If you want to be really, really good at something, you have to be addicted to it. You need to be in a state where you are thinking about it all the time, even when you’re not doing it. You talk about it, you have friends that do it, you dream about it. Imagine having such an addition to playing piano that you couldn’t help but want to practice all the time!
We all know that someone that’s addicted to something does it all the time. Take smoking, drinking, nail-biting or swearing. They are introduced to it, try it out and if they repeat it enough, they start forming a habit. Repeating something makes the brain strengthen the neural connections that help you to do that activity. You get better and better at it and want to do it more and more.
Not good for drug addiction; great for piano addiction!
Here are my 8 steps to becoming addicted to piano practice:
1. First and foremost, you must buy or rent a really good piano that you enjoy playing. Playing a good piano will make you feel good. Think about how fun it is to play on the $200,000+ Steinways in your local piano store (go and try it if you haven’t yet!). Put your piano in a pleasant but distraction-free and temperature-controlled area of the house (not the garage, not a freezing basement). Most importantly, make sure your piano is in tune – get a tuner over if you’re not sure. It’s amazing how much more you’ll want to practice on a tuned piano.
2. Next step: get a good teacher! Goes without saying right? Find a teacher who inspires you and whose playing you want to emulate. Make sure you connect with them and that they understand your goals. They need to be the right teacher for your level of playing; some teachers are better with beginners, others with adults, others with advanced students.
3. Now you need to find music that you want to play! You’ll never want to practice if you don’t want to play the music! It’s that simple. A good teacher will help you do this. If you’re a beginner, your teacher will provide you with varied repertoire and activities to shape your playing. You may not know the music that will inspire you to play yet, so get on YouTube and watch as much as you can. If you’re playing at an intermediate to advanced level, you probably know what pieces you’d like to be able to play as you will have seen or heard them performed by others.
4. Watching professionals play will inspire you to play. It happens in just about any subject: if you see a master performer/sportsman/craftsman do something that you want to be able to do (and make it look easy), you’ll become more motivated to do it yourself. YouTube is a start, but no replacement for live concerts which are a must! See as many pianists perform as possible, preferably playing music that you are currently trying to play. They don’t have to be the world’s best either – local universities and conservatories are great places to start.
5. Watch master classes – preferably live, otherwise on YouTube (there are heaps). Well-run master classes, just like those on Masterchef (Australian reality cooking show) are always inspiring. I’m still amazed at how the world’s top pianists can play, without music, anything a student brings to a master class and make it sound amazing. It’s mind-boggling (and addictively inspiring).
6. Get lots of rest. You won’t want to practice if you’re exhausted, no matter how addicted you are (this is where piano differs from smoking and TV addictions!!). Piano practice, done correctly, is exhausting. Find regular times in your weekly program that you can practice when you’re not going to be tired, even if that means becoming a ‘morning person’ and doing it before work.
7. At the start, you will probably have to force yourself to practice. You can’t get addicted to something without trying it first! I still have to force myself to practice sometimes, but it’s amazing what happens when you just sit down and begin – I’m often still going two hour’s later.
8. Finally, set yourself goals. Have goals for each practice session. Record yourself when the time is up as a way to ensure you achieve your goal. Have longer-term goals of performing the pieces that you’ve been working on to your family and friends or uploading your playing to YouTube. Staring down the barrel of a performance goal will always get you practising and, more importantly, perfecting.
Good luck forming one of life’s most healthy addictions.
Let me know your thoughts.
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.