How To Tell If Someone Is Actually Good At The Piano

Lisa Witt  /  Technique / Jan 17

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Has this ever happened to you? 

You hear someone play a song beautifully on the piano, and when you ask them how long they’ve been playing they reply:

“Oh, only a couple of months.”

It’s enough to make you want to quit. It’s happened to me I can tell you.

But There Is a BIG Difference

Between someone who can play ONE song really well and someone who can play the PIANO really well.

So don’t despair, because I’m going to tell you what that difference is, how you can spot someone who is actually good at the piano AND what you can do to become really good at the piano.

But first, I do want to clarify that there is NOTHING WRONG with learning a song on the piano. It’s a huge accomplishment that anyone should be proud of.

But if you want to go beyond one song, then I think the following abilities are crucial:

Playing With a Metronome

There is nothing more revealing about a piano player than to have them play with a metronome.

The metronome doesn’t lie, and it doesn’t care how good you think you are.

Good piano players can practice and play with a metronome, and keep their rhythm and timing in check.

Learning From Your Mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes, even accomplished pianists.

The difference between a hobbyist and a good player is the willingness to LEARN from those mistakes. That’s because a good player recognizes that mistakes reveal weaknesses. And when you work on your weaknesses, you get better and turn them into strengths.

A casual player will want to hide their mistakes and not work on them, because it’s uncomfortable. That’s why a casual player will only ever reach a certain level of playing.

But for someone who truly wants to master the piano and improve their skills, there’s no real limit to how good they can get.

To learn how to fix your mistakes and see real results, check out this lesson.

Using and Understanding Technical Terms

The piano (and music in general) has its own special language, and a good player will take the time to learn and understand that language.

That means knowing what the term “dynamics” means and understanding note values and symbols. This allows them to communicate with other musicians.

And speaking of “dynamics“, a good player will:

Use Dynamics

Non-serious players usually only have one volume level, and it doesn’t change. They have probably spent so much time learning the notes of the piece they’re playing, that they haven’t paid attention to HOW they are going to play those notes.

Good (and especially great) piano players have full control over their playing, and everything is intentional. If they play a note loudly it’s because that note was MEANT to be played that way.

I often say that practicing dynamics is the faster way to go from a good piano player to a great one.

And finally, a good piano player will:

Play With Emotion

This ties in with the previous point, but it goes much deeper.

It means practicing and perfecting a piece of music until it’s like you’re “speaking” through that music.

It’s using dynamics, timing and all of your technical skills to create emotion in your playing, and then being able to draw other people in to feel the same things that you are feeling.

In my opinion, this is the purest form of music, because it’s true communication.

What Did I Miss?

I’m sure you have opinions on this list, and I would love to hear them.

Is there anything I missed? Anything you think I’m way off the mark with?

And if you’ve read this and thought, “Well I guess I’m not a real pianist,”  then DON’T be discouraged!

You now have a list of things to work on that will make a real difference in your ability and skills on the piano, and I’ve linked a bunch of lessons to help you get there.

So go practice, and have fun.

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 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.

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