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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 11:26AM   |  29 comments
The piano waits for its player to practice

Blog written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Berlin, Germany

Last month a former student of mine at Ithaca College, Justine Popik, visited me for a weekend in Nuremberg.  She told me that her classmates would take note of my (in) famous catchy phrases about music.  I have been known to use any means possible to get students to remember certain concepts. 

In one class, I asserted that the fourth degree in a scale can be harmonized with either the subdominant or dominant seventh chord--a bisexual scale degree.  I am sure that the students in that class still remember the sexual inclinations of the fourth degree of a scale. 

Justine mentioned to me that one of her favorite phrases that she heard from me was: “You thought that you came here to learn the A flat minor scale but I will teach you the art of seduction”.  I do not recall how I came to such a statement . It might be related to the fact that every scale had its ‘dance’ so that students would remember the fingering patterns. There is a video on YouTube of my students dancing the B flat minor scale Dance on the Commons, in downtown Ithaca.

Today’s blog is about how to practice the piano.  These rules can be used with any other instrument and somehow they can sublimate themselves into important life lessons.  I present them as life lessons but fell free to interpret them as your own ‘art of seduction’ lessons!

1.For every task there is an appropriate tool!   Paul Fritts, an internationally known Pipe Organ builder ( once told me: ‘The right tool can make any task easier’. The ‘right tool’ in music is ‘knowing how to practice’.  It can make learning a piece a more simple, efficient and enjoyable process.  However, the right tool willl not work without the basic materials.  The building blocks of every instrument are scales, chords, arpeggios, etc.  The music will suffer when these technical aspects are not appropriately under control.  It is a good idea to warm up by playing basic technical exercises in the key of the piece to be studied.

2. Drink five glasses of water every day as opposed to five gallons every Friday! In order to learn well and efficiently, we need to understand how our brain works.  It is impossible to learn a piece of music in one session.  Focused daily practice with repeated patterns is needed in order to allow the brain to create a stable protein chain and thus remember the music.  One hour everyday adds up to much more than seven hours once a week.

3. Measure it twice, cut it once.  It is imperative to learn the music correctly from the beginning.  The brain ‘records’ everything that we play so when we play a passage five times incorrectly and then finally once correctly, the brain has recorded all six versions and under pressure, during a performance, might deliver the incorrect version of that passage.

4. Do not drive like a maniac!  Nobody learns to drive at 80 miles per hour on a freeway in Los Angeles.  We teach our brains new movements by repeating them several times, slowly.  Learning an instrument requires that same discipline.   The brain can understand and remember the correct sequence of movements in order to produce the right sounds SLOWLY.

5. Do not covet your neighbors Beethoven Sonata.  Compete only with yourself; too many instrumentalists stop playing because they cannot play according to the highest standards.  Each person has a story to tell. Every honest, worked out message through music deserves to be heard.

6. If you don’t have something nice to say, do not say anything!  This is for mature players only. Young players should be exposed to all types of music and learn the beauty of each style, period, and composer.  Good programming is half the battle won.  Do not play repertoire which you do not believe in.  Loads of beautiful music is out there waiting to be played. Do not waste your time with pieces through which you have nothing to say.  An audience can forgive wrong notes but never a musical lie.|

7. Just do it!  Many times, it is difficult  for me to get to the piano bench. But once I start to practice, time flies.  I am totally absorbed by this enthralling activity.  I advise my students to set practice times.  In the same way that a student has a fixed time for Math or English classes, there should also be a set time for practice.

8. Do not take the easy route.  Students  often spend too much time going through easy passages. They do not dedicate enough enough attention to problematic ones.  I recommend my students to start learning a piece by working on the difficult spots first.  This means not only the technically but also the musically difficult passages. 

I hope that these rules will help you through the methodical and yet magical process of learning an instrument. 

However, there is much to be learned about life (and seduction) through how we learn music.  Enjoy it!


Very useful article! Just what I was looking for to start learning my favorite <a href=""> piano instrumental</a>! Keep up the good work!

Hi Amanda,

Good luck learning new music! The initial 'discovery' of new music, with its new sounds, how the fingers can produce those sounds, the magic of it all can be a daunting, if exciting process. I wish you well!

Jairo Geronymo

This was a great article! I am a self-taught pianist and I love playing. However, I never really knew how to practice. I recently pulled some beautiful music but it was a bit challenging for me. I'm going to use these rules for practicing that piece (and the ones that follow it) from now on. Thank you.

I thought this article was a joy to read! I played violin from second grade until eleventh and really wished that I had followed Geronymo's lessons while I was still young! I was never truly inspired to play and was one of those musicians who crammed all their practice time into one day. I looked at it more as a chore than something that was fun to partake in. I fully agree with Geronymo's lesson that a person must challenge him or herself instead of staying on something easy for a long period of time. In order to grow it is essential that a person always accepts challenges even if they seem nearly impossible. If a person gets complacent they will remain the same and never accomplish what they desire in life.

I thought this article was a joy to read! I played violin from second grade until eleventh and really wished that I had followed Geronymo's lessons while I was still young! I was never truly inspired to play and was one of those musicians who crammed all their practice time into one day. I looked at it more as a chore than something that was fun to partake in. I fully agree with Geronymo's lesson that a person must challenge him or herself instead of staying on something easy for a long period of time. In order to grow it is essential that a person always accepts challenges even if they seem nearly impossible. If a person gets complacent they will remain the same and never accomplish what they desire in life.

As a percussion student from fifth to twelfth grade, I never had very challenging music, and so never really needed to practice very often, if at all. However, I find these rules for practicing extremely relevant to life (or seduction, if that's your forte). I think what I enjoy most about these rules is that they're all phrases that one hears over the course of a lifetime, especially from childhood into adolescence, but even into adulthood and beyond. As a beginning film student, I feel that rule number 5, "Do not covet your neighbor's Beethoven Sonata," is especially important for me. As I'm beginning my first real film project of my college years, it's almost impossible for me not to subconsciously compare myself to other student films I've seen. Every time I storyboard a shot, I wonder if I've seen something like it before, and whether my version works better or worse than that of the other students. These rules are perfect for anyone to live by, especially freshman college students, as we have so many new opportunities and experiences ahead of us. I may even print these out for myself.

Myself a musician as well, I too found this blog extremely motivational and insightful. In addition, I found tip #5 quite resonant in my brain. As artists, photographers, and cinematographers in the making, I am sure we all feel the need to constantly compare our successes to those of our colleagues, for what is art without the constant judgment by it's viewers, without that motivating end art would strangle itself with a superfluous praise and overwhelming egotism. However, the artist must look past what others think in order to create something worth praising. If we only create what we think others will find appealing, time becomes static, as does the medium and all hope is lost for a better future. Experimental film makers, such as Miwa Matreyek, do not conform to the expectations of society, and do not stunt their creativity with the restrictions of mainstream media, what is expected by the general public; instead, they make a tangible representation of their opinions to present to the world. In conclusion, do not allow yourself to compare your works, feelings, and opinions with others, for we all have something unique and special to add to the world; and as Geronymo put it "Do not waste your time with pieces through which you have nothing to say."

This is a wonderful article! I'm a self-taught pianist as well, and I originally stopped playing for a few months before coming to college because I couldn't master a piece I loved, but this article encourages me pick it up again when I can! Thanks for the tips!

Coming across this article now was incredible timing for me personally. I'm self taught in guitar and ukulele. I literarily just placed my guitar down out of frustration with learning to play "Blackbird" by The Beatles on guitar. I'm really not the most patient person, it's a curse, and when I decided tonight I wanted to learn this song, and wasn't able to do it immediately, I became pretty discouraged and tried to move on to something easier. I found this post incredibly inspiring, especially numbers 5 and 7. This made me realize I need to relax, stop comparing myself to others who can play the song flawlessly, and just practice, it will happen for me eventually.

I find these 8 rules of practicing piano not just pertain to piano, but really all aspects of life. Practice makes perfect, or as Lil wayne would say, " Repetition is the Father of Learning". I found this blog to be very helpful to me especially right now because I am in the middle of studying for an important exam. Learning how to practice efficiently is the start to mastering anything, wether it be writing a good paper, studying for an exam or playing an instrument.

I agree with Nick Patrikis in that these eight rules do not just apply to the practicing of a piano, but can pertain to many situations and tasks we face in life as well. There are many building blocks involved in various situations, whether a person is learning how to play an instrument or learning math for the first time, they should take it slow and steady without giving up.
Where I do not agree with Patrikis (and others who use this saying) is that "practice makes perfect". What a silly statement. If a person continually practices something incorrectly on the piano for example, they do not obtain perfection in the sense that they can perform this action without flaw, but they can merely play a piece imperfectly perfect. Instead of that statement which has many exceptions, I like to go by the saying my dance teacher taught me so well, that "practice makes permanent". Whether it is studying, playing an instrument, practicing acts of kindness, or driving: how ever it is done multiple times will be how it is carried out for the rest of a person's life as long as they keep it up and continue to practice.

As a piano player, I found this article to be really enjoyable. I began taking piano lessons around age 7 through to about age 14. But since then, I have sort of lost touch with the piano, only playing once in a while when the mood strikes. But this article inspires me to get back into it again. I especially enjoy Jairo Geronymo's style of teaching, which is both insightful and imaginative, as well as informational and practical. I feel that these lessons can be applied to almost any aspect of life in addition to the piano or any other musical instrument. In addition to #5 (which I love the way it is phrased), I also think rules #2 and #7 are very important to the growth of any skill. Sometimes, it feels easy to wait until the last minute to do a task and then pile it on, or to simply not do it at all, but it is imperative to the nurturing of the growth of a skill to act, and act frequently.

As a flutist, I find these rules extremely helpful, not to mention motivational, for any instrumentalist. Usually, my main obstacle to improvement in certain pieces, scales, etc. is myself - my inability to take out my flute and commit to a solid hour-long practice session without succumbing to the many distractions of television, the internet, etc. I think that by following these simple rules, I could easily make practice sessions far more productive.

Any type of work or art could benefit from these eight rules. It focuses on just dedication and spending the time to do it daily. No one ever built an empire in a day. We need to focus on what we want to learn and spend the time to do it right. All artists could really benefit from just relearning the technique of working and doing things the right way.

In my experience, most everyone has had some experience with the piano. Everyone I spoke to in my hometown had received lessons as a child, but almost each of us inevitably quit, myself included. We stopped for many of the same reasons that this article warns against and teaches how to avoid. I did not practice the basics enough, but tried to jump right into the tougher music and play it all the way through. I didn't have a regular routine for practicing, and ended up doing it all the day before my lessons, making playing the piano a chore. I compared myself with my friends and siblings, whose talents seemed to far surpass my own. Finally, I too the "easy route" and just decided to quit.

Now, I can't say that every person who quit did so for these exact reasons, but I can safely say that we all do have one thing in common. We wish we hadn't quit. We can't help but think of all we could do by now if we had stuck by the tips in this article and continued playing.

I also agree with a few of my classmates who wrote that these tips and the challenges that come with playing piano apply to many other aspects of life as well. For instance, I am sure that Jean-Luc Godard ran into many difficulties making Breathless. Nonetheless, he learned the basics of film making, worked every day, just jumped right in and made this film, despite his lack of funds, and he certainly did not compare himself or his own vision to another director's. If he had put his films next to others at the time and felt intimidated, he may not have come up with so many innovative aspects (the many jump-cuts, for example) of Breathless that make it so amazing.

This article really opened my eyes to a world of music. Being a pianist myself, this article really felt almost personal. I agree that rule 2, about drinking water,is very important.

Not only can pianist and other instrumental players benefit from these 8 steps, I believe that these basic tool of learning can be applied to basically any subject in which you are trying to learn. I play the trumpet and I was behind in my band so I found I had to follow a lot of these similar steps in order to catch up and surpass other trumpet players. These steps can also be applied to learn difficult concepts, for example learning and memorizing all the cinematography language. Also it is insightful because it helps us accomplish things because of our own personal desires rather than other people influencing our decision as well.
The language used in the passage allows us as reader to broaden the concepts not only to piano but to real life decisions and challenges that we will have to over come.

This is a great article with helpful approaches to practicing. If I could add a few thoughts... One of the best things you can do while practicing is disassociation. I am a double bass player at Ithaca College and when I practice I try to separate my focus specifically on my left hand or my right hand and break the tasks down into their simplest form. There is so much to think about when trying to learn a new piece but breaking it down helps me feel more confident with the work I've put in and also helps me put things back together much more quickly. It's like trying to fix your car after you've already torn the whole thing apart and know how everything fits together. become your own mechanic.
I've also found that recording yourself in practice sessions or lessons allows you to point out issues to yourself that you might not have seen or see specifically where the problem lies. I hope these suggestions are useful to anyone discovering their own practice routine and what works best for them.

Wow what great advice! I think those rules can really be applied for many more things than just music, however they certainly are fitting. I really agree with all of your rules and would like to comment on how I am able to use them. Whenever I would sit down at the piano I needed it to be an escape, a way out, just some peace in my life for the time being. And in order for me to play well and to apply your ideas to playing, I would need to relax. I would close my eyes, empty my thoughts and breathe. Once my head was clear I would play to my best ability. I really think that could be an prefix to your 8 rules. Thanks again for the awesome advice.

As a film student with roommates I can relate to the problem in which many musicians may experience. Doing what you need to do with out disturbing others can prove to be a problem. You need to be conscious that you are not the only one being effected by your proses. Having friends that are musicians (not all very good) I know how disruptive noise pollution can be. My suggestion is be creative in ways that you choose to practice, work around the schedules of your neighbors, most people work during the day and sleep at night, or find a place that will effect as little amount of people as possible.

As a self-taught amateur guitarist, my experience with music is fairly limited. I never took weekly lessons or was classically trained. Though there was never a teacher to tell me these concepts that are listed in the post, I have found them all to be true while learning my instrument. I especially agree with the statement “Do not drive like a maniac”, for I always have found myself accidentally speeding up my tempo.

Points #5 and #8 I really like. Being an aspiring photographer, I am constantly frustrated when I see images that make me think “ damn, why didn’t I do that.” But instead of being discouraged I get competitive. This might not be the best thing for me. I am trying to allow images to have their influence, not for me to try to out compete them.
“Cinema is always in conversation with itself,” a phrase always said in class. In Grande Illusion the circular motion of the camera, to convey unity, is then seen in Earth, to show unity, then slowly that camera movement stops to show disunity. The influence of art on art is constant, not just in cinema but in all aspects of art. Point #5 is refreshing to hear. That competition is not what an artist should do instead, there should be a conversation between artwork.

Point #8 is also something good to hear. This year I learned how to use a 4x5 camera. Ugh! The film developing process can wreak havoc on images (or destroy them completely), a very frustrating learning experience that has ruined many of my images. Yet, I have leaned new things (about color printing, about the chemical make-up), even though it was not the easy road to take.

Having played the piano for 10 years this rules for learning and instrument are great! However, I do not just this this rules apply to the piano I think that you should drink water to get your brain working not just for the piano but for all things. And especially number seven, "just do it!", if you have a goal in life or just something you want to try out for once, just do it. it is not good to hold yourself back from stuff just because it seems a bit hard, or challenging.

I thought this article was interesting. I am a self taught musician and I think that I am going to try and practice some of these guidelines when I play my guitar. I believe along with some of the other people who have posted on this blog, this piece of advice really can be applied to other facets of life. Thanks for sharing this with us.

This is an excellent post, and a good set of guidelines that all musicians, both amateur and professional should adhere to. Having been a singer and guitarist for most of my life, and having taken lessons for many years, I have heard many of these tidbits of advice over the course of my studies. I feel 2, 3, and 4 are especially important, as drilling and repetition of passages have been extremely helpful for me in learning and perfecting pieces.

As one who writes his own music as well, I particularly identify with number five. Though many other musicians of a particular instrument, genre or style will have their own techniques or a "signature sound" you should dare to be different, and create your own unique way of writing or playing. Stay true to yourself and create music that speaks to you!

Thank you for your post.

My experience with learning piano and guitar was always that practice got boring if I didn't appeal to my add tendencies. I was always in the best state of mind to learn after watching something inspiring because to me the pleasure was in seeing myself able to do something. The problematic thing for me was that I would lose interest in the song after playing it a thousand times! Once the song lost its freshness I lost the desire to play it. This is why I think its so important to master and practice sight reading the most so that you can learn a song quicker. If you are slowing learning each passage you will lose interest faster than if you instead train to a high level in terms of first-try sight reading/playing and then progress to harder songs.

Having learned how to play guitar only a few years ago, this process is very familiar to me. When i started, I was constantly frustrated because I couldn't play anything even remotely close to what I wanted to play. I would jump right into learning a song without really taking the time to learn the basics. Eventually I realized that I would never be able to play the songs I wanted to without learning the basics first. Once I finally learned some simple scales and chords, I was able to really enjoy myself. This was a springboard that I needed to really put a lot of effort into my guitar playing. These 8 rules are really excellent guides because learning an instrument requires training your brain to be able to think about an instrument as second nature. The most important thing i learned was that it is going to be frustrating, just like learning anything, and to be patient because if you put in the time, you will eventually succeed.

Thanks for this amazing post.


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