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Beginner Frustrations...
#2219035 01/22/14 06:32 PM
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Hello all,

I started taking piano lessons 1 year ago when I was age 57, now I'm 58. I have played the guitar for years so I had some musical knowledge when I started piano. I take 1 hour lessons weekly and practice at least 3 hours daily. At this point I am frustrated that I am not better at it. I just completed Alfred's Adult All-In-One Level 1 course. I can almost play about 22 songs but NEVER make it all the way through without any mistakes. I recently recorded myself play Scarborough Fair, a fairly simple song in the Alfred book and it took me 38 attempts before I got it right. I think I have a good teacher; she gives a mixture of learning songs, exercises, and lessons. But for some reason it feels like I am learning songs one by one, not learning to play the piano. I can read the music and struggle through the fingering to learn/memorize the songs and play from memory while blankly staring at the music but don't actually play from reading the music in real time. If I get stuck or lose my place, it's a real struggle to restart. I wind up starting from the beginning of the song. Am I being too impatient? Is it an age thing? Any input would be appreciated?

Last edited by eighty80eights8s; 01/23/14 08:10 AM.
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Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219041 01/22/14 06:45 PM
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You sound a lot like me. I'm a 59 yr old ex-guitar player who finished Alfred book 1 and was somewhat frustrated.

Here is what has completely changed my piano experience:

Find either or both of two materials:

'Fundamental Keys' by Rachel Jimenez.

http://fundamentalkeys.com/index.html

'Learn to Read a Line a Day' series.

http://tinyurl.com/lyedarm

Play each piece until you can play it from memory. If you are making mistakes STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Go back to what you can do without errors, even if it is only one measure.

You need to do less and repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition of fairly simple pieces you can play without errors is the KEY.

It's working out well for me. REPETITION OF FAIRLY SIMPLE PIECES YOU CAN PLAY WITHOUT ERRORS. REPETITION. Don't think, 'Oh, I know this, let's move on'. Knock these pieces into little bits (a measure, two measures, maybe a line) you can play with ZERO ERRORS. Then repeat, repeat, repeat, and move on.

Both the Fundamental keys and the 'Line a day' books have lots of good, fun, easy to play music. Don't play something till you can play it once or twice. Play it till you can play it five times.

DO NOT REPEAT MISTAKES. If you start making mistakes STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING.



Last edited by LS35A; 01/22/14 06:46 PM.
Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219057 01/22/14 07:00 PM
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You are probably being impatient. You should NEVER "practice" 38 times over and NOT get it right. In my opinion i think you need to slow down. Practicing should be slow and purposeful. You should be playing songs as slow as you can WITHOUT making a mistake (try starting at the troublespot and cleaning that up, vs going thru entire piece just to miss the trouble-spot at full tempo). If you make mistakes, you need to slow down and slowly work your way up. let me repeat, SLOWLY work your way up. This is not an instant process, you literally need to program your brain properly.

You ARE learning piano, its just hard to notice and see. You are getting familiar with learning to read music. You are getting basic technique mastered. You are getting some basic rhythms ingrained into you. Personally I felt 100% the same way you did. The songs were just simple melody trade off between hands and it was frustrating. Now we are (finally) starting to add consistent left hand bass into songs and my god is it nice to finally start doing.
I'm noticing tho, its giving me the tools to create music how I want. I learn a left hand bass line pattern and now I can play that song as well as use that learned pattern to improvise over!


Check your shoulders for tension as well. Try to play in a relaxed state ALL the time. If you feel tension, more than likely you need to slow down. You need to get the feel for playing tension free.


I can relate to "just learning songs one by one" completely.

Just keep going, taking it a day at a time. forget the fantasy you have in your head about playing well and just "hitting the piano". That will come, you need to enjoy the journey which you are currently on and the results WILL come smile


"Doesn't practicing on the piano suck?!?!"
"The joy is in the practicing. It's like relationships. Yeah, orgasms are awesome, but you can't make love to someone who you have no relationship with!"
Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219085 01/22/14 07:43 PM
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Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
I can almost play about 22 songs but NEVER make it all the way through without any mistakes.


The point of playing music is not to "not make mistakes". It is that if you do make "mistakes", you keep playing and recover from it without messing up the rhythm (and without messing up the harmony too badly.)

Actually you shouldn't approach it as trying to imitate verbatim what someone else wrote. You should approach it with the perspective that you are free to embellish and make changes to the music as you see fit.

Quote

I recently recorded myself play Scarborough Fair, a fairly simple song in the Alfred book


There are two strong elements to Scarborough Fair: the guitar and the harpsichord, and neither of these arrangements on the Simon and Garfunkle album recording are "simple." The harpsichord is used strictly as an accompaniment, in a pretty sophisticated way. So what you're doing on piano is a basic arrangement of the melody and harmony.

Quote
I think I have a good teacher; she gives a mixture of learning songs, exercises, and lessons. But for some reason it feels like I am learning songs one by one, not learning to play the piano.


I think you've hit it on the nail. You're not learning to play piano. Instead you're learning to memorize songs, but this isn't the right approach.

Get off the written page. Learn your chords, learn melodies, and learn how to play these by ear. I give some pointers on starting to do this on my website.


Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219102 01/22/14 08:09 PM
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I would like to reiterate the advice offered by another post: Slow down when you practice. I had been studying for over 10 years until I heeded this very advice and immediately noticed the difference. We tend to hurry through the stage of learning the note and the rhythm, and once we have figured out the melody we would play it from memory without looking at the notes and the music markings. Our memory is of course not perfect, especially for older folks, and the additional stress of playing before an audience or for a recording session would mess it up further. Learn a piece VERY SLOWLY until when playing it you'd know exactly where you are in the written scores and what notes are coming up, that will boost your performance confidence tremendously. I just attended a taping of NPR's "From The Top" program that showcased young gifted musicians. A 14-year old girl dazzled us with her virtuosity on the piano. She said the best, even life-changing, advice that she got from a teacher was: "Practice slowly." If a genius like her conceded that she needed to practice slowly, we can't afford not to.

Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219113 01/22/14 08:33 PM
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It's not an age thing 88, Michael's advice could be right on the money ... I started learning how to play by ear when I turned 60.


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Re: Beginner Frustrations...
LS35A #2219131 01/22/14 09:14 PM
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Originally Posted by LS35A
You sound a lot like me. I'm a 59 yr old ex-guitar player who finished Alfred book 1 and was somewhat frustrated.

Here is what has completely changed my piano experience:

Find either or both of two materials:

'Fundamental Keys' by Rachel Jimenez.

http://fundamentalkeys.com/index.html

'Learn to Read a Line a Day' series.

http://tinyurl.com/lyedarm

Play each piece until you can play it from memory. If you are making mistakes STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Go back to what you can do without errors, even if it is only one measure.

You need to do less and repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition of fairly simple pieces you can play without errors is the KEY.

It's working out well for me. REPETITION OF FAIRLY SIMPLE PIECES YOU CAN PLAY WITHOUT ERRORS. REPETITION. Don't think, 'Oh, I know this, let's move on'. Knock these pieces into little bits (a measure, two measures, maybe a line) you can play with ZERO ERRORS. Then repeat, repeat, repeat, and move on.

Both the Fundamental keys and the 'Line a day' books have lots of good, fun, easy to play music. Don't play something till you can play it once or twice. Play it till you can play it five times.

DO NOT REPEAT MISTAKES. If you start making mistakes STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING.





Some good advice in here.

Especially the part about DO NOT KEEP REPEATING MISTAKES.

When you make mistakes it is because you are playing something that is too difficult for you or you are going too fast.

Go as slow as you have to play it without mistakes and then play it again and again without mistakes. Prove to yourself that you absolutely can play it perfectly regardless of how many times you play it.



Don

Casio PX-S1000, Focal Professional CMS 40 near-field monitors, SennHeiser HD 559 Headphones, Pianoteq and numerous other VSTs (Seldom Used), Focus Rite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface, Yamaha MG06 Mixer
Re: Beginner Frustrations...
Rerun #2219134 01/22/14 09:16 PM
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There was a survey asking the time to complete book one and the median was nine months. So a year is on the high side, but not by much.

The advice given by several others to slow down is good. Also focus on one small segment of music at a time. It might be as little as one or two bars of music. Keep slicing until you can get through without errors at very slow speed. Repeat that same bit over and over until five to ten correct repetitions are complete. If a mistake is made, start the count at one again. Only after many correct reps are done, move on to the next small bit of music.

By practicing and playing with errors, a person reinforces the errors. By practicing the correct notes, they get reinforced. A third suggestion is to take a break after 15 to 20 minutes of dedicated practice. If an hour is scheduled, resume after a three to five minute break.

For almost all of us, piano is a long journey. Once in a while an exceptional talent shows up on the forum and writes about playing Chopin after a short time, but those people are 1 in 1000 or 1 in 10,000 or fewer. If a person wants to learn to play by ear, that is an option. However, not everyone has a good ear. For folks with "tin" ears (below average ears), that path will tend to be even more frustrating than the method books.

/edit to add: How are you allocating the time? The frame work I use is: 40% new pieces, 20% old pieces, 20% musicianship, 20% technique (from the book The Musician's Way). I find this to be a balanced approach and it has served me well. These are very loose allocations. Musicianship includes sight reading, ear training, rhythm training, theory. Technique includes posture, fingering, scales, arpeggios.

Last edited by Sand Tiger; 01/22/14 09:28 PM.
Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219143 01/22/14 09:33 PM
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I'm going to start off with two facts:
- you played guitar for many years
- you are having lessons
Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
. I think I have a good teacher; she gives a mixture of learning songs, exercises, and lessons. But for some reason it feels like I am learning songs one by one, not learning to play the piano.

In a sense, your feeling is probably right, and you are indeed missing some important elements in your instruction. They are basic things can be taken for granted especially if a student comes in and already has some kind of background in music (which you do). Some of us who started lessons as adults had to sort this out - sometimes after a couple of years. (!) Let's see if I can set this up.

A teacher called "Marbeth" divided teaching into two paths: "project" vs. "process". In "project" the main purpose is to complete projects: teach one piece after another, prepare for a recital etc. Skills and such are coincidental. I.e. if piece x needs legato, you teach legato for the piece. 2. In "process" the main purpose is to develop skills in the student. Ad adult student, I would want process.

Small children will automatically get more "process", because they are lacking skills everywhere, and the music is also simpler for longer. If you have played another instrument for years, then you will be able to dash off pieces faster, you'll stay near the surface, and miss out on the acquisition of skills. Often teachers will also think that adult students want to get through levels in a hurry, and have lots of pieces under their belt.

You can actually go through the same material from a different angle, and get something totally different out of it. If you have a teacher, this assumes the teacher switching to an aim toward skills, if the teacher is inclined this way.
Quote
I can read the music and struggle through the fingering to learn/memorize the songs and play from memory while blankly staring at the music but don't actually play from reading the music in real time. If I get stuck or lose my place, it's a real struggle to restart. I wind up starting from the beginning of the song.

This suggests some missing skills right there. Your reading skills may not be what you think. There is also how to approach a piece. "Starting from the beginning" over and over is also a sign of things you were not taught to do. There are probably other things besides reading.

I don't want to go into details because it would get too long, so this is just a very rough idea.

** Addendum: I see Sand Tiger's post, and elements of musicianship on the bottom. That's part of it too.

My thinking is that if you have a teacher, you should be getting approaches from that teacher. This doesn't always happen, unfortunately.

Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219176 01/22/14 10:34 PM
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All the advise is spot on so far but just want to add something else. We have very similar histories, similar age group, long time guitar player, a little musical knowledge going into piano, have a teacher and spend too much time per day on piano. I also had my first piano anniversary in mid November.

On finishing my first year I of course reflected on the journey to date and concluded similar things. I wasn't as far along as I had hoped and I could not play much without multiple mistakes and recording was a nightmare. But of course I had to add in all the good things, I had learned over 20 pieces in the year, my sight reading went from zero to something just past zero (lol) but improvement I was happy with. Added to that was a new appreciation of classical music and a new hobby that may well bankrupt me but gives me hours of pleasure.

What they don't tell you at the piano store and even the teachers can be coy about is this is a very hard instrument to learn and one year is but the introduction. The first year in particular, but the first two years in general are regarded as very difficult for the beginner. Ultimately you are trying to create a symbiosis with a machine using fingers, arms, legs, etc more used to lifting, pulling, throwing or clicking the mouse as you browse through the web.

Reading some old posts here at PW I found making random mistakes is a fairly common complaint that many put down to our junior status. Of course lack of concentration, a reliance on muscle memory, or a lack of intimacy with the piece are all possible factors I am sure you teacher will have warned you about. IMHO it is lack of concentration that will, a bit like sight reading develop naturally, the more you play.

Congratulations on completing Alfred book 1, many start and never finish. The good news is there is lots of great material even at our low levels which are very rewarding to learn and play.


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Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219231 01/23/14 02:03 AM
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Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
Hello all,

I started taking piano lessons 1 year ago when I was age 57, now I'm 58. I have played the guitar for years so I had some musical knowledge when I started piano. I take 1 hour lessons weekly and practice at least 3 hours daily. At this point I am frustrated that I ma not better at it. I just completed Alfred's Adult All-In-One Level 1 course. I can almost play about 22 songs but NEVER make it all the way through without any mistakes. I recently recorded myself play Scarborough Fair, a fairly simple song in the Alfred book and it took me 38 attempts before I got it right. I think I have a good teacher; she gives a mixture of learning songs, exercises, and lessons. But for some reason it feels like I am learning songs one by one, not learning to play the piano. I can read the music and struggle through the fingering to learn/memorize the songs and play from memory while blankly staring at the music but don't actually play from reading the music in real time. If I get stuck or lose my place, it's a real struggle to restart. I wind up starting from the beginning of the song. Am I being too impatient? Is it an age thing? Any input would be appreciated?


I`m doin` that all the time. Been playing for years. EVERYBODY makes mistakes. You learn to charge through them and come out the other side still smiling even if you face is red. Much more fun!


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Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219238 01/23/14 02:26 AM
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Lots of great advice in this thread.
One thing that has come up several times is the slowing down.

I would add that even when you slow down as much as you think reasonable, it isn't enough. I've learned this the hard way. When you're working on something particularly challenging (and that can happen at any level!) - play ONE note in each hand, make sure you're in the right place, comfortable, then play the next note, check, remember the sensation and so on. Play without respecting the tempo until you are sure of the fingering and then very slowly add in the right tempo. I know I'm not the only one who has struggled with this idea of slowing down -but it does pay off.

I do think that age has a bit to do with it. I had some musical background before starting piano - I could read music (treble clef , - I had to learn bass cleff), I knew note values and could figure out tempos fairly easily). However, getting two hands, and then sometimes my right foot to coordinate with 2 lines of music often turned my brain to mush!
I started piano when I was 51.

It goes in waves too. You'll be moving along thinking you're making good progress and then you'll hit a new piece and feel like you'll never get it. But you do. And another hurdle is overcome!

I don't use the Alfred books but from what I understand each piece is designed to teach a technique. What is important though, is that you don't feel you are learning technique, only to memorize pieces.

My first teacher wanted me to memorize, my second teacher insists I read (what happens is that eventually you do memorize but it isn't a conscious effort).

We get hung up on memorizing so we can play without music. Playing without music is great if you are at a friend's home and you want to play something - but I don't think we should get to that level of memorizing without being able to read really well and comfortably.
With the last piece I studied I made a point of being able to work from memory AND know exactly where to look when I need to refer to the score.

All in all what it boils down to is that learning piano is much harder than any of us ever expected it would be and it takes so much longer to make significant progress. You have to celebrate your baby steps.

As for getting through a piece with no mistakes - hardly anyone does it. The trick is to recover quickly and smoothly and not let a slip mess up your performance.



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Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219260 01/23/14 05:11 AM
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I have the same problem even though I am a bit more advanced. I realised that the problem is not how many hours I practice, but how concentrated when I am practising, and the way I practice.

I also realise that muscle memory is not very reliable. Muscle memory comes from repeatedly playing a piece of music half mindlessly. It it more reliable to know the music and be very conscience with everything you are doing and every note you are playing.

So when I now sit at the piano, I make sure I am 100% concentrated and 100% aware of what my arms, hands fingers are doing. If I cannot give that for a piece I am learning, then I practice scales and arpeggios instead and give all the concentration and awareness I have. If I cannot give that level of concentration and awareness to a piece at the required tempo, I slow down the tempo. If I cannot give that to the entire piece, I practice the section(s) I struggle the most. It can be half a page, 2 lines, a bar. But when I learn that 1 bar, I give it all I've got. I analyse why I have trouble with it. I experiment the different techniques I've learned and apply them to that bar and see which is best. I practice hands separately if necessary to get to the root of the problem. If forte makes my fingers/arm tense up, I practise it softly. When you make the weakest part of a piece your strongest part, then the entire piece becomes a lot more manageable and you get more confident. If I do all the and still struggle, that's when I ask my teacher for help during lesson.

If I am tired or can't be bothered, I don't practice for the sake of practice. I rest up for tomorrow.

So in short, quality vs quantity. This is what I am trying to change my practice sessions. Good luck to you!



Be yourself

Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219283 01/23/14 07:05 AM
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Only 38 attempts? It took me roughly 300 (over the course of a month) to get a submission for the last ABF recital. Most of these attempts would have done just fine in a live recital. With recording we're always tempted to just go one more, trying to get it "perfect." Of course there's no such animal. Don't sit down with the intention of recording. Sit done with the intention of playing with the recorder running. Eventually you"ll manage to sneak some really good performances onto your device. Whatever you do, don't stop playing when you "mess up". That just creates frustration and hesitancy. Fluidity is more important that perfect accuracy. You'll eventually get both but only if you relax and lower the stakes.


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Re: Beginner Frustrations...
-Frycek #2219302 01/23/14 07:56 AM
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Originally Posted by -Frycek
Whatever you do, don't stop playing when you "mess up". That just creates frustration and hesitancy. Fluidity is more important that perfect accuracy. You'll eventually get both but only if you relax and lower the stakes.


Well said!


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Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219722 01/23/14 09:38 PM
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What everyone else said!

I just want to emphasize slow down AND read! You will start out at a snail's pace. It will take some time, but stick with it. It is necessary to re-wire your brain. As your reading improves, so to will your ability to memorize a piece. I do not consciously "try" to memorize a piece. I work on learning the piece by playing from the score and gradually I rely less and less on the score. By the time the piece is ready, I usually have it committed to memory.


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Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219815 01/24/14 01:31 AM
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My take on self-recording is treat it like a professional recording event. That means you treat it like you booked a studio at $$$ per hour, and you perhaps get 5 to 7 tries. If you cannot get it right with 5 tries, then you haven't memorized enough. Memorize means pretty much the ability to start from almost any measure, certainly from any phrase, not from the beginning. You need to be able to perform a piece for real before you should attempt to record. I know this stuff is all really hard for adults not used to memorization, but it does come slow and sure with practice. Memorization is the key to a good performance. Check out the website mentioned above for Fundamental Keys's forum on discussion on memorizing. It's really helpful. http://fundamentalkeys.com/community/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=4

Re: Beginner Frustrations...
-Frycek #2219817 01/24/14 01:36 AM
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Originally Posted by -Frycek
Only 38 attempts? It took me roughly 300 (over the course of a month) to get a submission for the last ABF recital.


That's why I don't do the ABF Recital. The perfectionistic pressure you guys put yourself through this event quite intimidates me. smile

Re: Beginner Frustrations...
4evrBeginR #2219833 01/24/14 02:37 AM
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Originally Posted by 4evrBeginR
Originally Posted by -Frycek
Only 38 attempts? It took me roughly 300 (over the course of a month) to get a submission for the last ABF recital.


That's why I don't do the ABF Recital. The perfectionistic pressure you guys put yourself through this event quite intimidates me. smile


With all due respect to -Frycek, I don't believe 300 takes is the norm, not by a long stretch.

Sure, we often put some stress on ourselves to get the best possible recording -because there is something quite intimidating about putting up a recording that folks will go back and listen to (who knows how many times)....

The first recital I did a few takes and posted. After I listened to the recital I thought ..oh. hmmm... and the next time I tried a few more. But at a certain point you realize that the truth is either you can get it in under 5 takes or not. I now limit myself and have (more than once) gone with the first take, just as though it were a real recital.

Participating in the ABF recital should never be about how someone else's play make you feel (unless it is inspiring smile )
We have to acknowledge and accept that there are folks at many different levels and just as there will always be someone better than each of us, there are always new comers with less experience.

It is an opportunity to show where you are in your piano adventure --- and it gives you a chance to benchmark you skills at a specific point in time. I've gone back and listened to my early contributions and I can really see how far I've come (and how far I still have to go too!) --- There are very few flawless performances. I think I managed 1 in all the e-citals I've joined. C'est la vie.



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Themed recitals: Grieg and Great American Songbook


Re: Beginner Frustrations...
eighty80eights8s #2219859 01/24/14 05:36 AM
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When we reach the age of 50 and above, piano playing should be studied/learned for enjoyment, fun and leisure. Perfection should not be your primary goal unless you are doing a recital exam and everything needs to be perfect to pass the exam, or planning to become a concert virtuoso pianist or professional pianist playing in hotels or restaurants as a living. But they too make mistakes. We just don't notice it because they are good at covering up their mistakes. And that's what we should learn - how to cover up mistakes when playing the piano. Whenever you make mistakes, just continue playing until you finish the song. Enjoy the music you are making.

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