Accurate Piano Playing
“Ms. Doreen, which instrument is the easiest to play?” I get this question quite often. Though I’m not sure why my students want to know. A few probably are trying to find an easier project but I suspect most of my kids are proud to be taking on the challenge of playing piano. Many of them have friends who play other instruments so it may be a bit of the old “my instrument’s harder than yours” routine.
I tell my students that all instruments are difficult in one way or another. For pianists reading piano music and playing all of the notes and rhythms correctly is difficult indeed. So here are a few tips that may help your students play accurately;
10 Tips for Accurate Piano Playing
- Choose the right piece. Something that is on or just above the student’s level.
- Peruse the piece with your student. Check out rhythm, notes, key changes, and things like that.
- Have your student listen to accurate recordings of the piece. Your student will need your guidance especially if he/she relies on YouTube videos (as many of my students do). Not all YouTube performances are created equal.
- After sight reading through the piece I recommend hands separate practice with super careful attention to fingering. I harp incessantly on fingering with my students I explain to them that consistent fingering is crucial for accurate playing. Getting the right fingers on the right notes at the right time is the name of the game when it comes to playing accurately.
- “Hesitate, don’t make a mistake” This recommendation comes from a book called “The Pianist’s Problems” by William S. Newman. In a perfect world, my students would always play with rhythmic accuracy, but I have found that it is better to hesitate and get the correct notes and fingerings than to forge ahead and play the right rhythm but the wrong notes.
- Practice carefully with the right mindset. I tell my students it isn’t just about how much time they spend practicing. You need to focus and practice as accurately as possible. Try not to practice mistakes. Otherwise, you will actually spend time at the piano and play worse than when you started!
- Use the metronome. I call it my music “cleaner”. I know a metronome is a controversial tool, but I am a big believer in using it as a practice tool for intermediate-level players and higher. Have students start so slowly that it is easy to get all of the notes, rhythm, fingering, articulation, phrasing, and dynamics perfect. Repeat increasing the tempo by 2-8 beats per minute each time. This technique works miracles!
- Decide whether or not your student will memorize or use the score. If the piece is to be memorized do so quickly. I find that my students have accuracy problems whenever pieces are half memorized. I tell my students to either play totally from memory or use the music. Don’t memorize and keep the music in front of you as a fail-safe.
- Once pieces are memorized refer to the score from time to time. One of my teachers once pointed out that his colleagues who never went back to the music once they had memorized a piece always had trouble playing accurately during concerts. I found this to be true as it is easy to change things a little over time, and as a result, have trouble playing perfectly.
- Tell your students to stay calm. There is an old saying among musicians; “The amateur practices until he gets it right, the professional practices until he can’t possibly get it wrong.” It is possible to practice so much and so well that you really can relax and trust that you know the music. Having confidence and getting nerves under control will help anyone to play better.
While it is possible for students to play the piano accurately it is also likely that mistakes will happen from time to time. Almost no one plays perfectly all of the time. Flawless playing (or the illusion of flawless playing) comes with time and experience. So I believe it’s important to teach our students to keep going and do their best. And above all, enjoy playing and playing musically.
“To play a wrong note is insignificant to play without passion is inexcusable.”
…Ludwig van Beethoven
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