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#2026755 - 02/04/13 09:40 AM Playing pieces that are too advanced for you?  
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Mickb Offline
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HI All

First post after being a long time lurker. I’m a 41 year old Adult Beginner of 3 months thats finally plucked up the courage to post.

I’m taking a 1 hour lesson, once a week and working through Accelerated Piano Adventures for the Adult Beginner. I try to practice as much as real life allows and make sure I at least get 15-30 minutes each day, even if its just to brush up on some scales or something.

My teacher says I’m picking up stuff pretty fast (generally I have all my homework perfected each week when I start my new lesson) but I have a few questions.

The first is, is it ok to be trying to play a piece that’s way above your current level, or is that an ineffective use of time? For example, one of my “goal” pieces is Beethoven’s Moonlight (cliché I know!) and I can already play through the first twenty bars or so of the first movement (I can hit the notes in reasonable time but obviously dynamics & musicality are non-existent most of the time).

Some of it I have found very difficult (the last beat at the end of the 5th bar for example took me a long time) considering the material I’m working through in the beginners book. I know in my heart of hearts that its probably quicker to learn these techniques through easier material and I’ll progress much faster through Moonlight having mastered those techniques first. At the same time it’s very motivational to me to be able to play something recognisable that I actually like, as opposed to the bastardised versions of songs you get in the beginners book.

Secondly, I can play most of the major scales in 2 octaves similar motion and contrary motion, but I’ve been wondering when the speed comes? What I mean is that while I have tackled progressively harder scales as I’ve gone along, I sort of expected that by the time I was able to play more than ten scales, the first of them (eg simple C Major) would be much quicker by now. Whereas in reality I’m finding I play them all pretty much the same tempo. If I try to force speed on even a simple C Major scale, my hands tend to go out of sync.

So I’m sort of wondering, does the speed just “happen” after many years of practice or should I be actively trying for more speed or am I better off hitting the correct notes rather than re-inforcing errors through trying to run before I can walk? FWIW my teacher says I’m doing fine and moving fast enough (I know I’m probably answering my own question here!!!).

Anyway, any help appreciated.

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#2026788 - 02/04/13 10:32 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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Monica K. Offline

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Welcome "Out of Lurkdom," MickB!

I have ambivalence about tackling pieces that are too advanced. On the one hand, it's a long, frustrating slog, and you're inevitably going to be somewhat disappointed in the results. And some have warned that if you learn a piece incorrectly, it's extremely difficult or even impossible to relearn it correctly later on. (I personally think that if you let enough time lapse, you can relearn it without interference.)

Those are the arguments against tackling pieces you're not ready for yet. The argument FOR is that the heart knows what the heart knows, and if you're obsessed with trying a particular piece at this point at time, why not? You're more likely to stick with piano if you're loving what you're working on.

One of the reasons I started playing piano is because I loved new age music and wanted badly to play George Winston's "Longing/Love." I tackled it WELL before I was ready for it, worked months and months on it, and while I finally got a recording I was happy with, I recognize now that my time might have been more efficiently spent learning a greater number of less difficult pieces. That's why I tend to shy away from too advanced pieces now. There's plenty of other pieces that I love that I *am* capable of playing now.

Do I regret that early passionate affair with "Longing/Love", though? Not one bit. smokin



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#2026801 - 02/04/13 10:48 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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PattyP Offline
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Hi, Mick, how exiting that you’ve taken up piano. Good on you, mate!

First of all, you have to be patient with yourself. You didn’t mention if have any musical experience or if this is your first time at the rodeo. Learning piano, and all that goes with it, is a process. Unless you’re a prodigy, most of us mere humans, especially those of us who aren’t spring chickens anymore, take time to develop the skill. Some people learn faster than others but you should never compare yourself to anyone else.

Now, to answer the question that jumped out at me: do not push for speed at the expense of accuracy! Speed will come in time but you should strive for musical and timing precision as you work on a piece. It won't all come at once but it will come. It's a process, like building a structure. You have to have a solid foundation before you can build up. As you become more comfortable with each piece, your technique and muscle memory will help with the speed.

Something I like to do is to practice each hand separately and then put them together. That seems to speed up the process a wee bit. I also find that recording myself is a helpful method of critiquing and hearing which areas may need work.

There's nothing wrong with working on pieces that are beyond your current level. That's how we learn and grow ourselves, and besides that, it's always fun to ka-noodle around. smile However, I would advise against going too far advanced as it may discourage you.

Be sure you talk with you teacher about your concerns. He/she will give you guidance. Bottom line, be patient with yourself and have fun!

Last edited by PattyP; 02/04/13 10:49 AM.

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#2026809 - 02/04/13 10:59 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: PattyP]  
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Mickb Offline
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Originally Posted by PattyP
Hi, Mick, how exiting that you’ve taken up piano. Good on you, mate!

First of all, you have to be patient with yourself. You didn’t mention if have any musical experience or if this is your first time at the rodeo. Learning piano, and all that goes with it, is a process. Unless you’re a prodigy, most of us mere humans, especially those of us who aren’t spring chickens anymore, take time to develop the skill. Some people learn faster than others but you should never compare yourself to anyone else.


Sorry, I should have said......I'm a complete noob when it comes to playing piano (not strictly speaking true but I reckon that playing when I was 7 or 8 doesn't count, 30+ years of not touching a keyboard is zero musical experience in my book smile ). I'm sure I have a common story, always wanted to play, love music but could never find the time until one day............

Quote
Now, to answer the question that jumped out at me: do not push for speed at the expense of accuracy! Speed will come in time but you should strive for musical and timing precision as you work on a piece. It won't all come at once but it will come. It's a process, like building a structure. You have to have a solid foundation before you can build up. As you become more comfortable with each piece, your technique and muscle memory will help with the speed.


This is sort of what I figured. I've been reading Fundamentals of Piano Pratice which preaches much the same things.

Quote
Something I like to do is to practice each hand separately and then put them together. That seems to speed up the process a wee bit. I also find that recording myself is a helpful method of critiquing and hearing which areas may need work.

There's nothing wrong with working on pieces that are beyond your current level. That's how we learn and grow ourselves, and besides that, it's always fun to ka-noodle around. smile However, I would advise against going too far advanced as it may discourage you.


Yeah, I've decided not to tackle the 3rd movement yet wink

Quote
Be sure you talk with you teacher about your concerns. He/she will give you guidance. Bottom line, be patient with yourself and have fun!


I have and she is awesome. I guess its always worth checking the opinions of others and I couldnt think of another way to introduce myself wink

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#2026820 - 02/04/13 11:24 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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Hahaha been there done that! While there's no lasting harm done by learning advanced pieces, you might get sick of the enormous task to read through those materials. But that's something many of us did. I'm now happy not tackling with too big a piece since I have a full time work. Good luck with your study.

As for scales, that's just a constant work. I started putting it to the slowest setting started 1 note for 1 tick, proceeding to 2 nites, 3 notes, and eventually 4 notes to a click. And the gradually up the speed. You can speed up from the beginning but it gotta be smooth. You don't want to have it sound like a trainruck do you? Smooth means it should sound like even steven with the same volume without your thumb making thuds or 4th finger hitting silent note or both hands not in unison. So it requires patience for anyone. I only knew a few who did not need to do it too much because they learned to play smoothly by just learning their pieces.


Pieces for this year to be decided soon.
#2026821 - 02/04/13 11:27 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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Two months after starting to learn the piano, with Alfred's Basic Adult Course and matching Christmas songs, I started working on a piece that I love but knew was too advanced (early intermediate, I guess, but that's hard to say as a beginner). Progress was slow but very very rewarding. After all, you are playing music that you love. It's a great motivator, also to keep working on easier stuff from the lesson methods.

I learned some decent technique, but the end result was pretty sloppy overall. Some things came naturally, others I found to be impossible. When you hit such a brick wall, you got to know when it's time to move on to easier material, and leave the advanced piece for later. Still, it can be fun to work on harder stuff every now and then. I don't think learning piano is a linear process. There are lots of things to learn side-by-side; posture, relaxed playing, note reading, sight reading, dynamics, harmony (pressing two or three keys at the exact same time is HARD), playing with company or while recording, etc. Some music is far too complicated to pick up early, or too fast to play with untrained fingers, but I found I really didn't need to learn about the scale of A minor before I could play an arpeggio smile

A year later I'm relearning the piece. It's still mostly memorized. Several parts needed fixing. One part is still too bloody difficult. I didn't find relearning to be particularly hard, though. Just sit down and work slowly through the relevant bits, this time with proper fingering and motion, repeating until you don't accidentally use the old way any more.


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#2026907 - 02/04/13 02:05 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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Perhaps that discussion will help as well http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=49858.0

#2026916 - 02/04/13 02:28 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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Charles Cohen Offline
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Quote

. . . The argument FOR is that the heart knows what the heart knows, and if you're obsessed with trying a particular piece at this point at time, why not? You're more likely to stick with piano if you're loving what you're working on. . .


You should walk the established path. But that doesn't mean that you can't look at the scenery ahead of you.

I've had two "This piece is too hard!" experiences recently. And I hope I keep having them, forever. It keeps life interesting.

. charles


. Charles
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#2026922 - 02/04/13 02:36 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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>The first is, is it ok to be trying to play a piece that’s way above your current level, or is that an ineffective use of time?

"too advanced" is never good. But a lot above your current level is OK I think. I think that the more intelligent and persistent you are, the more above your current level you can handle. And I think it's always best to work on some "real thing" that you like, much more than working on something just because you need to learn something before going for the "real thing". You have to determine yourself how persistent you are and what you can do in that time. What you really want to avoid is having to drop a piece after several months because you can't do it.


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#2026998 - 02/04/13 05:12 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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JimF Offline
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Mickb, re taking on pieces beyond your abilities. This comes up all the time and you will get lots of different opinions. Ultimately, you have to judge if it is worth your time and effort.

I wrote the following in response to a similar post almost exactly three years ago...

Originally Posted by JimF
My experience with trying to play a piece (Claire de Lune) that was way beyond my current level led me to a few conclusions:

1. It is possible to play a piece beyond your level but the learning will be mostly rote memorization (because beginners don't "read" complex scores) and will take up significant chunks of practice time over an extended period. The result will sound great to the beginner, but not so great to most everyone else that has a clue.

2. You may injure yourself trying to replicate techniques that you've not built the proper base for, like big stretches or repeated octaves.

3. Most importantly, you will take time away from learning at your current level. Even if you only spend 20 minutes a day on the hard piece, thats more than 20 percent of a one-and-a half hour daily practice session. In a very real sense, that puts you 20% BEHIND where you would be had the harder piece never been attempted. Because not much of all that rote memoriztion will be useful in your future pieces, it will be that much longer before you can really play a piece at the higher level.

Everyone has different goals and objectives, so my conclusions may not be useful to you.
But when I really thought about it, what I wanted most was to improve so that some day I could actually play CDL and not just pretend I could play it. Taking it on too soon was keeping me from that objective.



Jim


Tarantella, Pieczonka
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#2027005 - 02/04/13 05:21 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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justpin Offline
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The thing is if you learn other pieces then come back, the steepness of the difficulty maybe considerably lower.

Myself I wanted to play some uber classics which were listed as grade 5 and 7 pieces, Turkish March for instance.

I struggled to get even 3 bars..

I bode my time learning other pieces and general all round piano goodness and those uber pieces seem achievable. 47 lessons in I can play all of Casio's D rated pieces, but not quite the E pieces.

What would have taken me weeks to learn takes me a couple of attempts right then polishing for expression.

Plus trying and failing the uber pieces can knock your confidence considerably and you may well give up.

#2027010 - 02/04/13 05:34 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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Originally Posted by Mickb
The first is, is it ok to be trying to play a piece that’s way above your current level, or is that an ineffective use of time?

Secondly, I can play most of the major scales in 2 octaves similar motion and contrary motion, but I’ve been wondering when the speed comes? What I mean is that while I have tackled progressively harder scales as I’ve gone along, I sort of expected that by the time I was able to play more than ten scales, the first of them (eg simple C Major) would be much quicker by now. Whereas in reality I’m finding I play them all pretty much the same tempo. If I try to force speed on even a simple C Major scale, my hands tend to go out of sync.

So I’m sort of wondering, does the speed just “happen” after many years of practice or should I be actively trying for more speed or am I better off hitting the correct notes rather than re-inforcing errors through trying to run before I can walk? FWIW my teacher says I’m doing fine and moving fast enough (I know I’m probably answering my own question here!!!).

Anyway, any help appreciated.


Playing something way too advance has no benefits. It actually could make it extremely hard to learn it correctly at a later time when your technique is finally there as you will certainly learned it all wrong, but it's been burned into your system. If you must play the 1st movt of Moonlight Sonata, then go for it. You will completely slaughter it for sure, but you have plenty of company along with all the other beginners out there who can't wait to play a famous piece of music. grin

As for speed, yes, go slow, speed just happens. If you push yourself out of sync, that's bad. Scales with two hands should not sound like two hands. They should be perfectly together. Once you are used to hearing yourself out of sync because you are pushing too hard, then you'll get used to it and it affect everything you do. If your ears are willing hear sloppy scales, then those same ears will accept sloppy repertoire. My teacher always says it is possible to achieve perfection in technical exercises, and that is your goal. Do not give up perfection for speed.


Art is never finished, only abandoned. - da Vinci
#2027012 - 02/04/13 05:37 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: JimF]  
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wouter79 Offline
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Originally Posted by JimF

1. It is possible to play a piece beyond your level but the learning will be mostly rote memorization


I believe that's a good thing (maybe I don't understand what you want to say here?)

Originally Posted by JimF

2. You may injure yourself trying to replicate techniques that you've not built the proper base for, like big stretches or repeated octaves.

Yes but you always have that risk if you are learning something new, you're just doing it now accelerated so you have to be more careful.

Originally Posted by JimF

3. Most importantly, you will take time away from learning at your current level.


I don't believe this. To play it well, you HAVE to learn everything that the piece needs. You just have to learn a lot more if the piece is further from your current level.

Last edited by wouter79; 02/04/13 05:38 PM.

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#2027047 - 02/04/13 06:56 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: JimF]  
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Mickb,

[SIGH]

As I said....

Quote
....you will get lots of different opinions


Quote
...Ultimately, you have to judge...


Quote
..My experience with trying... led me to a few conclusions...


Quote
...Everyone has different goals and objectives, so my conclusions may not be useful to you



I thought I put in enough disclaimers to make it clear that you'd have to judge it for yourself anyway. But I guess not.

So here's one more.. People will disagree.

Sigh...







Tarantella, Pieczonka
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#2027053 - 02/04/13 07:10 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: JimF]  
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JimF you are completely wrong and I disagree. With everything you said and with you in general.

grin


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#2027068 - 02/04/13 07:38 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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We've all been there, as the responses to this thread illustrate. For some people, a very lucky few, playing pieces above their ability seems to work. They may spend months or years learning them, and not be able to play them as well as they hoped, but there are a few people who have done it and demonstrated it here.

Doesn't work for me. If I can't make reasonable progress on something in a few weeks or a month I set it aside for later. I did that recently with the Brahms 118 #2. The middle section calls for skills I do not have right now, so I will have to come back to it some other time.

By sticking to pieces within my skill level, I have gradually gotten better, and I have a long list of pieces I have played in the quarterly recitals that I am proud of. That works for me. I am in this for the long haul, not the quick gratification. What's the rush? It's about the journey, not the destination.

Another thing to think about - if you have only 30 minutes a day, then maybe you want to rethink tackling the hard pieces right now. The few that have been successful at tackling pieces above their ability are obsessive about practicing.

Sam

#2027108 - 02/04/13 08:55 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Sam S]  
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Quote
Another thing to think about - if you have only 30 minutes a day, then maybe you want to rethink tackling the hard pieces right now. The few that have been successful at tackling pieces above their ability are obsessive about practicing.

Sam

This is an important point. As a piano newbie, pieces that at too advanced will suck up all of your available time. As for speed vs. accuracy, think about how you judge a performance: if it's played at 80% of tempo, that's tolerable; 'at tempo' often is a range, anyway. But nobody thinks hitting the right keys 80% of the time is okay.

I can understand the urge to play the cool pieces that are currently too advanced. Probably most everyone does that at some point (me included). But there's something to be said for holding off doing that until you have some time at the piano under your belt and have at least some of the fundamentals in hand. You're in this for the long haul, right?


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#2027157 - 02/04/13 11:10 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Sam S]  
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Originally Posted by Sam S
By sticking to pieces within my skill level, I have gradually gotten better, and I have a long list of pieces I have played in the quarterly recitals that I am proud of. That works for me. I am in this for the long haul, not the quick gratification. What's the rush? It's about the journey, not the destination.


+1 thumb


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#2027170 - 02/05/13 12:01 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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It may take a bit of listening for them all to grow on you, but I'd recommend listening to more and more piano pieces (both "easy" and "hard") and as your tastes grow and develop over time, you'll likely come to find that there are plenty of easier pieces even by such favorite composers as Beethoven that are [almost] as musical and certainly far more approachable as you grow and develop as a musician.


"[The trick to life isn't] just about living forever. The trick is still living with yourself forever."
#2027219 - 02/05/13 01:41 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: JimF]  
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Originally Posted by JimF
My experience with trying to play a piece (Claire de Lune) that was way beyond my current level led me to a few conclusions

Were you yet another Hugh Sung "From Scratch" victim? smile

We should start a "Clair de Lune Over-Reachers" club since this seems to be a favorite for beginners with great ambition...

Just curious -- have you tried it again now that several years have passed? I figure if you're doing Moonlight Sonata, you are in the general neighborhood of capabilities.


"...when you do practice properly, it seems to take no time at all. Just do it right five times or so, and then stop." -- JimF

Working on: my aversion to practicing in front of my wife

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#2027277 - 02/05/13 06:17 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
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Mickb Offline
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Wow, thanks for all the helpful responses. Just to clarify a couple of things.

Firstly, I am acutely aware of the dangers of something like this hogging my time, when I would be better practicing technique. So while I say I try to get “at least” 15-30 minutes a day practicing, if that is all I have I will devote it to scales/technique, my “homework” for my next lesson etc. It’s only if I have a couple of hours or several hours over a weekend that I’ll take some time out on Moonlight.

I have also dropped it for a few weeks altogether where I just felt I wasn’t progressing and time was wasted. Then I came back to it, and it felt easier for some reason.

I have also been conscious to play it with correct fingering, looking at pro versions on youtube etc to make sure that I wasn’t cheating

On the scales front, I take the point about training the ear to accept sloppy sounds. That WONT happen with me, because I am a perfectionist and it maddens me when things are not in sync. Every time it happens I always back off, take it slower and work up again from there. I guess I just figured that once I had the fingering down and my fingers were going in the correct places without having to look, just doing it on autopilot almost, the speed would come to me faster than it actually has.

Anyway, it sounds like overall
(1) Theres no real harm in me having this longer term goal & practice piece, as long as I keep it in perspective and don’t sacrifice time that is better spent on things at my current level that will build up a foundation for me to be a more rounded pianist. I should only devote “surplus” time to it.
(2) Don’t force the speed in scales and exercises; focus on getting it technically perfect and let the speed happen.

#2027290 - 02/05/13 07:08 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
Joined: Aug 2011
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Eglantine Offline

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Eglantine  Offline

Silver Supporter until Jan 01 2013


Joined: Aug 2011
Posts: 804
Another Country
I'd say it's fine to start learning pieces that are *a little* beyond your level. One step. As long as you mix in with plenty of other stuff.

I learn pieces slightly beyond my level when they meet certain criteria:
- I absolutely love the piece, and love playing it.
- It's giving me lots of practice with something really, really useful.
- It's within reach. There are challenges, but not insurmountable ones.

So I learned a John Blow piece that has a very wide range of ornaments. Getting to grips with Baroque ornaments is essential for the harpsichord. I made a point of really studying the different ornaments.
And I learned a Purcell piece that would give me plenty of intricate left-hand reading (my left-hand reading was weak at the time).
And now I'm on my second Couperin prelude. It has me trilling on RH 3rd/4th like there's no tomorrow (plus lots of mordents). I'm a left-hander, so my RH really needs work. I'm also using the piece to study French Baroque fingering. The first Couperin prelude got me working on LH mordents (easier for me than RH) and is shorter, so it was a good stepping stone to the one I'm doing now.

One thing: NONE of these pieces are ones that I've always wanted to learn. They are just beautiful pieces that I have come across during my studies. Surely, the more music you encounter, the more you want to play. I would never narrow myself down to one piece. I look at a range of pieces by a composer - sheet music, YouTube videos etc. - and then decide which piece fulfils my criteria. I also have the benefit of tutor input when studying these pieces.


Last edited by Eglantine; 02/05/13 07:08 AM.

Currently working on: F. Couperin - Preludes & Sweelinck - Fantasia Chromatica
J.S. Bach, Einaudi, Purcell, Froberger, Croft, Blow, Frescobaldi, Glass, Couperin
1930s upright (piano) & single manual William Foster (harpsichord)
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#2027324 - 02/05/13 09:35 AM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
Joined: Apr 2008
Posts: 507
timmyab Offline
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timmyab  Offline
500 Post Club Member

Joined: Apr 2008
Posts: 507
Bristol, UK
I've certainly done my share of playing pieces that are way too difficult for me.I've come to realize though that it's not a good use of time and at the end of possibly several months of struggle all you've got to show for it is a piece that you can't play properly.I did this for a while with the Chopin Etudes and just got completely owned by them.Very frustrating with nothing to show for it.
By all means have a fiddle with difficult pieces occasionally, but don't become obsessed with them.You can push your technique a bit past your current level by sheer hard work, but there comes a point where you get diminishing returns.
It's the same with speed.Lots of practice will help but only up to a point, it takes time as well.Maybe the nerves have to physically grow? I don't know.

#2027376 - 02/05/13 12:14 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 178
floydthebarber71 Offline
Full Member
floydthebarber71  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 178
South Africa
I do this. It's awesome. Who needs to play Jingle Bells anyway.


Seriously though, I don't care what my current skill level is, I'll learn whatever interests me. I then find out first hand what I'm lacking and can then work on specific exercises etc.

It seems people underestimate their potential a lot. And take things too seriously.


Zaahir

Self-taught renegade - Kawai CL-36
#2027539 - 02/05/13 05:00 PM Re: Playing pieces that are too advanced for you? [Re: Mickb]  
Joined: Mar 2008
Posts: 2,515
ClsscLib Offline

Platinum Supporter until Jan 02 2013
ClsscLib  Offline

Platinum Supporter until Jan 02 2013


Joined: Mar 2008
Posts: 2,515
Northern VA, U.S.
Like everyone else here, I'd love to be able to play pieces that are currently well beyond my technical mastery.

Here's what I try to do instead, though: I look pretty hard for piano pieces that (i) I really like; and (ii) are one or two levels above my current level. THOSE are the ones on which I focus my time and energy.

One of the great revelations to me early as a piano beginner was how much wonderful music has been written for this instrument -- by virtually all composers, from all musical periods, in all genres, and at all levels of difficulty.

I think working on "stretch" pieces is critical to advancing, but there are some pieces so far beyond my reach that my limited time is better employed on other wonderful pieces closer to my current level.

All that said, playing is mainly about having fun, and your fun may be different than mine -- enjoy it, whatever you decide.


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"People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

-- Florence Foster Jenkins

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