A question out of the blue: what is the goal of reading a book, if not accessing and enjoying the meanings conveyed by it? I choose a book to read because I think that specific book has some interest. By the same logic, you should dream of playing music you love not of learning how to play.
We are often frustratingly concerned with our limits in playing the piano rather than the difficulties we have playing this or that music. The song, piece or exercise in front of us loses importance because there is so much which is more important. Except it is not in front of us!
Chopin and I
For many years I refused to play Chopin, my favourite since childhood, because I thought I couldn’t give to his music what it deserved. In other words, before playing Chopin I thought I had to learn everything about the piano. In order to succeed, I had to follow a very strict path of study which – if successful – would have resulted in learning how to play a few selected pieces in his repertoire decently.
HAD I HAD FIFTY YEARS, MAYBE!! It is the most severe practicing piano method for achieving complete proficiency and entirely at the cost of pleasure. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Thankfully, I gave up and yet I have played a lot of Chopin since then, quite averagely, I must admit, but happily. Playing music you love will make practicing piano infinitely more fun.
Occasionally, I find students end up choosing repertoire that does not match their current level. Some are scared of scores that either “look” or “sound” too hard, missing the opportunity to get better, others believe that by choosing a really hard piece of music they will save time in the learning process (if I need to improve on 10 different aspects, instead of picking 10 targeted pieces I’d rather choose one that has all those difficulties at once).
Sometimes we are attracted by a piece because of its technical difficulties. In other words, our priority is given to technical achievement, while musical pleasure comes second. The thought process goes something like this: “All music is made from consecutive notes, and I can read notes, I have played notes before… Therefore, I can play this music too …”
Here’s a great analogy! We all know that walking is putting one step after another. Since most of us can do that, we could decide we are ready to cross the Sahara Desert on foot. After all, it only requires putting one step after another. Except it doesn’t just require an ability to walk. The chances you’ll give up in the middle of the walk are fairly certain.
Finding joy in practicing piano
For me, pleasure is the most important aspect in guiding our choice of musical pieces above anything else. If I am attracted by a difficult score or piece, why not try it? Regardless of how well I will be able to play it, the first thing I should be concerned with is whether I actually want to play it!
Choosing a piece of music according only to our taste forces us to wonder about it. For some of us, it might take a while to select a piece that matches our level and that satisfies our musical desire. When I look back, I can safely say that I started studying a hundred times more pieces than I completed. Clearly, this happened because I let my curiosity lead my search and found myself being attracted by all sorts of different kinds of musical expression.
Judging your level of competency
Too often however our judgement on the level of difficulty blinds us to other more interesting dimensions. Ask yourself: are you going to present this piece at the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition? Chances are you are not, so you might as well give it a go and just learn something new.
Piano repertoire in particular is huge to an overwhelming degree. It is easy to get lost in the variety, so picking the next piece might not be a simple task. Ask your teacher. They should suggest new repertoire for you. They know your strengths and weaknesses, understand the things you urgently need to fix and which new techniques you might be curious about.