Here are quite a few bad habits, which are all easy to pick up. Most of the time it’s pianists who teach themselves who pick up bad habits, because your piano teacher can easily spot them and help instantly, or prevent them from happening in the first place.
So if you are teaching yourself to play the piano, here’s a list of a few I’ve come across that you need to be wary of –
1. Playing too fast.
Playing too fast is probably one of the most common mistakes a pianist makes. It tends to happen when you first begin to learn a new piece, because you are eager to play it at the correct speed. The best way to learn anything is to go very slow at first, and only begin to increase the speed once you can play it without any mistakes. Another common bad habit is to play most of the piece at the correct speed, but the difficult parts at a slower speed. This only confuses the brain and your muscle memory, so it’s important to try and find an average speed that you can play the whole piece at.
2. Playing too loud or too quiet.
Unless you’ve got a great ear and an ability to spot your own mistakes, this is an easy habit to get into. I’ve heard a lot of pianists play too loud or too quiet, and the reason why they don’t know is because they don’t have anyone to tell them. Again, if you have a piano teacher then you will be fine. If not, I would advise recording yourself as often as possible and have a listen back, and/or play it back to a friend. You may also find that one of your hands is playing too loud or too quiet, so again, listening back to a recording should hopefully fix this.
3. Incorrect fingering.
Again, this once comes down to being self-taught. Even if you do play lots of scales and try to follow the correct fingering given in the music, you will still at some point or another get it wrong. There may be a few self-taught pianists that disagree with this, but it’s human nature to make mistakes, and it’s very easy to get the wrong finger even though the direction is given on the music. My pupils do it all the time because there is a lot to concentrate on, and it’s so easy to get it wrong. So when you don’t have a piano teacher there to point it out instantly, you may find you are using the wrong fingers for a long time before you realise – and that’s if you ever do!
4. Ignoring or misunderstanding expression.
There is a lot think about when reading from sheet music. For example, how loud or soft to play, slurs, legato and staccato; and all of these can be easily missed.
5. Sitting too close or too far from the piano.
This is a very easy one to rectify, and the answer is different for everyone. I wouldn’t be too concerned with this one, as I’ve never really ever seen anyone get this wrong – but it is possible. Ideally you want to sit far enough away from the keys that your arms are parallel to the floor. If you are too close then your elbows will be sticking up slightly and will be too far back which will mean you are hunching over the keys. But again, this is up for debate as many pianists all over the world take a different approach to this, depending on the style you are playing.
6. Incorrect hand posture/positioning.
This tends to happen if you don’t practice scales and certain exercises, which are essential in moulding your hands around the keys. Beginners usually play with the top of the hand leaning either down, or to one side. To check whether you have good hand posture, try placing a coin on the back of your hand and play a scale. If you can keep the coin from falling off, then you should have good hand posture.
7. Incorrect practice routine.
This final habit is probably one of the most important to consider, and ties in with the ‘playing too fast’ habit. When you practice it’s important to take things really slow at first, and gradually build up the speed without making any mistakes. It sounds simple, but it’s something which is missed by a lot of pianists. There are also other vital routines that need to be present when practicing, and a lot of people miss them out either through laziness or frustration. To get better at anything you need to always push yourself during the practice routine, but at the same time try to include easy sections as well, to ensure your motivation levels remain high.
I would always advise getting the hard parts out of the way first, and then finish off with something you can play well. So for example, you could practice your scales to begin with followed by any pieces that you are learning. Once you are happy that you’ve practiced these for long enough, it’s important to finish off playing something that you can play really well. Try to always leave the practice routine feeling satisfied and happy with your progress.
As I said at the start, if you are having regular piano lessons then you shouldn’t come across these bad habits very often. But it’s important to be aware of them none the less, as your teacher isn’t there all the time to remind you, and the biggest part of your progress is done at home under no supervision.