Losing Focus in the Practice Room

Do you ever lose focus when practising the piano? And if so, do you keep practising or do you stop? In this article, I’m going to show you what happens when you lose focus and what you should do.


losing focus at the piano


Have you ever noticed how sometimes, when doing an activity that requires focus, like sight-reading or piano practice, there comes a point where the longer you persist, the more you lose focus and the more you make mistakes?


Let me share a little story to explain what I mean… 


I was once accompanying a boy on the violin. His parents wanted to record him playing this one piece. We spent close to an hour playing the piece over and over and over again. When we reached the end of the piece, the mother would ask her son: “Do you want to do it again?” And the son would just nod. And so, we’d do it all over again, even though there had been nothing wrong with the previous take.  


Towards the end of the hour, it was clear that both the boy and I were starting to lose focus as mistakes started creeping in. Just before we were about to embark on yet another round of the same piece, I asked the mother whether this could be our last take because her son and I were both losing focus. She agreed somewhat reluctantly. We were about a third of the way in when the boy had a memory slip. So that was that. Luckily, we all agreed on our favourite take, which was a few takes back.  


If there’s one positive thing from all this is that we played it so many times that I practically learned the piano part by heart! 


Why we lose focus

I relate this episode as a testament to the fact that the law of diminishing returns is a real thing. In case you don’t know, the law of diminishing returns is a concept used in economics which “defines a point on a production curve whereby producing an additional unit of output will result in a loss and is known as negative returns.” (Wikipedia) 


In other words, there comes a point in time where no matter how much more effort you exert, you won’t get any more results but lesser results, like in my anecdote above. 


I wish I was able to focus for an hour but I find it hard. The fact of the matter is that we humans are not machines. We can’t keep focusing on one thing forever and expect the same quality. There will come a time when we can no longer maintain focus, whether we like it or not. There is a reason why we sleep 8 hours every night. We need to recover and gain our energy back. 


being tired at the piano


So I use this story as a reminder that if you ever feel your focus waning, whether during piano practice or at work, just stop. Take a break, come back to it later or leave it for another day. The results you will get when your mind is out of focus will be negligible and most likely a waste of time. We need to learn to listen to the signs we feel in our body and mind and make the most of it when the mind is at its sharpest. 


That is why I recommend you start your practice with sight-reading or right after your technical work because to sight-read effectively, you need a lot of concentration. If you leave sight-reading until the end of a 2-hour practice session, you will probably find it hard to concentrate on the notes, the rhythm and all the other markings. Your brain won’t be able to take it all in. And then you’ll become frustrated at how hard it feels because your mind is already fatigued.  


Having said that…

If you want to be able to focus for longer, you can train your mind to do so progressively over time. If you notice yourself losing concentration after 10 minutes of sight-reading, then push on for just one more minute. Then next time you practise sight-reading, try going for just a bit longer, and so on.  


LEARN MORE >> 10 Tips to Stay Focused During Piano Practice


What do you do when you notice yourself losing focus? Do you forge on or do you stop?


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    Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny

    Emmanuelle Fonsny, or Manu, is a piano and violin teacher, composer and accompanist based in Sydney, Australia. She is passionate about sharing her love of music and her sight-reading and practice tips to help other pianists become more confident sight-readers.



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