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Albunea Offline OP
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Groove On said:

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The best guiding principle I've picked up, is that all practice and learning should be focused on getting better control ... with the end goal being mastery. Mastery of yourself 1st and the instrument 2nd ...



What would that control be? Rhythm? Fingering?

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Albunea Offline OP
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I am asking because I am afraid I might be a bit out of control.

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You're out of control (or more accurately, you're not in control) if:

1) You keep missing notes, or playing wrong notes (the right notes in the wrong order, or the wrong notes in the right order, or the wrong notes in the wrong order wink ).
2) The rhythm is wrong, or all over the place, or just plain jerky.
3) Your tempo (speed) is unsteady, or lurches about, like a small boat caught out in a storm at sea.
4) The notes (in runs, scales etc) are uneven in spacing and/or dynamics.
5) The 'voicing' is wrong - e.g. the accompaniment is louder than the melody, or overwhelms the melody; or chords have the wrong notes sticking out of the texture; or in polyphonic music, you can't differentiate between two or more different 'voices'.

Developing control over the keyboard comes with practice over a long time - years. Remember not to run before you can walk. A baby's first walk is basically a partially-controlled fall....... grin


"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."
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Albunea Offline OP
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Thank you, bennevis. smile Yes, your last part is true…I just can't do it perfect now. My main attention has been on notes, because that's the biggest challenge for me now; I guess I should start at least "controlling" the very easy level 0 scores for rhythm, tempo, etc.

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Albunea Offline OP
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bennevis, I play 0 level scores from children books, play In the Hill of the Mountain King (my most perfected piece though it is not), learning Eine Kleine NachtMusik. Also the first part of Swan Lake in an easy arrangement (stopped when I realized it was too difficult for me but keep practicing the first 6 chords). I am also getting some notes from songs I know in my head/heart, and lately was trying to find notes in the left hand to match.

It is a big mess of things, but do you think doing some of that will be bad for my general learning?

I guess we have to add the huge amount of information that is music theory and music styles, etc… I am improving at this quite a lot considering, but it is so difficult.

Last edited by Albunea; 05/25/15 10:16 AM.
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It is a good question, and an important one. I've gone off on all kinds of wrong tangents in the past before getting some kind of idea.

- trying to play "controlled" is too abstract. There is nothing to aim for
- trying to be controlled for a specific thing, such as correct timing with correct notes, can leave you so tense about this perfection, that you actually lose some control that you might otherwise have

Hm...
I have a picture in my mind of my infant son trying to get a baby biscuit into his mouth, opening his mouth so wide a train could have driven in - and managing to smear the biscuit on his forehead. Over time his aim got better. Being a baby he didn't waste time thinking he was stupid or inept, though at times he got frustrated at the moment. That, to me, seems a good model for us.

Another is that control often isn't as specific as we might think. An example in my own experience is when I first went from being self-taught, and having dreadful habits, and tried to play the beginning of the Chopin Cm Prelude. My chords were harsh, and I could not get them even - it was jerky because I was spasming in some way, or my hands wouldn't obey me. I worked with a teacher, who told me to relax my fingers and hand. Note: I didn't try to play evenly; I didn't try for even more control; I didn't try for a less harsh sound - I tried for keeping the fingers and hand relaxed.
I actually have a shortened recording of the "before" and "after" of this - the "after" was done without any additional practice, simply concentrating on not tensing up the hand.
link to the before (excerpt)
and link to the after (excerpt)

This gave me some major insights into the issue of control.

Not everything has been that fast, and I'm still learning. Some things have developed gradually. Some things came directly (concentrate on good timing) and some indirectly (you can't do good timing if your muscles seize up; get to the bottom of that).

These are some partial thoughts.

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Part of control is consistency.


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Albunea Offline OP
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Haha thank you, keystring, the picture of you baby son is a good one. laugh What you said reminded me that if I truly need to control something is to get used to always having a good body position… Maybe some of us are not really good at trying to control things too much or we'd just spoil it.

I'm not the best at analyzing piano music but the second sounded more confident. smile

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Originally Posted by malkin
Part of control is consistency.


And what is consistency? frown

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Control is having your mind will your body to do something and it does it, every time (consistency).

For piano, the body parts are usually fingers, arms, shoulders, and foot (for pedaling). Example: bring out the melody in the right hand by playing it louder than the left hand. Easy to think it, much harder to execute. Another example: play legato with the left hand, staccato with the right.

As stated above, it comes with time and practice--whether it's playing piano or hitting your mouth with a spoonful of food.


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Originally Posted by Albunea
What you said reminded me that if I truly need to control something is to get used to always having a good body position… Maybe some of us are not really good at trying to control things too much or we'd just spoil it.

Even that can be a trap. Trying to sit straight, or to hold any good position, can be worse that being loose and sloppy but relaxed. It's a thing that I'm working on a lot - just getting that sense of balance - because of where I'm coming from.
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I'm not the best at analyzing piano music but the second sounded more confident. smile

What to listen for: the LH chords are harsh and jerky in places in the first one. They have a softer sound, and stay even, and the RH melody is more expressive and comes out more. However, I was not aiming for these things - I was aiming for the relaxed LH. Because it stayed relaxed, my arm didn't spasm and tense - therefore I could play evenly and the sound was soft. And because I was not fighting a spasming left arm, my shoulders were more relaxed, so the right hand was more relaxed, so the right hand could play more expressively.

Do you get the picture? IN other words, aiming for expressive playing, even chords, and a soft sound as what I want to control would not have given those results under those circumstances. You have to keep switching what you're aiming for, and what works, and then be gentle with yourself. Trying to get at it to soon can in itself become a distracting source of tension, destroying control.

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I think control is having the ability to make it sound as you intend for it to sound.

Which says, to me, that you have to have an intention laugh

There is a lifetime of learning for me just in knowing what I intend, much less acquiring the skills and techniques in order to make it happen.

Probably the best advice I ever got was "listen, listen, listen".

As I said in the general comments for the recital, I can now begin to do some things I've not done before. One of them is to put emphasis on different pitches/notes in runs - the second note in 4 or 5 consecutive notes, for instance. It's part of what's called "shaping a phrase." But a couple of years ago I would have listened to someone do that and think "that's really musical" but I wouldn't have know *why* it was musical. I couldn't hear what was happening. But I've *listened* much more closely to music and I've begun to be able to tell, or at least guess, what's happening. So I experiment to try reproduce it, or to do it more as *I* would like it to sound.

Some things come more naturally me, and while I can *do* them - play music that makes people want to dance, for instance, or at least they tap their feet to it - I didn't know *how* I was doing it. So listening well enough to know how I do it, what makes the music happen there, so that I can do it/not do it when appropriate is something I'm learning, again, by listening more. I think part of it is playing directly on the beat - a rhythm thing, not being sloppy about where the beat is - but when I started to be able to make a piece "swing" in addition to being foot tapable I think I began to play more by being a little ahead or behind the beat - I don't quite know yet laugh - but the beat itself is still exactly where it needs to be.

So there are myriad skills to develop, but for me the overarching concept is musicality, and the primary skill is being able to hear, and the primary goal is intentionality.

Of course, that's only one way to frame it smile

Last edited by jotur; 05/25/15 10:50 AM. Reason: Hit submit before I intended to - no musicality there!

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For me being "in control" is kinda like when you're driving car, you're minimally aware of the traffic flow and pedestrians as you're driving, but you're not being overwhelmed by every little detail. You are hyper-aware aware (in a vague sort of way) of the general flow and direction of things and "know" how to move smoothly and comfortably on the road, without constantly crashing or stopping to figure out what's going on. (though perhaps crashing and stopping might be part of the process of learning how to be in control).

It's more mental or situational awareness rather than physical prowess. I think some people might call it being mindful as they are playing or practicing.

Usually when I'm out of control, I've completely lost track of where I am in a piece. I'm no longer aware of the direction or flow of the music, and I'm not even aware if my hand is even close to the keys I'm supposed to be playing or what direction I need to move in. Usually I'm just desperately trying to play the next few notes to catch up.

When I'm "in control", even if my hand misses the notes, I literally 'don't skip a beat', because I'm mentally aware of where I am in the piece, where it's headed and what turns and curves are coming up.


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Ah mental control… we need indeed to be totally focused when reading a score. I've liked the comparison with driving, because that was very difficult at first, and as you said, now we can be paying attention to many different details without using so much energy; so there is hope. laugh

I forgot to say I am also doing exercises, which aim at some of the things you said Stubbie. The only thing I don't like about exercises is to get to learn how to do it, but once I know how, I don't mind the repetitive action every day. Probably because deep down, I've always understood I need to get some of these skills (like being able to use legato one hand staccato another) a natural part of me, like driving or typing.

I will try to pay attention to my body reaction, keystring. I am not yet at a level where I can even attempt to analyze the music. In general, I wouldn't think I am tense. Hmm, also, I am not for long at the piano. I can understand what you are saying there.

jotur, for some of the things you talked about there, we'd probably need a teacher…to point our deficiencies. And, yes, I can see there are a myriad skills to be developed. So much to learn!

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Albunea, jotur mentioned one of the most important things: learn to listen. It is not as easy as one would think. I am still in the process of learning, but I can already see a vast difference in the way I 'heard' the recital pieces in February, and the way I 'heard' the pieces in this last one.

Listen to other people playing. You might start with Keystring's example above, as you know what to listen for here. Then other pieces, why does this part sound nice? Is it played louder, softer, with emphasis on certain parts? With practice you learn to hear these things. And once you can hear the difference, you can decide how YOU want a piece you play to sound. Actually getting it to sound that way is another struggle laugh We must first learn the techniques for it, and it all takes time, lots and lots of time and practice.


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Jytte, I've been all my life listening to music, and now piano music, but I never analyze it. I can understand how it would be helpful for me to see it in detail and pieces in my own endeavor with the piano, but that can't be easy. For me the first thing is the music behind. Of course, there are terrible interpretations or recordings that won't let you enjoy a piece, but there can also be incredibly skilled interpretations with music that is not my thing and I won't like it much. Maybe I can start trying to analyze these since I don't like them much anyhow. laugh

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Originally Posted by Albunea
Originally Posted by malkin
Part of control is consistency.


And what is consistency? frown


To have the intention to play a passage in a certain way and to play it that way every time.


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My teacher often uses Leon Fleisher's analogy of Person A, Person B and Person C playing the piano. Person A is the one who dreams how the piece should sound. Person B is the one who executes the playing. Person C is the one who listens to the playing, evaluates and asks Person A to adjust things.

I think of control as how well Person B carries out Person A's instructions.


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Re: listening

I have always been able to imagine how I wanted the music to sound, and then I tried to produce that sound. Without being taught at all, I sometimes contorted to get the sound by hook or by crook. For example, staccato for me was a crisp sharp sound, so I tensed my arm and fingers, and made crisp sharp pokes, which does give the sound you want. But it tightens up the body and makes other things more difficult - and after a while you hurt.

In regards to listening - there were details that I didn't know how to listen for, and wasn't even aware of.

There are a lot of elements to this, and they all interplay. Some people will insist that this or that is "the" thing, but the truth is that you have to shuttle back and forth between them.

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Quote

Developing control over the keyboard comes with practice over a long time - years. Remember not to run before you can walk. A baby's first walk is basically a partially-controlled fall....... grin


And remember Albunea, after mastering those five points the control payoff finally comes the day you walk up to the piano, prepare yourself to play and your brain is reminding you that 5000 people are in the audience for this and they probably all have played piano since the age of 3. The brain is a wonderful thing. grin



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