a little bit more about what effective practice looks like, let’s step into action.

Take what you’ve learned about playing slowly and combine that with the desire that you have to get “good”—whatever that looks like for you. Set aside daily time according to the size of your goal, and practice slowly throughout the entire session. Stick with the slow playing and be amazed with the results.

Your Challenge

Note that it is important to practice daily, even if it is for a short amount of time. At the very least, I challenge you to set aside 5 minutes (only 5 minutes!) per day for the next week or so to practice whatever it is you’re working on slower than usual. Note your progress and any roadblocks that come along the way.

Reach out to me with your results. I’d love to hear what practicing slowly is doing for your skill and whether you notice the difference yet or not.

As always, have fun!

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