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How to Avoid "Punching" Keys on the Piano

It's jarring, it's unsettling, it's cringe-inducing: a note out of place in an otherwise beautiful melody. If you're a Music to Your Home piano student, you're probably all too familiar with the concept of "punching" a key: it's when you strike a note too loudly, creating a harsh tone. Though not as noticeable as a wrong note, a punched key disrupts your phrasing and makes your music sound unprepared. Learning to avoid punching takes discipline and training, but the results are well worth the time invested.

Slow down, you move too fast

If you're punching multiple notes, you're probably taking things too quickly for this stage of learning the song. Pull out your metronome, set it to a tempo fit for a funeral dirge, and focus your attention on playing smoothly. It can seem like dull work, but there's no better way to get the feel of a particular composition in your fingers.

Resist the temptation to pick up the pace until you can play through the piece, sans punching, at a slow tempo… then increase speed gradually.

Get there ahead of time

Learn to avoid piano key tension

Practicing slowly helps you grow used to a piece. If the song involves long or awkward jumps, however, you're likely to start punching keys again when you bring up the tempo.

To avoid that, you have to train your fingers to be on the keys before it's time to play the next note or chord. This can require something of a mental shift if, like most piano students, you're accustomed to moving your hand and pressing down the keys in one movement.

For jumps in the music, practice moving your fingers to the next key or keys and, instead of pressing them down, let yourself rest there for a moment. Then press the keys and move on to the next note. If it's another jump, do the same thing: move, rest, then press. Don't worry about keeping time for now.

It's important to rest your fingers lightly on the keys. If your fingers aren't relaxed or your wrist is tense, you'll be setting yourself to punch the keys again, especially when you speed up the tempo.

Practice this both on the pieces you're learning and on songs you've already mastered--you want this to become a habit, a technique you apply to every song you play. Above all, practice slowly. You're not trying to impress anyone at this stage.

Pulling out the sound

Finally, remember that the piano is your collaborator in this business of making music; it's bad form to punch your fellow workers! Imagine pulling the sound from the keys rather than plonking the ivories down to make noise, and you'll be on your way to creating smooth, focused, beautiful melodies.

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