How To Avoid Piano Mistakes (A Helpful Guide)


How To Avoid Piano MistakesHave you ever wondered how to avoid mistakes in playing the piano? If so, then you’ve come to the right place. Having performed for a living, I’ve been through the process of making mistakes before. It’s never fun, but there is a method for correcting those issues. If you want to stop hitting the wrong piano notes then this is the guide for you.

Below is a step by step system of how to avoid piano mistakes:

  • Memorize the music in small chunks
  • Do chord analysis for difficult passages
  • Practice slowly and consistently
  • Record yourself playing
  • Perform for friends, family, and peers
  • Visualize the performance 
  • Play the piano with emotion
  • Get plenty of rest

The piano is one of the most rewarding instruments to play. There is so much you can do with it from musical expression, creating beautiful harmonies, and showing off your technical skills. Performing a piece up to it’s highest standards is a goal for any serious pianist, but sometimes mistakes can derail that performance. 

The Process For Avoiding Mistakes In Piano Playing

Over the year’s I’ve created a system for myself to help prevent note slips, memory slips, and fingers tangled while playing the piano. I want to share that with you below in this helpful guide. 

Memorize the music in small chunks

The first step in the process is to memorize the music you are playing. Pianists who try to sightread music or perform while looking at the score are more likely to encounter mistakes. Memorizing the music however allows not only for more artistic freedom, but it means the pianist is solid in their understanding of what to do.

Memorizing doesn’t just include the notes though. It includes knowing which finger numbers to use, the harmonies you should expect to hear, and the overall musical form of the piece. Pianists should be able to anticipate which passage of music is coming up and have an idea of what register each hand will play in next.

Anticipation is a key ingredient to successful playing because it allows your mind to process more important things such as the choreography of the arms and what dynamics you want to convey in the performance.

When it comes to memorization, too often pianists bite off more than they can handle in a practice session. Most memory slip mistakes occur for the following reasons:

  • The pianist is trying to memorize too much at once
  • The music is freshly memorized

In those situations, a pianist is almost always going to have an issue. Memorizing too much in a single practice session actually makes the music tougher to learn. Instead, pianists should focus on learning in small chunks. I always recommend starting with two  – four measures at a time.

Hands together are always preferred, but for technically challenging works, hands separate is just fine. Work through those passages slowly and highlight any areas where you notice something feels uncomfortable.

Not to get too deep into technique, but if something feels tough to do or causes any irritation while playing, then you need to revisit how you are approaching that passage technically. Once you feel you have a grip on that small set of measures then go on and learn the next set of measures; again no more than two-four measures at a time.

At this point, you can start to piece together the two sections you have worked on. It is not unreasonable for a pianist to take a solid hour to memorize a difficult set of measures and then be done with that particular activity for the day.

Once you get some rest and come back to it the following day, much of what you worked on will be engrained in your hands and mind. If it’s not that’s actually quite normal. Music that is freshly memorized sometimes will have small gaps in it. Simply go over those passages of music again, except now your focus can be on where there is a disconnect. 

If you were to try to memorize an entire piano sonata in one day though, chances are you won’t retain much of anything once you return to the piano. For some pianists, two-four measures at a time might seem slow, so it’s definitely okay to adjust the measures depending on the difficulty of the piece and your experience level.

I encourage you to read my guide on how to memorize music faster here, I share plenty of detailed tips on memorization and ways to speed up the process. 

Do chord analysis for difficult passages

The most difficult passages in music tend to be where harmonic changes occur. In my experience, most pianists make mistakes in those areas often. The passages that introduce complex chords that require complex fingering are the most difficult.

Practicing slowly can, of course, work out those mistakes, but training the ear to understand what it’s hearing is just as important. At the very least, piano players should do basic chord analysis for those musical passages. Practicing with the chords written down can help you visualize the distance the fingers must travel and the kind of qualities you should hear in the chord.

Perhaps it’s a minor chord going to a major chord, or maybe a Neapolitan followed by an augmented fifth. Whatever the combination is, it’s crucial to analyze those chords, and then train the ear to recognize them within that key. 

Practice slowly and consistently

Slow practice is an effective method for reducing musical mistakes. The reason behind it is that slow practice allows pianists to work out a consistent rhythm, which is almost always the first element lost when mistakes start happening.

Having a solid rhythmic foundation, evenness in the fingers and consistency int he articulation is best achieved by practicing slowly first. Slow practice is also a good way to develop consistent fingering. Pianists should always know which finger they are going to use in every passage of music they play. 

Another element of playing music accurately is to practice at a consistent level. If you were to cram all of your practice into an 8 hour day, eventually you would stop making progress. It’s more sensible to split the practice across multiple practice sessions, and then to stay on that schedule. Over practice can lead to injuries, lack of artistic development, and not paying attention to detail.  

It does take a good amount of daily piano practice to play without mistakes. At the same time, the brain needs rest so you can process all of that hard work! 

Record yourself playing

Sometimes pianists make mistakes without actually realizing it. Especially if you don’t have a teacher, it’s much tougher to know when you’re doing something wrong. 

This is why I suggest pianists record themselves playing. Recordings can help you identify the following issues:

  • Wrong notes
  • Poor technique
  • Issues with tempo and dynamics
  • Issues with posture 

Recording your playing can be as simple as setting up a smartphone camera on a small tripod or chair. The only issue with that is that sometimes the video and audio quality from phones is not a great indicator of how you sound. I recommend checking out a video recording set like this one. It has everything you need such as a high-quality microphone and a decent camera to get great recordings of your piano playing. 

Perform for friends, family, and peers

More than anything, the biggest contributor to mistakes in live music performance is nerves. Nerves can consist of shaking or sweaty fingers, lack of control, wandering thoughts, and lack of quality sound. The natural reaction to that is to press too much that you end up making mistakes to overcompensate for those nerves. 

The opposite should be done in performance though. Embracing that adrenaline is actually the secret to playing more musically and not making mistakes. Sometimes the only way to combat those nerves is to play for people as often as you can. 

The more you perform for friends, family, and colleagues, the better you’ll get at controlling your nerves. With more experience, you’ll start to understand what works and does not work. Everything from the pre-performance routine down to how the last note of the piece is played needs to be well thought out and processed. 

Visualize the performance 

Because performances can be such incredible experiences, sometimes keeping a good amount of concentration can lead to mistakes. For that reason, it’s a good idea to visualize the performance before it happens. 

As you’re at the piano practicing, pretend that you’re in the recital venue playing to a room full of people. You can practice every element of the process from walking on stage, bowing, taking a deep breath and even receiving applause at the conclusion of the show. 

By doing this, you can start to figure out which points your concentration starts to wander. This is also a chance to see if maybe you need to reorder the repertoire in your show, as well as when fatigue might set in. 

The most important part of visualizing the piano performance is building confidence. Think about how well the performance will go, and spend less time focusing on if things are going to go wrong. A positive attitude goes a long way in freeing your mind so you can play as well as you do in the practice room. 

Play the piano with emotion

Playing the piano expressively can help reduce mistakes. Sometimes trying to reduce everything to just notes and rhythms just don’t cut it. From a technical standpoint, everything might be fine, but from a musical standpoint, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Whenever I’m playing, I try to connect with the music on an emotional level. By doing this, I’m able to pinpoint different areas of the music where I want to really let certain melodies ring out. Then there are those sections where I’m playing with a delicate touch but maybe articulating the inner voices. All of this can help greatly with memory, and developing that choreography can help reduce mistakes quite a bit.

If you need some inspiration on how to play the piano with more expression, check out this article. It goes into detail about how harmonies and musical structure can help with communicating a more satisfying performance. 

Do Professional Pianists Make Mistakes

If you’ve ever watched a professional pianist play, you’re jaw probably drops to the floor. Professional pianists have such a level of artistic maturity and technical facility that they routinely deliver amazing performances.

So, do professional pianists make mistakes? Yes, professional pianists occasionally make mistakes. Mistakes that professional pianists may make are typically minute, and rare in occurrence. The occasional slip of the finger is the most an audience member would hear. The only way to have a perfect piano performance is through studio editing for albums.

Music, in general, is hard to perform mistake-free. In fact, minor mistakes are actually a part of the overall enjoyment of the performance. Artists who take chances during a performance and evoke a lot of emotion are at a higher risk of missing a note or having a memory slip. 

Because of the technical and artistic facility that professional pianists have, these mistakes are often well masked. It takes a very delicate ear and sometimes a slowdown of the recording to even notice that a mistake occurred. What you will rarely ever hear a concert pianist do is make an enormous mistake such as forgetting an entrance, playing the wrong chords, or stopping mid-performance. 

Remember, we’re all human, so these things do happen occasionally to even the best of them. 

Is It Normal To Get Frustrated Playing The Piano

Chances are you’ve come to this post because you’re frustrated with your playing; namely, the mistakes that keep occurring. I’m here to tell you that mistakes in piano playing are common, and it’s totally normal to feel frustrated.

The piano is an 88 key instrument that challenges even the most complex minds. It takes quite a bit of work to be good at it, and even more concentrated work to play it mistake-free. Whenever mistakes happen it’s important to isolate what happened and then have a plan of action to fix those mistakes.

For the most part, mistakes happen for the following reasons:

  • Playing too fast
  • Learning the music too quickly
  • Not developing your technique
  • Not getting enough rest between practice sessions
  • Not memorizing the music properly
  • Playing music that is beyond your musical and technical ability

I do want to make a quick note about this last point. Sometimes pianists play the music that’s just too hard for them; at least in the present. It’s important to play the music that is at or just above your playing level. If there’s a piece you really want really play, then do the necessary steps to achieve the skills necessary to do so. 

For adult pianists, I recommend starting with beginner piano books like these. They help develop you as a complete pianist and is structured so that you won’t make mistakes for silly reasons. Also investing in some technical books or playing repertoire with similar musical features is a good way to work on what you’re lacking in your playing. 

Joshua Ross

Hello & thanks for stopping by! I'm a professional concert pianist and piano instructor. In the United States, I've given successful performances in several places including New York, Florida, Connecticut, & New Jersey, I have also performed internationally in Italy and made my Carnegie Hall debut in 2014. I enjoy blogging about the piano, the art of performance, general music, current events and the latest in music production.

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