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my name is Emma and I have been playing the piano for just under eight years.

I started playing the piano when I was nine and was put into the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) system a year later. Last year, my piano teacher confronted me about continuing my lessons. She said that she would not be able to teach me level nine in the way that I needed it - thus, I was on the hunt for a new teacher, and luckily found one.

I know that throughout my RCM career, I did not put enough effort into practicing because I had some physiological issues in my wrists from early on, which caused me to practice less intensely than my grade levels required. I practically flew by the seat of my pants as I progressed through the levels because I had enough musical intuition to do so.

Now, I think I have lost my drive to play piano in general. I like playing the hard pieces like Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu, and I know that the only way to learn those effectively without ruining my wrists even more and risking carpal tunnel is to gradually build myself up to that level of playing. Though with my new teacher, I have discovered that I am missing SO MUCH technique and basic skills that I should have developed years ago.

I started off the year in level nine, and I am now working on a piece three levels lower in order to build those skills - to which I am still having major issues played despite being certified for higher grade levels.

This frustrates me because I know that I am a great piano player to those who don't know the instrument, but I am a moderate player to those who do - which is what used to motivate me to get better, now it just discourages me.

Recently, every time I'm at the piano, I feel so disappointed in myself that I can't help but tear up in embarrassment of how little I have improved over the past four years.

I don't know what to do. Each time I go to my lesson, I get a sinking feeling that I'm wasting everyone's time, and it really makes me want to quit - I almost did earlier this year.

Has anyone else had this feeling?

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Emma C is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
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Who are you playing for?
Other people, or yourself?

If you're playing because you want other people to think you're good, then you will get frustrated if you perceive they can see your weaknesses. That's a big de-motivator.

If you're playing for yourself, then part of that is that no matter how much work it feels like there is still to do… you can't ever imagine not playing.

So maybe right now you feel you have only three choices…
Wade through it, enjoying it less & less each time.
Take a year off & hope that magically it will make you feel better.
Give it up entirely & live to regret it for the rest of your life.

I'm not sure any of those are really going to help.

Instead, how about remembering what it was like when it was fun?

Learn Elton John songs…. or even Chas & Dave ;) That's gotta be easy. Sing along, that's what they were written for.

Join a jazz trio. A classical pianist going into jazz for the first time will probably be the most challenging thing you could ever do. Everything, & I mean everything you thought you knew will have to be learned again, from a completely different angle. Sheet music? Forget it. Best you'll get is a fake book. The rest you will have to make up as you go along.

See how much fun that could be.

When I was a kid I got so bored of classical exercises that I joined two jazz bands, a rock band, a punk band & finally set up an electro-pop band. Between them I got to complete my musical 'education' without even noticing I was doing it.

  • It's possible that if you give up the piano entirely, you WILL NEVER regret it later in life. Both my siblings quit piano before university, and 15 or more years later, I've heard no regrets from either of them since. (Granted, my brother occasionally tells the story of accidentally injuring himself in the middle of a piano exam and still barely passing it.) – Dekkadeci Dec 1 at 13:34
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It's a bit like life - we all get into that frame of mind over something at some time.

Pack it up and eventually you will regret it. Most likely at the time when you want to pick it up again, but life - family, job, etc., will get right in the way.

It's not clear why you play - as Tetsujin says - but one solution is to get that clear in your mind, and work accordingly, or spread yourself onto other challenging musical ideas. Get writing, be part of a group, organise a concert, do some teaching yourself, the list is huge.

Obviously you're quite musical, otherwise you wouldn't be where you are (no, I don't mean the mental state!) so adapt that musicality to another instrument. You're already half way there, it's the physical part of a new instrument that needs exploring. It's more than feasible to study two (or more) simultaneously, and that will re-kindle the fire for the piano.

Break out into different styles of music - doing only one will reach boredom level with most folks at some point.

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    I also said this under another answer, but it's possible that if you give up the piano entirely, you WILL NEVER regret it later in life. Both my siblings quit piano before university, and 15 or more years later, I've heard no regrets from either of them since. (Granted, my brother occasionally tells the story of accidentally injuring himself in the middle of a piano exam and still barely passing it.) – Dekkadeci Dec 1 at 13:37
  • My experience with learning two or more instruments at the same time is that I don't get more enthusiastic about playing the instrument I'm not currently practicing with. Playing clarinet/bass clarinet for school bands never kindled any fire for the piano, and vice versa. – Dekkadeci Dec 1 at 13:41
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My number one piece if advice is to stay classical. Don’t switch to jazz please. ; /

It happens I learned to play the piano and violin from Suzuki method which encourages students to learn at their own pace. Although the start it by teaching the bare basics such as sitting still at the piano, player develop into not just great musicians but great people as well with lots of felling and emotion.

When I was younger and just starting out (3 or 4yrs) I was really just told to sit down and play I didn’t have much of a purpose playing the instrument. Only just recently I have a passion for music(12-13yrs) and I found the purpose of playing the piano or any instrument really. I now enjoy and feel happy to play an instrument.

As for when I was 10 or 11 pretty much hated music, practice especially. It sort of came in waves. Some days my parents would nag me about doing practice and I would achieve nothing other days I would be productive. The only reason I kept playing was because my mum is a music teacher, she encourages me to keep going.

Nowadays I sit down or get out my violin and practice without question. I really enjoy performing. This is my story.

Although this doesn’t quite answer your question yet I shall continue. You need to find inspiration. It could be anything, from an object or person or even a piece of music that you aspire to play. Keep that ahead of you and if you feel helpless think about it, think about the reason you play your instrument. Think if you really love to play it and why.

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Tim Li is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
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    Welcome, Tim. On this site, answers that contain a lot more helpful information than yours get upvoted more. This hardly answers the question - and the jazz bit is unexplained. – Tim Dec 1 at 10:46
  • Better now Tim? – Tim Li Dec 1 at 10:57
  • Much............ – Tim Dec 1 at 11:06
  • If you agree with my answer or like my post pleas consider upvoting it. – Tim Li Dec 1 at 11:12
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A rather obvious comment is that if you started at age 9 and have been playing for just under 8 years, you are now aged about 17. That is not the age at which most humans are at the peak of their ability to make mature and rational decisions about what to do with the rest of their life.

Also, there is nothing very unusual about music students deciding to attempt to play pieces that are technically beyond them. (The Fantasie-Impromptu seems to have a particular fatal attraction, perhaps because the middle section with the big tune looks easy, and there have been a several questions about it on this forum over the years). But your situation seems to be different in that (1) you actually had a teacher, who eventually called you out for not being honest with yourself about your real ability, and (2) unfortunately you injured yourself along the way.

Nobody can tell you what you "ought" to do. You could choose anything from giving up the idea of playing any instrument, changing to a different instrument, buckling down to doing the hard work to learn the piano better, or carry on playing whatever you like in whatever way you like for your own enjoyment.

It's hard to work out exactly what you mean by

I know that I am a great piano player to those who don't know the instrument, but I am a moderate player to those who do

But in the long run, "being honest with yourself" is probably a better psychological choice than the alternatives.

Yes, plenty of other people have had these feelings. But they are rarely life-threatening, unless you choose to make them life-threatening!

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There are any number of reasons to pursue a skill of any kind. Parents want a musician, friends like musicians, it's easy to pick up chicks, the list goes on and on, but for me the only real good reason to study music in any form, is whether it is an interest of mine. Luckily for me it is and I can sometimes pursue it full time or I can pursue it in my spare time, but the most important aspect for me is does it make me feel good when I'm doing it. I've done things in my life to please my instructor and been chided when they weren't impressed, and after a while I moved on to another teacher and was given complimentary comments about the same skills I'd been chided for before. I realized each person has their own individual perspective when they analyze how I play, and it's up to me to decide how much value I end up placing on their opinion. This can be done with respect and that's how I try to do it, but I understand it's my own sense of accomplishment that is important to me, not what another's opinion of me is. If music is important to you and makes you feel good when you play it, make the needed adjustments and continue to pursue it. If it's the playing of music that makes you feel bad then you might pursue another interest. The final choice is for you to decide.

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Music is a long road. There can be so much pressure for young musicians that show early promise, but also a lot of disappointment.

If you are at risk of damaging your hands/wrists, I think that that is a clear sign to back off. This touches a nerve with me - I had tendonitis issues a year or two ago that caused me (with other factors) to take a break from playing saxophone. I ended up studying singing again in that time and it has taken me in a whole new direction. (In the meantime I found an almost complete cure for the tendonitis.)

You are probably a very good pianist, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the only road is to become the next classical prodigy.

It also sounds like you are very stressed out with the whole thing. OK, music is work but it is also supposed to be a joyful thing. Listen to some other music. Heal your body. Breathe a bit. You have time, and there are many roads.

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Sadly your story is very common. Your first teacher robbed you of a career. It wasn't their fault, it was the fault of their teacher and their teacher before them . . . Teachers only know what they know and they don't know what they don't know and your teacher didn't know about the human body and where technique truly comes from. It is very common.

I would suggest you find a teacher who works with injured pianists and rebuild your technique from scratch. It is easier than you think but very challenging. First, for the next ten or twenty years you can't play your old repertoire for, the improper movements are hardwired into your brain. Anything wrong will come back with a vengeance. You will also have to avoid playing with a cold body or when nervous.

There is nothing wrong with your wrists, only the way you use your fingers. You can reverse it all.

I went through a "dark night of the soul" about ten years in. My teacher played me a solo recording of Adam Makowicz and I didn't practice for a month.

Your new teacher might be what you need. Ask her if you should ever abduct your fingers. You need a firm NO from her. Ask her how to use the pronator and supinator muscles. She must have a solid answer. Ask her what median nerve entrapment is and what causes it (inflamed long flexor tendons). Ask her how Newton's third law applies to playing the piano.

She must know the answers to these questions. If not, she may be a great teacher but she won't be able to help you. Use your sixth sense. Your body is like a machine, when it doesn't work properly you need adjustments or the eradication of seemingly benign movements which can forever keep you mired down at your current level. Once you eliminate them one by one, your hands will become free but, it can take time.

Don't get discouraged, get a better teacher. I am not a fan of methods, only ergonomic movement. I was paralyzed with bilateral tendonitis for two years and could barely move. I finally found a teacher who had me moving pain free in seconds and after an hour, all fatigue and aches left my arms. I wasn't healed but was simply moving properly. It took about six months to actually heal but, proper movement promotes healing.

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I know that I am a great piano player to those who don't know the instrument, but I am a moderate player to those who do - which is what used to motivate me to get better, now it just discourages me.

I have exactly this feeling - or better this self-estimation but I am not frustrated. I don't have the goal to become a great pianist and may be I am on lever 4 (no idea what levels are) but I have joy of playing, understanding chords and progressions by transposing and searching better attempts to the music.

My approach is not to be better but "HOW WOULD I BE EXPLAIN THE CONTENT OF THIS PIECE TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NO IDEA OF MUSIC". So I am not competing with other musicians but with my self and I can work and study for weeks on a single piece, making marks like a in a diary, there is not one day when I don't discover a new aspect behind the notes. This is a fantastic adventure! and it is resulting that I become better performer as I know a piece always better!

examples of the last month:

Bach: Sinfonia in E (I can't describe in a few words what I have discovered in this short piece - everyday I find new relations - transposing it in other keys, playing it in full harmony or with four parts.)

Gershwin: Bess you are my woman now (by understanding an analyzing the chords I can learn playing the left hand-accompaniment by heart.

Bartok: Romanian Folk Dances

I didn't have to read your question till the end and way just having a look to Tetsujins answer: I fully agree with him 100%

Your problem is: find another approach to music playing (joy, fun and satisfaction and fulfilling by the music itself - and not by competing and comparing with others.)

Jedes Mal, wenn ich am Klavier bin, fühle ich mich so enttäuscht, dass ich mich schämen muss, wie wenig ich mich in den letzten vier Jahren verbessert habe.

Maybe you should make a pause of taking lessons. I could imagine that you feel under pressure having a teacher and show you your progressions. Maybe you need more freedom. But don't stop practice and playing.

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A couple thoughts. First, I think everyone goes through this one way or another, regardless of the area of endeavor. We learn things in school that decay with lack of use; when one day we find we need them they're just a hollowed out memory and we're filled with regret. Sometimes we decide NOT to learn something and that comes back to bite us later. My old calculus knowledge would sure come in handy now that I'm learning a new computer discipline. I used to be great at playing scales but after a long time not playing them I can only play them sloooowly and with, shall we say, imperfect fingering. So lesson one: you're experiencing something common, not unique.

Second, Liszt, who had great piano skills from a young age, found himself questioning his own abilities after seeing Paganini in concert. He took it upon himself to exhaustively and over many months of difficult, draining practice, rebuild his technique and launch himself onto that whole other level of skill that he was ultimately known for. Lesson two: not only aren't you the only one to experience this, even a pianist as great as Liszt went through it.

Maybe 2020 is the year for you to take the time to rebuild your own skills -- or build them where they were lacking in the first place. Its December now; take the rest of the month to figure out what skills you think you're missing and how best to work on them. During this holiday plan to give yourself the gift of time to work on skills -- not new pieces, skills. Structure a game plan with your teacher that can last through the whole year. Liszt was in a hurry but he took as much time as he needed. You can do the same thing.

And in the middle of a year of skill building, give yourself the chance to learn to improvise, play some lighter, popular pieces, arrange music for your church or your friends to sing, join a musical group where you can be the accompanist. Anything to keep yourself in the game of making music while you build your skills to the level you want them to be. Others here have suggested similar things and they're right.

As for your physical limitations: giving yourself a generous amount of time to build your skill level will also help work your body into shape without adding undo stress. Give yourself the daily practice time you need and want but without pushing yourself beyond your physical limit. Also, be aware that certain skills might be more "damaging" than others; when one skill is testing your arm/wrist/finger health, its time to switch to another one.

Sooner or later you'll have reached the skill level that matches your musicality and you'll naturally want to go back and re-learn some old pieces as well as start picking through new ones -- maybe even some Liszt!

Good luck to you and hopefully 2020 is a fruitful year.

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