Learn how to play piano by ear!

My free tips for playing the piano

In the following videos, I have compiled a few useful tips to help you improve your free piano playing.
Right, let’s get started!

Tip 1: Great effect with slim resources

Tip 2: How to practice efficiently and economically

Play better on the piano through correct practicing:

Playing is not the same as practicing

Although it sounds tough, practicing means doing something you cannot already do.

Many of my students tell me “I practice an hour a day.” I was once one of these students. In reality, I spent most of the time playing things that I could already manage. I merely skimmed over the passages I couldn’t play well. If I counted up the time I actually spent practicing properly, this would only have been a few minutes a day which was also randomly spaced out over the total playing time. This meant that even these few minutes were not at all effective. I had the impression that I had practiced for a very long time, but did not make very much progress. What a surprise!

One hour of concentrated practicing is enormously strenuous and almost impossible to sustain by those with little experience. Once I had recognized the situation, I resolved to practice every day with great concentration and efficiency for ten minutes and then to play for a further 20 minutes. The total time was shorter, but much more effective and the ratio of practice and playing was now still only 1:2.
What is important is that you do not stop playing, as playing is great fun and is the real reason why we sit down at the piano! Here, you can transform playing into a reward for practicing!

Saving time

When I began my career as a professional musician, the projects for which I had to prepare material mounted up and became progressively more extensive and I didn’t have enough time to be able to prepare everything well. My only alternative was to practice more efficiently, i.e. achieve more in the same time. This was only possible by altering the ratio between practicing and playing so that I spent more time practicing and less time playing. This meant that playing was reserved almost exclusively to my time on stage which made these moments even more special.
As I have already said, no-one wants to give up playing, particularly if music is not your actual profession and you only have limited time available. You still however want to make progress.
This means for example that you must be able to distinguish between practicing and playing. You must also however know how to practice correctly.
If you want to complete your practicing schedule in only ten minutes, the most important thing is to leave out everything superfluous, i.e. everything that you have already mastered. This means only concentrating on small passages. It is however important not to try to practice too many of these passages at once, but instead stick with one until it improves. It is better to divide up these passages and leave some for the next day. Here, less is more!

Avoiding mistakes

The next important step is to avoid mistakes.
Imagine that a friend gives you his new phone number and you try to memorize it. You will find this much harder if you have already learned his old number by heart than if you had never had his number at all. You will find yourself frequently going back to his old number or confusing the two.

This is exactly the same when playing the piano. If you have practiced a mistake, it is far harder to correct than learning something new.

This means that you should try and avoid making mistakes or false movements right from the start! The way our brain is constructed means that we need far more repetition to correct a mistake than when learning something new correctly right from the start.

One thing is very important here:
Only play at a speed in which you have everything under control and do not make mistakes. Only increase the tempo if you feel sufficiently secure! If you become insecure, reduce the tempo again! This method will gradually allow you to work up to the final tempo.
If you do not make mistakes, you will not have to correct them!

When you are practicing according to this method, remember the transitions! These are frequently forgotten and things start going wrong again when the individual sections are put together.

Play along with recordings

This point is particularly important for pop music. Playing a song slowly and practicing without recording is necessary, but as soon as you can play it well, you should play along with audio versions. This will have numerous advantages:

  • You are training your timing
  • You will develop a feeling for stylistic details
  • You can train playing with other musicians, here even with a professional band
  • You can improvise along with the recording
  • You will learn patterns, licks and grooves to extend your playing repertoire
  • You will train your hearing to recognize particular chord combinations

Motivation

A final important point for effective practicing is motivation. Maybe this sounds banal, but your motivation is already decisively influenced by your choice of songs. If for whatever reason you always play songs you are not really keen on, you will never develop the motivation to practice them.
For this reason, look for songs that you really want to play and you will find practicing much easier and much more fun!

I hope you will try out these tips straightaway.

You will soon find that you can achieve much more in a significantly shorter time. I wish you great success!

Good luck!

Tip 3: Warming up program

Tip 4: Learning from other instruments…

Tip 5: Improvising in pop music

Tip 6: Chord interjections

Tip 7: Tips on the topic of equipment

What equipment is right for me?

Students frequently ask me for tips on equipment, so I have collected a few comments on this topic here.

I prefer to play on a good grand piano. The tone and the playing touch on a good instrument are wonderful. But like many other pianists, I do not possess my own grand piano because it is simply too expensive.

A more economical and space-saving alternative is of course an upright piano. A good upright piano can be a good substitute for a grand piano. When asked about what instrument should be purchased, I usually recommend an upright piano. This is for a simple reason: the piano keyboard has a certain degree of resistance which is only partially replicated by electronic instruments. This resistance is necessary to achieve the best “training results”. You need strong fingers for fast and precise playing. There are parallels here to weight training: anyone who trains without weights will have problems with increasing his strength.
The disadvantage of a piano is, like a grand piano, the expense. I would never recommend buying a cheap piano! A piano should also be tuned around once a year which also costs money.

There are of course also electronic keyboard instruments such as E-pianos, work stations or keyboards. The chief advantage of an electronic alternative is that it can be easily transported (you can play on it at concerts or carry it to the practice room). You can also amplify these instruments (for concerts most instruments have to be amplified. With a piano, setting up microphones is complicated. With an electronic instrument, you only need a simple cable which is plugged into the sound mixer or amplifier). Many electronic instruments do not however have a built-in loudspeaker meaning that they also have to be amplified for practicing.
With an electronic instrument, you have a certain range of different sounds to choose from and also technical aids such as the transposing function. In general, electronic instruments are cheaper, but here quality also has its price.

In the case of an E-piano as the name already suggests, the chief focus is on the “piano characteristics”. The keyboard imitates the hammer mechanics of a piano. Out of all electronic alternatives, the playing touch is closest to playing a genuine piano. It is only equipped with a smaller number of sounds and the main focus is on the piano sound.

Work stations have a variety of different keyboards. They also possess a large range of sounds (presets) which you can alter yourself. The term keyboard is used here to designate instruments with automatic accompaniments which can produce an entire band out of a single instrument, even if you only press a key or play a chord. I advise against buying a keyboard because this has so little to do with real piano playing. If you already have a keyboard however, you can still practice on it as long as you do not switch on the automatic accompaniment 🙂

As you can see, there are numerous factors to consider when selecting the right equipment and it also depends on what you want to use this equipment for. I have therefore compiled a check list for you!

A grand piano/upright piano is right for you if

  • you want a beautiful piano tone.
  • you only need the piano sound.
  • you aim to achieve the best possible “training effects”.
  • you only want to play at home.
  • you are not put off by the high price.

An E-Piano is right for you if

  • a small number of different sounds chiefly focused on a piano sound is enough for you.
  • you would like a keyboard as similar as possible to a real piano.
  • you would like to be able to transport your instrument.
  • you would like to amplify your instrument.
  • you do not want to spend too much money.

A work station is right for you if

  • you want a wide range of sounds which you can also adapt.
  • you want a transportable instrument.
  • you want to amplify your instrument
  • you want to invest a larger amount of money.

If you are thinking of buying new equipment, I recommend that you visit a well-stocked music shop and try out all possibilities at leisure. Concentrate on the playing touch on each type of keyboard and also on the sounds! It is best to gain a general impression via internet to avoid an unpleasant surprise at the prices!

Good luck with your search!

Video: A brief equipment show

Learn how to play piano by ear!
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