5 Steps to Overcome Boredom and Stay Focused During Piano Practice
We've all experienced the frustration of losing motivation halfway through learning a new piano piece.
You hear a beautiful melody and excitedly begin practicing, eager to master it. But a few days in, the initial excitement fades. Your practice sessions start to feel like a chore as you grind through the same measures over and over. Before you know it, you're skipping days and eventually give up, leaving yet another half-finished piece gathering dust on the piano.
Why does this happen? What causes that initial spark of motivation to fizzle out? The truth is our brains thrive on novelty, variety and a sense of progress. Without these elements, boredom sets in rapidly. The key is understanding how our psychology impacts learning so we can structure our practice in a way that sustains motivation from the first note to the last.
In this article, we’ll explain the science behind pianistic boredom and give you five techniques to stay focused and progress through pieces you start. Let’s begin!
Reasons We Get Bored and Lose Motivation
To understand how to sustain motivation, we first need to recognize why we lose steam in the first place. More often than not, the root cause ties back to our brain's desire for progress and variety.
The Science of Motivation
Numerous studies have shown that our motivation levels closely correlate with our perception of progress and competence. When we feel like we're improving at an optimal pace, motivation remains high. But when progress slows to a crawl or stalls out entirely, our drive plummets. Researchers call this the "progress principle" - we're motivated when progress matches or exceeds expectations.
With piano, this manifests when the difficulty level of a piece exceeds our current abilities. The steep learning curve overwhelms us, progress feels sluggish, and our once eager practice sessions transform into mindless drudgery. To restore motivation, we need to re-calibrate the level of challenge to match our skills.
Common Motivation Pitfalls
This intricate balance between skills and challenge is tricky with piano, given the complexity of most pieces. Here are some of the most common pitfalls that disrupt motivation:
Attempting pieces far above current technical abilities. The steep difficulty saps enjoyment and progress quickly plateaus.
Practicing extended sections or the full piece repeatedly without mastering smaller components. This gives little sense of incremental progress.
Not sticking to a consistent fingering. Inconsistent fingerings impede muscle memory, giving the illusion of futility.
Focusing on note accuracy while neglecting technique, rhythm, dynamics, tone etc. This narrows progress to a single dimension.
Learning pieces without context or connection. Pieces seem mechanistic rather than the meaningful music they are.
Practicing for prolonged periods without variety. Our brains crave novelty and fall into boredom and fatigue without it.
Having unrealistic expectations for the timeframe to learn a piece. Progress seems inadequate if unrealistic benchmarks aren't met.
As you can see, motivation maintenance requires an intricate balance of skills, challenge, variety and meaning. But when you learn to optimize these elements, you can sustain motivation through even the longest and most challenging pieces.
The Power of Progress
Ultimately, the human brain is wired to seek progress and achievement. In his bestselling book Drive, author Daniel Pink explains that having autonomy over mastery and purpose are the strongest motivators. Playing the piano fulfills all three needs - it provides the autonomy of choosing our pieces, the mastery of developing skills, and the purpose of creating beautiful music.
By structuring our practice to maximize progress, variety and meaning, we can leverage these innate motivational drivers. With the right strategy, even familiar pieces stay engaging as we incrementally improve. Let's look at 5 techniques to make this happen.
5 Ways to Stay Motivated and Progress
When learning a new piece, our motivation stays high when we feel a sense of progress and momentum. By focusing on achievable short-term goals, we can break an intimidating piece down into manageable accomplishments. Here are 5 methods to structure your practice in a way that sustains motivation from start to finish.
1. Practice Hands Separately
We all want to jump right in playing hands together when learning a new piece. But resist the urge! Practicing hands separately is a pivotal technique for not only developing skills, but also staying motivated. Here’s why:
It allows for targeted repetition of the most challenging sections. You can loop difficult measures over and over without disrupting the flow.
You can identify and fix weaknesses in each hand before combining them. This prevents masking issues.
It builds finger dexterity, strength, and control through focused repetition.
You immediately sound better when you put hands together after targeted separate practice. This creates a profound sense of progress.
Here’s an effective routine:
Isolate an 8-16 measure challenging section
Practice right hand 5 times slowly, focusing on precision.
Practice left hand 5 times.
Put hands together and notice the improvement.
Use a metronome to incrementally increase speed while maintaining accuracy.
The targeted repetition forms muscle memory and neural pathways before combining hands. When you put it all together, the improvement is noticeable and extremely motivational.
2. Use Small Section Practice
Practicing short sections allows you to isolate the most problematic areas. Like hands separate practice, it enables targeted repetition to ingrain skills measure-by-measure. Here are the benefits:
Quickly identifies weak points right away instead of playing through the whole piece repeatedly.
Enables you to loop and smooth out rough sections until they are perfect.
Short sections are less overwhelming and more achievable goals.
Mastering one small section at a time provides a frequent sense of accomplishment.
Aim to keep sections around 4-16 measures depending on difficulty. Work through the piece one short segment at a time. Expand to longer sections as skills improve. Celebrate each small win!
3. Study the Piece
Immersing yourself in the backstory and theory of a piece can profoundly deepen your connection. Understanding the compositional brilliance provides meaning and inspiration.
Listen to professional recordings and watch video tutorials about the piece. Learn about the composer and the context surrounding the music. Discover the key changes, motifs, chromaticism and other intriguing details.
This mental engagement keeps the mind as stimulated as the fingers. With renewed perspective, the music comes alive and your relationship with the piece transforms.
4. Stick to Strict Fingerings
Consistent fingerings are crucial, yet easy to neglect. Our hands crave familiar patterns and sequences. By frequently changing fingerings, you’ll actually impede long term retention and smoothness.
Dedicate time to write in fingerings during the initial learning process. Experiment with what works best for your hands. Then commit to the same fingering every single time. This powerful consistency trains your muscle memory and neural pathways.
You’ll be amazed how much faster a section improves when you eliminate the “fog” of variable fingerings. The swift progress is extremely rewarding and motivating.
5. Add Variety with New Pieces
Our motivation stays highest when learning contains novelty and variety. The brain thrives on fresh stimuli. After extended practice on a piece, take a break by rotating in a new piece.
The revitalizing effects of variety extend beyond motivation. Coming back to a piece after time away brings “beginner’s mind” and fresh ears. You may discover new nuances unnoticed before.
Balance old and new pieces to leverage the benefits of novelty while still progressing on longer term goals. Variety is key for a rewarding and sustainable practice.
Implement these methods to maintain laser focus and motivation with each new piece. Small victories accumulate to mastery. Now let’s examine how to strategically select pieces for maximum engagement.
BONUS: 3 Key Factors for Piece Selection
Beyond practicing strategies, choosing the right pieces is crucial for sustained motivation. But with centuries of incredible compositions to pick from, where to start?
Consider these 3 key factors when selecting pieces to create ideal conditions for progress:
Cultivate Meaningful Connection
When a piece deeply resonates with us, the motivation to persist through challenges comes more naturally. Seek out compositions that stir your spirit and imagination. Here are some ways to discover pieces with personal significance:
Movie and TV themes - these often evoke nostalgia and emotion. Hearing a familiar melody motivates you to learn to play it.
Pieces related to your heritage or culture - traditional folk songs provide a meaningful link to your roots.
Music connected to important life memories - songs from weddings, graduations, etc.
Compositions by favorite composers - pieces gain deeper meaning when part of a greater body of work.
Pieces played by renowned pianists - inspiration comes from living up to their legacy.
In addition to pre-existing emotional connections, you can actively cultivate significance by:
Researching the backstory and historical context
Understanding the musical theory and composition
Listening repeatedly to develop familiarity
With a strong connection to the music, your desire to perfect it strengthens.
Enjoy the Musical Elements
In addition to emotional resonance, certain musical elements naturally captivate us more than others. The melody, harmony, rhythm, form, and expression of a piece all contribute to its listenability.
When selecting music, analyze these components. What specifically pulls you in? Lush harmonies? Catchy melodic hooks? Creative rhythmic patterns? Target pieces that contain your favorite musical features.
For example, if you’re drawn to rhythm, search for music with syncopation, cross-rhythms, and dance grooves. If melody is your muse, pick pieces with broad lyrical arcs and poignant phrasing. Select music that excites your musical sensibilities.
Optimal Difficulty Level
The ideal difficulty level stretches your abilities without crushing your confidence. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this the “flow state” - challenging yet achievable goals that fully immerse focus.
As a general guideline, aim for pieces slightly above your current technical skills. The extra stretch keeps progress tangible but attainable with diligent practice.
Resist the trap of selecting music far exceeding your capabilities. Overly ambitious songs set you up for frustration and disengagement. Build skills with a progressive curriculum of pieces at an optimal challenge level.
Choose pieces strategically using these criteria. When you love the music deeply AND it engages your abilities, motivation stays strong from start to finish. Consistent “small wins” compound over time into beautiful mastery.
Learning a musical instrument requires immense motivation. The long road to mastery is filled with challenges that test our resolve. Without strategies to sustain engagement, our enthusiasm for new pieces fizzles out quickly.
By understanding the psychology of motivation, we can structure our learning in a way that keeps passion alive through even lengthy and difficult pieces. The key is balancing enjoyment and progress by:
Selecting music that deeply inspires us
Practicing mindfully in short, achievable segments
Staying focused and consistent with technique
Adding variety and seeking fresh perspective
With these insights, we can avoid the frustration of abandoned pieces and instead experience the profound satisfaction of playing beautiful music from start to finish. Each small accomplishment builds momentum as skills accumulate.
Motivation is a renewable resource when generated from within. As pianists, we have an incredible gift at our fingertips. There is always more to learn and master. Developing motivation strategies allows us to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
Now it's your turn - take these tips and apply them to your current pieces. Experiment to see which work best for you. Don't forget to celebrate small wins along the way. Consistent practice pays dividends over time. Here's to the joy of progress!
If you have some tips that work for you please do share them in the comments.