Bad Habits: A Pianist's Worst Enemy

Bad habits are the worst time wasters in piano practice. Most bad habits are caused by stress from practicing pieces that are too difficult. Therefore be careful not to over practice a passage that is too difficult, especially HT. This can even lead to injuries. HT practice is the greatest single cause of bad habits and speed walls. This is why, in this section, the HT methods are described at the end. Many of the bad habits from HT practice are difficult to diagnose, which makes them that much more perverse. Another bad habit is the over-use of the damper or soft pedal, as discussed below. This is the surest sign of an amateur student taking lessons with an unqualified teacher. Overuse of these pedals can only help a severely technically deficient student. Stuttering is caused by stop-and-go practice in which a student stops and replays a section every time there is a mistake. If you make a mistake, always play through it; don't stop to correct it. Simply make a mental note of where the mistake was and play that section again later to see if the mistake repeats. If it does, just fish out a small segment containing that mistake and work on it. Once you cultivate the habit of playing through mistakes you can graduate to the next level in which you anticipate mistakes (feel their approach before they occur) and take evasive action, such as slowing down, simplifying the section, or just maintaining the rhythm. Most audiences don't mind, and often don't even hear, mistakes unless the rhythm is broken. The worst thing about bad habits is that they take so long to eliminate, especially if they are HT habits. Therefore nothing accelerates your learning rate like knowing all the bad habits and preventing them before they become ingrained. For example, the time to prevent stuttering is when a student first begins piano lessons. If playing through mistakes is taught at this stage, it becomes second nature and is very easy. To teach a stutterer to play through mistakes is a very difficult task. Another bad habit is to bang away at the piano without regard to musicality. This often results because the student is so engrossed with the practice that s/he forgets to listen to the sounds coming out of the piano. This can be prevented by cultivating the habit of always listening to yourself play. Listening to yourself is much harder than many people realize because many students expend all their effort playing, with nothing left for listening. Also, you tend to hear what you think you want to play; therefore, what you hear may not be what you are actually playing. One way to reduce this problem is to record your playing so that you can listen to it later in a mentally detached way. Then there are those with weak fingers. This is most common among beginners and is more easily corrected than those who bang too loud. Still another bad habit is always playing at the wrong speed, either too fast or too slow. The right speed is determined by many factors, including the difficulty of the piece in respect to your technical ability, what the audience might be expecting, the condition of the piano, what piece preceded or will follow this piece, etc. Some students might tend to perform pieces too fast for their skill level, while others are timid and play too slowly. Those who perform too fast can become very discouraged because they make too many mistakes and become convinced that they are poor performers. Timid players can also be psychologically affected by their own music, which will make them feel even more timid. These effects apply not only to performances but also to practices. Poor tone quality is another common problem. Most of the time, during practice, no one is listening, so tone doesn't seem to matter. As a result, if the tone degrades slightly, it does not bother the student, with the result that the tone is totally ignored after some time. Students must always strive for tone, no matter how good they think it is. Listening to good recordings is the best way to wake up the student to the existence of good tone. If they only listen to their play, they may have no idea what good tone means. On the other hand, once you pay attention to tone and start getting results, it will feed on itself and you can readily learn the art of producing sounds that can attract an audience. The number of possible bad habits is so large that they cannot all be discussed here. Suffice it so say that a rigorous anti-virus attitude towards bad habits is a requisite to rapid improvement.