The "mental glitch" question!

What causes one to have what I can best describe as “focused mental glitches” that cause me to make mistakes or freeze up? This “mental glitch” or self-consciousness (which is hard to describe) happens when I am playing, practicing, or reading a piece, and my mind shifts in a different way to “think” about what I am doing.
I cannot be the only one this happens to.
I can be doing just fine (for example practicing scales and working on velocity or chord progressions, playing a piece of music, etc.) and when I begin to “think/question” (obviously we all need to think when we play the piano but . . . ) or focus in, it causes me to stumble. I don’t know exactly what changes, but suddenly I think, “Do I really know what I am doing or where I am in this process?” and it always causes me to fumble. It also happens when I am reading a piece and know what comes next but fumble when the focus changes, maybe zeros in, or my mind begins to question what I am doing. Is there some way to overcome what I can best describe as self-consciousness or whatever it is that happens? How does one redirect the focus before the mistake happens? How/where do I control my mind and where do I focus it?
Thank you for any help you can give me. I find this phenomena very frustrating. I don’t think it is the same as stage fright.

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Hello, @noreen,

This “mental glitch” is a condition that is rarely discussed, but I believe happens to many beginning pianists. The explanation I heard, from an experienced instructor, is that your mind wanders to some other topic and therefore you lose focus on playing/practicing the piano. Note that the root cause is not that you question what’s required by the piece or practice item, but that you think of an unrelated subject (e.g., “What will I have for supper?”, “I really should sweep this floor.”, “Whose fingerprints are on my piano!”). When your mind is drawn back to the piece/practice item, for a second (or two), you have to re-focus and therefore it feels that you’ve fumbled on the piano, but in reality you just lost focus on the task at hand.

This happens to me constantly. It take some effort to hold focus on one task (particularly when it’s something that must be endlessly repeated: scales, arpeggios, &c). Try breaking the piece/practice item into smaller chunks.

Hope that helps,


Hello Peter,
Thank you for replying to my question. The next time this happens, which happens a lot since I practice and play a lot, I will try to analyze if I let the laundry list creep into my mind.
It feels more like a shift TO focus rather than AWAY from focus, but I will be more aware of what actually is happening.
There is “playing in the zone” - sports and music - that I have experienced and would like to be able to move to that zone quicker with my piano playing. If anyone has any suggestions, let’s hear them all. I have listened to some of the online “experts” who promise to teach someone how to play in the zone, but they have not enlightened me, sorry to say.

I will keep plonking away. (I have been playing off an on for many years so am not a beginner by any means, but . . . maybe I still have beginners’ problems.)
As QEII says, “Stay calm and carry on!”

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Hi, Noreen,

One book on the subject is The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and W. Timothy Gallwey.

Each individual will have their own method that works best. I find that I have better focus if I slow the tempo and pay attention to listening: the texture of the chords & melody; the beat, the rhythm, &c. My big problem is memory: I need hundreds of repetitions to drive into my head the requirements of a technical exercise or a piece. All those repetitions often leads to the mind wandering, hence the need for slow tempo and genuine listening.

Remember to have fun,

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Dear Goforasong,

Thanks for your reply.

Memory - ah, that tricky brain that wants to wander!

One technique I have figured out that helps is that since I am often away from the piano or keyboard, I must do a lot of what I am learning in my head. I find that if I can start with naming at least the first 4 bars of the LH chord progressions in a piece and visualizing and saying where the notes in the RH hand begin for in the first 4 bars along with running the melody in my head when I am away from the piano , half the work is done.

It may sound complicated but it is not that hard because you are not trying to memorize the entire piece.

Example: Alice in Wonderland

Measures 1, 2, 3 = D-7, G7, C M7 = that is a ii,v,i progression - D
Measure 4, 5, 6, 7=FM7, Bm7, E7, Am7, Eb7 more 2,5,1 progressions and so on.

Measure 1= starts on G,
Measure 2 starts on G to F
Measure 3 starts on E to C

I hum the melody in my head and try to visualize where my RH hand must go.

The A and B sections repeat themselves in most instance, so I try to do that for each section.

If I can say that much, then I can often remember the song when I want to play the piece.

You may be way beyond these simple steps, but it might help someone else.

This is brain training for me instead of counting sheep to fall asleep.

Thanks for your response to me.