So you find yourself sitting down at the piano.
Take a good look at it. It’s a big instrument. And if you’re a newbie, it can seem a little daunting.
The worst thing to happen is if it becomes to intimidating or frustrating to the point you just want to quit before you’ve even started. This happens. A lot of beginners struggle with these issues but the last thing you need to do is to give up.
Even the best musicians have once faced the same challenges and it took them an insane amount of time to hone their skills and master their craft. You too, can overcome this – with practice!
Practicing is a vital part of learning and becoming a great pianist. But while everyone can do this, top performers tend to learn quickly to maximize their strength.
How do they do this, exactly? They practice smart!
In order to reach your highest potential, you need to keep in mind a few brain hacks to get ahead of the rest, whether you’re looking to polish up your skills or perfecting a hobby. Hopefully, the following tricks can help you stay focused on meaningful improvement.
7 Best Brain Hacks for Learning to Play Piano Quickly
#1: Work Out a Sensible Finger Pattern
Your brain works faster than your fingers, that much is true. For new learners, this can be really frustrating, especially among adult learners, who think they know how to learn.
Mentally, the piano isn’t a difficult musical instrument to learn. We have music sheets, we see the notes, we understand which ones to press. Sadly, our fingers just won’t cooperate!
The first thing you need to do is to not be harsh on yourself. Be patient. Eventually, things will get better and easier. Additionally, there’s a really nifty exercise you can do to help you develop brain-muscle coordination:
Start by playing with your right hand first and then moving on to the left. Place your right-hand thumb on the middle C note, while your left-hand pinky is on the C an octave lower.
And then, rest your fingers on the white keys. Remember: One finger for one key. Meaning, each of your fingers should have their own white key sitting under it.
Next, play the C note with your right-hand thumb and left-hand pinky. Figure out what should come next. It could be you want to play a note higher, so play the D note with the fingers that are already resting over the top of it. Then stop again, and play the next note up.
You can continue this fingering pattern for all five notes. Once you’ve played them all up, you can play them back down again.
It’s pretty simple, but it’s your brain that does the talking. So first, you must train your fingers and get them used to the experience and sensation of playing the piano.
It’s easier to grasp if you practice hand movements separately. Once you’ve mastered it, you can move on to using both hands. Doing so improves mind-and-muscle coordination and enhances your playing efficiency.
#2: Practice Chunking
Just like in psychology, “chunking” can also be applied to piano practice.
Essentially, chunking is when you break something down into smaller, more manageable pieces or passages. For example, you can probably memorize a string of numbers (like a phone number) much easily if you recognize number combinations within, instead of memorizing it as a whole.
Take the number 1958390. They can be thought of as seven separate items, or you can split them into chunks. As far as your brain’s concerned, once chunked, this 7-digit number is now three items: 19-58-390. It’s a cool brain hack, especially when you want to remember information quickly and for the long term.
In piano practice, a music piece could be comprised of dozens of individual notes, which means there are dozens of individual items to memorize.
Chunking can be used to improve your focus and memory. Practicing challenging pieces in chunks allows you to master one section quickly and more efficiently. If you keep stumbling over one part during practice, try to go over that section slowly, with separate hands and different rhythms – whichever is more convenient.
We tend to practice playing the same piece over and over, from beginning to end. But if you only practice certain sections with chunking, chances are you won’t memorize it linearly. On the other hand, this will give you a good grasp of how some sections go together and how they fit within the piece, as a whole.
But if you keep practicing linearly in the long run, you may occasionally run into memory slips. So while you can remember certain sections, you may have to skip a few measures ahead instead of struggling for what comes next.
Then again, this can helpful if you want to practice several different pieces in a single practice session. While a lot of musicians practice one piece and master it before moving on to the next, it may be more effective to practice multiple pieces or excerpts and switch them up during sessions. This way, you can repeat the same sections over and over, and you’ll eventually start to play out of habit and from the muscle memory you’ve developed.
Remember that even half an hour’s worth of focused practice is a lot more valuable than hours-long sessions of thoughtless, repetitive practicing!
#3: Find the Right Music Piece, Then Innovate
If you’re learning with a tutor, you can ask them to help you pick a music piece to practice on. You can even find some really good pieces online. There are thousands of websites that provide sheet music, PDF documents, and ebooks, both free and premium.
Once you’ve found the perfect piece, try to give it some words and sing along. This is another great hack that lets learners remember a new piece more efficiently. After all, one of the ways our brain encodes information is acoustic. Therefore, singing is one of the most harmonious ways to help you process new information quickly and for the long term.
This is also the same reason that some songs you’ve learned many years ago can still be remembered with ease, compared to ones without melody, like a math equation or formula. Now, you might want to ask your teacher to teach you new information in song format!
#4: Learn to Improvise (ASAP)
After listening to your favorite piano piece, try and copy it – and then make it better. This is how you’ll find out who you are and the special technique you have to your piano playing – the moment you’ll grow from being good to being unique.
“But improvising is just for professionals.”
“You need to be a master pianist and should’ve been playing for years before you can improvise.”
Those are big, fat LIES some people are telling themselves over and over again. It’s true that most of the pros spent years working on improving their skills, and it’s certainly a fact that you won’t be playing like Chopin or Beethoven after just one week of practice.
However, you can – and should – begin improvising from the moment you decide to play the piano. It allows you to get comfortable with the instrument, challenges you to push past your limits, and therefore helps you learn faster.
#5: DON’T Practice from Beginning to End
Yup, you read that right. I mean, is there a rule that says you should always learn your way through page-by-page, in order? Why not practice playing the piano without sheet music?
Here’s another shocker: A lot of composers actually come up with the middle first, or strike up a great ending before working out what leads to it. Why can’t performers work the same way?
Stumbled upon a difficult section on a piece? Try and learn that first. Learn the last four bars. Is there a part that looks extra-challenging and exciting? If it’s on the final page, why would you wait and struggle with the first few pages for ages? Go for the last page!
#6: Study the Score Itself
Consider stepping away from the piano and study a music piece by itself.
The truth is that there is no one model for learning to play the piano – or any other musical instrument for that matter. There are several different models of learning styles, one of which is the VARK (Visual, Audio, Reading, Kinesthetic) Model. According to this, a person learns using any of these styles, although there would always be a dominant or preferred way of learning.
Visual learners can study a score away from the piano, allowing them to absorb the new information and retain it more quickly using short-term memory. Meanwhile, auditory and kinesthetic learners can assess a music piece with the help of their senses, allowing them to better absorb uncertain areas.
#7: Consistency is Key
Practicing is all about learning to handle challenges that help hone your skills. It doesn’t really matter which order of things you learn them from, as long as you enjoy the process.
Whether it’s the notes, the keys and chords, or the playing technique itself, everything requires a great deal of practice and patience.
And just like when you’re exercising, always start with a warm-up. Play the notes and keys before starting with the actual score. The first 15 minutes of your practice session should be spent on the fundamentals, as it helps improve your retaining power.
Learning to play the piano is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Hopefully, these brain hacks can pave the way to success and help you avoid the snares of failure. Remember to not push yourself too hard! Take breaks in-between practice sessions, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and most importantly, have fun!
Good luck with your learning!
A lecturer for over a decade, Carol Duke continues to find modern ways of learning for her tech-savvy students. During her spare time, Carol works as a blog writer and co-editor at this site. When not teaching, she shares her knowledge and expertise on education-related matters by freelancing and blogging. Carol loves to travel and explore new places, and her favorite destination is Southeast Asia.