Learning how to play an instrument isn’t easy; fact. So I’d like to put you on the right track in your crucial early stages of learning. As a Piano Teacher, I see these 3 same “mistakes” over and over again when I take on a new student. Here’s what you should try to avoid doing, whilst offering you some tips and advice…
Using illogical and inconsistent fingering; This is common in those who try to self-teach from various resources that put no emphasis on which fingers to use. It’s mostly apparent when a new student has began learning chords prior to lessons, and completely miss out the use of their thumbs with a flat wrist/finger position. Chords should generally be played with your 1-3-5 or 1-2-5 fingers.
It’s crucial that you play using logical fingers that enable/encourage you to play with the correct articulation, fluency and speed (if relevant). Think of learning a piece of music as choreography for your hands. In order to learn/memorise something successfully, you need to ensure that you create the same movement every single time you practise/play the piece of music, to get it in your muscle-memory bank! If you use a different set of fingering each time, it’s going to take you that little bit longer to thoroughly learn.
Another common issue is choosing fingers to go over to ascend with instead of tucking thumbs under; which brings me very nicely onto my next point…
Not learning SCALES; If you have been teaching yourself for a while and haven’t taken time in your learning/practising schedule to learn any scales, then you NEED to begin learning them now! Each scale uses a specific set of fingers, which really aids with navigating around the piano more instinctively and naturally around those set of notes within the key signature of the piece of music you’re playing. To state the obvious, the piano is laid out in a set repetitive pattern; practising scales helps develop a more efficient way of moving around the layout of the keys, thus enabling you to learn/understand pieces of music quicker.
Scales also develop your finger dexterity, and are great for warming up your fingers/mind-set before performing/practising a piece of music. They absolutely don’t have to be boring or ‘mind-numbing’. Try playing them using different rhythms (such as swing), articulations (staccato, slurred-couplets), playing them in 3rds or 6ths, or use them to help develop dynamic expression in your playing. I encourage my private students to create a “scale randomiser”, which is essentially writing each scale you’ve learnt on separate pieces of paper, and picking them out of a bowl randomly (like a raffle…), so you’re not favouring certain scales over others. Have a second bowl to move the scales you’ve practised into it, so you’re in a rotation. Every time you learn a brand new scale, in the bowl it goes!
Practising scales to a metronome (here’s the one I personally own) is a great method which not only helps you practise keeping in time, but keeps you playing your scales evenly.
Overwhelming yourself with too much information; We live in the age of information and technology, with a wealth of information readily available in the rectangles in our pockets…This issue is much more common in my beginner adult students, who in aid to (understandably) try to save money, endeavour to try to learn the basics first before maybe seeking tuition with a Piano Teacher. One piece of information leads to another, and before they know it, they’ve become overwhelmed with knowledge that’s presently useless to them, which leaves them confused and feel like learning the piano is an impossible task. I once had a beginner student who in his first lesson asked me about modes, and whilst I admired his enthusiasm, I explained that he’ll first need to; a) properly know what the keys are called… b) learn how to play the scale of C major.
My advise is to accept that you need to start at the very beginning, and learn in Bitesize steps that’s digestible whilst putting new information into practise. Follow a course or a method book, and seek tuition with a reputable Piano teacher at least twice a month for 30 minute sessions, to help keep you on track.
Here’s my video on this subject for those who’d rather watch/listen than read! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments, and if this article/video has helped.