Tips On Learning To Plat A Musical Instrument... And Not Get Frustrated!

Like me, if you ever had the pleasure of trying to take up a musical instrument, it can get quite frustrating. We have to practice like we’re being punished for sins… when all you need to do is just learn it in a logical manner. Yet, it doesn’t happen that way. Skill is training your brain to do something that it was never designed to do. It’s not like there is some secret area that makes practicing a piece of cake… like some instinct….

The problem is people really get discouraged when they try to learn and find out it’s to hard. We know it takes practice to learn an instrument but, really, we want to see results in a progressive manner and when it doesn’t happen that way, we get discouraged.

So, what’s really going on? To understand this, we must look at the brain and how it learns stuff. Let’s take an example. All instruments are included in this analogy… Let’s say you are taking piano… and it’s your first lesson. Five fingers for five notes.. C through G. Starting with your thumb, push down on each key, lift up, do the second for the next note, lift up, then the third until you get to the last… then do it in reverse. Your right hand first and then your left.

“This is hard! My fingers are not meant to do that!” Of course they are not meant to do that! If they were, you would be a concert pianist. The brain does not understand what you trying to do or even tell it. So, you start out the lesson with hopes and end it being completely frustrated. And, you know that more lessons are just the same way… all frustration and no fun! SO, it sits in some closet or is given away to some sucker of a person… with a little cash value attached to it.

A computer does something similar. Computers these days have to be taught how to type by your own voice. Your speech enters into a microphone, the computer tries to figure out the word and type it down… but it is limited to your speech pattern. Sometimes it will just sit in confusion until you type the word in. Then, when it “hears” that pattern again, it knows the word and creates it. It’s very similar. You train your brain to do something that it normally wouldn’t do.

So, there you are practicing the lesson and you might do it right once and after many times, you just fail miserably. The question is what do you do about it. The answer is to leave the scene and do something else, something that distracts your mind from practice. Come back and play it again. For maybe a second or two, the exercise is better… then you flub up again. That’s how the brain learns.

The brain does this in something else. When you sleep. Studies say that you have two areas of dreaming in a sleep cycle. You have a stage where you drift off to sleep, a stage where you dream, but only in random images, and then a deeper sleep pattern called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) where you are actually dreaming like a story. Then, you go back to the lighter sleep pattern of random images. Mice were shown a maze… they studied it and failed miserable. They went to sleep immediately afterwards, and went into the REM dream state. After that, they made the trip again and were much better at it. It appears those random images mean something… like the brain is working on something in sleep. When the REM type of sleep happens, it’s a trail and error time to put those images together. Then, when awake, the lesson is learned.

Something very similar happens when you practice something. You begin doing something that the brain has no idea what to make of it, you keep doing it, even though you fail miserably, but the more you fail in the lesson, the more “images” are given… random, just like all the frustrating efforts we do to master the instruments. When you leave it and do something else, the brain might be on another subject…cooking, cleaning, hobbies or just listening to music… but, coming back 10 minutes later, when you start out practice, you do it better from what you remember when you had stopped before.

It’s the brains way of learning.

When I took a band instrument, I felt for the whole 7 years I was terrible. Until I did get better at it…I hated practice, because I sounded horrible and I knew my parents had to endure every moment of all that noise. But, I might have done better. Later on, now…I bought a portable keyboard and began to teach myself… flubbing up as I go along… finding something else to do, like turning on the TV and watching a show.. but boring commercials come on… so, I go back to the keyboard until my show comes back on…and? I get it right the first time… until I flub up again. So, I flub myself through it, watch TV until another commercial and… after a couple hours time, I can actually play what I wanted.

So, I think the brain is sensing all those flub ups… trying to make sense of them, and when your mind is off of it, the brain still works on the problem in the background or subconsciously, trying to make sense of it. Every time this happens, I get better. And, doing things that are hard seem to make sense after a while…not perfect but make sense.

If you are practicing an instrument and want to be good at it, I would recommend dividing your practice time into sections instead of a whole half- hour or hours worth of time. Do other things you like as a distraction and, then, come back to it… see if you can see the skill you acquire.

Sparrowhawk1161 Sparrowhawk1161
1 Response Dec 4, 2012

This seems very accurate. I have been taking Suzuki piano lessons for almost ten years, and I have gotten pretty good, at the risk of sounding immodest. I honestly think there is such a thing as practicing too much. I can't tell you how many times I've practiced my music prior to the lesson and played it well, then completely screwed it up in the lesson.

Yah, I know all too well! That is why am scared to death! of actually playing music in front of people! I enjoy it, though. I hated playing the clarinet in school for seven years, something my parents made me do, but the recorder is much more fun! At least with a keyboard, which I have only dabbled with... there are always more fun keyboards. Not like I don't like the sound of a piano. I love it.LOL

Definitely. I honestly enjoy playing in front of people, otherwise I feel like my hard work isn't recognized by anyone but myself. I used to love keyboards, but after doing Suzuki for so long I don't. Suzuki is all about learning by ear and technique, and the feel of a piano is incredibly different than that of a keyboard. Part of me feels like a piano is more personal, it has a personality because every piano is different; the pedals move differently, the keys have different levels of resistance...and the tone. My god, the tone. For my recitals I play on a grand piano in the recital hall of a college.

I still get nervous when I perform, but often the nerves sharpen my focus. The great thing about performing is that if you make a mistake but carry on 98% of the audience won't even realize it, and the rest will acknowledge how you were able to continue on.

Your right. Most people don't even know the mistakes. I just have a keyboard that gets all types of tones, but it has no graded hammer action on it. I would rather have that, so I can play more expressively. Maybe that is why I have a hard time really getting into it. I have had my eyes on a Yamaha that has the hammer action but $250 is still too expensive for me.

Yeah, I was lucky. My family already had an Upright piano, I think it is a Yamaha, maybe a Baldwin. I definitely do think the hammer action offers more expression.

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