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As a novice piano player (started with guitar, switched to piano about one year ago), I often catch myself humming along to a piece's tune while playing - is this bad?

The humming is not distracting to myself and my playing, but I have been told that it would be bad practice to get into a habit of it (for possible performances/recitals).

What do you think?

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  • A post that might be of interest: Does voice doubling an instrument's melody while improvising have a name?.
    – Aaron
    Mar 7, 2021 at 17:10
  • To answer this question we have to know why you play the piano. I hum while playing whenever I feel like it, and it's not a problem at all for me, nor does it interfere with any of the reasons why I choose to play the piano. Mar 8, 2021 at 1:27
  • as long as you hum at the correct pitch I dont see it as an issue. BAss players are often told to sing along quietly - Ed Friedland explicitly states this in his book Jul 11, 2022 at 9:44

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I agree with Tim: it could be a problem in performance, but as long as it's limited to practice it should be fine.

In fact, there's a great historical example of it being troublesome in performance: the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould was (in?)famous for humming while playing, something only made more uncomfortable by the fact that it was often off-pitch!

Now, you may think "if this guy can do it, why not me?" Well, perhaps so. But keep in mind that Gould was a once-in-a-generation performer and musical thinker, and so the quality and innovations of his performances help us overlook the humming. It's also possible that recording technology at the start of his career helped him become famous before his humming became all that noticeable, but that's just conjecture.

In any event, singing/humming as a practice method can be incredibly helpful as a means of clarifying your interpretation of a melodic line. My personal suggestion would be to do it away from the instrument, and perhaps only occasionally while playing. Because in performance, nerves often result in us doing things we don't intend to do, or doing things that comfort us. Thus you may find yourself getting nervous and humming along without even intending to, which could be problematic.

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It's not problematic to you, and probably helps you keep in time/pitch. But it may be a problem for those you play with - maybe not now, but in the future, when you do.

As long as you do it alone, and can turn it off and on at will - and not let it continue once turned off - it's not bad practice, but could be seen as such by others.

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As Richard indicates in his answer, humming during public or recorded performances is a no-no.

It's probably a bad sign that none of my 3 piano teachers ever recommended humming as a practice strategy - at least one of them recommended listening to other performances of my repertoire instead to know what the notes are (and sight-read or "sight-read" it faster) and get a better idea of what my interpretation should ideally sound like. Note the intense overlap these reasons have with reasons why humming would be a decent practice strategy.

Through these, my piano teachers collectively implied that humming as a practice strategy is not worth it and quite possibly is more harm than it's worth by ingraining the iffy to bad habit of humming during possibly inappropriate moments.

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I wouldn't do it in front of your teacher. but it definitely won't interfere with your playing, in fact, it might help you keep in time. The famous virtuoso pianist, Glenn Gould, was well known for humming while playing, and his humming would even make it into his recordings!

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