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#2320521 - 08/27/14 08:04 AM Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc.  
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Sionos Offline
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Hi all,

This is my welcome from being a lurker to a user (if only infrequent). I am 43 and started learning piano with lessons a couple of months before my 42nd birthday. I have recently passed Grade 3 which I am really happy with. However, like most people I want to be able to play beautifully and NOW - but I am fully aware that there will be no short cut and I will only get out what I put in.

I want to know if anyone else finds inaccuracy on hitting keys - I want so much for that to stop so that I can land on the key that my brain is telling my hand without a hitch, but I am guessing that will only come in time?

My teacher starts me learning each piece hands together rather than learning it for each hand and then re-learning it by putting them together. Is there a compelling argument against this method?

What are some good tips for sight reading improvement?

Finally, can anyone suggest some good theory reading material that essentially deals with the Circle of Fifths and Chord Progressions and how they work together. My goal would be able to play a melody with my right hand and know what chords would work well with it so that I can harmonize - tough goal?

Your input will be appreciated smile

I currently play a Yamaha P35 digital piano.

Thanks all.


'The piano ain't go no wrong notes - Thelonious Monk' - though I seem to find them all the time!
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Yamaha P35 and enthusiastic learner smile
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#2320537 - 08/27/14 08:38 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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You have very good goals! Very good indeed.
For the sight reading, there's no way around it. It also depends on your level... when you'll be advanced, I suggest sight reading fugues. But for now, choose something below your technical level, so it can be more fluent. Try to never look at your hands or the keyboard, keep your eyes on the music, and your hands on the keyboard at all times. At first it's very difficult, but with time you'll gain sort of a "tactile map" of the keyboard; you'll know how to locate yourself without looking, which is essential for sight-reading. And for that, you'll need to have your hands on the keyboard... you need references, understand? I'd also say to look for runs, octaves, grouping of notes where it's easier to read the pattern than each note, but I believe that this comes naturally. Actively searching for them will not help with fluidity, but I could be wrong.

I don't know how is your schedule (is that the right word?), but for theory I'd suggest having some lessons. Not each week, like piano, but I believe in like 3 lessons you'll be more prepared to start learning theory on your own, with the aid of a good book. This will be very easy, you'll see.

About hitting wrong notes... :p That's tough. Without seeing what you are doing we can only guess what the problem is. But sure, practicing hands separate is always nice, not always necessary but it never causes any trouble. Even though it's excruciating at the beginning, I'd suggest the use of a metronome, for slow practice with utmost focus (and precision). Only build up tempo when you can play that passage up to your standards slowly.

Well, just some thoughts. Congratulations on setting up these goals laugh

#2320540 - 08/27/14 08:41 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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You'll develop a 'mental map' of the keyboard as you spend more time practising and playing. That's why professional concert pianists hit so few wrong notes, even when leaping over big stretches at high speed. And why blind pianists like Nobuyuki Tsujii can play Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1 without a single wrong note.

As for learning a piece using hands together from the start, different people have different opinions. I'd always been taught to learn everything HT from Grade 1 onwards, though of course, in complex pieces I might practise specific passages HS just to get them into my fingers. Piano playing involves playing from two (or more) staves, and using both hands together from the start (apart from a very few LH pieces), unlike playing a string or woodwind or brass instrument.

You get good at what you practise doing - there are people I know who've always learnt new pieces HS who have trouble sight-reading, and have poor co-ordination of hands, even though they're playing pieces at intermediate level.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
#2320550 - 08/27/14 09:02 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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The note accuracy thing comes with time, assuming that you are encountering lots of music as a beginner and not just working on a few pieces too difficult for you for a year. Also, accuracy comes from slowing down when you practice rather than trying to be at tempo before you're ready. If you let wrong notes go unchecked and without finding the solution for them in practice. (I.E., you usually just play from start to finish when you practice), then they will get practiced in. Practice makes permanent as they say, and so how you practice has a huge impact on the outcome.

It is better to play hands together from the start with the exception of Bach where hands separate work is always helpful. Hands separate is better to be used as a practice technique alongside playing together to avoid the difficulty of putting hands together after a long time separate on a piece, so your teacher uas the right idea.

For sight reading, I'm not sure what level you are currently able to sight read - usually it's a bit below your current playing ability, but sometimes it's more than that. I like using Sight Reading and Rhythm Every Day by Helen Marlais to start my students out. Again, encountering a lot of music in a short amount of time helps with this, so spending a little time each day is helpful.

As for the circle of fifths and chord progressions, I'm not too sure how they work together. I think what you're asking is how to know which chords go with which key signature. I'm not sure of a book, but you should be practicing scales in all keys and the corresponding I IV V I progressions to start.


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#2320607 - 08/27/14 10:59 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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For what it's worth : My teacher and a number of her colleagues did a long-term study about piano students who learn hands separately and then put the hands together and piano students who learn hands together from the start.

Those who learn hands together from the start, they found, become much better sight-readers as their skills develop.

I always learn hands together, I always have. My thinking is that the piece will eventually be played hands together and since there is so much that relies on balance and voicing between the two hands, it seems to me to be taking a step backwards when, after learning hands separately, one has to re-start the learning process when putting the hands together.

That said, as others do, I often isolate difficult passages and practice them hands separately but those occasions are much rarer than my hands together practicing.

Regards,


BruceD
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#2320626 - 08/27/14 11:45 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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Thanks guys for your input and advice. I don't feel so alone in my thinking now. Hands together is how I do it until I get a particularly challenging (for me)section and then try and work it out hands separately.

One thing that confuses me is that I learn a piece by concentrating on the sheet music and as familiarity progresses with the piece my eyes begin to drift to my hands. I think it sometimes has to do with playing on my parents piano when I visit them without having my music and so I play by memory. That then causes a kind of ill-judged confidence in playing by memory before the piece is perfected. So when I play with the music, I often forget where I am on the sheet as I have been doing it by memory too often.

Has that been noticed by others? Or is it just a trait I have?

Cheers smile


'The piano ain't go no wrong notes - Thelonious Monk' - though I seem to find them all the time!
--------------------------------------
Yamaha P35 and enthusiastic learner smile
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#2320635 - 08/27/14 12:07 PM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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Originally Posted by Sionos


One thing that confuses me is that I learn a piece by concentrating on the sheet music and as familiarity progresses with the piece my eyes begin to drift to my hands. I think it sometimes has to do with playing on my parents piano when I visit them without having my music and so I play by memory. That then causes a kind of ill-judged confidence in playing by memory before the piece is perfected. So when I play with the music, I often forget where I am on the sheet as I have been doing it by memory too often.

Has that been noticed by others? Or is it just a trait I have?


Well, I certainly have that trait too... Partly memorized is the worst, I'm too lazy to follow the score and then...the memory just isn't there and it takes ages to find the place again.

I also always learn hands together first. But I have noticed that if I want to securely memorize a piece, I need to be able to play both hands alone as well from memory and that requires extra work and back to reading the score, especially for the left hand. But it's definitely worth it.

#2320678 - 08/27/14 01:29 PM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: outo]  
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Originally Posted by outo
[...]I also always learn hands together first. But I have noticed that if I want to securely memorize a piece, I need to be able to play both hands alone as well from memory and that requires extra work and back to reading the score, especially for the left hand. But it's definitely worth it.


Some piano teachers I know and others I've heard of advocate memorizing hands separately. They do not advocate learning hands separately but, once a piece is learned, the best way to assure memory, they say, is to memorize both hands independently.

That, of course, involves considerably more work than memorizing hands together, but, apparently, memory is more secure because the part of learning involving "finger memory" is not dependent upon the hands working together. One slip could throw off the hands-together memory whereas independently learned right and left hand parts should mean that each can continue if the other one slips up and, by the same logic, can bring the "wayward" hand back into the whole.

Regards,


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#2320701 - 08/27/14 02:20 PM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Francisco Scalco]  
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Originally Posted by Francisco Scalco

I don't know how is your schedule (is that the right word?), but for theory I'd suggest having some lessons. Not each week, like piano, but I believe in like 3 lessons you'll be more prepared to start learning theory on your own, with the aid of a good book. This will be very easy, you'll see.


It seems there should be a more direct way to teach this, than going to a pencil-and-paper theoretical approach. I have lots of book knowledge, but am unable to harmonize a melody at the piano on the spot. I remember using in high school books like "Piano for the Developing Musician", which covered harmonization and transposition among other things. However, this normally sells at textbook prices, above $100. Does anyone know of a different book that would go over this?


Professional pianist and piano teacher.
#2320726 - 08/27/14 03:43 PM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Arghhh]  
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Originally Posted by Arghhh
Originally Posted by Francisco Scalco

I don't know how is your schedule (is that the right word?), but for theory I'd suggest having some lessons. Not each week, like piano, but I believe in like 3 lessons you'll be more prepared to start learning theory on your own, with the aid of a good book. This will be very easy, you'll see.


It seems there should be a more direct way to teach this, than going to a pencil-and-paper theoretical approach. I have lots of book knowledge, but am unable to harmonize a melody at the piano on the spot. I remember using in high school books like "Piano for the Developing Musician", which covered harmonization and transposition among other things. However, this normally sells at textbook prices, above $100. Does anyone know of a different book that would go over this?


Perhaps a course (i.e., individual lessons) in keyboard harmony might be what you need. Or, perhaps, this :
Keyboard Harmony exercises

Regards,


BruceD
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#2320735 - 08/27/14 04:13 PM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Arghhh]  
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Originally Posted by Arghhh

It seems there should be a more direct way to teach this, than going to a pencil-and-paper theoretical approach. I have lots of book knowledge, but am unable to harmonize a melody at the piano on the spot.

Playing by ear will help you improve by leaps & bounds in this regard. If you've never tried it before, just start by messing around with simple tunes like 'Ah! vous dirai-je, maman" wink (otherwise known as 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star') in RH while playing around with various chords in LH to see which fit (or seem to fit).

Get used to hearing chords I-II-IV-V-VI in the context of pop songs and simple hymn tunes - the vast majority of these can be harmonized by these five chords. I occasionally vamp along on the piano to pop songs when with friends who are into pop music rather than classical (which is to say, almost all of them.....), sometimes with someone playing the guitar too. It's a rapid and fun way into playing by ear, learning how to use common chords and simple harmonies, and improvising - because once you know what harmony to use, you can play around with all sorts of figurations based on them, whether it's arpeggios or scale runs, or just making up your own stuff.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
#2320976 - 08/28/14 05:13 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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Thanks for providing some great input and advice on ways that I can improve my practice time and some straightforward ways to start chord progressions. I need to start with baby steps and a simple melody as advised in one of the previous acknowledgements and then see how a chord will work with it. The art I think will not be in just what chord works, but when to introduce it and for how long - that part puzzles me no end. But, I have to realise I am on the beginning of a long and fruitful musical journey smile


'The piano ain't go no wrong notes - Thelonious Monk' - though I seem to find them all the time!
--------------------------------------
Yamaha P35 and enthusiastic learner smile
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#2321576 - 08/29/14 02:51 PM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Morodiene]  
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Originally Posted by Morodiene

It is better to play hands together from the start with the exception of Bach where hands separate work is always helpful. Hands separate is better to be used as a practice technique alongside playing together to avoid the difficulty of putting hands together after a long time separate on a piece, so your teacher uas the right idea.

thumb thumb thumb

The conventional advice on how to improve sight-reading - even that of many music-psychologists who've done research into it - boils down to mere reading hundreds of never-before-read pieces over a lengthy period of time. But sight-reading isn't just an acquired habit - its a skill, consisting of diverse sub-skills, all of which can be deliberately practised if one knows what they are and how to address them specifically. Merely trying to read through pieces doesn't constitute deliberate practising of those skills, but just an endlessly repeated test of your current skill-level. Deliberate practising means devoting time to working on a skill in the detailed context of the specific tasks it's being used for. It means going back over what you've just attempted - repeatedly, and over successive sessions - and with each attempt, exploring and discovering ways of going about that task. Whatever way seems particularly effective in one instance then needs to be meticulously attempted on other similar instances and practised to the same level of effectiveness; in that way, the skill itself becomes progressively generalized and automatized.

Sight-reading is fundamentally dependent on actively storing in short-term memory small successions of visualized printed notes or aural images of the sounds that the notes symbolize. The purely visual aspect of note-reading involves training the eye to focus on a small succession of notes, the number of which has been mentally pre-decided upon and is within the bounds of what can be stored as a "chunK" in short-term memory - a minimum of two successive notes up to a maximum of about seven. One then plays what one has just stored in short term memory, referring to that while repositioning the eyes on the next succession of notes. These skills are not easy to acquire, and not mastered overnight, but by practising them, you can enormously increase your rate of improvement, and they can be improved indefinitely by way of deliberate experimenting.

Hope this helps!

Richard.


Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

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#2322624 - 09/01/14 11:47 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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During my run-up to my grade 3 examination, I had already prepared myself for the fact that I would fail the section and just pick up whatever points I could and hope that helped in the exam as a whole. To my surprise, I passed that section. I had dreaded any kind of practice with hands together sight reading but at least I have slightly less dread about it now.

I suppose where I am frustrated with is my inability to instantly (across both staves) see the note and know its name and then get my fingers ready for action. I think that I need to practice reading notes by interval rather than description and learn to read ahead a little - but that part I am finding difficult. Again it's all just part of the musical exploration that I am embarking on.

I still marvel at the fact (and love this aspect) that I will never be expert, I will ALWAYS be able to learn something.


'The piano ain't go no wrong notes - Thelonious Monk' - though I seem to find them all the time!
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Yamaha P35 and enthusiastic learner smile
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#2322633 - 09/01/14 12:09 PM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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Originally Posted by Sionos

I suppose where I am frustrated with is my inability to instantly (across both staves) see the note and know its name and then get my fingers ready for action. I think that I need to practice reading notes by interval rather than description and learn to read ahead a little - but that part I am finding difficult.

Do you ever sight-read music just for fun, for your own pleasure?

When things don't feel like 'work', you'll improve much more quickly - and enjoy the process at the same time. Is there music you really like to play, just for yourself? If there is, get hold of them (simplified versions, if necessary) and just sight-read for pleasure. Soon, you'll immediately know what note to play as soon as you see it in the score. Just like you don't need to spell out a word to know what it is: long familiarity allows you to know what that word is, as soon as you see it on the page.

I was given a volume of Denes Agay's 'Easy Classics to Moderns' by my teacher (when I was Grade 1 standard), and though she only taught me about ten of the pieces from it before going on to more difficult stuff, I enjoyed using the other pieces in it for sight-reading until I was Grade 2/3, though I didn't really practise them properly.

My sight-reading improved by leaps & bounds, and soon, I was actually sight-reading pieces that were technically beyond my ability to play properly. I never thought of it as 'practice' or 'work' - I was basically just enjoying myself discovering lots of new music.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
#2322810 - 09/01/14 07:07 PM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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Sight reading is something you definitely get better at if you do it more often. I have friends who can sight read pop songs much better than me despite my vastly superior technical capability (they don't practice other than sight reading pop songs once in a while).

I used to only work on pieces that were a stretch technically, and as a result I didn't get to actually read that many new pieces. I found that once I started picking pieces that were more comfortably in my reach, the faster rate at which I was able to play them also made me become much better at reading music.

On the extreme end, conservatory students who have to learn dozens of new pieces every few months get very good at reading through music and can pick things up very fast.

Last edited by trigalg693; 09/01/14 07:07 PM.
#2323636 - 09/03/14 11:16 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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Thanks to all the responders, you have taken the dread out sight reading and helped to nudge me on the right track to enjoying the process coupled with some tried and tested hints and tips on how to better sight read. Here's to improvement, even if it may be a little slow and sometimes painful to hear.


'The piano ain't go no wrong notes - Thelonious Monk' - though I seem to find them all the time!
--------------------------------------
Yamaha P35 and enthusiastic learner smile
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#2325335 - 09/08/14 11:15 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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Originally Posted by Sionos

I suppose where I am frustrated with is my inability to instantly (across both staves) see the note and know its name and then get my fingers ready for action. I think that I need to practice reading notes by interval rather than description and learn to read ahead a little - but that part I am finding difficult. Again it's all just part of the musical exploration that I am embarking on.


Your necessary objective in sight-reading isn't to recognize notes or intervals in terms of their associated names, but solely in terms of their associated target-keys' locations on the keyboard. In tandem, you can also work to cultivate associations with the sounds resulting from striking those key-targets, over the long-term enabling you increasingly to sight-read on the basis of recognizing learnt aural associations (i.e., audiating, or mentally hearing, the notation you're reading, just as happens when silently reading text).

I'd really urge practising with that dual objective alone in mind, and deliberately setting out to exclude all efforts to name notes and intervals. You might have to do that the very first time you read the notes, but once you've found their implied target-keys, the notes' names have served their useful purpose and need to be discarded. You can't afford to clutter up your brain with verbal baggage that no longer contributes to the playing-while-reading process.


Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

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#2325341 - 09/08/14 11:35 AM Re: Better Practice, Hands Together or Separate etc. [Re: Sionos]  
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I have to say that you make very good sense in what I am looking to achieve. I suppose the answer I am additionally looking for are ways to physically achieve i.e. have you found a particularly useful practice method of accomplishing this? Or is it just a case of reading more and more source material to get used to the process. I suppose I am just wary that I don't in my ignorance learn a bad habit into becoming my new method. Does that make sense?


'The piano ain't go no wrong notes - Thelonious Monk' - though I seem to find them all the time!
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Yamaha P35 and enthusiastic learner smile
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