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January 28, 2015

Learning the Piano Part 2: The How

by alive

Piano stepsIn my last post, I shared why I wanted to learn the piano. There were many reasons – from continuous improvement and reliving the past to sharing something with people and another way to express myself. Learning the piano is a quest that will greatly add to my Life.


To succeed in a goal however you need more than good thoughts and a dream. You need a plan of Action Steps. Winging it gives you haphazard results and costs plenty of wasted time and effort.


I’m going to share a process I’ve used for my fitness clients and apply it to my goal of learning the piano.



Goals and Action Steps

When my clients come to me to shape up for a wedding, regain their fitness after an illness, or improve their confidence, I don’t put them on the hardest training regime there is and then expect results in two weeks.

Likewise, I don’t expect to be immediately rockin’ it on the piano by killing my fingers for a month or even a year. That would be unrealistic.

While there are many goal setting schemas (and I’ll use different ones for different people) the following Action Steps should be easily applicable to most goals, and give you a head start in yours.


1. Write Goals: Create List of Songs to Learn and Why

It’s important to list down what you want to achieve. Write them down. Put the list where you will be reminded of them and not forget until it comes time to setting goals again… ONE year from now.


It’s also important to clarify the WHYS for your goals.


I aim to learn how to play six songs this year, all of which fall into at least one of three categories.


Song list


Category 1: Messages

I want to be able to play songs that say something to people. Perhaps love, encouragement, consolation.


Category 2: Make People Happy

I want to learn two songs that are feel good songs. I went home recently and played a very basic melody which delighted my mum no end and it’s a great feeling.


Category 3: Personal Significance

I want to learn two songs that hold special meaning for me.


2. Set Up Mini Goals

Having goals is good, but if they are huge, it’s hard to figure out what to do on a day-by-day basis. That’s where setting mini goals can help, like stepping stones to a destination. Like real stepping stones, each gives you a place to catch a breather, savour a minor victory, assess the situation, and make necessary adjustments on the way to that major destination.

 Stepping Stones

In my case, each of the six songs is a mini goal, and within each song there are yet smaller goals. For example, I can divide a piece into four parts, and aim to master each of those four parts.


Subdivisions can be as small as needed, and depend on time allotted, scale of the main goal, and personalities and abilities of the person involved.


3. Seek out a Mentor or Coach: Find a Piano Teacher

Time and again, the experience of many successful people from sports to business has proven the value of having a mentor. My own business focusses on consulting with people to empower them with the knowledge, attitude and fitness necessary to achieve their goals – leading fuller Lives. I would be stupid not to seek the same myself.



A consultant helps you avoid pitfalls, gives plenty of practical advice, and shortcuts your road to success significantly. In this case, my consultant is a piano teacher who will be an important part of my support system for this endeavor. She will hold me to a certain standard, pick out where I may be weak, identify areas for special attention, correct mistakes and technique, and push me when it is time to move on to new goals.


4. Schedule Your Sessions: Set up Practice/Lesson Schedule

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it well and wisely. How many times have you written down goals because it was fun to fantasize about the future, but not actually have a plan of actions from now till then? It a wonder people who want to lose weight are still the same weight, if not worse?



For me, it’s a matter of being dedicated to finding times to practise. Like all skill, perfect practice makes perfect. I look at the songs I want to learn and estimate how long it would take me to learn them. I then work backwards and work out the necessary times for practice and lessons, the way I would for the other important parts of my Life.


5. Identify and Eliminate Challenges/ Impediments

Because of my various activities, personal, business and work, I have limited time.


So time for me is the primary challenge.


To cope with this, I use the same HNR technique I teach my Life fitness clients.


5 minutes

My main clientele consists of executives types who have very little time and even worse, an erratic schedule. As full time professionals, they do not always have the luxury to train when they want. For them, my back up plans include different things to do depending on how much time they happen to have. For example, I have special workouts that take 20min, 10min and even 2min to perform. I call these HNR (Hit-And-Run) sessions, because they’re literally in-and-out sessions that you hit when you can, and then get out again in the short time you have.


In the same way, I am aware I might not always to hit all my practice targets. Regular sessions should be planned for. The piano lessons are even more important, as I treat them as consultations necessary for my progress and check that I’m on the right track.


(Hint: If you’re a client, don’t be so quick to reschedule or forfeit your consultation sessions if you want steady progress!)


However I have also come up with backup plans for compensation should I miss a session. I have skills/ techniques/ passages I can work on if I have just, 30min, 10min, and even just 5min.


6. Do it!

Now that I’ve found a teacher who can accommodate my busy schedule, decided on practice plans and HNR options, the FUN part is over. Now comes the HARD part!


Actually doing it, and setting up accountability markers so that I have something to check my progress and adherence against.


You see, there comes a time when the only thing to do is knuckle down, and JUST DO IT. No more research, no more deliberation, no more planning. That’s the hard part for most people: the transition. But that’s also the part that separates the winners from the losers.


Playing the piano


If you have a plan already, do it, even if it is not perfect. You’ll get much further along with action and an imperfect plan, than with no action looking for the perfect plan. This applies to all things!


It’s an exciting road I’ve decided to travel. It’s going to be bumpy. There will be detours and potholes. But it’s not just the destination I’m thinking of. It’s the adventure that starts with taking that first step out onto that road. The ways I’m going to grow, improve, change my perspectives, add to my experiences… These are the things we can all look forward to any time we decide to learn something new.


 A couple of my favourite quotes on following through:


“He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche


“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment” – Jim Rohn



Now if you’ll excuse me, I have scales to practise.




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