I am taking piano lessons as an adult (at roughly an early intermediate level), an hour each week. For the most part I am having tremendous fun, and my teacher is extremely kind, but a little bit of frustration is starting to set in. Her advice aligns with other things I have read on the internet, and I'm pondering how strictly to stick to her advice.

I would like to try playing a lot of different music, some of it above my level, without worrying too much about perfecting it. For example this summer (shortly after I'd started) there was a month break in the lessons and I spent a lot of time hacking through pieces like Bach Inventions without worrying too much about my mistakes. It was a lot of fun, and I felt like I was definitely improving -- even if I knew it would be a very long time before I could play these pieces at performance level.

My teacher discourages this approach (and discourages me attempting Bach's Inventions at all). She is picky about phrasing, dynamics, and articulation -- for me, the musical equivalent to being asked to eat vegetables instead of pizza. (Yes, vegetables are good for you!) She asks me to keep practicing the same pieces week after week, even after I have gotten pretty good at them. Even though l have room to improve, I confess to getting a little bored of the music. I don't feel like I'm improving as fast (even though I suspect I actually am).

I am not naive -- I understand that all of this is very likely to my long-term benefit, at least if I aim to develop to an advanced level. Indeed, as a professional math teacher my own approach has a huge amount in common with hers!

I understand that I should spend a substantial proportion of my practice time taking my teacher's advice fully to heart. Nonetheless -- would making additional time for some "sloppy" and "fun" practice also contribute to my long-term improvement?

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    My piano teacher once said something along the lines of the following. It's better to slow down and play the piece accurately than to speed up and do it sloppy. Play accurately (and as slow as needed) when you care about the learning process. Play sloppy when you're concerned about the outcome here and now. bulletproofmusician.com/is-slow-practice-really-necessary – Christiaan Westerbeek Nov 25 '16 at 7:48
  • @ChristiaanWesterbeek- that's exactly my experience as well. I learned to play the recorder fast and sloppy and got pretty good, but I hit a wall. I had to start over, taking it slow, relaxed, and rhythmic, before I could progress. – Scott Wallace Nov 25 '16 at 10:24
  • Thanks everyone for the answers. I didn't accept any of them (since there doesn't seem to quite be a clear consensus), but +1 all around. In any case, I'm soon leaving town for five months -- and perhaps when I find a new teacher there, or when I come back to town, will be a particularly good opportunity to revisit afresh what I hope to accomplish. Thanks to all! – Anonymous Nov 27 '16 at 14:06

As a child, I had the same sort of teachers. Everything was exam orientated, and perfection was the goal. It very nearly stopped me playing piano, but did pass grade VIII for me. However, that goal was probably all those teachers saw. Not one saw me learning music, only passing exams. "Give me a monkey, a piano, and enough time..."

Please continue with 'sloppy practice', as it's going to do you a lot of good later, whether it's Bach, showtunes, pop tunes, jazz, etc. All playing will improve your piano playing, and broaden your horizons, which I expect won't happen with the current teacher.

When teaching, I try to go somewhat in the direction the student wants, and on the way, get the techniques sorted through what they enjoy playing. That way, they probably practise more. Even with them playing stuff I can't stand!

You are paying, so you ought, as an adult, have some say in the deal.Yes, she's the expert, but you need to discuss. Maybe she'll say it's her way or no way, but at least talk frankly.

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I would say yes, 'sloppy' practice as you describe is a good thing.

Firstly, a word of warning. I'm nowhere near good enough to be a classical piano teacher, and my abilities when it comes to reading Bach are far worse than they should be. I'm much more comfortable with a chord chart than with sheet music. So some grains (or tablespoons) of salt may be required.

I think the different kinds of practice teach you different things. Honing in on the fine detail of a piece refines your technique. More importantly, it makes you aware of all the musical details that you miss on a first read. As you say, this includes things like phrasing, articulation, dynamics, and the like.

If the only outcome of this focused attention is that you can play one specific piece very well, then I think it's a waste of time. I think the intention is to teach you how to apply those things to the next piece you encounter, and the next piece, and so forth. It should teach you how to play piano, not how to play one specific piece.

The 'sloppy' practice can teach you other things. At a minimum, it will hone your sight reading skills. It will also expose you to much more music, which is excellent. True, it could possibly result in suboptimal technique, but I doubt that is a significant risk, because your teacher will catch it. More importantly, it will help you enjoy playing the piano. Sod getting all the notes right, play some music! Too many people give up music because they get sick of playing the same piece ad infinitum. I nearly did.

So, whilst I'm not an expert here, I'd say that you should do both, and both have their benefits. In fact, I would hazard a guess that you'll be a better piano player for it. If it's causing conflict, I might just forget to mention it to your teacher. My reading between the lines says that she's worried you'll get distracted, and stop working on the technical stuff. If you can show that isn't an issue, I can hardly see why she would object to a student playing too much piano.

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    this... "should teach you how to play piano, not how to play one specific piece" ...should be the goal, in my opition. – Michael Curtis Dec 5 '18 at 22:22

I am not a teacher. My son was given Bach two parts Invention 8 when he was turned 7 year old. The teacher was very strict on polish this. My son spent 2 months on this song. At first I am not totally agree with the teacher --- my son was so little, why not allow him a sloppy practice for some fune. This is a very hard piece anyway. Then the teacher explained, that this Bach Invention, without correct dynamics, two-hand-balancing and clear articulate, its level would down to grade2. Only by apply all these requirements, this song becomes a grade 7 or 8. By practicing as the teacher requested, my son learned a lot --- he begins to listen to his both hands, pays attention to his fingers to get a better sound quality, and endured two months to perfect one song (not easy for a 7 year old). After get used to heard my son's play, I have heard many other kids play this piece. Most of them are very Sloppy. I kind of feel sorry for these kids who had spent weeks of time to practice but never had once feel the beauty of the song. After finish this song, my son was in a fast track when learned new pieces, because he gained some self-conscious for his own playing sound. He passed his RCM8 exam at age 8. If your purpose of learning piano is playing as many piece for fun as possible (sloppy or not), then you use your own way to practice. If you look each piece as ladder that lead you to a better pianist, you should listen to you teacher, he/she is far more better know you than yourself could be.

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It's rather hard not to improve by excessive practice, even sloppy and without oversight. The problem is that you'll also improve with masking your problems and getting used to them.

Ultimately, however, the progress on any amount of practice will be plateauing out. And your workarounds may end you on a plateau that is higher than what you started with but quite off from your peak capacity, and you might be in for quite a lot of painful backtracking through interconnected faulted abilities if you want to get better than you are.

If your goofing around makes the difference between becoming hooked for life or getting frustrated enough to quit eventually, it may still be worth it.

For your teacher, it means a lack of control over your progress and your practice and lacklustre progress on things she considers in most need of improvement. That's frustrating for her (and may affect how much she can inspire you) and makes her less effective (which is partly a problem of your own expectation of return from investment).

And she might have a point. Try recording yourself occasionally and listen to the recording paying attention on what she is trying to tell you. There are things easier to notice/realize from the position of a listener than a player, and of course those will affect how much use you can make of your musical abilities for more than your own amusement.

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Adult piano students notoriously give up through frustration at how initial rapid progress has to give way to a lengthy period of consolidation. And, unlike younger players, they can be 'entitled students' who want to control WHAT they learn and HOW they do it. In a good teacher/student relationship there will be both "NO! Play it slower and play it RIGHT!" and "Here, have a lollipop!" All playing is good. Some is more useful than other in developing your skills - the skills that will enable you to play "fun" music more effectively.

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If you have any specific goals other than to enjoy yourself by making music, then you will want to do what is necessary to accomplish those other goals, starting with discussing those goals with your teacher.

If like me you are mostly focused on having fun and participating in the joy of music, then fun practice definitely serves that goal. That was is my approach to music and I've definitely continued to improve on all the instruments I play.

That said, I've never paid for a teacher, because I have tons of fun without one. I could see your teacher being frustrated with goals that seem frivolous. Either way you might want to make sure you're on the same page so you're getting the most bang for your buck.

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You will improve, especially if you're trying new things in your sloppy practice.

The one thing I would be wary about is establishing bad habits for particular passages or musical patterns/motives.Continuing to see good piano teacher will help to mitigate that.

I think your plan of spending a substantial time practicing like your teacher advises, and and supplementing it with practicing whatever and however you like will benefit you in the long run.

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I read a great quote recently: "practice makes permanent."

Are you practicing sloppy? Then you will develop permanent sloppy playing.

Are you occasionally playing sloppy when sight reading or just plowing through a piece to try it out, or perhaps to analyze it? Are you just letting it all hang out after an hour of concentrated practice. That kind of sloppiness shouldn't become permanent.

Be honest with yourself about how you want to develop and then practice accordingly.

I don't have a teacher, but I wouldn't want one that didn't understand this difference.


I want to add a comment about something that happened to me recently. I was trying to read through part of K.333. (I was reviewing part of it for a post here on Stack Exchange.) While trying to read it I could feel two impulses: one was to just let my hands reflexively move, the other was to stop and check I was not going to play a wrong note. (Notice the attention to pitch, but neglect of rhythm.) I really wish I could shut down the later impulse. So what if I hit a wrong note, but got most of it right? My goal was to plod through and get the jist of the music. In this case 'sloppy' might also be an important stage in developing reflexive movements. Surely if I keep 'stopping to check' that will be a become a larger block to development.

I think if one digs deeper into this topic there will be a distinction between impromptu or improvised playing and recital playing and differing approaches to practice for developing skills in either area.

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