5 Piano Beginner Pitfalls and How to Easily Avoid These

by Lars Nelissen  - March 17, 2024

Don't fall in these self learned pitfalls that block piano learning!

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It is much easier then you think to avoid these piano beginner pitfalls!

In this VIDEO POST, I’ll reveal 5 self-created pitfalls that beginners and even intermediate piano students suffer from. Yet these pitfalls may easily be prevented without it costing you more time to practice. Just add a few ingredients that will boost your piano progress 10x.

piano beginner pitfalls

Pitfall 1 - Not finishing what you started

Not finishing a piece, meaning; bringing it to a level that gives satisfaction and brings your piano playing to the next level - is one of the piano beginner pitfalls that must be addressed. Only learning the notes of a piece does not give the same level of satisfaction that playing a piece of music should give. Because it is about expressing feelings and ideas behind the music. This requires a certain level of piano technique that takes time to master.

Finishing a piece means looking for the right sound, expressing dynamic markings like forte, mezzo forte, mezzo piano, piano, pianissimo, fortissimo, and crescendos and diminuendos. See that notes are played ‘legato’ or ‘staccato’ when it is meant to be. Learn how to make a beautiful phrasing instead of playing from note to note or ending a phrase with a loud note or sudden stop, when actually it would be nicer to make a slight diminuendo or ritenuto at the end.

Learning piano playing is not just about the fingers that press keys; it is also about arm movements that enhance the fingers to play more dynamically, fluently, and efficiently with less tension. There is much more to pay attention to. Each stage in your piano level has its main focus points. You don’t have to make it perfect since that doesn’t exist. But you need to get something out of each new piece learned. It should bring you to a little bit of a higher level.

Everything you learn in one piece of music you’ll take to the next, and it will be easier to bring the next piece to a finish and the next. Step by step, we will take a piece with a new challenge so we keep growing. So avoid this piano beginner mistake. Read also THIS POST about the fastest way to program the notes in your fingers

Pitfall 2 - Forget about Piano Technique

You are not spending time on technique away from the repertoire pieces. Well, here we have the second of piano beginner pitfalls to get trapped in. When a child learns to talk, it first learns sounds; gibberish talk. Yet it is so important to learn the sounds by themselves before a child can start to try words. First, partial words, and then, after lots of practice, complete words. Only then does it start to attempt short sentences.

The same is true for piano playing. First, we need to make the fingers ready to play a certain note passage that is equal and smooth. We can practice our fingers in exercises that are highly effective for the best and quickest results; without that, we need to spoil a piece of music because we took it outside the music. We can do the same to learn the arm movements used in piano playing. This results in faster learning of new pieces; we spent time on technique in the pieces, of course, that is inherent to the piece, but because we already have specific skills from exercises, this process inside the piece goes faster.

Adding technique into your practice regime seems like more practicing time, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s say you practice very little, a bare minimum of 30 minutes daily. Then, spending 10 minutes on technique will result in a more effective left over 20 minutes that you would spend on learning your piece.

The reason for this is simple: Ten minutes of technical workouts will bring your fingers in a better form. And fingers in good shape will absorb much faster when you try to learn them play something. Warmed-up fingers will react better and help you remember more of what you tried to learn. So 20 minutes after warming up gives you double or triple the results.

So, it certainly is a good idea to add exercises to your practice time. If you did 45 to 60 minutes of exercises during, let’s say, 2 or 3 hours of practice, it would 10x your results. The effect is not linear, but exponential. So a very important piano beginner mistake to avoid.

Pitfall 3 - Not Giving Attention To Rhythm

Not developing rhythm the right way is the third piano beginner pitfall to avoid with all your mindfulness. Our musical clock is the core of any music. Without rhythm, music becomes formless and meaningless. Rhythm without pitch or harmony is still music and meaningful, but sounds, harmonies without rhythm are, just empty formless sounds without any meaning. And music with a badly performed rhythm just sounds amateurish and of poor quality.

Even a non-musical audience will feel disturbed when the rhythm is off. Over the years, I have developed an inner metronome that ensures that my rhythms are always correct and effective. When practicing, and that is true, especially for beginners, we should make it a habit to count the rhythm and make sure each note sounds ‘in time.’ The best way to learn musical time is to feel the smallest note value in a musical piece or section as an underlying ‘vibration’ on which each note falls into place.

The next step is to learn the art of Rubato, which means stealing time. Here, we learn to stretch or squeeze the underlying vibration of the smallest note value in a natural way to give a certain interpretation of the rhythm that the metronome sometimes can’t catch. 

A common piano beginner mistake is to take liberties in the wrong places and with bad taste. assign it to "musical liberties or Rubato playing". This is because a lack of rhythmical development and a lack of knowledge of different music styles.

Pitfall 4 - Not Practicing Your Musical Ear

Not spending time on developing a musical ear is the 4th of piano beginner pitfalls. The most natural way to start this is by singing the melodic line in your learning pieces. The second step is to learn the intervals, sing them first, and later try to recognize the distances between two notes by ear.

An excellent way to practice this is to try playing melodies that you hear in music that is in your playlist. Hopefully, you will have a good playlist because listening to lots of piano music will help you develop your own playing skills.

The fastest way to get from A to B is by modeling others that have been there. Listening to piano music is a great way to understand what a good performance sounds like. Try to work towards that. It’ll take years, but these years will go in the right direction. Also, try to listen if you can recognize the same piece played by different pianists.

The key here is to listen to great pianists since each great pianist has his or her very own piano sound. As mediocre players will sound all the same, different in their mistakes perhaps, but still lacking individuality in playing and piano sound.

A piano beginner mistake is to listen to any recording they can easily find and listening to badly performed piano playing. This is a pity, because you don't learn what good piano playing sounds like. On the picture below you see small selection of pianists that I recommend to listen to. Far from complete, but a good start!

Great Pianists collection: Rubinstein, Argerich, Horowitz, Hofmann, Richter, Gilels, Michelangeli, Ashkenazy, Barenboim, Pollini, Kissin, Trifonov, Yuja Wang, Lang Lang, Giltburg

Great Pianists collection: Rubinstein, Argerich, Hofmann, Horowitz, Richter, Michelangeli, Ashkenazy, Gilels, Barenboim, Kissin, Pollini, Trifonov, Yuja Wang, Boris Giltburg, Lang Lang

Pitfall 5 - Not Learning Any Music Theory

Learning music without music theory is like learning a new language without knowing its alphabet and grammar. Can you imagine how it is to learn Russian without first learning the Cyrillic alphabet or learning Japanese without even spending time on their fantastic phonetic syllabary system called Kana? Not even speaking about grammar here would be a very difficult task, and it will make your path to using these languages long and strenuous. Therefore not taking this serious is the fifth of piano beginner pitfalls.

In music, the same is true. Learning music notation is the very basis of learning the alphabet. Learning chords is like understanding the relationships between different types of words. Understanding rhythm is understanding how letters form words; like this, note groups form phrases that happen in time, rhythm.

Spend time learning to read sheet music. Each new piece you learn by reading, instead of just watching some YouTube video pressing the keys, each piece will improve your reading skills. After you get comfortable with reading, you can take some too-easy pieces and play these from the score without preparation. This will help your sightreading skills. Sightreading will speed up the first stage of learning a new piece: reading the notes and putting them into your finger memory.

Understanding notation of expression markings, Italian tempo, and character markings. What do the different expressions mean in music notation, like slurs, marcato signs, accents, etc? What are the different musical forms, and how do we recognize them in the way a musical piece is structured?

Understanding music theory allows you to see the relationship of otherwise individual notes in the exact musical phrase and inside the musical structure of a piece. How are the chords connected? Why do some chord progressions sound good while other progressions simply don’t work at all?

Learn how chords are built and try to see chords in the music you play. Seeing groups of notes as chords is very powerful. Read some books on music theory or watch some of the many YouTube videos on the topic. And then try to recognize what you have learned in the pieces that you play.

This will enhance your ability to learn a piece not just faster, but it is also necessary in order to understand and feel the music better. Like in all art, feelings are cultivated by expanding our knowledge and experience. Taste isn’t genetically decided, but is cultivated by education. However, we are born with a certain temperament and should direct our temperament with a good education.

Conclusion

Without these 5 elements you'll never accomplish your dream of playing the music you love the way you dream of playing it. So don't let these become your piano beginner pitfalls.

All of these pitfalls can be prevented without spending more time practicing by just adding these into your practicing that you are doing already. Do you have extra time, great! But don't let time be an excuse not to learn the necessary skills. And maybe it feels like you are spending less time on your piece, soon you'll learn that that time will get 10X in results as it did before spending some time on these five elements.

Good luck with it and drop questions in the comments below!

Click play to watch the video tutorial:

► Read Video Script In this video, I'm going to talk about five common pitfalls for beginners and intermediate players, and that prevents them from making progress to the next step. In this video, we're going to discuss these pitfalls and how to easily prevent them. My name is Lars Nelissen, pianist, composer, and piano teacher. If you're new to this channel and you didn't subscribe yet, hit the subscribe button and the bell so that you will be notified for my new videos. Weekly, I try to do some videos. And another thing: I like to know what you are struggling with and what you would like me to make videos about that will help you and will make you benefit from my channel even more. So leave that in the comments. And let's get to these 5 pitfalls. Pitfall 1, the first Pitfall, and there's a real problem among many piano students, and it is not finishing pieces that you have started to learn. You start to learn a piece; the notes somehow start to go well, and you already skip to the next piece because it took you such a long time to learn these notes, and now you want to have something fresh, something new. And you leave this one and you go to the next piece. There's nothing wrong with learning many pieces of music. But it is far more beneficial for your piano progress to finish something that you have started and not just learn to press the right notes somehow on the right place and then say: I play this piece too. In music, it's all about the expression behind the notes. And in order to do so, we have to learn the technique. It's not just pushing the right keys, but it's also how to phrase, how to move your arm, so that it will start to sound better. How to use the weight of your arm, how to articulate your fingers in each situation. Because each situation requires a different solution and every piece of music has its own unique situations that you have to learn and look into. By doing that, you will make real progress. And when you finish a piece in this manner, then you not only enjoy playing the piece more, and you not only know the piece better and remember it better, but you also learned everything that is there to be learned in that piece for you in this stage, of course, of your piano playing. Because maybe if someone with 10 years more experience is to learn the same piece, he will probably look for different more advanced techniques and ways of expressing. Every level of piano playing has its own difficulties as its own focus points, but not paying attention to the way you play the piano and that to make it sound beautiful and to make it sound interesting. That's what is really missing out for me, that is not finishing a piece. And that's really only 10% or 20% of the learning process. I made another video on efficient way of practicing and of learning the notes. It will appear here so check that. Pitfall No. 2: And there're also too many pianists, who think they have no time for it, or they think it is a waste of time. Because there's a lot of nonsense on the internet; people who say that spending time on technique is a waste of time, and you should only spend time on the music. I think it's big nonsense! And I'm not luckily the only one who thinks so. And learning technique away from your repertoire pieces is extremely beneficial because you will prepare your fingers for all the passages and finger work, and arm work, because it's not only finger technique; it's also arm technique. And it will help you learning the piece that you are trying to learn much faster. Because the danger if you learn only technique inside a piece of music; the danger in that is first of all that you not really understand the technique of all the passages in the piece. And you get stuck there. And another danger is that you spend so much time on struggling with the passages inside the music itself, that you start to get an aversion of certain passages in a piece, you start to spoil it. And therefore, you should spend more time on technique away from your repertoire. So working on technique is something that is really important and it will speed up the rest of your piano progress. And if you are interested, then you check the link in the description for my upcoming course in which I will teach finger technique, and arm technique from the very basic to a very advanced level. Pitfall No. 3 is not developing a strong enough sense of rhythm. Beginners they think to count while practicing, to count their music is something that you can add later. Or it is enough to just interpret rhythm on feeling; of I listen this piece and I know how it should sound, and if I just follow my ear for the rhythm. I always have to to disappoint my students too often. Too often I have to tell them that the rhythm is not correct and they should count. To make it kind of a technique to learn to count the smallest note value in a section of a piece, or whole piece if it is shorter piece. But if it is a long piece a section of the piece. You should feel this like an inner vibration, the smallest note value, and you place all the notes on the right time. And only then you can stretch or squeeze time a little bit. 'Rubato' we call that; the stealing of time. But we should not get into Rubato, to not say; Ah, but I'm taking freedom here, while you even don't know how to count the rhythm decently. You should actually start with counting in the very beginning of your piano learning journey! Then we get to pitfall number four: And that is not spending enough time on the musical ear. This starts with very simple listening to good pianists play the pieces that you play. Or any other piano music. Because you want to expand your musical knowledge, also with this, so it's good to listen to lots of music. It gives you a musical sense of how music should sound and how the piano should sound. Then you can integrate also developing your musical ear in your practice. Let's say you you playing a simple melody; um... If you're learning a melody for example like this. It can be any any melody. Why not just sing it along while you're practicing it? Combine this with counting and singing the melody: For example: 1, 2 and 3, 4, 1... Any melody you can use for this. What you do is actually to start to feel pitch, and to also feel the distance, to understand distance between two notes. By integrating the singing of the notes into your practice, soon will also happen the opposite; You will start also to hear more consciously the notes and the distances between the notes, and how notes sound together: Harmony. And you will also learn how to give expression to a melody easier, because when singing it is much easier, more natural to sing the melody nice. And then when we start to play it on the piano, like we would be singing, but then singing with the fingers. So ear training is important, and it will help you also to recognize your own mistakes faster. So you can react quicker on mistakes and correct them instead of having mistakes and you not even hear it. And you playing it for weeks and weeks and weeks, until someone comes and says: You play, you play wrong notes there this is not written this not right this even doesn't sound nice. And you even don't realize that you didn't notice it! And then we get to the 5th pitfall: And that is not spending time on music theory. This first starts with reading music. It's so helpful to read music! It's like learning a language and you don't learn the alphabet? Let's say you wanna learn Japanese, and you don't learn they have a very nice system called Kana, which is Hiragana and Katakana. It's a phonetic system; and you can write all Japanese words with Katakana and Hiragana. And if you know which character is which sound? Then you can pronounce them accordingly. And the same is in music! This is a C and is written on that place on the score. It's not more difficult than learning the alphabet. And the more you do that, and the more you read music, the easier that goes. Like with everything: the more you do it, the easier it will become. The second step is to read distances of music. We call that intervals. Is it small distance: Secunda. Or is it for example: A quinta. So 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Ah it's a fifth. Or a sixth... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6! Okay this is a sixth. How this sounds: Hey I know a song which starts like that. And then you're also training already your musical ear again. So it overlaps a little bit. And then chords: You learn that the chord is made of thirds build up together. And if you have three notes, you already have a chord and not an interval just anymore. And then you learn another one added to it... It's a seventh chord. The more interest you have in that, the easier it will be to learn of course! But then you will have probably the question: What does that, how does that serve me? In just... I just want to play some nice piano pieces, and if I can read them from the score... and I don't need to understand all the music theory behind those notes I just want to play. Well if you maybe, if you want to play only one or two pieces in your whole life, then maybe you don't have to bother too much. But if you like to really learn to play the piano and continuously learn some new music. This will help you tremendously: You will read music faster, you will memorize music faster, you will start to enjoy music in different way. Because you start to understand things did you didn't understand: Why that sounds so nice? And you will think about music differently, and you will also start to play better. You will only become a better pianist by integrating all these elements. Hopefully this video makes you think a little bit, and about what you can still add into your piano practice regime? And to make your progress even faster. To go very deep in all these points, this was not the meaning of this video. They have all very complex materials. And I will post more videos in the future also going deeper into the different points that we have discussed in this video. So subscribe if you didn't do that yet! To don't miss out on that. Thank you for watching to the end of this video! Hit that like button to let other people know that this was a good video! It will help my channel, and help others to find the right videos for them. And let me know in the comments what subjects, what type of... what kind of things you would like to see a video of by me? Then I see you in the next video! Thanks for watching!

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