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A strange practice habit...


Well-known member
Aug 24, 2021
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Montana, USA
...which I'd be interested to know if anyone else suffers from, and if you've had any clever ideas how to break it:

When I play a wrong note, I try to make myself stop and figure out how to fix it (no, that's not the bad part.) It's sometimes hard to hear which hand got out of position by one button. Or which finger of one hand.
To try to fix it, I play it louder. And louder. And louder. And louder. And all I get is a louder set of notes, one of which is wrong, and I still can't tell which one. Finding out which finger is at fault requires lifting them up one at a time until the offender is located.

I think I know where I got this habit. In a multi-instrument ensemble, if you don't blend into a chord, changing the volume of your own note is one way to hear whether its you or the other guy who is out of tune. I did this a lot, playing violin in quartets and orchestra sections. It worked fairly well there. It is of course useless on accordion where all the notes get louder and softer together.

It is separate from another bad habit -- pushing harder on the keys when it's a difficult passage, keeping too much tension in your right hand -- but I imagine a cure for one might help the other. (Not being a pianist, I am mercifully free from "push down harder when it's loud" - on a violin one hand controls pitch and the other volume - but I am not immune from teeling stressed while working a passage that isn't quite known by heart yet.)
"but I am not immune from feeling stressed while working a passage that isn't quite known by heart yet."

I don't share these particularl habits but this (above) seems to be the root of the issue. I can see how the stress could cause you to play harder or louder. I guess all you can do is practice the parts you don't completely know more slowly and deliberately until you do. Good luck!
Volume is a symptom of frustration and the wrong technique to correct is being used… in essence a bad habit. The good news is that the resolution is an easy 5-step process:

1. If you do a continued bad note stop and take a breath.
2. SLOWLY play that measure correctly. Repeat slowly until you can play that one measure slowly 5 times correctly. NO RUSHING.
3. Play the measure before and the now corrected measure. Repeat slowly until you can play that slowly 5 times correctly
4. Play the measure measure before, the measure with the bad note and the measure after. Repeat slowly until you can play that slowly 5 times correctly
5. Slowly build the speed up to performance speed and a bit higher. Continue until you can play those 3 measures 5 times with no error.

Enjoy the fact that you corrected a tough spot and move on.
I'm a big fan of breaking things down "horizontally", as JerryPH mentions. Even down to units smaller than a measure if need be. But on accordion, you can also break things down "vertically". Yes, this means working on each hand separately when you encounter a trouble spot. But it can also mean just working on the melody line in the right hand and only adding the harmony note(s) when that melody is fully understood. Or just working on the bass notes of a tricky left hand pattern and only adding the chord buttons when the bass movement is understood. (If your current process is "subtractive"--playing all the notes and then removing them one at a time to find the culprit--this would be "additive"... building up notes until the culprit shows up!)

And, as always, practicing sloooooowwwwllllyyyy will cure just about anything.

As far as the issues of pressing too hard and carrying too much tension go, try this: Practice a piece you know pretty well, but spend the majority of your attention on noticing how hard you're hitting the keys, or on how much tension you feel or don't feel in your hand. Don't worry about the notes or the tempo or any of that--let all that just happen however it happens.

The emphasis here is on merely noticing. You're not trying to judge whether it's good or bad, or trying to correct/change it. You're just focusing your awareness on what's going on. You're an observer.

This can have two interesting outcomes. First, the tension and key-bashing may just slip away! It's like they were crying for your attention, and once you give it, they're satisfied and start to behave. :) Second, you might play the piece surprisingly well, since your brain is being distracted by this other job and is able to "get out of its own way".
Am I unusual? I absolutely love practicing!
Most definitely not alone. At it's core, no practice = you NOT being able to play... PERIOD. There must be some form of practice to be able to play anything. No one picks up an accordion day 1 and plays music... at least none that most would enjoy... lol

I also often go back to the basics, scales, chords, arpeggios, exercises from Czerny, Macerollo, and yes, even Palmer Hughes at times and several others.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard and told others that you cannot build your musical home on quick sand. The basics are your foundation, and a strong foundation means strong technique and a better playing experience. You improve exponentially faster with focused practice. As one gets older (like me in to my 60's) if you don't practice, you don't even maintain, you lose. I've not played since June this year (please don't beat me, 2023 will be better for me, I promise!) and I feel as if I have lost the basics, lost a LOT of technique and need a lot of work to get back to where I was 6 months ago.

Last year I went so far back as to not even play a song but focused ONLY on perfect back, hand and seating posture for one complete hour (once a week for a month), as I played a simple C-scale. Think it is easy? Try it! I found that harder than playing an afternoon of songs as that level of concentration and drive simply drains you completely both mentally and physically. When you get back to "other" things, suddenly items that were challenging were passed through and moved on from. Had I not done that I would have had a hell of a time playing in the Czech festival without a ton of discomfort and pain.

Practice is good and done in the right frame of mind, a lot of fun.
I am not nearly as disciplined as Jerry (will be in 2023 😉) but I also love my practice, which for me is mainly improving my repertoire and learning new songs. Every year I make that resolution to practice the fundamentals, as Jerry suggests, and every year I fail miserably. Oh when will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?.... Hmm, where have all those 🌼🌻🌺🥀 gone?
My frustration is having the LH and RH perfect when separate, and then train-wrecking when I put them together. Gives me a new perspective on how my piano students feel. I'm on CBA and trying to figure the thing out on my own.
My frustration is having the LH and RH perfect when separate, and then train-wrecking when I put them together. Gives me a new perspective on how my piano students feel. I'm on CBA and trying to figure the thing out on my own.
The technique for that is very similar...

Work each hand separately until both are near "performance speed", then cut back to literally doing 1 note on the bass side, and the matching notes for on the right hand, work it note by note until the measure is completed... rinse repeat until comfy, increase speed a little. Once that measure is comfy, move to measure #2.

You cannot run over a hill by running around it, sometimes we need to slow down and walk over it... very slowly.