How To ACTUALLY Get Better At The Piano

Lisa Witt  /  Practice  /  UPDATED Jan 12, 2023

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It’s time we talked.

So much of what we teach here at Pianote is about learning new things and having fun at the piano.

That’s important, but there’s a more serious issue that we need to address.


Everybody makes them. It’s how you address and fix them that determine how quickly you will improve as a piano player.

The worst mistakes anyone can make are the same ones they’ve made before. That means you’re forming bad habits, and if that’s the case, it’s even harder to correct.

A quick note — I am talking about PRACTICE here. Not PERFORMANCE. This is a big difference between the two.

Remember, your practice time is NOT a performance. That’s the time to correct things and get better. If you make a mistake while performing, I recommend you DO keep going as best you can.

Here are some steps you can take to make sure you actually get better at the piano and stop making the same mistakes over and over again.

1. Stop and fix it

I know, it sounds so easy and obvious. But be honest, do you always do it?

It can be hard to stop what you’re doing and address something uncomfortable. It’s much easier to pretend it never happened and keep going. Maybe you think you’ll correct it “next time”. But next time turns into never. 

And that mistake — turns into a habit.

It’s important to address mistakes early. If you have a song and you KNOW there is always one spot where you stumble, start your practice there. Work on that before practicing the whole song through.

If you’re not sure whether you’re making mistakes or not, try recording yourself and listen back. It can be uncomfortable, but it will allow you to listen and hear things that you might miss while you’re playing.

Once you’ve found your mistake areas, there’s a very important thing you need to do to help you fix them.

2. Back it up

Don’t start at the point where you stumble, start at least one measure before.

There’s a very good reason for this.

Most of the time mistakes happen during transitions. If you just start from where you make the error you’ll be able to set yourself up properly and won’t actually address what’s causing the mistake.

So back it up, go slow and work on getting to and then through the place where you stumble.

These difficult transitions can be made even harder if you don’t address the next point.

3. Check your fingering

I have often found that errors occur when we have to use some fancy fingering like thumb-tucks and crossovers.

If you’re not using the correct fingering you can get yourself into trouble by making it harder than it needs to be.

So how do you know what fingering to use?

Many pieces will tell you by writing numbers over certain notes. Those numbers represent what fingers to use. If there aren’t any numbers you can figure it out for yourself. It just takes a little bit of experimentation and thought.

For more on that, we have a great lesson here.

Playing a song without knowing what fingering you’ll use is like going on a trip without a map. It’s easy to get lost. So plan your route and map out the difficult spots so you’re not heading into them blind.

Ok, so you’ve found your problem areas, you’ve worked really hard to fix them during your practice.

Now it’s the following day and you’re ready to try again. It’s time for my final tip.

4. Don’t start at the beginning

So many people make this mistake. You’ve put in so much work, so it’s only natural that you want to start at the beginning of your piece of music.

But it’s important that you review what you worked on. Start your practice at the section you spent time working on. Review the work you put in and make sure you’re comfortable.

Then you can go back and play through.

Final thoughts

Getting better at the piano takes work.

It takes time and practice. This is a physical instrument, so our brains form pathways and habits to make things easier for us.

It’s important to make sure those habits are good ones. Bad habits at the piano can set you back weeks, even months. 

Making mistakes is no fun. But it’s how we get better. It’s why we practice.

So follow these tips and you’ll start to see REAL results in your playing.

Have fun!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others. Learn more about Lisa.

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