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 Post subject: Returning to Piano...
PostPosted: Mon Jul 19, 2010 2:24 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:58 pm
Posts: 1
Hello everyone.

I'm in my early 40's and have returned to piano after a long absence.
Between ages 6 & 18 I took weekly lessons for most of those years, but never was in the swing and was divorced from the true enjoyment of the piano music most times.
My father loved piano, played a lot, repaired and tuned pianos, played flute, sax, violin, clarinet, organ.
When he passed on he left me a digital piano in hopes I would return to piano and I have.

For the past 3 months I have just done my own repetitive studies and learned Solfeggietto and Für Elise.
At the moment I am halfway through learning Lady Madonna (Beatles, yes).
In a couple weeks I will have that memorized (I do 30-60 minutes practice every day) and will learn a few simple pieces like Gymnopedie No. 1, Ecossaisie, and Close To You (Carpenters).
After a few more easy pop pieces and Beethoven pieces I'd like to attack a few bigger pieces around this time next year: Revolutionary Etude and Rachmaninoff's Op. 23 No. 5 Prelude.

I find two things frustrating and want to ask advice here:

1) Reading music is still a pain after all these years. I can read music, but I feel like a 5 year old trying to read a simple book: slow, awkward, misinterpreting constantly. Is there an exercise to improve reading skills? Will my repetitive learning of songs help this skill as I try and try, or should I focus specifically on some approach to improving this skill?

2) Finger control--I am so imprecise so often and slip or hit the wrong note. Is there a good way to improve this? I notice that I can slow down and repeat sections 10 or 20 times and it improves. Is this something that smooths out after thousands of hours of practice?

Also,

3) Are pieces like the Revolutionary Etude and Rach's Op.23 Prelude a bit too advanced? Should that be any concern of mine or should I just chip away at harder pieces to get better with my abilities?


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 Post subject: Re: Returning to Piano...
PostPosted: Mon Jul 19, 2010 7:26 pm 
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Joined: Mon Apr 30, 2007 6:35 am
Posts: 1418
Location: Gulfport, MS, USA
Slow practice is always the best approach to smoothing out your technique, and I find that the metronome discipline is also quite effective, but it is also helpful to pay attention to the tension in your hands, the shape of your hands. Try to always be relaxed, and this will cut down greatly on errors.

As for reading music, I would suggest printing out some worksheets for the lines and spaces and drilling them along with practice. Try to sight-read through very easy things very often, until it gets too easy, so easy as to be boring. Then move on to more difficult things.

I would not worry overmuch about working on things that are 'too advanced', but be sure that you do not learn any bad habits.

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"Z Czernym poznałem się na panie brat—na dwa fortepiana często z nim u niego grywałem. Dobry człowiek, ale nic więcej..." - Fryderyk Chopin


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 Post subject: Re: Returning to Piano...
PostPosted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 12:11 am 
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Joined: Tue Aug 05, 2008 9:48 pm
Posts: 2003
Location: U.S.A.
Hi Rusty,

I agree with Terez. For the time being focus on pieces that within your capabilities. Once in awhile add a piece just a notch or two higher in difficulty to stretch your abilities--but not Rachmaninoff. Not yet. Rome wasn't built in a day.

Slow practice is essential as Terez states. The best way to avoid wrong notes and correcting them is to not play any notes until you are certain from the score and the positioning of your fingers that you have the correct notes in hand. Only then play them. The tactile aspect of playing piano can quickly form habits, and bad ones at that, such as wrong notes. The approach, therefore, is to be alert, cautious, and careful when learning the notes. Doing 10 or 20 corrective repetitions, as you mention, might actually be too many. The more the repetitions, the more opportunity for another wrong note to occur--meaning two or more habits to undo. The optimal number of repetitions varies by person. If you can be watchful, and leave a bit of time between each repetition rather than doing repetitions headlong in rapid order, the more likely that each repetition will be played successfully and the correction will take hold. If you can get down to about six repetitions or so, you'll reduce the chances of compound errors.

Practice demands deep and sustained concentration. That is what enables one to solve problems and to effectively achieve musicality (and avoid wrong notes). When you're practicing, spurious thought entering your mind, or allowing your attention to wander, will invite errors--meaning more corrective action. So once concentration seems to be breaking, it's time to quit practicing and to go on to something else.

I agree with Terez's thoughts on relaxation too. You should be seated such that you're positioned only on the front half of the bench. Thighs should be parallel to the floor. Elbows should be level with the keyboard and should be floating freely such that they can move easily away from the body as needed. Wrists should be extended naturally and neutrally from the forearms, and they must be totally flexible in terms of vertical and lateral movement. Hands should have some arch to them (although there come times when we play best with flat rather than curved fingers).

The playing mechanism as described above needs to be relaxed. The only part of the mechanism that cannot be relaxed are the fingers themselves. They need to be sufficiently taut, otherwise they'll be cottony and unable to play the piano. Be aware of your state of relaxation or tenseness. In particular be aware of your shoulders. As you practice, there can be a tendency for them to creep upward to the point where you feel neck pain. Whenever that occurs, remind yourself to lower your shoulders (forming a beneficial habit). If your arms become tense, stand up swing them and dangle them like ropes in a wind to remove the tenseness. It only takes seconds.

On reading music: Before you start a piece at the piano, take the score and a pencil and first sit in your living room to analyze it. What is the character of the piece? A march? Lovely nocturne? A waltz? A quiet reverie? Colorful Spanish music? This will guide your general approach to the music. Notice the key signature and look at the time signature. As you read the score, if there are ledger line notes that you cannot read instantly, figure them out and pencil them in. Take careful note of the tempo and/or mood markings (if you don't have a musical terms dictionary, get one) and notice where the dynamics change throughout the piece. Does the piece contain some tricky rhythms, perhaps a section with polyrhythms between the hands? This is the time to figure them out, perhaps with the help of the metronome as you tap them out. If fingerings are given, they might be good or not so good. Everyone's hands are different. Plus, the fingering might have been devised by a genius like Joseffy, or by a person being paid by the page or hour. Consider all fingerings tentative include ones that you devise yourself. You can always make more suitable adjustments. Look at the composer's figuration. Is it mostly chordal? Rapid scalar passages? Long legato cantabile phrases? Broken chords? The passage work the piece contains will dictate the techniques you bring to bear in the execution. Once you've done this analysis, when you sit at the piano, some elements of the piece will be more readily understood and more easily accomplished. So think of practicing both away from the piano and at the piano.

If it might be possible for you to find an excellent teacher and to continue lessons after the long hiatus, you would benefit tremendously. And many teachers love to have adult students. Something to consider.

I hope this helps.

David

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"Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities." David April


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 Post subject: Re: Returning to Piano...
PostPosted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 3:08 pm 
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Joined: Tue Feb 06, 2007 7:59 pm
Posts: 322
Location: toronto
Rachfan wrote:
Doing 10 or 20 corrective repetitions, as you mention, might actually be too many. The more the repetitions, the more opportunity for another wrong note to occur--meaning two or more habits to undo. The optimal number of repetitions varies by person.


I actually agree with this 100%. I have felt for a while now, that doing too many repetitions within the same day is a bit like cramming for an exam and, at least for me, not that effective. In my case I find it best to practice only a few repetitions as accurately as I can, and then move on to other things. I may of course return to the same passage the next day and the day after that at which point I likely can play it better. I think the whole process requires a certain amount of focus and concentration. It might sound strange but I find sometimes when I learn something new I really need a day or two for the info to sink in properly (sometimes longer) and trying to rush it does no good. I have actually read some research that suggests the same thing in terms of learning music. It also allows me to practice more material in the same day.


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 Post subject: Re: Returning to Piano...
PostPosted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 8:21 pm 
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Joined: Tue Aug 05, 2008 9:48 pm
Posts: 2003
Location: U.S.A.
Hi S W,

Yes, very numerous repetitions that include errors can only muddy the waters even more. Like you, I try to minimize them--for me, perhaps 5 or 6 repetitions at the very most at one sitting. And by repeating that pattern if necessary a day or two later or beyond, the correct way of playing eventually takes hold.

The principle you mention about it taking a day or two or longer for something in a new piece to really sink in resonates. There is a longer-term aspect of this as well. After intensive practice, if some problem areas have not been fully resolved, legions of pianists have found that if they put the piece away for a few weeks and then return to it, the problems no longer seem so difficult. It's believed that during the hiatus the subconscious mind continued to work on those issues thereby paving the way for more successful efforts in the future.

David

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"Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities." David April


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 Post subject: Re: Returning to Piano...
PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2010 6:58 pm 
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Joined: Tue Feb 06, 2007 7:59 pm
Posts: 322
Location: toronto
You know I read the other day that CPE Bach suggested in his 'Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments'

to improve sight reading try learning to play memorized pieces in the dark (to build keyboard geography). I don't know if this is good advice for everyone or not, but at minimum it should help you play memorized pieces with the score in front of you. That way you can always read the score if you forget parts :) One of the most frustrating thing about memorizing is later forgetting what you have put time and effort into memorizing; and most people probably don't have time to constantly go through their entire repertoire by memory.

Anyway I didn't mean to bring back an old post but I thought the quote was kind of interesting. I think sight reading is one of those things that some will always do better then others, even though most people can learn the basic skills involved and improve to various degrees.

Rusty Fortysome wrote:
Hello everyone.

1) Reading music is still a pain after all these years. I can read music, but I feel like a 5 year old trying to read a simple book: slow, awkward, misinterpreting constantly. Is there an exercise to improve reading skills? Will my repetitive learning of songs help this skill as I try and try, or should I focus specifically on some approach to improving this skill?



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 Post subject: Re: Returning to Piano...
PostPosted: Mon Sep 13, 2010 5:39 pm 
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Joined: Thu Mar 25, 2010 6:18 pm
Posts: 1040
If someone is still reading this post I can suggest what I do at times:

When a piece seems to "slide" from under my fingers I play a piece slowly and heavily, with the fingers digging into the keys. Immediately after the piece becomes much easier. If left for the next day a miracle occurs and the piece sounds almost perfect and there is no longer any doubt where each finger goes.

I would say there are two types of memorisation: the first is when you remember a piece completely and you know it and the otehr is when you believe it is not memorised. This happens when you have a score before you, you look at at but do not really read it, because you have actually memorised. The score is only there to give you confidence.

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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Returning to Piano...
PostPosted: Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:18 pm 
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Joined: Thu May 29, 2008 6:50 pm
Posts: 243
Location: Missouri
For reading music, I teach my students with flash cards, the famous acrostics, and alphabetical order. When I use my flash cards, I have my students not only say what it is, but have them point to where it's at on the keyboard. I call it my geographical note game. Then they know how far away or close it is to middle C. Middle C is a landmark as well as G since it sits on the treble clef and F since that sits on the bass clef. That was introduced to me in the music tree method books. My students do quite well with this, too.

When you're fingers slip, do you notice if your wrists are falling below the board?
I have discovered, recently, when someone has tension in their fingers it means that their wrists are falling below the keys. In fact, the wrists should be relaxed but not fallen. It could be that your fingers are falling because of this. Not too high on the wrist but not too low, either.

I hope this makes sense and helps. I had a hard time with words on this, somehow.

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