I finally realize the problem, why I play the same piece over and over again to the point I want to bang my head against the wall and still not improve or feel very empty and that you haven't progressed at all.

it's that I'm not practicing actively, I would just idly and just play the piece exactly how my teacher instructed me and maybe that is the reason that I feel empty and that the piece belongs only to my muscle memory.

If I could practice more more actively paying attention and making little goals to myself I could probably progress much faster. but how do I do it? how do I make sure I be as efficient as possible as to be at my best? or to at least get in the flow where you lose track of time and only focus on practicing without worrying

  • 3
    This is such an important consideration. Your teacher should be consulted, and should be giving guidance about how to practise. I doubt any of us were born knowing how to practise, and we all need to do it in slightly different ways to make it efficient and productive. What works for one may not for another. +1.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 7:40
  • 1
    On the point of not improving: The process of improving through long, patient repetition almost always feels as if you're not improving at all. This impression is usually wrong. Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 9:03

6 Answers 6


I can suggest you a few things to help you practice more mindfully :

  • You should try to practice everything in small segments. Find where you do mistakes and work on them until you can play these sections smoothly. There is no point in practicing what you already know. If you practice only things that are difficult for you, your mind will probably be much more engaged, and thus you will avoid mindless practicing.

  • If you want to work on passages that are not so difficult for you, but still want to improve the way you play them while engaging your brain, make them more difficult. You could try to vary the rythm or the dynamics:

    • Try playing notes as fast as you can by groups of 2, 3 or 4, hands separated, then hands together.

    • You can then try larger groups of notes, stopping on every beat, every off beat, or at any given time.

    • You could also try to play one bar fortissimo and the next one pianissimo, legato then stacatto, crescendo and decrescendo, voicing with the left hand, then right, etc. The possibilities are endless.

    • The purpose of these exercises is to break your habits and your muscle memory. By doing that, you make sure that your mind is fully engaged on what you are doing, and that you are not wasting your time. In addition, when you will come back to the original way the passage should be played, it will feel much easier!

  • When working on small segments, pay attention to every detail. Practice everything musicaly, even when you are repeating the same small segment 20 times in a row. Every repetition should sound better than the previous one.

    Singing along the melody will help you to "feel" it. Get in the mood of the music.

  • Memorize everything and practice everything from memory. Don't wait to master a piece before memorizing it, you will save a lot of time if you make that effort from the beginning. It is very difficult to practice mindlessly if you try the exercices above while relying only on your memory.

  • Try mental playing. It is basically like actually playing the piano, but by doing everything in your brain, using your imagination. Close your eyes and visualise the keyboard, then try to visualise every key that you need to strike, with the right fingers, while imagining what it should sound like.

    It is a skill that takes practice, it may be really difficult at first but it gets better with time. You will find that this exercise helps you a lot with memorisation. It also develops in your brain a "mapping" of the keyboard, allowing you to play eyes closed (which could be another exercise to try to avoid mindless practice).

    More importantly, every movement originates in the brain. We should not play with our fingers, otherwise striking the good notes will just be a matter of luck and muscle memory. Mental playing helps you to develop the capacity of controlling very precisely every movement you do. Concentration is a key skill that needs practice.

    I would also add that you can only play as fast as you can imagine. If you can get a clear mental representation of every note with right fingering, chances are that you will be able to actually play it at the same tempo!

"Think 10 Times, Play Once" ....Franz Liszt

Check out the Fundamentals of piano practice. It may not be the best book on the matter, but it is completely free and full of very good advises, from which I extracted most of what makes my piano sessions and the post I just wrote!


Let me demonstrate how I practice step by step, if you like it perhaps you can incorporate bits and pieces or branch off to do your own thing - heck if you don't like it or want to ask more, reply back :)

New pieces with audio:

  1. Listen to it without reading the score, enjoy it (or find the one you enjoy!)
  2. Listen to the piece while reading the score, breathe with it as though you're performing - get a sense for the flow
  3. Sing along, for the harder bits, slow down and loop over the recording - keep in mind dynamics, note durations and pauses

Cont. new pieces with audio - also the same for new pieces without audio:

  1. Work your way through the piece (no instrument) only imagining yourself playing it slowly, make sure you make no mistakes during this step (say the note-names out loud if you need to!) and go as slow as you can - preferably have a metronome going, if there's not much time then only do the bits that you know look hard.
  2. Don't speed up and practice in sections (2 bars at a time for example) by first imagining yourself playing it slowly and then actually playing it for each bit. When you play each section, you want to play 'true to the imagination'. (i.e. say 'C -thumb- D -louder- E -louder- -warmer- F -left hand chord- G -soft- -bouncy-' in your head as you play). Make sure you play each section through with all the articulations and emotions you want to convey. Once you finish a section and are absolutely satisfied, do it again a little faster till it reaches a speed that's controllable before moving onto the next section.
  3. (note on previous) If you hit a roadblock where a section is just too hard to get right the way you want it (maybe it's too hard to speed up, articulate appropriately, get the right rhythm etc.) ask your teacher, search online, find some practice books to look for practice techniques that help the situation - for example, if it's really hard to speed up, a teacher may be able to help by providing alternate fingerings; if it's hard to get the right rhythm, searching online may find results that work specifically for this by alternating between swing feels.
  4. Do the same again from start to finish in sections speeding up bit by bit till it reaches the tempo needed.
  5. Play the piece through, adding accompaniment if needed.

If you need higher mastery, have more time or need to memorise properly:

  1. Think about why the composer has written certain things, do some cross-score research or ask around to learn some more about the composition of the piece.
  2. Put yourself in the mindset the composer is trying to use/see/show/explore.
  3. Play through bigger sections understanding over-arching 'feelings' and try to reflect them using phrasing.
  4. Talk to your teacher/peers and find out what they think - usually balance is easier picked up by them!
  5. Record yourself and listen to it bit by bit or even in slow motion. Video recording works too, perfect the performance.
  6. Try out the performance venue for real, practice at the actual spot!
  7. Play for friends and family or register into competitions - let them in on the fun and mock a performance, that's practice too!
  8. Ask your teacher to help you have a class with another student so that you can listen to them, provide constructive criticism and receive some for yourself. If you're self-taught, find a music society and ask another member with a similar/higher skill level to listen in and provide feedback.
  9. Get together with a group of friends or students that are all learning pieces and make a group of your own, even make small A4 programmes with a title for the concert name, then host your own concert. Invite all your parents, school friends, teachers, co-workers etc.
  10. much much more...

I guess, when I practice, it doesn't feel monotonous because there's just so much to do, so many people to meet or read about, and so much to be thinking about. When I'm practicing by myself at the start, I spend so long thinking about small sections or reading up on some composers, time just flies and I even forget to eat!!! Practicing and performing is just so much fun :)

Goodluck to you,


You will get some very good tips about practice methodology from some of the music teachers on here. Listen to them.

I am not a music teacher but I know one thing: Aside from their advice, you should take some time to play things that you enjoy. Work on your own through some of your favorite songs and pieces.

Set goals for yourself on such things. For example: make it your job to learn one song a day from a recording you like, or work on one solo until you can play it well.

When you do that, you will get enjoyment and satisfaction from your music, and you'll hear and feel yourself making tangible progress.

Everyone needs instructors to advance in music. Even the greatest talents in History - people like Mozart and Beethoven - all had instructors. But in some ways, yourself and the musicians you admire are your best teachers, although they aren't really 'instructors'. Take advantage of them.

Good Luck!


Practicing what a teacher teaches is important, but to avoid feeling empty, think of what you want to achieve, later, on your instrument, and start tracing a path to there. Do you hope to perform? What pieces? Where? What do you need to get there? Do you hope to improvise? What type of knowledge and abilities do you need to do it? Do you have other goals? What are they?

I start my music day by going through my list of things to practice. Once this is done, I can then look around for fun things to explore. In my case, my long term objective is to improvise fluently and to jam alongside musicians in my community, so I explore things that will take me there. As you mentioned, breaking that into smaller goals is important. So in my case (again as an example):

  • Ear training
  • Music theory
  • Practicing scales overs chords
  • Developing a vocabulary of musical tidbits
  • Spending time with these musicians
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

Studying those utilitarian topics takes time. It would be boring if it was done just for the sake of it. But I am aware of how it takes me towards my goal, so it becomes exciting to feel the progress.

As you find your own vision, you will set your own objectives and will get a sense of direction and excitement too. Cheers!


Presumably you're practicing it because you aren't yet secure in playing it correctly.

So, are you practicing playing it right, or practicing playing it wrong? Slow down until you can play it right. Then play it right ten times. Get used to playing it right. That's practicing. Rather than just taking a run at it and hoping.


You recognize there is an issue with actively paying attention so please consider addressing that first.

Active listening is certainly one component of the mindfulness skill set that would assist your being present. Also task tracking, time management, breathing, meditation, whatever form(s) you find effective.

(And perhaps this has been an long-term issue for you in other areas. At age 54 I was diagnosed with ADHD and the correct set of medications are a major help.)

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