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 Post subject: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 10:02 am 
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Hey everyone!

-What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?

Just thought I’d put the question out there, so that we could help each other overcome our challenges. If we see another member’s problem that we know how to solve, or have solved in the past, we can reply to their thread and help them out. Hopefully someone will do the same for our problem’s as well!
So let’s get posting everyone! We can use this thread to help out our fellow members, and also get guidance from other members in turn. Let’s see how many fellow members we can help! =D

Jie


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 23, 2011 9:54 am 
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Here's my two cents:
1. Always practice relaxed and accurately.
2. Practice hands separately.
3. Practice only short sections of a piece at a time.

In my experience, a vast number of technical difficulties can be overcome by just strictly following these rules. Most of the detailed texts about special technical problems I have found are not really helpful.


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 23, 2011 10:19 am 
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yjieim wrote:
-What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?


Time ;-)

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 23, 2011 3:22 pm 
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techneut wrote:
yjieim wrote:
-What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?


Time ;-)


Ditto.

But also staying focused while practicing - trying to keep my mind from wandering...

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 23, 2011 7:38 pm 
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Relaxing
Concentrating
Silencing the little voice that says, "careful now or you will muddle it!"
Time

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2011 1:02 pm 
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About losing concentration when you are practicing - you know how the muscle memory gets more secure the more you practice, but what about when your mind starts to wander and you daydream while practicing a certain piece? Do you think the muscle memory got anything out of it during that session, or was it a total waste of time?

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:32 pm 
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I think for me it depends on the stage a piece is in. When starting to put a piece into my hands (after I am done with most of the fingering and interpretive decisions) the difficulty is to work limited sections at a time. Unfortunately, I don't assimilate works easily, so I have to work 1-4 bars extensively to get it into my head and hands. Later, when the piece is integrated as a whole, it is again a battle to work the detail into phrasing and higher order relationships and such, instead of succumbing to the temptation to just "enjoy" the work = just play it. Of course a problem that I struggle with, that is likely true for all of us, is to listen objectively. It is so hard for a fish to understand that it is in water. :shock: (That is get outside of ourselves.) As a performer, it is difficult to serve as distant auditor too, but we must. The last teacher I studied with, Richard Morris, deptartment chair at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music at Univ of C., had a huge sign (well, 2' x 4' ) on the wall that simply instructed every student entering his studio, "LISTEN!" That's job #1. All I have said thus far I can summarize as: to do the work of practicing.

When I had more time to practice in an earlier phase of my life, I ALWAYS dedicated time daily for working the technique and mastering of 5-finger exercises, scales, chords, arpeggios, octaves, etc. Now, I have no time for that and am trying to survive in the desert with only the shirt on my back; it is a much less successful proposition this way, but it is all that I can muster.

C'est la vie.
Eddy

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2011 4:54 pm 
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musical-md wrote:
When I had more time to practice in an earlier phase of my life, I ALWAYS dedicated time daily for working the technique and mastering of 5-finger exercises, scales, chords, arpeggios, octaves, etc. Now, I have no time for that and am trying to survive in the desert with only the shirt on my back; it is a much less successful proposition this way, but it is all that I can muster.

I'm curious (since you seem to be technically much more advanced than me): Do you mean that your overall technique became worse since you have stopped doing technical exercises regularly?

Considering myself, my impression is more that you cannot really loose technical abilities that you have once acquired. Of course under the assumption that you practise regularly. So my experience is that you can keep your current technique quite easily, but of course have to work hard to acquire new skills.


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2011 6:52 pm 
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Syntaxerror wrote:
musical-md wrote:
When I had more time to practice in an earlier phase of my life, I ALWAYS dedicated time daily for working the technique and mastering of 5-finger exercises, scales, chords, arpeggios, octaves, etc. Now, I have no time for that and am trying to survive in the desert with only the shirt on my back; it is a much less successful proposition this way, but it is all that I can muster.

I'm curious (since you seem to be technically much more advanced than me): Do you mean that your overall technique became worse since you have stopped doing technical exercises regularly?

Considering myself, my impression is more that you cannot really loose technical abilities that you have once acquired. Of course under the assumption that you practise regularly. So my experience is that you can keep your current technique quite easily, but of course have to work hard to acquire new skills.

I would answer you that it is in almost everyway like an athlete or dancer that has been away from it. My endurance, finger independence and accuracy (in scales, chords and octaves, as well as trained-relaxation) is not what it used to be. There is a lot of marksmanship and muscle memory that needs more than just a reawakening. Strength is OK now, but even that was decreased when I restarted months ago. However, you are correct in that my essential technique is still mine (the way I hold my hand and move my fingers, the way I play scales, chords, arpeggios, octaves, etc. is still the same [I agree that once acquired after hard work, I don't think that changes]). It would be interesting to me to consider if instead of delving in to repertoire starting 10 months ago, what if instead I had just dedicated this time to regaining technical abilities for 1 year instead, and THEN went to the repertoire. That may have been the smarter thing to do, but I gave in to the temptation. :| I'm sure my situation is not unique for the members of this forum, with so many coming back to their first love after a hiatus, as I too am doing. :D

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2011 3:39 pm 
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You have restarted the right way, Eddy. Had you begun with one year of pure technique you would have thrown the towel long ago. My brother tried that and soon gave up and is now gazing at the stars in Arizona. That is not as bad as it seems, as he is on the staff of the astronomy department of the university of Arizona, but still...

Can you not listen objectively to your own recordings? Most of the time (not always, as you might recall) when playing I might be excused if I think I play like Horowitz, but when playing back the recording of me playing... :cry: Lets talk about something else... :oops:

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2011 4:36 pm 
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richard66 wrote:
Can you not listen objectively to your own recordings? Most of the time (not always, as you might recall) when playing I might be excused if I think I play like Horowitz, but when playing back the recording of me playing... :cry: Lets talk about something else... :oops:


And it's better (worse?) if you let a little time pass before you listen to yourself. That's why I make so many re-recordings.... :oops: :x

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:14 pm 
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@Richard. I can listen to my recordings objectively, but as Monica states, the better the more that time has passed. However, the difficulty of listening in real-time while practicing is what I was referring to (somewhere?).

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:35 pm 
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Indeed, this is what I meant too: Thats' why when I play I think I am Horowitz! :D

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2011 8:22 pm 
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richard66 wrote:
Indeed, this is what I meant too: Thats' why when I play I think I am Horowitz! :D



:lol: :lol: :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 27, 2011 11:04 am 
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i don't know whether this is a problem:

When i practise difficult pieces, i tend to restart the piece all over again when i make a mistake. I think it becomes a problem because in the end i know the beginning of the piece really well but stumble for the rest of the piece:\


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 27, 2011 11:59 am 
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Yes, that is a tendency that needs to be checked.

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 27, 2011 2:40 pm 
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My biggest problem right now is that I've hit a plateau regarding a certain piece I'm working on. It seems like it is not improving and I've been working on it for a long time! And because I've invested so much time, I don't want to give up on it. Not really sure what I'm going to do now....

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 27, 2011 5:08 pm 
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weiwei wrote:
i don't know whether this is a problem:

When i practise difficult pieces, i tend to restart the piece all over again when i make a mistake. I think it becomes a problem because in the end i know the beginning of the piece really well but stumble for the rest of the piece:\


Weiwei, that is a problem because, just as you say, you learn the beginning but you don't really learn the rest.

Some solutions are:
1.) When you begin to work on a new piece, mark the biggest problem spots. Pick one to begin your practice session and work that section carefully. Then pick another and do the same.

2.) Find the sections of the piece and work a section at a time, but start with the end of the piece (I call it "backward practice" -- not that you practice in retrograde, but that you work by section from end to beginning.) Of course some sections may have a sub-section that needs special attention. In that case, work the difficult part(s) of that section first and then put them into context.

3.) An extreme form of the above is to work from end towards the begininning by measure (play last measure, then play the last two, etc.) or even beat. This is sometimes effective in pieces that have constant motion.

Note that where you fall apart may not be the actual problem, but a symptom of an earlier problem -- poor fingering choice that works up to this point, poor hand position, mis-reading, etc. Working from end towards the beginning helps to determine fingering and other factors according to how you need to end section in regards to fingering so that you are prepared for the next section.

4.) Know what sections are repeated (exactly or similarly -- such as the second theme group in a sonata which is first played in some non-tonic key and then recapitualed in tonic). This will help you to be consistent with your fingering when possible and to understand any differences required.

Hope this helps and welcome to Piano Society,

Scott


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Sat Aug 27, 2011 6:10 pm 
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RSPI11 wrote:
2.) Find the sections of the piece and work a section at a time, but start with the end of the piece (I call it "backward practice" -- not that you practice in retrograde, but that you work by section from end to beginning.) Of course some sections may have a sub-section that needs special attention. In that case, work the difficult part(s) of that section first and then put them into context.
This is what I do, but about 2-4 bars at a time.

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Last edited by musical-md on Sat Oct 15, 2011 3:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 01, 2011 6:19 pm 
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musical-md wrote:
This is what I do, but aboyt 2-4 bars at a time.


That's what I call "chunks" ... a unit of practice, which usually turns out to be about 2-4 bars, maybe more if it's easy or less if it's hard. It's as much as you can usefully practise in one go, and can get under your fingers at practice speed before you start to reach the point of diminishing returns and have to go on to something else.

Backwards practice is great. I've taken to learning whole pieces back to front, because the difficult bits tend to go with the climax towards the end, and it's nice to be able to play through to the end from the bit you're working on.

If I said I had one practising problem it's concentration together with finding the discipline not to gloss over mistakes. I know full well it rarely helps to say "oh, that's just a little slip, I don't need to go back over that bit"--I'm just lazy :evil:


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2011 1:24 pm 
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Yeah definitely breaking down the song into small chunks is more efficient. You could even break it down further and practice sets of notes.

Here's a resource that I've read in the past. Gives some good food for thought in terms of making piano practice more efficient. Be warned - there's a lot of info in there! I got easily engrossed. =)

http://www.pianofundamentals.com/book/en/chapter_1

What other big problems do people have practising the piano?


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2011 3:49 pm 
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pianolady wrote:
My biggest problem right now is that I've hit a plateau regarding a certain piece I'm working on. It seems like it is not improving and I've been working on it for a long time! And because I've invested so much time, I don't want to give up on it. Not really sure what I'm going to do now....

Monica,
I just now saw this post of yours. You describe a common phenomenon (I think). When I was younger, I used to describe my techincal advances as filling a room with dust in the the air, and the only part that "stuck" was only the thin layer that had settled overnight for the next day! This would repeat until it was finally up to the ceiling, causing seemingly NO PROGRESS for an extended time until it finally broke through, and then the progress was fast again. <This is just my mental picture.> However the same certainly happens to me with specific works. I recently found that having been distracted from one work by working hard another for a period of several weeks resulted in real break-through's on the first. So time away to let things cool, settle and mature a bit is an effective technique for me. You might try staying away for a month or so, but I would also recommend hands separate practicing before doing that.

Good luck!

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2011 6:49 pm 
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Thanks for the advice, Eddy. I do agree that taking a break from the piece helps. But for me, I can't take too long of a break because the opposite happens and I start forgetting everything I had learned. Recently (and as usual), I get sidetracked by reading through other pieces (and then discovering that I love them and so I get them into recording shape), and then of course that takes away time from working on THE piece I'm having trouble with. But when I do get back to THE piece, it's pretty much in my fingers right where I left it (maybe two or three days had passed). So then I get serious again and work and work on the piece, but still there is that plateau. Maybe there is a teeny tiny amount of progress made (like your dust layers). Or maybe the piece is just too hard for me... I dunno...I was hoping to play the piece in the Chicago (you-know-what), but now I'm not sure if it's going to fly. We'll see....

One other thing: practicing hands-separate is something I do not like to do at all. It really does nothing for me, because it's all in getting BOTH hands coordinated to play together. I do better with hands-together and playing slow and loud.

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 6:52 am 
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There's a school of thought that recommends practising both hands separate till they are pretty good on their own before combining them. The thought behind it is that if you can't even play one hand well up to speed, how can you hope of playing both hands at the same time well! So you make sure that that foundation is there in each hand before you combine them together. I have tried both and found that practising hands separately have helped me overcome "speedwalls" where I had a plataeu and couldn't play faster.


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 7:11 am 
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I was taught always to separate hands. In Bach even separate voices.

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 2:19 pm 
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I could see why practicing hands-separate in Bach would be okay, but normally every piece I start, I just jump in with both hands because I'm too impatient to practice one hand at a time. I still don't think practicing any of the kinds of pieces I play would benefit much from hands-separate practicing; in fact, I can't remember the last time I did. This may sound terrible to most pianists and I don't advocate my way of practicing. I know it's my lack of patience that screws things up.

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 2:44 pm 
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I've never practiced hands apart in Bach or elsewhere, and never felt a need to. Also, neither of my two former teachers (both renowned concert pianists) have ever mentioned it as a requirement or even possibility. So it can't be such a rule set in stone, I think.
Practising voices apart seems quite silly to me. Can't see what one would learn from that, except where the voices are, but you should know that anyway.

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 4:04 pm 
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Come to think of it, my last two teachers did not advise me to practice hands-separate, either.

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 4:39 pm 
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Mine did. The drill was:

Technique: first reading with both hands
Aim: feel of the structure and harmonies

Technique: right and left separate, until both can be played without hitches.
Aim: To know what each hand must do and to concentrate on fingerings

Technique: Separate voices, using the same fingerings as if the other voices were present, even if the voice is spread over two hands
Aim: To know the melody and to memorise fingerings and principally, to get a feel for the polyphony and not to view the voices as harmony. The music is a combination of melodies and not a sequence of courses.

I would add reinforcing each voice in turn. That is, play voice A as if all other voices were subordinate, then the same for B and so on. One must feel the voices and not the "harmonies" created by them.

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 5:03 pm 
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Wow. Well if it worked for you :)

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 9:22 pm 
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Personally, I think there's really no doubt that hands-separate practice, while it may not be a "necessity," is useful in many ways: memorization, technical security, independence of the various parts. While it's true that in the end, the hands must be coordinated together, one of the major obstacles in playing the piano is to be able to think of each hand's part independently (e.g., play evenly, bring out voices, accents, melodic lines) while conveying the piece's overall effect. By working on the separate hand, the mind is turning all its focus to the portion that needs technical attention, not just simply playing over and over again and ingraining a problem in the reflexes. For example, in Chopin Prelude 16, there is the leaping bassline, with that initial accent that makes it so difficult, or although the black key etude is of course more difficult in the right hand, any problem with, or unnecessary amount of focus on, the lefthand leaps can make the right hand more difficult to play. Again, it's isolating the problem area and practicing it over and over again until it feels natural that often achieves the results in technically difficult music.

It goes without saying that this is dependent on the level of the individual pianist's technical attainment and the particular composer or style of the music. It would be rare that I would practice a Haydn or Mozart sonata hands separately (though slow practice certainly always helps). Chopin, on the other hand, with his often contrapuntally complex and technically difficult basslines, is one composer where, I believe, some hands-separate practice is often necessary. According to my teacher, Cortot in fact always made his students memorize the bassline in Chopin separately -- the thought being that it is in most people the bete noire. She exhorted me to do the same but alas didn't come down hard on me enough so I was often very lazy as well. But every time I have since followed this advice, I have benefitted thereby in terms of technical security. Even musically, though, the benefits can be tremendous. Practicing a single melodic line in a nocturne, for example, without the bass, can make one feel the phrasing more securely. It may help when doing so to exaggerate the gesture one wants to achieve, the thought being that in an actual performance it will "come out right" when the nerves set in. Such a modus operandi also works wonderfully when practicing slowly hands together. I emphasize slowly because it's slow practice that really ingrains reflexes in the mind and makes them sure. Few would question that Rachmaninoff is one of the very greatest pianists of all time, and it's interesting to note that no one ever heard him practice at anything other than a snail's pace.

The key point to my mind is that as pianists we're dealing, especially with the better composers, with multilayered textures. Regarding practicing the voices separately in Bach, IMO it absolutely helps, not only to get a sense of the overall structure of the entrances but to make the legato graceful and hear which ones to put in the foreground or background at various junctures, no mean feat.

Just my thoughts on a very interesting subject raised.

Joe

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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 10:33 pm 
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My biggest problem is that I'm a dangerously good sight-reader. This means that in the long-term, some pieces get learnt rather sloppily because practice has tended to reinforce the results of the sight-reading and any errors which are there at the start aren't always weeded out. The other main problem is lack of concentration - I simply can't work on one piece for more than an hour at a time before I get distracted and have to move to another piece or start improvising randomly.

Regarding the hands together / hands separate issue, I'm not a big fan of hands separate but I will use it (with strict non-usage of pedal) if particularly ornate passagework is causing trouble and I need to clarify what's going on. I will admit my attitude might be different if I was playing a wider range of repertoire rather than just romantic era - there are a lot of occasions in Liszt, for example, where the melodic line in reality runs transferring from one hand to another, and in these cases I find it more helpful to practice melody and ornamentation as separate entities rather than the hands as such. It would also be manifestly ridiculous to practice alternate hand chordal/octave passages hands separate, but I guess that is very much a special case.


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 11:03 am 
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Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 10:00 am
Posts: 5
Location: Tallinn, Estonia
Hi,

My biggest problem is not leaving the piano at the moment when I am tired and the practising quality goes down.
My real ability is to concentrate and practise about 45 - 60 min in one session. Then I should do a break.
Often my practising sessions lengthen to 2 or 3 or even more hours in one session.

How about you?

GL
Jaak


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 2:25 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2006 12:38 pm
Posts: 8529
My practice sessions are usually about an hour long at a time. Then I go for a run or watch tv for a bit and then go back to the piano. Unless I've got something on my mind, then my practice session is mostly wasted time since I can't concentrate.

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my videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/monicapiano
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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2011 7:19 am 
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Joined: Mon Oct 10, 2011 3:56 am
Posts: 33
My biggest problem is a toss-up between coordination of the hands, playing both hands together and rhythm.


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 Post subject: Re: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2011 5:35 am 
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Joined: Tue Aug 05, 2008 9:48 pm
Posts: 2003
Location: U.S.A.
Hi,

One problem is that I play music off the beaten path, so sheet music is often harder to find. As a result I have to squint at pdf files from the IMSLP most of the time. But that is what it is.

Here is an age elated problem: When I make an error, and if I look at the keys, choreography of the hands, and how the fingers are stretching to reach the notes, when I was younger, that observation would imprint itself vividly on my brain so that when I next approached that spot, I was already visualizing what I had to do. Now, being older, those observations are less vivid and more quickly forgotten, which increases the work I must do.

I also find that memorization is a thing of the distant past. It means that I have to turn pages while recording. I guess I shouldn't be too concerned though, as I sometimes notice the current crop of professional pianists with scores opened on the piano during recitals.

Sometimes if a piece is not yielding to me as soon as I had anticipated, and if progress is slowing to the point that I'm plateauing, I begin to have self doubts. I wonder if the piece is beyond me such that I should put it away and move on to other repertoire, or spend more time in the struggle. I know that if a piece is truly too difficult, it should be abandoned with no regrets, and that if one works on it again in a few weeks or months, what seemed difficult is no longer so difficult. But still, I find the decision to surrender difficult, wondering "Maybe if I just stick with it a little longer...." I hate failure, especially because it usually has consumed so much time. And because my practice time is limited, that time consumed was very valuable too.

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: What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 20, 2011 12:20 pm 
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Joined: Sun May 02, 2010 1:19 am
Posts: 11
Location: Seneca, MD
yjieim wrote:
Hey everyone!

-What’s your biggest problem with practicing piano?

...
Jie


My problem?


The old Matthay adage... Getting from one note to the next...!


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