You get bored.
If practicing is boring for you, you may need to find a different way to practice. If you find yourself watching the clock, you’re probably wasting your time. The best way to combat this is to give your brain a challenge. Your brain loves to solve problems.
Can you play the passage hands alone from memory? Try a much faster tempo, or a much slower tempo, and what happens. If you have it memorized, play it while looking at or right hand, then again looking at your left hand, and then with your eyes closed. Try bringing out different voices, especially inner voices. Or try singing the melody, or singing the inner voice. Can you count aloud as you play? Can you play it with the metronome, clicking only once per measure, instead of every beat? How about with the metronome clicking on the off beats?
There is no end to number the ways you can vary a passage. Try some of these ideas, and let me know what you think. Think up your own ways, and see what works.
You get frustrated.
Spending hours practicing and not getting the results you are looking for can be very frustrating. Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of hours doing exactly this. If you’re not getting the results you want, you might need better practice strategies.
I may need to write another post with practice strategies, but I’ll give you a few to think about. Break large problems down to smaller problems is the key. If there is a run you have trouble with, isolate the exact place that is causing you to stumble. It’s not the whole run. It’s probably two notes. Slow practice is very helpful, because it gives you a chance to think about what you are doing, and plan ahead. One strategy that may not be obvious is to practice up to tempo, and don’t worry about mistakes. Just try to get the overall shape of the music, and don’t worry about wrong notes. You might be surprised to hear me say this, but that’s okay. Just try it, and see what happens. You can trust me, you won’t be ruined by this.
Another thing to consider if you’re getting frustrated is that maybe you are expecting too much, too fast. Perhaps you are trying to learn a complex piece that should take you three months to learn, and trying to learn it over the weekend. I sometimes tell my students “never try to do something that is impossible.”
Finally, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break. As I mentioned before, sleeping is a very good way to improve at the piano. Many times I have been practicing something and not getting results, only to find the results come the next day after a night of sleep. The brain loves to solve problems, and your brain will keep working on things for you, even when you are asleep.
You feel tired, hungry, upset, sad…
If this is the case, you probably should just address those things before you try to practice. When you practice, remember that your brain is not only remembering the music, but how you feel as well. If you make a habit of practicing when you’re tired or otherwise not feeling well, practicing will make you tense, and tension can become a habit.
What I’m trying to say is that practicing is not the most important thing in your life. A lot of musicians treat it like it is, but a lot of musicians are also pretty messed up. I’m just trying to keep it real here.
You are questioning whether practicing is worth the effort.
You are not stupid. If you spend several hours on something and not getting the results you are looking for, and not enjoying the time spent, you won’t want to continue doing that thing.
Here’s what I have to offer: making progress at the piano is a slow process. The number of hours you spend honing our skills may never result in the rewards you are looking for. The only way this will balance out is if you can find a way to make practicing its own reward. Sure, performing can be fun, and if it goes well, it feels really good. But if performing in public is your main motivation, and if the process is mostly drudgery and suffering for you, this might be a losing battle for you.
If that’s the case, there is nothing wrong with that. Practicing may not be worth it to you. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy or bad. I just means that you like the idea of being able to play the piano, but the price is more than you’re willing to pay. I’d love to be in good enough shape to run marathons, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever do it because so far I haven’t found a way to enjoy running enough that I am able to stick with it. (I’ve started and stopped running several times.)
As I was writing this, I realized that I had opened up some cans of worms. Several things that I touched on could probably be expanded into their own entire post. We’re just getting started here, and there is no shortage of things to talk about. If you have comments or questions, or if there are things you want to hear more about, send me a note. I would love to hear from you.