Piano Teacher | Online Piano Lessons

Author: Lory Peters

Lory Peters is a piano teacher. She has been teaching piano for more than four decades. She has doctoral degrees in Piano Pedagogy and Law. She teaches online to students worldwide.

Piano Practice – More Techniques

When practicing the piano, it’s important to develop good practice habits in order to find and remove rough spots. Your goal should be to achieve perfection in order to get the most out of your piano studies.

In the Part One of her series, Piano Practice That Pays, Dr. Lory Peters provided a variety of concepts to help piano students achieve piano perfection:

  • Practicing is made up of — perfect — repetitions of rough spots.
  • Pull out rough spots in digestible portions.
  • Find patterns and then block them.
  • Jackhammer rough spots into muscle memory.
  • Use long and short rhythms to smooth out the passage.
  • Test for perfection by playing perfectly — three times — in-a-row.
  • Insert back into context and test again.

In Part Two, Dr. Lory used different articulations to help find and fix practice rough spots:

  • Legato – connected
  • Staccato – detached
  • Two-note slur – connected, then released
  • Accent – attack with louder volume

In Part Three, Dr. Lory says that when little or no progress is being made on a rough spot even with correct practice, you might be:

  • Practicing too fast,
  • The length of your practice section is too large, or
  • Your fingerings aren’t the best choice for you.

Piano Practice – Articulations

To master the piano, lots of practice is needed. And a great deal of time spent in piano practice involves finding and fixing areas of your music that are not perfect.

In the first part of her Piano Practice That Pays Off series, Dr. Lory Peters showed eight different techniques to help polish difficult practice areas. In this second part of her series, Dr. Lory discusses the use of articulations to help pianists polish rough spots in their pieces. This video covers four essential articulations that can be used to isolate and polish rough passages — legato, staccato, two-note slurs, and accents.

The teaching piece for this video is Beethoven’s classic, Für Elise.

Piano Practice – Polishing Rough Spots

Here’s a common situation. You have a piano piece that you’ve been working on. You’re playing it pretty well — except there are a few rough spots that you just can’t polish.

It’s pretty frustrating, isn’t it? Nearly all piano students have this problem. It’s all part of being a pianist, or any musician, really. But in this series, Piano Practice That Pays Off, I will show you how how to polish piano rough spots — once and for all.

When a rough spot just won’t polish up — even after lots of practice — then it’s time to take a good look at how the rough spot is being practiced. And if the practice routine doesn’t include lots of repetitions, then the routine itself needs an update.

In this video, you will see how to fix those problem spots in any of the pieces you are working on. With techniques honed over four decades of teaching, both privately and in public schools and universities, you’ll be playing your pieces better and with greater confidence knowing that when a problem arises, you’ll have the skills to fix it.

The teaching piece for this video is Clementi’s Sonatina Op. 36 No. 1.

Finding the Right Piano Teacher

Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

Choosing a piano teacher should be easy, right? Just find a teacher that is qualified and then get started.

But, how do you know if a piano teacher is qualified? It’s not as easy as choosing other professionals. If you need medical or legal advice, you look for someone with the appropriate license in your state and that determines a general level of qualification that you can be comfortable with.

It’s similar in the field of music, except you can be a piano teacher or performer with or without a formal education. And, there are no licensing requirements, at least, here in the United States. So, you can’t choose a teacher based only on education – like having a music degree – or by some licensing body. Making it more complicated, there are good piano teachers who have no degree but have learned to play their instrument at an advanced level through practice and study with a master teacher.

Conversely, having earned a music degree would demonstrate that a teacher would be an expert in their instrument, but would it tell you if they are a good teacher of that instrument? There is much more to being a good teacher. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a piano teacher.

Competency – A teacher must be proficient enough to demonstrate concepts on the piano so you are able to hear the correct way to play. They should also be able to sightread well in order to go through repertoire choices with you.

Teaching Skills – Just because a teacher can play a piece of music beautifully, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she can show you how to do the same. A good piano teacher should also know all the steps that are necessary to get you to play the piece perfectly. She should also be able to communicate those steps in a variety of ways until you understand them, and then determine if you are playing the piece correctly. And if you are not playing the piece correctly, she should also be able to diagnose the problem and offer solutions.

Personality – No, a teacher doesn’t need to entertain a student, but a teacher does need to have a personality that lets the student feel as comfortable as possible. Your relationship with your teacher should be one that lets you be expressive in your interpretation of the music. She should also be open to comments, both positive and not-so-positive, and to answer your questions honestly and without judgment.

Patience – When a student doesn’t understand a concept, it’s the teacher job to find a different way to explain it. If the student is having difficulty in general, it’s the teacher’s job to change the way she is teaching for this student. Maybe the pace of learning is too fast. Perhaps difficult concepts need to be broken into smaller portions. Or, maybe the student needs to understand the concept through a different sense – visually, analytically, verbally, aurally, or emotionally. This takes patience on the part of the teacher to understand how each student perceives, understands, and processes information.

Motivation – Learning the piano is hard work and nearly impossible if the student isn’t motivated. That’s why I believe most music should be chosen by the student, with the guidance of the teacher, who will help determine that the music is at the correct level and quality. A good piano teacher should be able to teach music concepts through many styles of music. This is especially true for adult students who tend to have preferred music styles that they already listen to. Letting students choose the music goes a long way toward motivating them to succeed at the piano.

Foundations Are Necessary – However — and there are always howevers — piano students still need to learn the foundations of music. For beginning students, this means that the concepts are presented in an way that lets new concepts build on previous learning. A piano teacher should have familiarity with foundation materials that are correct for the age and level of the student. If a teacher puts all students through the same materials, this might be a red flag that suggests the teacher is not assessing the unique needs of each student.

Filling the Gaps – Many students return to the piano after years or even decades. A qualified piano teacher will assess what foundations the student has retained and which are missing or forgotten.

To sum up — in a lot of ways, teaching someone to play a musical instrument is like an apprentice working with a journeyman or master teacher. The skills the teacher has learned over the years are passed down to each student.

While every piano student must learn the same foundations in order to play well, this does not mean that the teacher should the same method for every student. Instead, a good piano teacher will recognize that every student is different and must adjust to take those differences into consideration. It’s really a balancing act for the teacher — making sure you understand the foundations, but also motivating you to learn the piano by teaching to your unique abilities.

Fixing Rough Spots

The following are excerpts from the video Piano Practice That Pays Off – Part One. You can watch the video on YouTube.

Here’s a common situation. You have a piano piece that you’ve been working on. You’re playing it pretty well — except there are a few rough spots that you just can’t polish.

It’s pretty frustrating, isn’t it? My students and I have the same problem. It’s just part of being a pianist, or any musician, really. But in this article, I’m going to show you how to polish those rough spots — once and for all.

When a rough spot just won’t polish up for me or my students — even after lots of practice — then I know it’s time to take a good look at how it’s being practiced. If the practice routine doesn’t include lots of perfect repetitions, then the practice routine needs an update. And, that update needs to include enough perfect repetitions in order to establish dependable muscle memory.

Muscle Memory

You may not be familiar with the term, but we use muscle memory all the time. We use it when we drive a car, work in the kitchen, or find a light switch in our home. The motor skills we use to perform these tasks were practiced — until they became automatic. And, that’s the same thing we need to do in order to polish rough spots on the piano. We need to practice effectively in order to establish dependable muscle memory.

Pull Out the Rough Passage

The first step toward developing good muscle memory is to pull out the rough passage to isolate it and to concentrate our practice energy on the areas that need the most attention. . We have to break apart the rough spots into pieces and then put them back together again. Isolating the rough passage will allow you to focus your attention and your energy on the passages that need the most work. Once those have been worked out and passage, you can insert them back into the piece, where other sections may not be a troublesome for you.

Find Patterns

After isolating the rough passage, one of the techniques to make your piano practice more effective is to look for patterns in the notes. I do this every time I isolate a rough passage because patterns in the music can often be seen again and again in the piece. So, if you can work out the pattern, you are on your way to fixing any rough passage that has the same or similar pattern.

Use Intense Repetition

After isolating the practice spot, the first thing I am going to do is work on the notes through a process of repetition — intense repetition. Practice the rough spot over and over starts the process of developing muscle memory. We call this form of practicing repetitively “jackhammering.”

I’ll repeat the passage twice, then three times, then four times, then back to three, two, and one. I find that this kind of repetition slows down my hands so I can think before I play. Then, I’m able to set the pattern in my eyes, my memory, and my muscles.

Close coordination between the eyes, hands, and the brain will work to ensure that the passage won’t be a surprise for very long. And the next time it’s played, assuming that you have baked-in enough repetition, the passage will seem more familiar and less difficult. If you do this process of intense repetition, rough spots will soon be polished spots.

Perfect Three Times

One final practice technique is really just a test to make sure there has been improvement in the way I play a practice passage.

When I am working on a section that needs polish, I will repeat the passage until I can play it perfectly — three times — in a row. If I make a mistake, I’ll start over. And, if I keep making mistakes, I have to change something — if I expect a different result. I start with slowing down.

Why three times? Well, because in over forty years of teaching piano students, I’ve found that three is the magic number. If you can play something — three times in row — perfectly, then you’ve probably got it and can go on to practicing your next rough spot.

Putting Hands Together

The final step is to test the newly-perfected passage by playing it with my hands together. Getting your hands to work as a team is foundation to the piano and it may take you a bit to get the passage to work perfectly. If you need to, slow down the passage with hands together and even divide the passage into smaller portions. Then, you can test by increasing your practice tempo. When it is perfect in both hands, you can put the practice section back into context and test it again.


Let’s go over what we’ve learned.

  • Practicing is made up of perfect repetitions of rough spots.
  • It’s important to pull rough spots out of context to work on them.
  • The rough spots need to be in digestible portions.
  • Find patterns, if possible.
  • Jackhammer the rough spot into muscle memory.
  • Use long and short rhythms to smooth out the passage.
  • Test for perfection by playing perfectly; three times in-a-row.
  • Insert the practice section back into context and test again.
  • Review for the next few days.

I hope this article will help you smooth out your rough spots. We talked about several different techniques like finding patterns, blocking, jackhammering, using long and short rhythms, and testing for perfection. You can also review my YouTube video on this topic by clicking here.

If you find you need additional techniques to smooth out a rough spot, you can also try applying different articulations, like staccatos, and two-note slurs, and accents. These practice techniques and others are covered in this video on YouTube.

Just remember, only perfect practice makes perfect performing.

Get Ready for Online Piano Lessons

Congratulations! You’re starting piano lessons with Dr. Lory. Your first lesson is coming up. Let’s get you ready by helping with the technical aspects of setting up the space in your home where you will practice and take lessons.


So that you and Dr. Lory can see and hear each other, you’re going to need some equipment, most of which you probably already have. Here’s a checklist:

  • Piano or Digital Keyboard
  • Faster Internet Service
  • Zoom App
  • Laptop or Tablet
  • Adjustable Stand
  • Lighting

Piano or Digital Keyboard

If you signed up for piano lessons, you probably already have a piano or digital keyboard. If not, don’t worry — Dr. Lory can help you decide what will work for you, based on your budget and your goals.

You can take online piano lessons on either an acoustic piano or digital keyboard. If you already have an acoustic piano, your piano will need to be in-tune and should also be regularly maintained. If you have an digital keyboard that you plan to use for piano lessons, it should have 88-weighted and touch-sensitive keys so that you can vary the volume of sound by touch. Your digital keyboard will also need at least one pedal — the damper or sustain pedal. A second pedal, the una corda or soft pedal, would be helpful. Acoustic pianos may also have a third pedal, as the diagram below shows.

No matter which kind of piano you use, it’s important that the instrument produces high-quality sound to keep you motivated.

Most grand pianos have three pedals as show above. Upright acoustic pianos may not have the sostenuto pedal. Digital keyboards must have the sustain pedal.

Faster Internet Service

You will be streaming high-quality audio and video in real-time during your lesson. So it’s important that you have a fast Internet connection for smooth and jitter-free video. Your lessons will be on Zoom, a very popular video streaming service. Zoom’s recommendations for one-to-one video calling, include both up and down internet speeds are shown below. We will assume that video quality will be 1080p, which requires the higher level of speeed:

  • For 720p HD video – 1.2Mbps (upload/download)
  • For 1080p HD video – 3.8Mbps/3.0Mbps (upload/download)

These are the minimum speed requirements for piano lessons on Zoom. But faster is always better in getting smooth, real-time video performance, so let’s check your Internet speed right now by using Speedtest. Click here and the press the big Go Button. Wait a few seconds and you’ll get both upload and download speeds at your location. You should also check your Internet speed from time to time in order to make sure your service provider is delivering promised data speeds to your location.

Installing and Setting Up Zoom

You will also need to install the Zoom app on your laptop computer or tablet. The app is free and you can download the version for your operating system right here. Do this instead of searching for the app on your device’s app store, which may have an older or non-official versions.

After downloading the app, click and install it on your device. If you need help installing Zoom, the company provides excellent support to help set up your particular device. Read this Zoom article for help installing and setting up your system to use Zoom.

Laptop or Tablet

To get the most from each lesson, you will need a computer or tablet with a larger screen. Dr. Lory uses four cameras to show you the keyboard and pedals from different angles so a bigger screen will let you see more. In addition, there is a piano keyboard right on the screen that lights up the keys as she plays them. During lessons, there will be printed music, as well as slides, videos, and audio, so the better the screen, the more you will get out of your lessons.

Set your camera or device so that both you and your keyboard are visible.

Adjustable Stand

The video and audio sent from Dr. Lory will be excellent, but she also needs to see and hear you in the best possible way from your location. An adjustable floor stand is a good solution if you are using a laptop or tablet. Your camera should be set up to the right of your keyboard, slightly higher than the keys. Tilt the device so that both you and the piano keys are in the video frame.


If you use Zoom or another video streaming service, you may already have a camera light to enhance your appearance. We suggest that you mount a video camera light on your device stand. The light will help Dr. Lory see you and your piano. If you don’t have a light, consider the overall brightness of your piano space. You may have to turn on lamps and open window coverings to bring in more outside light during lessons.


That’s it for setting up your piano space. In a future article, we will discuss some enhancements you can make to improve your sound quality, like setting up separate external microphones for your voice and piano.

Good luck with piano lessons!

Using Zoom for Piano Lessons

Lory Peters Ph.D.
Dr. Lory preparing for a piano lesson on Zoom.

You will use Zoom for your online piano lessons. Zoom is an online audio and video conferencing system used to conduct video conferencing meetings. While Zoom can be used to connect hundreds of participants, in this case, there will be only two — you and Dr. Lory.

If you haven’t used Zoom before, here is a brief introduction to using Zoom for your piano lesson. You will need the following:

  • Tablet (Android or iPadOS) or Computer (Laptop or Desktop)
  • Web Camera
  • The Zoom App
  • Table or Stand for Your Device
  • Good Lighting

Tablet or Computer

You will need a tablet or computer for piano lessons. The larger the screen, the more you will see from Dr. Lory as she demonstrates concepts on her piano. Using your phone for piano lessons is not advised. For tablets, either an Android or iPadOS device will work. Your computer can use any modern system, such as Windows, MacOS, or Linux.

Web Camera

Your tablet will already have a camera installed. This should work very well for piano lessons. Most laptops also have a built-in camera that should work. If you are using a desktop computer, you may also have a built-in web camera. If not, you can use an external web camera that plugs into one of your computer’s USB ports. Check your system settings to make sure that the external camera is recognized by the computer.

The Zoom App

You will need to download and install the free Zoom app for your device. For Windows and MacOS laptops and desktop computers, you can download the Zoom app from the Zoom Download Center. For Linux computers, click here. If you are using a tablet for piano lessons, visit your device’s app store.

On your tablet, the Zoom app should install automatically once it has been downloaded. If you are using a computer, find the downloaded Zoom app (usually in your Downloads folder or on your Desktop) and click or double-click to install it. Follow the instructions during setup.

Launch the Zoom App

Before lesson time, tap or click the Zoom app to open it. For this demonstration, we are using the iPad version, but the process works the same for all tablets and computers.

When you open the Zoom app, you will see this screen. Tap the blue Join Meeting button.

After the app opens, you will be asked to type in the meeting ID for your piano lesson. Dr. Lory will have provided that link to you before your lesson. You will also type in your name where shown. After your first lesson, these settings should automatically appear. Do not tap the toggles below the Join button. This will disable audio and video. You don’t want that. Tap the blue Join button to continue.

You will enter the Personal Meeting Room. You may have to wait here for a minute or two if Dr. Lory is finishing up with another student. When the previous student leaves his or her call, you will start your lesson.

And that’s it. You should now be in your piano lesson. You and Dr. Lory will check to make sure that your camera and sound are working. Keep your phone handy in case their are technical issues that require you to talk together outside of the Zoom app. Problems are rare and they usually involve checking to see that audio sources are turned on.

Table or Stand

Unlike a face-to-face video call, where only your face might be seen on camera, for piano lessons, you will need to set up your device so that Dr. Lory can see both you and your hands on the piano keys. A table or floor stand to the right of your piano will work best. Here is a diagram of the ideal position for your web camera. The camera should be above the keyboard and tilted slightly down.

Position your device or camera to the right and above the keyboard so that I can see both you and your hands on the keys.

Online stores like Newegg and B&H Photo offer a variety of floor stands that can hold a tablet or laptop. The stand can be easily moved and the device tilted so that both you and your piano are on-camera during the lessons.


Dr. Lory’s studio will be well-lit and you should see everything clearly. To make sure she can see you, be sure to light your room well. A light on you and a lamp or two in the room will usually be enough. Light from the outside can also help, but if it’s a sunny day at your location, you may need to adjust curtains or blinds. You will learn what works after your first lesson or two.


Our experience with the Zoom system goes back about five years and has been very positive for online piano lessons. Zoom updates their app regularly, so be sure to accept and install the updates as they arrive. Also, be sure that your Internet speed is as fast as possible for best video streaming performance. If you aren’t sure just how fast your online speed is, you can quickly check on the Speedtest website.

If you have questions, be sure to Contact Us by email. We are here to help you get the best results from your online piano lessons with Dr. Lory.

Am I Too Old for Piano Lessons?

I get this question a lot from older students, both beginners and those who took piano lessons when they were younger. It’s a fair question — when we age, we often believe that we are not capable of doing all of the things we once did. And while this might be true when it comes to some physical activities, for most of us, taking up the study of something intellectually challenging — like music — is definitely still possible and even desirable. So, no, you are not too old for piano lessons.

Age is not a factor when I am considering whether or not to accept a student. My experience in teaching older adults has been so successful that when someone contacts me, I don’t even consider their age. I have started beginning students from ages five through seventy-five. The only variable is how I present the information.

So, no, you are never too old to begin piano lessons for your own enjoyment. In a few years, you will either be older and can play the piano — or just older! Of course, you won’t have time to become a concert pianist and compete with those who began lessons at age three! But, you can progress enough to be satisfied with the music you make and, maybe, even share it with others!

Just a note, physical and cognitive capabilities are factors that I consider when accepting a student, no matter their age. However, I have successfully taught students that have cognitive considerations (ADHD, Autism, and various other cognitive limitations), hearing loss, and physical limitations.

The purpose of studying the piano favors adult learners. Most children take lessons as part of their educations. Adults take lessons because they have a passion for music and the piano. So, adults tend to get more out of their efforts than do children.

Adults have more time to practice. Also, older adults have more time to practice and dig deeper into the music in their lessons and in their lives. It’s much more fulfilling. Children are often pulled in so many different directions for academic and extra-curricular pursuits that they have little practice time or are tired when they practice. 

Adults have a better chance of storing information in their long-term memory. I have found that adults need to know why and understand the context of a concept when learning something new, while the youngest of children have little or no context at all yet! So, older adults have the advantage of finding meaning which aids in solid long-term memory.

Am I too old for piano lessons?
Photo by Vitae London on Unsplash

When I was completing my doctorate, and doing research on the brain for my dissertation, there wasn’t much literature on whether the study of music results in cognitive improvements. We suspected there was a correlation between being intellectually active, like playing the piano, and maintaining higher levels of brain activity, but there wasn’t scientific proof.

But in the decades since, more research suggests a connection between the study of music and the delay of age-related brain issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And a new study just out seems to agree that music study does help certain brain functions.

A new Randomized Control Trial (RTC), reported in Nature shows that even brief periods of music study help the brain better process and understand audio and video information. Whether this improvement is innate among the study participants is unclear, but the study does suggests that music study does allow these areas of the brain to function better in older adults.

Many parents support piano lessons for their children as a way of improving their cognitive abilities which in turn helps in other areas such as mathematics. My own experience with older adult students, some in their late eighties, seems to show that these students perform better cognitively in general because of their disciplined study of the piano. Mine are not scientific results, and even if piano studies were merely a way to provide a period of tranquil enjoyment, reduced stress, and continued achievements each day, I would still encourage older adults to take piano lessons if they have a passion for music.

Nature has provided access to the study. You can read and download the report at the link below.

Nature – An RCT study showing few weeks of music lessons enhance audio-visual temporal processing.

Using Articulations to Fix Rough Spots

The following are excerpts from the video Piano Practice That Pays Off – Part Two. You can watch the video on YouTube.

What Are Articulations?

An articulation is  how we play a note. More specifically, it is how we start or end a sound. Articulations add color, dimension, and texture. Articulations make the music come alive.

There are four articulations that will be discussed in this video:

  • Legato  – connected
  • Staccato – detached
  • Two-note slur – connected, then released
  • Accent – attack with louder volume

When we play the piano using a legato touch on the keys, we end the note by connecting it to the next note, creating a smooth line of sounds.

((Lory Plays))

When we play using a staccato touch, we end the note by releasing it quickly and separating it from the next note, creating a more distinct line of sounds. Each sound stands on its own.

((Lory Plays))

When we play using a two-note slur, both notes are played legato, but we end the second note early. So, even though the second note is written here as a sixteenth note, we will interpret it as a shorter note value, followed by a rest. Then, during that implied rest, we would simply release the key as if we were taking a breath.

((Lory Plays))

When we play using an accent, we start the note by attacking it with a louder volume and connecting it to the next note, creating a line of sound with sudden increases in volume.

((Lory Plays))

Using Articulations to Polish Rough Spots

So now that we have defined what articulations are, how do we use them when we polish rough spots?

Let me show you how with a rough spot from Bethoven’s Für Elise  – measures thirty-two through thirty-four.

Ludwig van Beethoven
Für Elise

In the last video, we used a step-by-step practice routine. We talked about:

  • Isolating a rough spot so we could focus our attention on it,
  • Then, we looking for patterns and blocked them,
  • We jackhammered the rough spot into submission, and finally,
  • We applied uneven rhythms.

Now, let’s apply different articulations  – our newest practice technique.

You can see that this passage is written as legato. To continue polishing this rough spot, I am going to try the other three articulations to see how they can help.

First, staccato.

((Lory Plays))

Now, I will try it with two-note slurs.

((Lory Plays))

And, finally, with accents.

((Lory Plays))

Now, let’s see if this routine has improved my rough spot. I will play the passage as written  – which is legato.

((Lory Plays))

And, it already sounds a little better!

Playing Hands Together

We’re going to skip a few steps and go right to the end of the practice routine, which will be putting our hands together.

Just one thing – if your hands aren’t getting along with each other on a rough spot, there is an optional step you can take first.

Take your hands off the keys. Using the fall board or your lap, tap the rhythms  – hands together, while counting aloud.

((Lory Plays))

Why do this? Well, if we can’t coordinate our arm muscles, then adding the fine motor skills in our fingers is going to be frustrating and not very productive. Tapping creates muscle memory in our arms so that we can focus on the finer details. And, we can hear the combined rhythm created by both hands.

Let’s put everything together.

((Lory Plays))

Remember, not every technique works for every passage, so you will want lots of choices in order to customize your practice  – adjusting based on each passage and which techniques work for you.

Boredom When Practicing

And, there’s another thing  – boredom.

We all get bored when we practice. The mind wanders. But, by changing things while you practice, you engage your brain, reduce tedium, and experiment with different sounds.

When you do all of this, you’ll find something interesting happens —you gain improved technical skills and more control of your hands. And, you’ll find that every time you perfect a rough spot, you’ll be better able to handle future rough spots.

Here is something else I tell my students. When you practice rough spots with different techniques, you build a roadmap that you can use when there is a problem on the road ahead. Just like a GPS system, that gives you alternate routes to get home, your practice routine gives you alternate ways to play the passage to help you play it perfectly.

Neuroscientists might describe this as building different pathways in the brain, but we’ll just stick with the roadmap analogy.


Let’s go over what we learned in this video:

We talked about using different articulations to smooth out rough spots and adding those to our practice routine.

We found that using different pathways makes practicing more fun, reduces boredom, and improves your technique and control.

We used different practice techniques to build many roads leading to the same place  – a perfect passage.

In part three of this series, we’ll add even more practice techniques  – speed, length of the isolated spot, and fingerings. So stay tuned!

((Front Cam))

Thanks so much for joining me today. If you found this video helpful, please subscribe. I have also enjoyed reading your comments. Keep them coming. You can contact me on my website if you would like to schedule live online piano lessons.

Until then, keep on practicing!

More Ways to Fix Rough Spots

The following are excerpts from the video Piano Practice That Pays Off – Part Three. You can watch the video on YouTube.

Ready to give up when you’ve tried everything to smooth out a rough spot and nothing is working? Well, help is on the way. Stay tuned.

Hi! I’m Dr. Lory. Welcome back to our series. This video is part three.

When a rough spot won’t polish, even after lots of practice, we have to change something.

But, change what? Well, here are three things that could be changed – your speed, the length of the section you’re practicing, or your fingering patterns.

Slowing Down

The first thing I change is speed. I slow down. Slowing down allows me to look at the rough spot – note by note. I want to find exactly what is causing the problem. Once I find the problem notes, I can isolate them and use some of the techniques we talked about in Parts One and Two — like jackhammering, uneven rhythms, and different articulations.

But, I’ll do this at a slower tempo.

Another benefit of practicing slowly is that new information can be more easily connected to what we already know. Our brains can compare the new information with the old, can distinguish how they are the same and how they are different, and then more easily store and retrieve the new information.

This is much easier to do when we practice slowly.

How Slow is Slow Enough?

How slow is slow enough? If someone walking by can recognize what you’re playing – then you’re playing too fast. You know, sometimes my students tell me that they’ve practiced something so slowly that even they couldn’t recognize the melody. I tell them, then you’re doing it right.

You can also find your correct practice speed by using a metronome. I’m going to use a common rough spot from the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata, Opus twenty-seven, number two, known as The Moonlight Sonata.

The section I’m using starts at measure thirty-two and ends at measure thirty-eight.

Let’s go through the steps I would take to see how slow is slow enough. My current practice speed is one-hundred-sixty beats per minute to the eighth note.

((Lory Plays))

Did you hear my hesitations? They tell me that I’m playing too fast. I’ll keep slowing down until I can play the passage perfectly.

I will cut my current practice tempo, which has hesitations, in half, to eighty beats per minute as a quick way to slow down.

((Lory Plays))

Wow! That is slow. But, there are no hesitations. And it was perfect.

So this is my correct practice tempo. Now, I will start speeding up until I get to the final tempo.

By the way, a technique for doing this will be covered in an upcoming video.

Using a Metronome

If I’m already practicing slowly enough – or I slowed down with the help of my metronome – and I’m still not making much improvement, then I’ll check the length of my practice section. It just might be too large.

And, this one is. It’s seven measures long.

Practice Section Length

But, how long is too long? If I can’t see progress within several minutes of practice, the section is too long. If you’re not sure, start with a smaller part and build up. Then, you won’t waste valuable practice time.

That’s what I’m going to do here – divide my seven-measure practice section into single measures. Then, I’ll start building them back up – in two-measure segments.

You can do this by connecting measures in groups of two. Then keep connecting measures until they are all back together.

((Lory Plays))


What if my rough spot is still – rough? Then, I look to my fingerings.

To pianists, fingerings are the way we assign a specific finger to each key to be played. And, when we do it right we get fluid playing, efficiency, and the sound we want.

You know, we have ten fingers but there are eighty-eight keys on the piano. So, we have to work really hard to get the right fingers on the right keys.

This is a very important first-step because once practicing begins, we develop habits and long-term memory. And, if we keep changing fingerings, we have to unlearn wrong fingerings and then learn the right ones.

I always have my students start with fingerings when they begin a new piece. Then, they check questionable fingerings with me before serious practice begins.

To keep from putting wrong fingerings into long-term memory, you might want to check fingerings at the same time you are shortening the length of your practice section. If you put that together with a slower practice tempo, you can catch any wonky fingerings before they become a habit.

One more thought on fingerings. The fingerings you chose at the start may actually be right – but they still aren’t the best choice because of the size of your hands, the expression of the passage, or the final speed. The only way you are going to know for sure is when a rough spot pops up, and your first choice for fingering just won’t work. You have to try something else.

Deciding on Fingerings

How could there be more than one correct choice for fingerings?

Let’s look at the fingerings printed in the score. These were chosen by the editor. Are they right? Yes they are – but they are not working for me. There are a few stretches that are awkward and the numbering pattern doesn’t match the pattern of the notes.

I’m going to try another set of fingerings that has a more digestible pattern and closer position changes. Once I make a final decision, I’ll use those fingerings each time I practice.

((Lory Plays))

You might be wondering – how I do find the correct fingerings for me? Good question! If you’re working with a teacher, he or she can help you.

If you don’t have a teacher, your score might have suggested fingerings. Sometimes the editor even gives you two choices. Start with those. You might still come up with your own. And, that’s OK.

If the music does not have fingerings, check out my upcoming video on how to find fingerings that work for you and the piece you’re working on.


Let’s review what we’ve learned in this video.

When little or no progress is being made on a rough spot even with correct practice, you might be:

  • Practicing too fast,
  • The length of your practice section is too large, or
  • Your fingerings aren’t the best choice for you.

I hope this video will help you smooth out your rough spots. In the next video, we’re going to work on speeding up a rough spot that is already perfect.

Remember, what Vince Lombardi said about perfection – Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

Thanks so much for joining me today. If you found this video helpful, click subscribe and check out some of my other videos on YouTube. You can also contact me to schedule live online piano lessons.

Until then, keep on practicing.

© 2024 Lory Peters Ph.D.

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