One of the most important things I have learned over the years is the importance of a healthy attitude towards learning. During my time teaching, I have identified three key ways in which students tend to sabotage their own development. Most of the time, a student’s lack of progress is not due to a physical problem or to some kind of inherent lack of ability; rather, this lack of progress tends to stem from a problem in that student’s basic approach to the instrument and to piano lessons. I believe it is essential for teachers to find ways to overcome these kinds of mental blocks before real progress can be achieved. As a performer, I have also found it useful to always double-check to make sure that I am not going against these basic principles.
1. Learning is not possible if one is not willing to accept responsibility. In other words, try to not make excuses for bad playing. The piano is too heavy, the piano is too light, the audience was noisy… in the end, it is important to accept that you are responsible for the way you play and for how you learn your instrument. The first step towards being a better musician is understanding that it is your decisions that determine how you progress. While your teacher has a lot to say in the matter, it is your decision to study with that particular teacher and not another. You are in control. Accepting this puts improvement in your hands; avoiding this responsibility stops you from advancing.
2. Playing a piece badly does not make you a bad musician or incapable of learning. Making a mistake when you play is not the same as being a mistake. This point is also important for teachers to understand since many teachers make the mistake of attempting to equate a student’s intelligence with that student’s ability to play a musical instrument. Making mistakes when you play means that there are things that you must fix. While the piece you are playing has mistakes, this does not make you any less of a musician or inferior as a person. It simply means that there is work that must be done in order to improve.
3. Practice is not effective without the right attitude. The most important element in practicing a musical instrument is maintaining an approach focused on improving. One of the most basic principles of maturing and becoming an adult is learning to control our emotions and reactions. While you often cannot control your playing, you can always control how you react. The right reaction to a problem is trying to understand its causes and learning how to fix it, the wrong reaction is wallowing in self-pity. Practice is all about making mistakes and then learning how to overcome them. Many students may also fail to pay attention to their problems, choosing to ignore them, and believing that the power of “positive thinking” will magically make their playing better. This should also be avoided. After all, if you see no room for improvement in your playing, then you will simply not improve.