The Serial Starter

Guest Post by Joanna García

Joanna originally shared these thoughts on her Facebook studio page. I am delighted that she has allowed me to reproduce them here for the encouragement of Pianodao readers…

Are you a finisher or a serial starter? 

When it comes to learning pieces, it can be very easy to continually begin new ones. The process of starting out is so very attractive: it’s like a romance with a new partner. There’s the sense of discovery; the score itself looks new, full of excitement and possibility. There is a tantalising sense of “what if” hanging over the whole process. 

And even in the first few days of the relationship with the score, it’s still exciting: there are discoveries to be made, and the novelty makes our practice enjoyable. We tinker with – dare I say, tiptoe around – difficult passages, fantasising about the proficiency we just know we’ll ultimately have. We sight read through the easier passages. We can’t get enough. 

But, inevitably, there comes the next stage. And the longest stage. Where hard work has to convert to success. 

And this is where so many of us don’t succeed. 

This is the stage where fingerings need to be fully in place so that the risk of error is minimised. The stage where there is *constant* revisiting to build muscle memory and pathways in the brain. The stage where you realise that learning even a short, four-bar passage isn’t just a one-off event, but a significant journey – for weeks and weeks – of revisions, frustrations, and consolidation. The stage where technique and the ear work together to create beauty out of the abstract musical score. 

Here comes the danger point. The seven day itch. Where working at continual improvement is nowhere near as tempting as pulling another score off the shelf and unlocking its mysteries in another reverie of novelty and heady excitement. 

But I would argue that to get to the point of being reasonably content with how you play the piece *to the best of your current ability* is where the true satisfaction lies.

And how do we define that? Well, I believe it’s when you could perform it for someone else, and know that it’s not in bad shape, actually. When you have solved all of the technical puzzles so that the musical intention rings out, loud and clear. When you feel like you actually have something to communicate. 

Sure, it might not be fit for the Wigmore Hall. Well, certainly not yet! But if it’s a pretty decent performance, for your standard at your current ability, then you’ve done a good job. 

All art is worth revisiting. That’s the beauty of it. So, even if you came back to that piece in ten years’ time, it would still have rich learning to offer. You’d bring to it new practice techniques, new ideas for phrasing and musicality, new colours. Hopefully, that is, if you’ve continued making your own learning a priority. 

But please do ensure that you’re not a serial score starter! Art is worth our long-term hard work and commitment. All good things take time, as a wise man once said to me.

Imagine, if you will, a kitchen when you only wash up superficially before getting bored, leaving the dirty pans for someone else to scrub, rather than completing the job each day: it’s so much more satisfying to make that extra effort to have a clean and tidy kitchen, with everything in its place…

That’s when you can look around with pride, smile and nod to yourself, and feel that sense of achievement of a job well done.


Joanna García is piano teacher, pedagogy coach and collaborative pianist. She has an oversubscribed piano teaching practice in Lancashire, and she and her team of associate teachers teach online across the UK and internationally. A former staff pianist at the RNCM and Chetham’s School of Music and ex-deputy headteacher, Joanna is passionate about high quality teaching and learning in music teaching.

Pianodao features more than 600 FREE articles and reviews, offering expert insight to equip, inform and inspire piano players and teachers everywhere.
The site takes many hours each month to research, write, and maintain. If you would like to show your appreciation and support, PLEASE DONATE HERE.

RECEIVE NOTIFICATIONS of fresh content by adding your email here:

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.

4 thoughts on “The Serial Starter”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Joanna has a lot of wise things to say. I’m looking forward to my first piano lessons with her today and hopefully getting my teeth into a new project and seeing it through.

  2. If left to my own devices, I suspect I would be much more of a “serial starter” than I am. Having a good teacher whom I trust helps me to keep it in check and to stick with pieces much longer than I otherwise would have. Not that it can’t be frustrating. There are times when I feel that pieces sort of stagnate, and that perhaps it’s impossible for me to improve on them given my current level and limitations, but the teacher insists that there is yet more work to be done before I can move on to new pieces.

    Ultimately (as an adult learner) I need to be making the most of my limited practice time. Sometimes I wonder if I could be learning more and being more productive by starting on a new piece rather than persisting for weeks on end on pieces I have learnt, just in the hope of perfecting them or adding little details and flourishes. Teacher seems to think the latter is more important, her reasoning being I will otherwise never learn to play pieces “properly” and will just be happy to play them “so so”. She says that being able to play the correct notes and rhythm is only the first step to properly learning the piece.

    Personally I find that I benefit from having pieces at various stages of development concurrently. Starting a new piece whilst I keep further developing the ones I’ve (mostly) learnt, helps to keep it interesting. What’s more, it forces me to keep working my sight-reading as I tend to stop reading the pieces as soon as I’ve learnt them (because it’s hard work for me).

Comments are closed.