7 Worst Piano Practice Habits (and how to kick them to the curb!)

Have you ever felt that no matter how hard you practice, you just feel stuck? You feel like nothing is improving?

Let’s face it: we all feel this way from time to time. So below is a list of the seven worst piano practice habits ever! These bad habits will get in your way and keep you from improving—try and avoid them at all costs!

7. Practicing with the Pedal

a girl is performing piano on concert

Practicing a new piece with the pedal might be enjoyable for the short run, but it’s like sticking your head in the sand: it makes you oblivious to the work ahead of you. It is very hard to work in detail while the pedal is blurring what you hear. This habit will get you absolutely nowhere and fast, so try to avoid this common temptation!

Solution: Try to hold off pedaling until further in the learning process—after you have sorted out important details such as fingering, technical passages, dynamics, rhythm, and so forth, and are comfortable playing the piece at a moderate tempo throughout.

6. Smartphone Distractions

Blog Images - Fingers on Smartphone - Med

Continually reaching for the smartphone to check your email, catch up on the latest with your Facebook friends, or answer texts can be very distracting during your practice sessions. Piano practicing requires an extremely high level of focus, and the smartphone can become your worst enemy. Research has shown that each time you are interrupted by email, text, or social media, it takes 2–3 minutes just to recover your concentration and regain practice momentum. As a result, you slow down your practice progress.

Solution: Create clear boundaries with your smartphone. Place your phone in airplane mode and practice in 50-minute increments without interruption. Take a 10-minute break between practice segments to use the bathroom, stretch, and rehydrate with water.

5. Not Writing Down Your Fingering

Blog Images - Writing Down Scores

This is another big one, guys. I can’t tell you how many times I have struggled with some of my students on this issue over the years. The truth is, you really can’t rely on your memory for fingering (until you’ve learned the piece well). Choosing the right fingering for you takes planning and lots of trial and error since it’s not a “one size fits all” situation; everyone’s hands are different, and what works for one pianist might not work for another.  It is crucial to have good, consistent fingering—it will truly bring your playing up to another level, so don’t skip this super-important step.

Solution: Write your fingering down right away when starting to learn a new piece. As you get to know the piece better, you will most likely change some fingering around, and that’s OK—it’s a work in progress. Have a good pencil and eraser handy!

4. Not Practicing Hands Separately

One hand playing piano

Piano playing is a very complex task. You’re juggling many actions at one time with two hands, 10 fingers, and 88 keys. My 20 years of experience in teaching have taught me that separate-hands practice is a huge step in successfully preparing a piece. There are some details you simply cannot execute when you only practice with both hands together. Sure, practicing with hands together is much more fun and rewarding in the short term, but practicing with separate hands will pay off handsomely in the long term.

Solution: Divide the repertoire selection you are working on into small sections, and practice each section hands separately and under tempo. Get into the habit of doing this not just during the early stages of learning a new piece, but on a regular basis as well in order to maintain your ability in either hand equally.

3. Placing Your Drinks on the Piano

Blog Images - Drink on Piano - Lrg Flkr

OK, this one isn’t really related to practicing, but it just drives me crazy! I see this happening all the time. The piano is like a machine, and spilling a drink into the instrument will destroy it just as it will destroy your smartphone—only the piano is a lot more expensive!

Solution: Place your drinks somewhere other than on top of the piano!

2. Practicing from Memory

Young pretty girl playing piano in indoor concert hall

This is another nasty habit. I know sometimes it’s just more convenient to sit down and start practicing from memory, but practicing without the score in front of you will increase your chances of forgetting what’s really written in the music—not just the notes but dynamics, rests, tempi markings, and everything else.

Solution: Always practice with the music in front of you unless you are focusing on memorization. But even then, keep the score nearby.

1. Not Investing in Good Scores

Blog Images - Investing in Music Scores

Here is a new trend that is a seriously bad habit: many of today’s young students opt to just print free versions of their music scores instead of investing in good-quality editions. Using random free versions of the music screams, “I am not serious.” Yes, we all know the ease of printing music from free online sources; it’s so convenient and it costs nothing. But in some cases you are getting an unscholarly, substandard edition. Another problem is that when you use free score versions, you are much more likely to misplace the copy because it’s free and you can always print another one. As a result, you lose your teacher’s valuable notes and markings and have to start all over again each time.

Solution: Invest in high-quality editions—they will last you a lifetime. You can also search for fine used scores for sale on Amazon or eBay.

So what’s your bad practice habit and what do you do to overcome it? Leave a comment below (I read them all!) and share this post with a friend who would benefit from it.

7 responses on “7 Worst Piano Practice Habits (and how to kick them to the curb!)

  1. Elvira

    Great blog! Thank you!
    I can add my bad habbit: not getting a plan of practicing for a day.
    When I know what I should do, I feel myself more motivated and self-disciplined

    1. Ory Shihor

      Thank you for your comment, Elvira! I am guilty of that too sometimes. It takes planning and discipline to create and follow a daily plan but it is clearly the way to go if we want results.

  2. Cynthia Ganga

    I’ve been told by my teacher that the worst habit I have is not curving my fingers enough so that I”m not strengthening them to be able to play harder rep when I’m ready. (I’m in Grade 4 RCM and attempting to go to a Conservatory in my 30’s).

    1. Ory Shihor

      Hi Cynthia,
      First, I think it’s wonderful that you are planning to attend a conservatory – it’s never too late!
      It’s true that ‘correct’ piano technique is all about playing with curved fingers. However, playing with flat fingers is also needed. It’s a must if we need a softer tone, color, etc. Regardless, a good pianist should be able to play in a variety of ways. Check out Vladimir Horowitz’s hand position for example – very flat fingers but the finger tips are always very solid!

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