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#2306304 - 07/24/14 05:59 AM How To Improve?
Xagan Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/23/14
Posts: 1
Hi everyone,

I'm Josh, I'm 22, and I'm from London, UK. I've been playing piano since I was about 8, but I stopped having lessons after grade 2. I've had the odd spurts of piano lessons here and there throughout the last few years, so you can probably guess what kind of level I'm at. To give you an idea, I can play Lee Galloway's Canon in D very well (though I make stupid mistakes when I play in front of anyone due to nerves), and I can play the introduction of Firth of Fifth by Genesis, though I do tend to make more mistakes than not when I play it, I think maybe it's just a bit too fast/complex. I once learned the Sweet Child O' Mine version by Scott D. Davis, though I could literally not play that through once without making a mistake and fumbling somewhere, so I've forgot a lot of that piece now as I don't play it.

I would absolutely love some advice to help me get to where I want to be. My cousin is a really good guitar player, he plays at jam nights and he's in a band, I would love to be able to play with him and the band. My problem is that I have zero improvisation skills. I can't emphasize enough just how much I can't improvise, I just don't know how to do it one bit. Him and the band can simply play a blues song, in G for example, and they'll all play along easily, I'd love to do that. They play tons of songs, and as long as they all know the chord structures to the songs, they all seem to know what they're doing.

Here are the main things that hinder me:

- It takes me an extremely long time to learn a piece. Even with Canon in D, it was a long process; I have to work out the notes on the sheet etc, then slowly start to play them, and add one note on each time as I go etc. It's purely by memory, once I've added a section to the piece, I don't even look at the sheet music again, I just gradually memorize. I hope you know what I mean.

- I don't really know chords.

- I can't improvise.

So I'm figuring that I need to learn how to improvise and play by ear, so I can play songs with the band. Or it would be great if I could learn songs by sheet music quicker, because I could play with the band that way.

Me and my cousin have set the aim of playing Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Sweet Child O' Mine together, and hopefully a version of Little Wing together. With Free Bird, I've got a whopping 11 page transcription that will probably take me months to learn! For Sweet Child O' Mine, I'm going to do the introduction on piano, well I'll probably play the Scott D. Davis version and hopefully find a way of playing it without all the vocal/guitar bits so that we can play as a band and with a singer. Little Wing is a different kettle of fish altogether, I'm going to have to find my own way of figuring out how to play it, I'm guessing being able to improvise would really help with being able to make up my own version.

I would appreciate any input or any advice. I have to be honest though, I'm not currently able to afford piano lessons. I'm literally just getting started with my dog walking business and things are still difficult, but hopefully when things pick up, I'll be able to afford to have lessons again. But for the meantime, I'm going to have to go at it alone.

Also, from what you can gather, am I kidding myself by thinking that I'll be able to play with my cousin/the band? Am I just going to have to be realistic and accept that it may be quite a long time till I'll be able to do it?

I apologize for the very long lost, I have rambled for quite a while!

Anyway, I'm really pleased to have found this community, it seems like such a great place!

Xagan smile

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#2306402 - 07/24/14 10:24 AM Re: How To Improve? [Re: Xagan]
Dfrankjazz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 403
Loc: NYC
Take 'em Mark)

#2306412 - 07/24/14 11:02 AM Re: How To Improve? [Re: Dfrankjazz]
Mark Polishook Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/29/12
Posts: 1036
Loc: Leicester, UK
Originally Posted By: Dfrankjazz
Take 'em Mark)

Dave, that's the chuckle of the day! "Good one" as my friend Mojo says smile

Josh, You're never too old to get to the piano and get where you want to get. What you need if you want to get to where you'd like to get as efficiently as possible ("efficiently" in this sentence is a synonym for "quickly") is a great teacher. And experience - which you can supply and make with stuff you'll learn with a great teacher.

For transparency and to be clear, I'm a teacher so my advice is from that perspective. I live not far from you in the midlands where a former king (Richard III) was found in a parking lot.

You're in London and there are heaps of great teachers there. You're also online and there are a tons of great teachers on Skype. The questions come down to how and where are you going to find your great teacher that leads you to where you want to get.

I can recommend some great classical and jazz teachers in London if you want–send me a PM. I can recommend a fabulous jazz teacher on Skype .... he's already contributed to this thread and his name is Dave Frank! http://www.davefrankjazz.com/.

Do not for a second think that Skype is where you go if you can't find a teacher in your area. What's important is connect to the teacher who's right for you.

Finally the last question, which is can you do it all on your own without a teacher? The answer is yes, of course you can. But you've asked so many questions in your post and given so much background that it's clear, at least to me, that finding a great teacher will save you a lot of time, effort, and frustration.

And of course a lot of time in the practice time at a piano is always part of the recipe.

Hope this helps. Dave? smile


#2306448 - 07/24/14 12:28 PM Re: How To Improve? [Re: Mark Polishook]
Dfrankjazz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 403
Loc: NYC
Mark is an excellent teacher and is helping alot of folks reach their musical dreams working with them on skype. If you want to do this right, you need a teacher. I don't believe this can be learned by oneself, sorry everybody..if you want this bad enough, my amigo, you will find a way to make the $ necessary to meet with a teacher at least twice/month. It's a question of your desire.


#2306531 - 07/24/14 03:23 PM Re: How To Improve? [Re: Dfrankjazz]
Mark Polishook Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/29/12
Posts: 1036
Loc: Leicester, UK
And let be said Dave is *100%* class and a huge part of the reason Skype is a great platform for teaching in jazz.


#2311912 - 08/06/14 11:36 AM Re: How To Improve? [Re: Dfrankjazz]
Silver Keys Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/21/13
Posts: 241
Loc: Upstate N.Y.
Originally Posted By: Dfrankjazz
If you want to do this right, you need a teacher.

I agree. I just want to add some thoughts. I can relate to that desire to improvise and jam with other musicians. (I remember seeing my brothers going from blowing fuses in the basement to packing them in at the local bar scene.). But I am not there yet. Learning piano is a long and incremental process. There are no shortcuts. It also seems to me that learning guitar is some how more conducive to learning as kids getting together and trying to copy what they hear in their favorite music. I'm not sure you can really compare learning piano with learning guitar.

You should also consider posting such questions on the Adult Beginners Forum. Don't be put off by the name. It should be called the "Learners" forum. All skill levels are represented, from complete newbies to accomplished teachers. The commonality it the desire to learn and to help others learn.
So much music and so little time!
1916 Mason & Hamlin BB
Yamaha P155

#2312037 - 08/06/14 05:40 PM Re: How To Improve? [Re: Silver Keys]
Michael Martinez Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/22/12
Posts: 516
Loc: California
Originally Posted By: Silver Keys
But I am not there yet. Learning piano is a long and incremental process. There are no shortcuts.

Although there are no shortcuts it needs to be said that sometimes you need to push yourself beyond your normal pace - you need to be thrown into the fire, as it were. A lot of learning and assimilation occurs during this. What I have in mind in particular is learning how to "fake it" when you are put in a situation where you don't know the music as well as you would like but still you are expected to play it at a gig, which means you gotta keep time and at least play the basic changes correctly. You might be sweating bullets but your learning improves way more than if you'd been plinking around by yourself on the same songs at home.
Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors

#2312514 - 08/07/14 04:00 PM Re: How To Improve? [Re: Xagan]
RonDrotos Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/31/13
Posts: 130
Loc: New York City
Hi Josh,

I actually think you're already on the right track! What you describe is exactly how I started out improvising while I was in high school. The main thing is that music improv is like learning a language. You love music and are having fun with it, and now you're at the point where you need to learn more in order to express yourself through improv (just like becoming more fluent in a foreign language).

As you suspect, at some point in our development we all need a good teacher/mentor to help us "put it all together." Make sure that you find someone who's a good fit for you and understands what you want to achieve with your music.

Good luck!
Ron Drotos


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