Chang precisely recommends the same thing: don't just practice by going through pieces from beginning to end repeatedly. Being a scientist, he quantifies that with efficiency arguments, which are along these lines: if a five minute piece contains two-bar difficult passage, then you can only practice that passage twelve times in the span of one hour. If the passage is only ten seconds long, you can practice it twelve times in just two minutes, which is 30 times more efficient.
One tools is to use a metronome to find the stress passages in a piece. Without a metronome, we hide the stressful passages by slowing down subconsciously.
Set the metronome at a baseline rate at which you can play everything. Then gradually crank up the speed. Then the stress points show up: passages where you fumble.
Chang makes astonishingly clever observations about speed. Basically, speed has two extremes that are easy: very slow, or super fast. It's just as hard to slow down from high speed playing as it is to speed up slow playing. The initial argument he makes is that there is no faster way to play three notes than to just hit a three note chord with three fingers, which is easy, and "infinitely fast". Moreover, it is basically easy to slow down from that "infinite speed" a little bit; if we hit the chord so that the fingers are staggered slightly, we will play a fast arpeggio. A really fast run of notes is like that: hitting groups of notes in this manner, and changing the hand position in between those groups.
It's striking how one's self-perception can be faulty this way. I've had this sort of thing pointed out to me by a bandmate, years ago, using a tape recorder and a metronome. It's like I was in a Sci-fi time-distortion, not because the tempo change was that large, but because it was so invisible to me without the recording and metronome!
Performing to a click is not nearly as lifeless as a hard-quantized MIDI production without live instruments. Sure, it may not have drastic tempo changes like a drummer who isn’t listening to a click, but it still has human variation. Making MIDI programming sound convincing and realistic is not an easy task
Not knowing anything about music at all I've wondered about this a few times. Isn't it just a matter of adding some stochasticity from an appropriate distribution? What is it that makes human imperfection different from machine generated imperfection?
When I play I think about diffeq and nurbs .. but that's a highly subjective analogy.
Think about what makes a groove or feel. You can play quarter notes that feels heavy metal or funk, just by altering the impact and accent. Also I believe that our ears perceive a lot more than discrete events. A single hit has a duration and is more like a tiny bell curve than a zero width line on a chart. Same for singing, if you hit the right note at the right time nobody will like it, it's all in the way you get there in between, even if you're off a little, the subtleties are there to make it pleasing to our ears.
In addition to differences in the performance data (MiDI) versus an audio recording of someone playing a real instrument, I find that MIDI instruments do not sound as realistic as a recording of someone playing acoustic drums or a real piano. Perhaps that is because VSTi plugins usually sample perfect hits and close-miced drums; while a recording of someone playing live drums might have many more imperfections and room noise... I don’t know. It’s certainly possible to program realistic parts with MIDI, but they always sound much more polished to me than real recordings.
>It's no secret that every drum machine has its own vibe - whether analog or digital, they rush, drag, swing, shuffle, and funk like no other. Some are extremely accurate, and others are completely off the grid. An MPC60 will sequence your sounds like a band is playing them, and the LM1 (responsible for the first sequencer shuffle of all time) will give you that incredible early 80s Prince feel. Whatever the machine, they all have a unique groove.
People go to immense ends to get their programmed drums to sound good though - and the techniques that are coupled with this go beyond a statistical approach.
tldr: there's been some research into it – turns out that if you have a few parts (instruments), the randomness you add to each of them needs to be correlated:
> "The first [example] has had completely random timing errors inserted [...] with no link between the errors in different parts. The result sounds unmistakably unmusical and inhuman."
someone built a "humanizing" plugin for Ableton Live based on that research.
here's some quotes i liked:
> "[...] the timing of each individual note is dependent on every single note that both players had already played – a minor timing hiccup near the start of a piece will continue to affect every single note after it, up to the last notes. And when you play a duet every note your partner plays affects your playing, and every note you play affects your partner [...]"
> "[...] if everything is recorded together in the same take then quite large variations in timing are no problem – they don't sound like errors, just the natural movement of the music. But if the parts are multi-tracked, or sequenced parts are mixed with human parts, then the timing errors are glaringly obvious, they sound wrong because they are unnatural, and our capability to identify the uncanny marks them out as unpleasant and undesirable [...]"
This is most likely the first and last time this particular fixed point will occur.
How did you notice this? Were you expecting that to happen soon or something?
Would you mind sharing some examples?
When you play live, you are always rushing a little bit, the louder you play, the faster you play.
Now when we play according to our own tempo from our recordings, I really have to concentrate not to start rushing again - but it is so worth it, everything sounds much better in a precise way.
Another reply on this thread suggested that practicing slow is categorically bad. This isn't true. There is value in not locking in bad habits by being deliberate at low speed.
I had never heard this about playing fast, though. Subjective as it may be, I always abhorred the "shredding" set, because it felt like a cheap trick rather than skillful playing.
And not only mixing up slow/fast, but loud/soft, too.
Walking isn't the same motion as running; we wouldn't practice running by walking. But not all running practice is a sprint.
He says that it's a mistake to learn pieces too slowly and try to speed up from there precisely because of this "gait" issue.As you speed up, you have to unlearn the wrong motions that do not work at full speed and replace them with different ones.
I don't know about piano, but at least in my experience with electric guitar the key to playing fast was to decouple the "gait" from speed by reducing wrist movements and using the elbow more.
Sometimes it's even better to trade away lots of small adjustments to avoid one big one, because you can't hit the big one at tempo.
Glenn Gould practiced by playing fast: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qB76jxBq_gQ
I may be wrong though.
The idea here is that, by slowly speeding up, you end up using low-speed mechanics on high-speed passages and it doesn't always work. It's not for the faint of heart, but if you find yourself struggling it's certainly worth trying.
Your example timing makes me suspicious that this is a theory you haven't actually tried to put into practice yet.
Ten seconds is an eternity for a drill of a difficult passage. For an amateur, that's almost guaranteed to be too much music for them to isolate the difficulty. That means instead of a success rate of 100% on the drill they'll get something considerably less. For an amateur, "difficulty" usually means they were already playing it wrong before they began drilling it. So any mistakes in the drill help reinforce the initial muscle memory for that passage. That makes it extremely likely that they'll repeat the same mistake when you add an audience and nerves.
Drilling passages that are too long does at least decrease the chance of the player losing their place-- they have practiced starting at various spots that aren't simply the beginning. But they are only "30 times more efficient" at playing the piece with an unnecessarily high error rate.
Therefore a chord or arpeggio is not a fast scale.
He is comparing apples and oranges.
The advice in the article is probably right for people who want to be the very best, but probably wrong for most people who might read it.
But what if your goal is to be one of the greatest pianist alive? Then we have to dissect what is "not fun". There are moments of neutral practice, or "monotony", which is what I think the article touches on. The idea that sometimes, practice can feel more like a chore than a pleasure. The article speaks about in this context, you have to push through the negative (or apathy) to continue practicing.
Last year, I had the privilege to attend a seminar in Aikido where two individuals were awarded the rank of godan (5th degree black belt). In our organization, the minimal amount of time required to be eligible for the rank is just over 18 years (and the requirements are increasing next year). One of the individuals spoke about how Aikido and training was much like a marriage - sometimes you enjoy coming to class, sometimes you hate it, and sometimes it's neither feeling; however, much like a marriage, good times or bad, you have to continue working on it.
I've spoken on here before as well about the element of discipline/perseverance/grit in terms of improving oneself. Angela Duckworth has studied the effects of grit across multiple fields, one in particular was grit in cadets at West Point. Higher levels of grit were more likely to complete the program and good leaders were more likely to have higher grit scores.
"Fun" is still a loose, ill-defined term. You can have fun being pursuing a task for leisure or for mastery.
After playing 20 years myself, I must say I'm not nearly as obsessed as the 5 or so pianists I know who play for a living. I play folk and pop, classical I'd say is merely a hobby to me, therefore I'm a scientist in my day job.
The saying goes “practice makes permanent”.
You're speaking in very strong terms, as if we really understood how people become good musicans, but I think we really don't understand it and people take many different paths.
(My background: I started on guitar at about ten, switched to mandolin at about twenty, have always dabbled in other instruments, and at this point my main one is probably piano. I play in two contra dance bands, https://kingfisherband.com and https://freeraisins.com , and mostly play for dancing.)
Some stuff remains for sure, but you lose a lot after a couple of years of not playing.
I hate going to the gym. I just don't like it, and that makes it hard to get good at it. I can make myself go, that lasts 1 to 3 months, I eventually hurt myself because I was to cheap to invest the resources necessary to learn proper form, I take a couple weeks off, lose all my progress, and get stuck on the fact that the same cycle is gonna have the same outcome, and I just stop going.
I love going to handstand classes. I see the same small group of people most classes, I know most of them by name, and for some reason I like working towards handstands. It have been taking these classes for 6 months, and my progress is slow for reasons (discipline, bi-lateral radial head replacement, weak starting point), but I love going. I spend the time necessary to learn the body awareness I need, and I get private lessons when I get stuck on learning something harder.
I highly recommend not bothering with exercise choices you think you have to do, and seeking those you wanna do.
This is quite misleading. -Locally-, it might be true that weaker students practice more than strong students, to compensate for their weakness. But on average, great piano players practice much more than mediocre piano players.
It's easy to find examples, but I'll name two that I found in my first two Google searches:
Lang Lang (virtuoso classical pianist) - 6 hours a day
Oscar Peterson (virtuoso jazz pianists) - 6 hours a day
I'm --certain-- this is the norm, not the exception.
I know a couple technical folks who are smoking good at their instruments, and basically said:
"Look, I spent time in <strong musical program> as an undergraduate. One group "has it"--they're the elite. I'm in the second group. I'm practicing my ass off, and I'm not deaf. I'm gaining some ground on the best in the second group, but it's REALLY slow as they're practicing their ass off, too. Maybe I can reach the bottom of the elite group after 4 years. Maybe."
"Or I can get a CS degree. And still play my instrument. And get amazing gigs simply because I am more than good enough and am always available when a cool gig comes up since I don't have to worry about money."
There then appears a footnote in the notebooks by the editor stating that even with this correction, his friends', colleagues', and the editor's own experience of Richter suggest he practiced way more than that.
I would hope they are spending many of those hours reading instead of doing the physical exercise.
In my experience playing, after only a few hours, I stop getting any better. I need sleep to solidify my understanding. Although I'm a 15 year amateur music player.
This attitude became ingrained enough that when I was taking pole dance class later in life, my instructor noticed that, unlike most beginners faced with a new move they were having difficulty with, I'd make myself spend time experimenting with it instead of falling back to refining earlier basics I was more than good enough for at that stage of my practice. It's a good one to have, IMHO.
And I sure as hell have found ways to complicate my work as time goes on. Constantly doing stuff I can knock out in my sleep gets boring; challenge is fun.
There is an interesting book in there somewhere.
The kind of piano playing described in the post doesn't actually leave much room for creativity. You're playing someone else's music. You have a bit of freedom to vary emphasis and tempo, but good luck winning competitions while getting creative with your own melody, harmony, etc. If we treated painting the way we treat classical music, we'd have competitions to see who's the best at paint-by-numbers.
If you want to become a better writer, composer, painter, programmer, etc., technique is relevant but not the same thing as getting more creative.
EDIT: Or to put it in the article's own terms, is there any reason to believe the top piano student at the university is doing better creative work than those other students who were playing their songs start to finish? For all we know they were composition majors, and they'd already achieved the technical proficiency they needed to express themselves creatively. The kind of practice advocated in the post is very narrowly focused on very specific technical excellence that's way past the minimum you need for creative expression.
If you want to be a great improvisational musician, you still (especially) need to be studied in music theory and common works, to know how good music is constructed, and what people expect to hear.
If ever there is a great musician or other type of creator who says they are not familiar with and have not studied the works of their contemporaries and lineage, they are lying.
I'm not sure how important it is to programming. While I know some younger coders who "practice" and "drill" programming problems, this is pretty foreign to how I've learned to program (over a couple plus decades). I've just... programmed. No shade, whatever works. But as a kind of aside, I'm curious how many programmer readers of HN do "practices" or "drills" of programming (and what stage of your career you are at; even the most expert musicians have to keep practicing and drilling. I think expert programmers just... produce programs).
(But I did find this article enlightening and I predict useful to my amateur musicianship! It's not a bad article at all. I'm just not sure how applicable it is to computer programming -- which it does not claim to be, but I assume is why it was posted on HN -- I think they are very different skills and practices. The muscle memory/physicality aspect of musicianship just doesn't apply to programming I think).
In a previous job I was transcribing letters from a requirements document into a program to generate nicely formatted PDFs. Officially, we were meant to copy and paste them to avoid typos. Unofficially, I always typed them and picked up a lot of errors that the clients were happy to fix. And they usually looked fine when I was just reading them with shallow focus.
You don't deal with those by just winging it, there's a deliberate process you apply to get yourself into these things, and more often than not, these deliberate processes are not your state-of-flow stuff (e.g. heavy research on a subject matter, writing documentation before working on a large feature, etc.)
For example, when learning ant colony optimization, I started with a naive approach. Then I tried to see if I could estimate an ideal termination condition. Then, researched known methods and refined my approach. Then looked at ways to optimize, refactor, specialize for different use cases. The hours I spent would be considered excessive to some, but far more effective than writing something that works and moving on.
As a result, I’ve used ACOs to model NPC swarm behavior for ground troops that respect mutual collisions, multiple openings, and group behavior that looks very convincing with minimal computation cost. It never would have occurred to me if I only saw it as a graph path optimization technique. I can also with an ACO from memory.
I do similar things when learning new languages. Start with something and focus on interactively refactoring it to be as idiomatic to the language as possible. For hybrid languages like Scala & Ocaml, I try different approaches and try to solve in as many ways as possible.
Definitely do some serious practicing when I'm trying to learn a difficult piece of music, though.
i do my best work when i'm in the zone and it has nothing to do with whether the work itself is challenging or not. in fact, the more challenging something is, the easier it is for me to stay focused if i feel like i'm making progress
The claim boils down to this: you will do your best work in a state of flow, but you will improve your capabilities faster outside of it. Flow is great for productivity but not for changing how you do things.
At a handwavy level at least, it seems to be true in my experience. It is certainly true that not all practice is equivalent, and you can put a lot of hours into "practicing" something without making any real progress in your skills.
flow usually equates to deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is never relaxed - but flow can be.
To reference the OP, there was discussion of intentionally focusing on and making the difficult parts of a piece harder as a form of practice. That doesn't bring flow, but allows the flow state later when you play the piece "for real". I think this generalizes well.
This isn't rocket science, and it is something professionals are taught to do.
But I'm also not trying to play extremely fast. If my goal was recital rather than composition, I would use it more. My recordings are mostly total improv, free jazz, with a vocals track (later deleted) that states what chord changes are coming up, and then improvise over the first instrumental track while listening to the chord announcements.
All the exercises I received from Charlie forced me to be consciously engaged in the act of playing- never outsourcing things to muscle memory.
I think that largely this was to avoid falling into mechanically playing over changes and to be actively engaged in thinking about the music at the moment it was happening and responding to it creatively.
Flow (as defined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) is between frustration and boredom because either the activity is too difficult or too easy.
Going at something for 3 times half an hour with hours in between is more effective than going for hours straight. And this kind of focused time method also works well for programming. With programming it is harder to decide where to put the break.
Breaks don’t mean you have to do nothing, you just have to do something that is mentally different. When I take a programming break, making music, soldering or reading is quite a good programming break.
The other thing I would say is that it really helps to have a goal to drive you. I quit playing piano for a decade and the only reason I came back to it, built up what little technique I had and persevered was because I really, really wanted to play a particular prelude by Rachmaninov, even though it was way out of my reach at the time. Finally learning it after a year or two of fairly hard work was very rewarding.
Pianist and YouTuber Nahre Sol has a great set of exercises based on modifying passages of Chopin etudes, which serve as excellent material to study both as a template and in their own right.  She varies harmony and rhythm, and takes the exercise through all 12-keys. Much harder than just learning the passage in the original key, but that's the whole point.
I can imagine data structures and algorithms and coding competitions, but I've always struggled with the concept of drills for improving skills as a software developer.
Would love to hear ideas from others.
He's famous as a programmer who got things right the first time. And that's been consistent over his career. A lot of what's in there is obsolete, but notice that even in 1960 he was doing something on paper like the literate programming that he developed later.
I'm skeptical that the scope of things you can get working at all by mindlessly banging on tests without thinking about the problem is very large, and when you add other aspects of the software development lifecycle, your prospects seem very slender indeed. If reading your code takes "ages", how are you going to figure out how to extend it next week when you need to change what it does? How are you going to debug it when it crashes once you put in production?
I have written compilers in a somewhat test-driven fashion, and I am especially skeptical that you can purely TDD a compiler. Certainly I've never seen it done. I'm far more skeptical that you could TDD a compiler written in assembly language that achieves the kind of performance this scenario implies. (But tests, especially regression tests, are extremely valuable for writing compilers.)
The particular compiler we're talking about here was one Knuth wrote during a summer-long road trip for US$5500 (roughly US$120 000 today). So the situation was actually considerably more extreme than you're imagining — not only did he not have punch cards when he wrote the compiler, he'd never seen the computer. So he had to spend a few months debugging it after he actually finished driving to the other side of the continent where the computer was.
I have been working on my current codebase for almost a year now and still haven't seen half of it. There is no just read over it because its massive. Tests are the only thing that makes it manageable. When I want to change something I can find the part that needs to change but I have no idea what features I don't know about that depend on that feature doing something. Tests allow me to very quickly automatically scan the code base to show what things changed.
I agree that tests are very valuable for the reason you describe, as well as for other reasons. What codebase are you working on?
I improve my typing speed with http://www.speedcoder.net/
Every time I hear a concept I don't know I make a flashcard and quiz myself daily. I also have a collection of problems to keep myself challenged, some are interview questions and others are common patterns.
Here are public decks for Python:
• General Python - https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/1394656023
• Coding challenges - https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/223286091
I used to do regex crosswords, which really helped me cement my reading ability of regexes and in term writing ability.
I think programming is closer to writing than playing piano. The types of exercises that writers do to get good are to rewrite, reread and rewrite.
The code gets better, but the business outcome remains unchanged so it may look like waste. But it’s not waste - the micro skills acquired in the exercise accumulate.
1. Make the thing from a book, verbatim, change nothing
2. Synthesize a new recipe from 3-5 recipes, changing stuff
at will, but within the range for each ingredient
3. if excellent: goto 2; else: goto 4
4. Continue to make this dish, using this recipe, from feel until the output consistency is always delish
Being good means being creative and then being able to consistently hit the required output quality.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.” -- Bruce Lee
I was also told that cooking from good ingredients is easy, the hard part is figuring out what to cook given the ingredients you have on a given day.
Herein lies the issues for many of us in the corporate world. Unless I am get the rewrite done in the current testing (assuming the feature I'm working on isn't already test complete), convincing the testers to re-test is basically impossible (to say nothing of the project/product managers).
And so if I were to codify all the types of common idioms as if they were scales - which I haven't done - I would be able to drill those, but I suspect that there's a lot of them that are different between different domains of programming, and that's a major source of expertise.
Likewise my approach to naming has seen some iterative improvement, and it's definitely a thing I am training as I go. Names are like comments: you don't really want too many of them in your program, because they can obscure other information. Standardized variable names are great, and dense code is great when you can get it without sacrificing much readibility. I spent a little while evaluating what length of variable is sufficient to avoid collision and maintain readability while getting good density where needed:
1 letter - fine for local variables using detailed mathematics, where each variable is necessarily used in a dense, non-obvious way and it would be reasonable to have an explainer comment.
2 letters - hard to use well. As abbreviations they tend to collide too often to be recommended, and they are hard to recognize.
3 letters - a sweet spot for density and low collision rates, but still often unreadable.
4 letters - sufficient for most abbreviations and many full words.
5+ letters - at this point a majority of single words you would use will fit, and so you may as well consider this as "I am spelling out a whole word", with the next step up being multiple words and phrases, and at that point code density is the main tradeoff being made.
A common naming idiom I practice is labelling array-like values such as min/max bounds numerically, e.g. an axis-aligned box defined with x0, x1, y0, y1. For a while I used "result" as the variable for all returned values, after seeing this idiom in Pascal. Then I realized that I could use "ans" (answer) instead and get much denser code in a lot of instances. It's little things like that, which add up to a pleasant, lower-friction experience.
Elite musicians are all super relaxed and chill? Some are, some aren't. For every story of a relaxed musician, I can find you a super successful one that would literally run from gig to gig on weekends. If you're willing to ignore all evidence to the contrary and willing to use a single study to confirm what you already believe, I guess life becomes a lot simpler. Probably helps sell more of them books, too.
Working on your weaknesses can be good if that's something you've avoided doing and doing so would help you advance your skills. What a weird, confrontational way Cal Newport has of getting a reasonable idea across.
It's one of the infinite number of things that are neither necessary nor sufficient to create "success" or be "elite", because those are largely in your own mind and based on how you feel about what's happened rather than what has happened.
True, but the pianist in the article still makes good points.
> "The mistake most weak pianists make is playing, not practicing." as I understand it, means that the pianist found repeated confrontation with difficult parts was beneficial versus sessions repeating the music in full from beginning to end.
What he says is about seeking mastery first. To be a great musician, first you need to have taste, that cannot be downplayed. If you have the right taste and an idea of what the music should sound like, then there are mostly technical traps you need to tackle to achieve a great performance. The pianist doesn't mean to say that once you have done the hard parts you shouldn't enjoy playing the music in full—that's would be stupid. No great performer ever stops in the mid of a piece and get along with it being great.
But it is much easier to find "flow" or whatever you call it, once you have mastery. And one is not exclusive of the other, that's maybe Cal Newport's interpretation or simplification to match the goal of his article.
> "Weak pianists make music a reactive task, not a creative task."
> "In performance, weak pianists try to reactively move away from mistakes, while strong pianists move towards a perfect mental image."
ring particularly true and are useful tips.
The second and third strategies I don't completely relate to. If it works for you, great.
The fourth I would somewhat disagree with. You need to know where you're going before you start playing but "moving towards a perfect mental image" is just silly. Is this piano player trying to be a robot? There are countless ways to play certain pieces and a lot of the time it depends how you're feeling that day. Play like a human being. This quote by Beethoven is apt, "To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable." I would say the most important thing is to play with passion and to try to stay true to the spirit of the piece you're playing.
Source: my personal opinions after playing classical piano for 14 years.
I recommend reading Kenny Werner's Effortless Mastery, which is probably in your public library if you're in a big city, and also the interviews in Wernick/Trischka's Masters of 5 String Banjo, currently going fore absurd asking prices on Amazon and hard to find unless you know a banjo player.
Heidegger at its core is an "antiplatonism of lived experience". I really can't recommend enough reading two very different interpretations of him, namely "Tool-being" by Graham Harman and "Being-in-the-world" by Hubert Dreyfus.
Books are cheap. Get these. Most Netflix shows are bad. Read these books instead for two or three weeks.
I can see the argument for avoiding flow and focusing on your weaknesses when your goal is self-improvement (and to take the jump from there that it's important to set aside some time to focus on self-improvement), but that doesn't apply when your goal is actual output, which is the majority of the time when it comes to most of our jobs
It's an interesting counterargument to the 'train how you perform' philosophy.
Interesting character, and a shame that he couldn't get the help he needed.
Actually using scales or chords is something else again, and the best approach is probably just repertoire - Bach's Goldberg Variations, Bartok's For Children cycle, transcribing Bill Evans, Liszt's concert studies, etc.
That said, I’ve created compositions that are really cool on occasional boredom, which is probably something many “accomplished pianists” don’t even do. And that is a lot cooler than performing challenging pieces, if you ask me.
I also don’t think that more challenging pieces actually necessarily sound better / distinct. There are beginner level songs that are surprisingly good.
My music teacher also told me that there’s good and bad practice. If you continuously do bad practice / habits, you get worse, not better.
I hope we see more articles like this.
As a shameless plug, I am developing a site to help me learn piano. It's still pretty early; the paywall is there so I can control initial users a bit better (feel free to pay though :P). If you're interested in such things, shoot me an email (check my profile). I'd love to learn more about how I can help the world be full of better music (i.e. helping you be a more awesome musician)
The whole point is to start small, learn pieces quickly, but most importantly musically. Make music with them. Learn to read from the score comfortably. After a while reading things at sight isn't such a big deal.
The important thing is to learn music is a way that solid skills are acquired. You certainly can focus work on a Beethoven sonata for several months like at a conservatory but I believe this method of learning vast amounts of music quickly is absolutely indispensable. There are a TON of excellent first rate compositions by the best composers, you have no excuse for not mastering them.
The gap between being able to play Haydn sonatas and the Well Tempered Clavier fluently and say being able to work on the "big pieces" is much smaller than you think.
Don't skip anything. Nobody needs to charge in and start playing Beethoven's sonata op. 57 The Appassionata before they've played at least 20 of the easier sonatas.
The other bit of advice I have is to constantly work your memory. Again with simple pieces learned quickly. Most pieces don't need to be memorized and memorizing everything will hamper your development. You do however need to memorize easily and efficiently. It really helps in developing speed and accuracy. Chopin studies mostly need to be memorized in order to practice effectively. That said, I firmly believe you can learn MORE technique playing finales to Haydn sonatas but with a whole lot of energy and spark than slaving away on virtuoso etudes.
One last thing, practicing without pedal (often but definitely not always) is very helpful. It has been for me.
Oops. One more last thing. Play by ear and improvise in any style you like. You'd be surprised how many super advanced classical musicians there are who can't play Happy Birthday at a moments notice without knowing the song at all just to make a group of children happy. This is a symptom of the lop sided skills not to be able to play songs people like whether it's Carol King or Arcade Fire. You should be able to fake something.
TLDR; Picking all the low laying fruit you can find is the one way to success. You get to focus on enjoying the process of actually making music than to struggle with passage work that always comes on its own anyway.
Yes. And playing easy pieces well enough that other people want to listen is still hard.
Personally the desire to express myself through music playing or writing songs drove me to finally get serious about learning/semi-mastering the piano/learn how to play by ear.
The guitar is a much easier instrument to pick up then piano.
When I'm doing something I really enjoy, I don't have to make myself do it in a way that's harder -- I already feel driven to add complexity and constraint. If I don't want a task to be harder, that probably means I don't enjoy it, and the best move is to try to get out of doing it.