Common Mistakes of Self Taught Pianists (and how to solve them!)

If you’ve decided to embark on a new musical journey through the medium of Piano, you’ve probably tried to teach yourself first thanks to the absolute mountain of resources readily available at your finger tips. If you’re not looking to invest in lessons with a Piano teacher, and feel content with how you’re learning independently, you may want to check out the below points to see whether you’ve fallen into any of these pitfalls with your playing/learning.

Before we go into them, I want to say WELL DONE on how far you’ve taken yourself so far; learning any instrument isn’t easy, and I recognise how much effort and time you’ve put in to teach yourself. I’d just like to help you along and keep you on the right track in your quest to Piano-brilliance. The following points are entirely based on my experience as a teacher, and each will have a solution video-based Piano lesson you can delve into.

  1. FINGERING! – This one is the most common, so I’d like to talk about this first. Using illogical fingers means you’re often making playing something more of a task than it needs to be. This includes using the SAME fingers to play every single chord, and creating awkward transitions when playing melodies. The aim with which fingers to use is to ensure you’re able to articulate the music properly (playing smooth and connected, or disjointed). I have two separate lessons below to help you with this:
Which fingers to use when playing Piano (general tips/advice)
Which fingers to use when playing chords for more slick transitions

2. Not learning Theory – Understanding how music is connected and linked is incredibly advantageous to your appreciation of music and how you approach learning a piece of music/song. It makes learning quicker when you are able to put music into context, instead of it all seeming like a selection of random notes. You don’t have to necessarily know how to read music notation to get a grasp on important theory topics, but it sure does help! Below is a summary of music theory I believe every musician should know.

Essential music theory every musician should know

3. Over-using the sustain pedal – I get it; once you’ve discovered the sustain pedal and its beautifying capabilities, it’s difficult to not use it… But using it throughout an ENTIRE piece of music without ‘refreshing’ it will make your music sound too muddy and lack clarity. It’s wise to see where in a piece it would be interesting to not use the sustain pedal, as a nice contrast. Below is my piano lesson on how to use all the pedals, with emphasis on the sustain (damper) pedal.

How to use the Piano pedals (emphasis on sustained legato pedalling)

4. Playing too fast and not considering performance qualities – It can be tempting to play a piece really quickly once it’s under your fingers/muscle memory. However, ‘fast’ doesn’t always necessarily mean better, more musical or more impressive. If you find you’re making lots of little ‘splashes’ and errors, it’s much better practise to take the speed down a couple of notches so you can regain full control over what you’re playing, with regards to rhythm, pulse and the actual notes. In doing this, you can then even consider where you could add dynamic expression/articulation (how you press the notes), to bring a piece of music to life by injecting character, thus, you’d be a giving a much more wholesome performance. Below is a piano lesson on how you could add more expression.

A playing technique that will help add expression, with other tips.

5. Only learning one genre/style – For most musicians, their inspiration for wanting to learn how to play Piano usually stems from a particular piece of music or a composer. Whilst it’s incredibly important to learn music that you enjoy the most, it’s also very important to learn pieces of music in different styles/genres. For example, Blues music is great for rhythm and coordination, Classical music is great for more technical aspects, and Jazz is great for exploring interesting chords/harmony. Try to broaden your abilities by studying and trying to appreciate other styles that wouldn’t be your number one choice – you may surprise yourself and discover a whole new love!

6. Trying to learn pieces that are way above your level – Whilst it’s great to aspire to be able to play something that you know is advanced in the future, you’ve got to learn how to appreciate and enjoy the journey of arriving there. If you’ve only been playing for a few months and decide that you’re going to go for it learning La Campanella, or the 3rd Movement from Moonlight Sonata; you’re setting yourself up for a whole lotta frustration and disheartenment. Whilst it’s always good to push yourself and your limits, realising when something is just currently above your ability is a sensible hat to wear. If you’re not sure of your level/grade, try exploring the ABRSM or Trinity grade books (if you read music) and see where you’re at. If you feel like you’re being ‘comfortably challenged’ at grade 4, for example, then start there and gradually work your way up. You’ll get to play La Campanella probably one day, but in the meantime, there are SO MANY amazing and beautiful pieces of music at your level you can enjoy and gain so much more from. River Flows in You and 3rd Movement from Moonlight Sonata are just WORLDS apart (sorry to be the one to break that to you!).

Here are some more general tips for improved Piano playing you may benefit from.

Tweak your piano playing technique!