What to do when you make a mistake in your piano practice

29 May 2024
By Robert Estrin
Pianist and teacher Robert Estrin outlines his THREE essential go-to techniques that you can rely upon in your practice

When we make mistakes at the piano, it can be a huge knock to our confidence. It can make us think we're not good enough. Oftentimes, our attempts at fixing the mistake actually make things worse!

Let’s say you’re playing something fast and it’s sloppy, and you want to clean it up. What can you do to fix it? You could go back and try it again, and maybe it’ll come out better. But oftentimes it doesn’t feel quite right as there is a deeper issue at hand. What can you do?

I’m going to give you three practice techniques that are absolutely indispensable! These should be your go-to routines any time you have problems in your piano practice.


1. Slow down!

If you are having trouble with a section of music, try going slower. The metronome is a great tool for slow practice. Set your metronome to 20-30 beats slower than what your piece recommends.

Slowing your piece down is a basic method for learning to ‘sit’ on the pulse. When you learn to do this, you will quell the urge to rush or linger. This will give you more reaction time to avoid mistakes. When secure, you can continually raise the metronome mark until you are able to play evenly at a fast tempo.



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2. Play hands separately

Play hands separately. For example, focus solely on the right hand and completely forget about the left hand. This will help you realign your focus, and really iron out any little issues in the right hand.

Check out my lesson below for some more advice.



3. Take a smaller section

You can also try isolating a smaller section. Let's say you’re working on the whole first section of a piece and you’re having problems along the way. Try taking half of that section or even a quarter of that section. You could even take as little as just two measures!

The most important thing is to identify the amount of music you can master at a time.

Try taking just the small section where you have problems and really cement the corrections. Then you can expand upon that with larger sections.

You can check out our latest video piano lesson on practising smaller sections here.



Bonus tip: Avoid repeating a mistake

If you make a mistake once, try it again, and maybe you will get it.

But if you make the same mistake a second time, alarm bells should go off. You must do something different.

Why is this so imperative? Well, I always talk about how you must get something perfectly at least three times before you move on. Why? Because three times in a row cements things. It begins to really come together in your hands and your head.

The same thing is true of mistakes. If you missed something twice and then you just flippantly go and play it again and make the mistake a third time, you’ve now really cemented that error. It’s going to be harder to dig out of that because your hands and ears are getting used to it.


Once again, either slow down, play hands separately, or take a smaller section.

Embrace these three techniques any time you miss something, and I guarantee that the productivity of your practice will skyrocket! Let us know how these techniques work for you in your practice! 


Find out more about Robert Estrin here.