I'm working through a piano study (Burgmuller Op. 109, "La Separation" if it matters). I'm using this study to gain a better handle on large jumps in the LH and rapid chord changes. I think it's done quite well, but there are a few short passages, about 2 bars, where I often make mistakes when trying to play at speed. I can play through the passages if I'm going slower, and I know that it's just a matter of time before I get them down.

And therein lies the issue: I like the piece, but it's not one of my favorites. I really chose it for the technical skills it develops. I feel as though the piece has served its purpose, and that I would probably get more out of moving on to another piece that has a similar focus. However, I'm not sure if I can distinguish between: "These bars are just difficult" compared to "I lack the technical skills to play them properly". If it's a technical problem, then I should stick with this piece until I master the technical skill, yes? On the other hand, if it's just a difficult passage, then presumably getting it perfect won't really move me any closer to my goals.

If my goal is to be able to learn any piece faster, should I move on to another study to more fully challenge myself, or should I stick with this one until it's perfect? Or, in other words: if I stick with this piece, will I essentially just be getting better at playing it, without much benefit to my general skill set?

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    'Difficult' is relative and subjective. What you found difficult 5 yrs ago is not so for you now. Your technical ability has changed. So it's a 'difficult' question to give an answer to.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 14:13
  • You didn't say exactly which passages cause the trouble, but looking through the score I would guess they might be the places where you need to move both hands around the keyboard independently, rather than only one hand moving, or both moving in a synchronized manner. That is certainly a useful general skill - not something specific to just this study.
    – user19146
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 14:46
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    "This piece is difficult" and "I lack sufficient skill to play this piece" is really exactly the same thing. The point you should ask is: will continuing to practice these two particular bars really help me develop my jumping ability, or only these two particular chords?" Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 7:13
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    @MichaelStachowsky - I haven't seen anyone else mention it yet but it doesn't sound like you've explored the possibility of continuing to work on this piece while moving onto another. You don't have to work on a single piece at a time by any stretch. I'd recommend setting aside a little of your time to practice this passage during each session and choosing another piece to focus on more generally. That way you can keep moving forward with something else while still developing the skill necessary to play this section at tempo. Working a couple pieces at once can actually be more constructive. Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 14:54
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    @MichaelStachowsky - Excellent. I definitely believe in a diversity of study to best approach learning but it's important to do so properly so you don't spread yourself too thin and miss out on what you could learn. I find that I often do better to have a couple pieces at a time. It seems to make me do better at each of them. There's also a lot that has been studied about practicing away from your instrument through visualization, so it's worth a try to visualize yourself playing the difficult parts while you're away from the instrument. Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 19:46

2 Answers 2


If you can play "all the piece except for a short passages", then don't waste time playing the whole piece - just work on those passages!

Make up your own technical exercises based on just those passages - e.g. repeat them in different keys, or shifted up/down an octave, or whatever.

Saying "these bars are just difficult" is just a cop-out for "I don't have the skill to play them yet". And the cop-out won't improve your playing - but the tough question you have to face up to is, "Do I really want to improve, or do I just want a nice excuse for not being good enough to play this very well?" Only you can give an honest answer to that!

  • A tough but absolutely true answer. I think I needed that kick :-) Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 12:58
  • There's nothing wrong about saying "this piece is too difficult for me, but I still enjoy playing it badly" - so long as that is an honest description of the situation. Of course it's much easier for an "amateur" to take that position than for a "professional" - or an aspiring professional.
    – user19146
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 14:42
  • Good answer; it's only difficult because you lack the skills that would make it easy. I do disagree slightly with your comment though -- continuing to play something poorly will lead to bad habits that are harder to break than to learn it properly out of the gate (and will affect your playing in future pieces as well). Which is not an absolute "wrong" of course, but still harmful. I'd suggest slowing it down until it can be played well, as slowly as necessary -- and if that is absurdly slow, it indicates a skill gap large enough that you'd want to find something easier to work on first.
    – user28
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 17:40
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    Paraphrasing Twyla Tharp in "The Creative Habit" (strongly recommended!) - the average artist practices what they do well; the exceptional artist practices what they do badly. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 18:56

Difficult and lack of technical skill are the same thing. Practice gives one better technical skill (maybe with some lessons to learn what and how to practice.) Last month's difficult passage becomes a pattern that can be read at sight next month.

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