41

I've been playing the piano for around an year, practicing at least an hour on a daily basis

I want to upload piano covers just like the ones I see in YouTube which I admire and they got me into starting playing.

However, whenever I try to record my own cover for a song, it takes me around hundred times and sometimes more to play it flawlessly (even after practicing it a lot and remembering it completely). Thus it is taking me a huge amount of time and I sometimes feel it is a waste of time instead of practicing some different stuff.

Will playing without mistakes at all become easy for me in the future? Or do the people I see in YouTube also record themselves plenty of times?

It gets me very frustrated.

  • 29
    My (amateur) struggles with this boil down to the follow quote: "Amateurs Practice Until They Get It Right; Professionals Practice Until They Can’t Get It Wrong" quoteinvestigator.com/2013/08/29/get-it-right – Guy Schalnat Mar 21 '18 at 21:24
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    "Will playing without mistakes at all become easy for me in the future? Or do the people I see in YouTube also record themselves plenty of times?" --- remember that's not mutually exclusive! I bet some people are very good and can do these all in one go, and others have recorded it dozens of times before the final version, and also a combination of both. – BruceWayne Mar 22 '18 at 15:32
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    Almost all YouTube videos are edited to some extent. Close to 100% of pop artists have their music manipulated in post. Almost 100% of singers are autotuned. Who is to say professionals don't make mistakes or that the mistakes are just covered up? Ethics aside, what is important is the final results your listeners hear. – LateralTerminal Mar 22 '18 at 21:24
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    @LateralTerminal Autotune of singers depends greatly on genre. I would be shocked if someone tried to introduce it to opera. – chrylis Mar 23 '18 at 9:53
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    Yes! It;ll get easier :-) remember to give yourself a break from practicing to avoid the frustraton. Bodies are amazing - you learna technique or piece, but it's not sunk in really, you jut remeber it.. leave it a while (few days?) andd come back, and it'll feel much more natural. There's a step change after 6 weeks with this: suddenly tings just feel like you've always been able to do them. I have been told about / experienced this while learning jive dancing. Best bit isthat so long as you've learnt something well in your mind, it keeps sinking in even if you don't practice ! – user2808054 Mar 23 '18 at 16:57

17 Answers 17

67

Consider the wise words of Ira Glass:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Keep at it. The fact that you see room for improvement means a lot more than feeling like your playing is just fine.

  • 1
    Love this quote. Thanks for posting. So true. – xdhmoore Mar 23 '18 at 4:46
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    Adding to that, many of us picked up our first instrument when we were young, and didn't know better. After playing guitar for 40 years, picking up Violin was incredibly frustrating because I knew I could play the same song much better on the guitar. In the same way, picking up snowboarding was just as hard because I knew I could ski the same hill so much easier. – Guy Schalnat Mar 23 '18 at 12:51
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    This. My children create awesome stuff, but they regularly condemn themselves because they compare their creations to other kids (especially on Youtube). I guess some people grow from that experience ("I have to become better") while others do not ("I am junk")... I am pretty sure that when I learned classical guitar a few decades ago, I did not have this problem. The only person I really met regularly who played significantly better than me was my teacher or other pupils who had all the right to do so (due to practicing for more years), so the issue did just not occur that much. – AnoE Mar 23 '18 at 15:16
  • This is a nice quote, but it's more about composition rather than performance. But the "don't give up" point is clear enough. – Michael Curtis Apr 26 at 14:28
62

If your aim is to record smooth performances without having to do too many takes, the simple answer to that is to perform pieces that are comfortably within your capabilities, rather than pieces where you're pushing the limits of what you can do.

This is generally what you are seeing when you watch an impressive performer playing live - however complex the piece is, they'll generally be in the "yeah, I can do this" zone, rather than the "whoah, this is a bit of a struggle" zone. Irritating as it may be, those guys still have a gear or two to shift up!

If that means that you need to focus on improving your level for a while, rather than doing lots of recordings, there's no harm in that!

  • 33
    Note that the way to cause pieces to be within your comfort zone is to play harder pieces during practice times. – chrylis Mar 21 '18 at 17:47
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    @chrylis Or sometimes, the same piece faster – Guy Schalnat Mar 23 '18 at 12:40
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    @chrylis, I always found that the way to expand one's technique was to play hard songs at a tempo slow enough to fit within my current abilities. Then I would practice repeatedly while slowly increasing the metronome, putting all my attention into the timing, use of correct technique/fingerings, etc. This practice is aimed at building a strong muscle memory of the correct way to play. A teacher told me once that practicing at a tempo that is uncomfortable and which produces errors in effect trains my muscle memory to memorize the wrong thing (poor technique, etc.). +1 for this answer! – jdjazz Mar 24 '18 at 12:36
  • @jdjazz Fair enough, and the crossover point will differ between instruments. I'm not a keyboardist, but I have a wee bit of experience on strings and voice, and the curves there are noticeably different. (Barber's Adagio is actually so hard because it's slow!) – chrylis Mar 24 '18 at 17:50
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    @jdjazz absolutely spot on in theory, but really painful in practice to keep playing something super-slow. :-) – SharpC Mar 26 '18 at 10:53
19

Practice it at a speed where you CAN play perfectly. If you can't play a section correctly however slowly you go, sort out why. Your fingers are moving to the wrong place. Move them to the RIGHT place!

Yes, it really is that simple. Every time you 'take a run at it' and mess up you're practicing playing it wrong. Go slower and practice playing it right instead. Speed will come.

  • 1
    Note that some pieces will still be "out of your abilities", or possibly better put, "will take several years to get into the proper pace". Also, this only discusses the technical abilities, but not the performance (feeling), and it cannot be trained this way. – yo' Mar 22 '18 at 17:56
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    When I do this, I use a metronome to keep me semi honest to the beat. When I am comfortable with the technical cal aspect, I work more on interpretation. – Robert Baron Mar 23 '18 at 18:35
  • What do you do when some passage becomes harder to perform at a slow tempo due to losing the feel for it? E.g. polyrhythms - I can perform a 4:3 polyrhythm just fine at a normal tempo, but ask me to perform it at <40 bpm and it'll probably be awful. Another example is heavily dissonant passages that seem wrong at slow tempo. They are actually correct, you're just missing the harmonic context because the tempo is too low. – orlp Mar 26 '18 at 3:15
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    You stop making excuses! – Laurence Payne Mar 27 '18 at 14:13
14

I think this is more a matter of perception/gratification.

Before the days of YouTube & instant vanity publishing, it would take people years of practise before anyone other than family & close friends would be willing to listen to them at all. Many people never reached the stage where people would actually specifically come to hear them; maybe they could get gigs where people would just be there anyway & get to hear them.

Since YouTube/Facebook etc, people now seem to think that the whole world wants to hear them, all they need to do is post it.

Well, that may be true, but you still need that performance to be up to spec before you do post it.

That is either going to take several years of practise, or many many failed attempts.

There is no shortcut.

The figure often used is it takes 10,000 hours to become truly proficient at anything.
8 hours a day, 5 days a week, that's about 5 years.

8

This reminds me of one of the first questions I ever answered here.

The amazing thing about practice is that it actually makes things easier.

If a piece is too hard to record without a hundred tries it obviously needs more practice. There's no way around it.

You will probably be less frustrated and have more fun recording if you pick older, more polished, easier pieces from your repertoire to record. I've been doing this lately actually and it makes recording a lot more satisfying!

7

Don't play pieces that are too hard for you, as some have proposed, is good advice. But also don't play pieces that are too easy. You get bored, your attention wanders, and before you know it you forget where you are and what comes next.

People don't like to admit it, but attention is one of the key factors for getting a performance right. You have to be completely on, like a feral creature hunting its prey. Never get complacent.

The other thing I'd recommend is to seriously woodshed the parts of a piece that you make mistakes on. And by that I mean don't leave the piano until you can play the passage perfectly three times cold, at whatever speed you can. As I've told my students: How you practice is how you play. If you practice sloppy, you will play sloppy. Guaranteed.

6

Playing without mistakes is always easy. That's not the question. The question is how probable it will become. More often than not, the answer is "not all that much" when you are playing at the apex of what people enjoy listening to from you. However, there are big mistakes and small mistakes.

There is the handwaving rule that after a week of slacking on practice, you can tell. After two weeks, your band can tell. After three weeks, the audience can tell.

There is a whole lot more to get right than just the notes, and if you do get a whole lot more right than the notes, few people will care even when it happens that you get a note wrong. Studio recordings would be edited for it probably. Because the purpose of a recording is to be heard over and over, and then sub-par stuff eventually gets on the listeners' nerves.

  • 3
    man, not for some people :\ – NH. Mar 21 '18 at 20:38
6

There will always be mistakes when a human is playing. What you call a 'mistake' others will call personalization.

The following is a joke - please take it as such. You can play exactly what's written which is melody, something that sounds good with what's written which is harmony or something a little out there that doesn't sound as good which is jazz. Note: I've played jazz...

If you want perfect than program some music program. What you will get is 'perfect' but lacking in feeling. Or, you can play what you feel and it might not be perfect but it's you.

6

Are your sure your goal is to get to the point of never, ever making a mistake?

Perhaps a better goal would be to continually increase your musical aptitude (and never stop improving!) so that, when you do make the occasional mistake, you play right through it and nobody notices. If someone is listening to your piano cover, they won't be expecting it to be exactly like the original (or else it wouldn't be a cover), and so some of your little mishaps can be covered over with the other voices and may not jar your listeners enough for them to realize you made a mistake.

Will you get to that point? Well, this is a little vague and really depends on whether you give up at some point in the future. Assuming you have years of consistent practicing ahead of you, though, I'm confident you will. Don't expect perfection right away, but keep practicing and taking lessons and you will almost inevitably improve.

6

One thing you could do is use multiple cameras and edit the pieces together. As long as you have long enough groups of time playing well, you can then switch to another camera view in editing when you have made a mistake. Obviously you still want to practice and get better to minimize doing this. But this could mean that you don't have to do 100 takes to get a "mistake free" video. Just make sure that you have a separate mic for recording the sound so that when you switch cameras the sound levels/quality don't change.

  • I do that, (even with a single camera) it's surprisingly easy. Even professional players sometimes do it (I've heard of Glenn Gould, IIRC) – leonbloy Mar 22 '18 at 22:16
6

When comparing yourself to recordings and youtube videos, it's also worth remembering:

  • Yes, you're probably only seeing the best of multiple takes.
  • Even if the video appears to be live, they could have fixed minor problems in the audio (or even used parts of audio from different takes).
  • There probably are small mistakes left in the final version that you didn't notice.
  • You're not seeing all the practice that lead up to the video.

A year isn't very long. Keep working on it, but also be patient with yourself. A hundred takes of a song doesn't sound like fun to me. In that case I'd recommend moving on to something else. That doesn't mean you should drop the song either. Work on it a few minutes a day, or just schedule occasional reviews to make sure it doesn't drop out of your memory. In another year or so your playing will probably be at a level where this song is easier and you can take another shot at recording.

There's a tendency when learning to only work on the newest and hardest stuff and let the rest fade. If you spend just a little time on review to keep older music in your repertoire I think you'll thank yourself later.

5

One thing you can try is turning your random improvisations into a science. Take 3 pieces you want to master and write down where and how often the improvisations occur. Focus on these spots. If a certain bar makes problems, just analyze and practice it with a bar or two before and after so it stays within context. With languages it's the same. Focus on the unknown words and keep the known words from crowding the lessons.

It might even be a good idea to ditch the word 'mistake' since it's much too overrated through a decade of school.

It's an old business advice: You can't reliably improve what you don't measure. So, unless you start counting, small improvements are hard to track and you might miss the progress.

4

I really like @BradDaBug's answer, but I thought I would add: have fun. Even though I've been around music and participated my whole life, I'm not as good as I would like to be. I was recently performing(singing) for the first time in a long time. I saw the video and was disappointed in how I/we sounded. But I sent it to a friend who is a professional musician and they said, "hey, just have fun. that's the most important thing". And I think that's good advice for serious me.

I tend to have this idea that if I don't have some audience or make an album and get a following or something that I haven't succeeded, but I don't think that's true. When I read old books (like Little Women or something along those lines), characters will be at another's house, and someone will say, "oh, you play piano! Play us a song!" And they will. And they will sing. And that was their entertainment. People they knew playing music. They didn't have polished recordings by professionals that sounded amazing. And music was like that for thousands of years.

I think we've lost some of that and we have the idea that music has to be about a performance. I don't think it has to be. There's a scene my friend loves from "Mr. Hollands' Opus", where he's trying to get one of his students to realize that music is fun. It's about the pleasure of feeling. Feeling fun, feeling sad, feeling angry, feeling like a badass, whatever. It's only really a recent thing that both recording and the internet have changed the landscape where we have these world-famous musicians playing in our living rooms to compare our performances with. Where, for me at least, I start becoming frustrated with how little I sound like professionals.

I have a related rant about how the global village kindof destroys everyone's ability to be the best in their own local village, but I'll abstain. :)

The other thing is that I think if I don't at least sometimes have fun and enjoy something, I won't keep doing it. Eventually, I'll decide being some superstar is just too hard. But if I am having fun, it's a self-sustaining thing. I think they talk about that in "WillPower" which, unrelatedly, is a great book.

Sorry, this turned out a little more preachy than intended. Maybe not helpful to you, just to me. Maybe others?

  • Excellent answer. I really like your approach to this issue. Thanks for sharing. – Caleb Mar 23 '18 at 22:55
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    Once I stopped berating myself for every little mistake, I became a much better player. – pentavalentcarbon Mar 24 '18 at 16:33
2

find something you could not play without mistakes 3, 6, 12 months ago. can you play it without mistakes now? i am guessing you grew to the point that something that was hard when you were a beginner is much easier now. if that is the case the stuff that is hard now will be easier in the future if you keep practicing and pushing yourself to get better. if you can't play something without mistakes now maybe it is not ready for youtube yet. either practice it more, or choose an easier piece. by the way, a year is a relatively short time to get good at something as complex as playing a musical instrument. keep at it and remember to check your progress by playing something that was hard a while ago and seeing that you are improving.

2

If your aim is to create a cover, not to play the exact same song, remember you have the free will to modify a song as you see fit. Maybe there's a section you cannot seem to remember, something that gives you trouble every time. Perhaps there's a way you can arrange it. Within certain musical genres, artists always change how a song is played (at least for someone who listens to rock), thus studio versions never sound how they do live because it's not about playing it perfectly like the release, but playing it how you want to cover it, be it louder, faster, or just plain differently. Although if your goal is to replicate it perfectly, then straight practice is your aim.

1

Yes, it will become easier! But..

The more you practice, the better you will get, the easier playing will become.

There's a few caveats, though.

.. It takes time

Will it be a lot of time? The answer is: not a lot, exactly the time it takes you to learn .

But is too much? Will it be a waste? That's subjective, but I would say it won't be =)

It does indeed take time to play a song solidly. Some of this time has to do with knowing the piece by heart, some with other skills, dexterity, time keeping, musicality etc.. That you might actually learn later on as you progress.

As you go over and over something you'll notice that some stuff ceases being difficult and you can play it while thinking about lunch.

Also, you're playing one hour a day, that's awesome, but it is not that much, so expect progress.

Musician in the early stages practice 8 hours a day, every day.

Try this : take a weekend to play as much as you physically can. This will result in faster improvement and reinforce the idea that it's a matter of quantity of time devoted to it.

.. The difficulty has to be constant

As you progress you'll tackle harder and harder pieces. In turn, it might seems that you are not progressing much at all.

Try going back to older and easier pieces or just learn a new, but purposefully easier piece. Then you can assess the magnitude of your improvements and motivate yourself. You'll be amazed, I promise.

.. You have to practice efficiently

You also have to practice smart. If you're playing the one thing you like and know how to do, your progress will slow down. Either strive for improvement in your practice time or ask find a teacher to push you.

.. Manage your expectations

One of the biggest motivational sink is expecting the time to obtain the desired level to be X and then be bugged down when it takes longer.

The first few times it will look daunting.

Use this first learning experience to form realistic expectations of the time you need to learn something and expect it will take a little longer during practice time.

Look earnestly at your improvements without downplaying them. This is also the result of biased expectations.

Realize that no one knows how long it will take to you to learn something, especially you don't. You're best estimate is the time it actually took once you're done.

Have fun!

While practice does require you to plan and stick to the plan sometimes, look for a balance of exploration of new fun concepts and silly things as well. You have an instrument in front of you, touch it, play with it, do crazy impromptu experiments, do not care if it doesn't sound as it should.

Play songs you love.

Look for details and perfect execution in dull exercises to make them worthwhile and fun.

1

I think the true answer is 'no', you will always make mistakes, and here is why:

If today you played a basic beginner song, you would do it without mistakes, but you wouldn't learn anything.

As your skills progress, you move toward more challenging songs and you will make mistakes... until you master it and move on to more challenging songs.

Ultimately, you'll always grow by playing songs on the edge of your skills and then you'll always make mistakes until you master them, which is normal.

But to re-assure yourself, play something you learned 6 months ago and you'll probably find it super easy which shows you're always learning.

protected by Doktor Mayhem Mar 23 '18 at 14:23

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