Learning Piano

5 Bad Habits Holding You Back as You Learn Piano

Learning Piano

Are you not making the progress you were hoping for in your piano lessons? Read on as piano teacher Nadia B. explains some of the common bad habits that may be holding you back…


When you’re learning piano, you’re busy mastering a variety of skill sets — note reading, rhythmic competency, independence of the hands, musicality, and so much more. It’s easy to focus so much on these things that you might be developing bad habits… without noticing. Read on to learn more about the five worst habits for piano players, so that you can make sure you avoid them!

1. Practicing scales mindlessly or with bad technique

You should definitely pat yourself on the back for practicing your scales, one of the most important components of learning piano. But once you see the value of practicing scales, it’s important to make sure that your scale practice is helping you improve and not reinforcing bad habits. It you find yourself slogging through scales, not really paying attention to what you’re doing, or if your hand position is awkward and not well-coordinated, then you might want to re-evaluate your scales practice routine. Try for precision, correct fingering, ease of hand position, and fingers flowing onto the keys, even if it takes a little longer and means you do fewer scales. With scale practice, it’s definitely quality over quantity.

Tip: Bored with scales? Try these four fun ways to practice scales!

2. Memorizing music completely with muscle memory

Pianists have a long tradition of performing music from memory, and the pressure can be on when it’s almost recital time and your piece still isn’t memorized. Pianists often resort to playing the piece they’re trying to memorize over and over until they can play it in their sleep. The only problem? That type of rote memorization can go terribly wrong if there’s a moment of distraction, or if the pianist messes up and tries to restart where he or she left off.

The way to avoid this bad habit is to leave plenty of time to memorize piano music by analyzing the score, listening to and playing along with recordings, and practicing intelligently and consciously, instead of relying on muscle memory to commit the song to memory.

Tip: Here are some additional strategies for memorizing piano music from music teacher Joy Morin.

3. Not breathing well, combined with bad posture

Breathing and posture go hand in hand, since our ribs attach to the spine, and excessive compression in the torso can severely limit breathing. If you find yourself hunched over the piano, with your head pulled forward to see the music better and your breathing is shallow, your posture is compromised. Believe it or not, this will affect your music-making.

To solve this bad habit, take a few moments in between practicing sections of a piece to notice your sitting bones releasing into the piano bench, allow your spine to uncurl from any compression, and send your head away from your spine, allowing it to balance easily right on top of your spine. You should feel more spacious and have more flexibility for ease of breathing.

Tip: Here’s an infographic explaining piano posture.

4. Unruly hand position

Perhaps one of your fingers sticks up in the air, or your thumb hangs low, below the keyboard. Whatever your habitual hand position, finding a comfortable, flexible and coordinated hand position can change your entire relationship with the piano. You will make better contact with the keys, have more control over dynamics and coloring, and play technical passages more easily and smoothly. Having an uncoordinated hand position can hold you back in a variety of ways as you’re learning piano, so make sure this bad habit isn’t one of yours!

Tip: Check out this infographic for an easy exercise to improve your hand shape for playing the piano.

5. Not learning to read music correctly

Do you find yourself struggling to read piano music correctly, over and over? Or perhaps you struggle with playing in time and with correct rhythm. It’s important to learn to read and interpret all aspects of the music correctly, so that you can play with correct notes, rhythms, dynamics, articulation, and phrasing. If you’re struggling to recognize all the various symbols and positions of the notes on the staff, try going through a music theory book and/or note speller.

If you work to avoid these five worst habits for piano players, you will be a more coordinated and skilled pianist who can confidently learn new music, practice efficiently, and perform well. It’s worth the little bit of extra effort it takes to incorporate the strategies to combat these bad habits, as you’ll see a great improvement in your musicality, technique, and fundamental keyboard skills.

Tip: Here are some fun online games for learning piano notes!

Think you’re avoiding these bad habits? It’s always a good idea to check with your piano teacher, who can give you expert advice and help you continue to practice piano like a pro!

Nadia BPost Author: Nadia B.
Nadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

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8 replies
  1. Online Piano Lessons
    Online Piano Lessons says:

    I agree that learning to read is one of the most important if not the most important thing to do first when you’re learning piano. Great article!

  2. Choose Piano Lessons
    Choose Piano Lessons says:

    Hi Suzy,

    Thanks for sharing this article. I agree, these are five habits that can hold back prospective piano players. I have started my early years of playing the piano with some of these habits. I had to find time to correct my posture, fingering techniques, plus learn to read music. If I was trained to do these things from the beginning then I wouldn’t have to go through these basic things again. I am happy I did though, it pays in the long run.

    Great article! 🙂
    All the best!

  3. Gregory Marsh
    Gregory Marsh says:

    What you say about the folly of memorizing solely using muscle memory is true. Lots of good ideas in this article. Thank you!

  4. Self taught jazz pianist
    Self taught jazz pianist says:

    I’m not entirely sure that this article appeals to the ear learners in the world. I am two years into piano, but every time I play in front of strangers (musically inclined ones as well as not), they tend to guess that i’ve been playing for at least six or seven years. I have not learned how to read, write music at all. In fact, I feel that learning how to read music and focusing on all of these minuscule details hinders you from actually having a deep connection with the instrument. Without all of these ropes holding your own creativity back, you start to learn that yes, while the instrument has mechanics, you don’t have to adhere to rules or guidelines on how to play it in the slightest. If you completely ignore theory, you learn to make your own; and your fingers and brain work almost in synchronization to do the most daunting task of all: improvisation. So in my opinion, the structure built around music to help better understand it is truly obstructing music’s creatively.

  5. Maestro's Piano Lessons
    Maestro's Piano Lessons says:

    Learning to play the piano is a therapeutic and cognitive skill to learn, especially for children. We offer some great courses if anyone is interested.


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