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That sums me up perfectly !!


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Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
Is it time to stop formal lessons where I am more or less learning songs or pieces and try to get more familiar with the keyboard, scales, chords on my own, and once I gain better command of the keyboard other things will fall into place.


It may be time to find a teacher with a different background and training than the one you've had, but it is hardly time to stop formal lessons after a short 3 years.

My co-worker and I both started lessons at about the same time, but we have vastly different teachers. His teacher is a retired concert jazz player and my teacher is a conservatory trained classical pianist. The result is that we learn completely different things, so different that I find we almost have no way to talk about our piano hobby at work even though we both had 5 years of lessons. However, we both enjoy our hobby because we found teachers that fit our interests.

For instance, my co-worker's teacher began teaching him chord progressions and simple improvisation even in his first lessons, while my teacher focused on reading and tone and phrasing techniques as my first lessons. I love Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart while my co-worker loves Monk. Finding the right teacher for you is really important. I'm pretty sure if my co-worker and I swap teachers, we would both quit piano.

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I see more experienced people play and they seem to be able to embellish what they are playing by adding chords, arpeggios, fills between what the sheet music dictates and I would like that skill.


I believe my co-worker's teacher would be a much better fit for that desire than my teacher, for instance.

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I am the OP and wanted to thank everyone (so far) for all of the helpful replies. Just to mention, my teacher gives me the same advice about how to practice and learn pieces, learning hands-apart, repetition, metronome, but sometimes these methods frustrate me to the point of counter-productivity. I employ these methods when all else fails! I am also at the point where I want it to be fun and not stressful or frustrating. I'll never be a concert pianist, I just want to be able to entertain myself and perhaps a few unsuspecting, innocent bystanders smile If I could sum up my difficulty, I think it is about the speed at which an older brain such as mine can process information. I find that when first learning a piece, I have to learn which fingers and which notes BEFORE I can worry about rhythm and tempo (someone else mentioned this here). So true. I also find that the more familiar I become with a piece, the more I can listen to what I am playing, and anticipate and prepare for the next measure, because I am not wasting brain resources on where my fingers have to go next. It works better when I can plan ahead to the next measure. My brain works slower now. I've had piano teachers tell me that they have never had an adult student that didn't quit after some time. I've also read where teachers need to deal with adult students differently than students who are between the ages of 4 and 15, which it seems most of my teacher's students are. How depressing to watch a 5 year old play a piece and not miss a beat! Anyway, Happy New Year to everyone and thanks so much again for all of your helpful input.

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Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
I am the OP and wanted to thank everyone (so far) for all of the helpful replies. Just to mention, my teacher gives me the same advice about how to practice and learn pieces, learning hands-apart, repetition, metronome, but sometimes these methods frustrate me to the point of counter-productivity. I employ these methods when all else fails! I am also at the point where I want it to be fun and not stressful or frustrating. I'll never be a concert pianist, I just want to be able to entertain myself and perhaps a few unsuspecting, innocent bystanders smile If I could sum up my difficulty, I think it is about the speed at which an older brain such as mine can process information. I find that when first learning a piece, I have to learn which fingers and which notes BEFORE I can worry about rhythm and tempo (someone else mentioned this here). So true. I also find that the more familiar I become with a piece, the more I can listen to what I am playing, and anticipate and prepare for the next measure, because I am not wasting brain resources on where my fingers have to go next. It works better when I can plan ahead to the next measure. My brain works slower now. I've had piano teachers tell me that they have never had an adult student that didn't quit after some time. I've also read where teachers need to deal with adult students differently than students who are between the ages of 4 and 15, which it seems most of my teacher's students are. How depressing to watch a 5 year old play a piece and not miss a beat! Anyway, Happy New Year to everyone and thanks so much again for all of your helpful input.
I may be mis-reading the bolded sentence, but if not--try those things first, early on, not as a last resort! smile

One source of frustration seems to be with your ability to play from the score without looking at your hands. This comes with practice and experience. And, yes, you need to practice doing it. You can start with simple pieces that don't involve large jumps. Again, you won't feel progress all at once, but it will come. As you finish up with Alfred Book 3, this could be a good time to put some emphasis on this aspect of your playing. Talk to your teacher about this.

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If I could sum up my difficulty, I think it is about the speed at which an older brain such as mine can process information.
This may be true for some but is not a universal truth. Don't let it be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As for the 5- or 15-year olds playing pieces--if I may be blunt--so what? You're not them and they're not you. Something has kept you going for three years, some sense of accomplishment or satisfaction or pleasure in learning to make music and that, in the end, is all that matters.


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Originally Posted by outo
...5-10 repetitions will not usually establish any sort of permanent muscle memory...
No, nowhere near. It takes time as much as it does repetitions to build muscle memory but that's not what I'm talking about here.

The idea is to establish a base physical action as being correct. Once that's done it can begin to be absorbed and eventually become muscle memory. But when we make a mistake during the first few repetitions it takes a lot more correct repetitions, empirically tested as around five to seven times more, for the correct action to become established (registered in the brain as the correct action). This is why learning a piece by playing through it and going back over trouble spots is a slow and inefficient method compared to perhaps one single play through followed by detailed work on each phrase and getting it correct, and only correct, a few times before moving on to the next phrase.

And no, it's not an immutable, universal law but it is generally applicable as a rule.

Effecting a refingering is a different situation because the brain is treating first one and then the other as the correct action. A mistake, by contrast, is registered as a wrong action only (and immediately) after it's happened but it has been triggered (and practised) as correct and so it becomes a point of confusion in the brain until the correct action has gained sufficient stranglehold over the error as well as requiring more concentration to prevent the error recurring until then.

Does that make sense?
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To the OP, after three years of taking lessons are there any pieces you play now that are indicative of the time you've put in and musically edifying, i.e. would you have chosen any of them as music you wanted to learn and worthy of practising frequently year round, or does all your material pass through you like waste matter? Some of the higher aspects of piano technique only come from pieces we've played for a long time.

Have you tried dropping pieces after a month or so, or shorter for Alfred's material, and returning to it after a time away?

If you're memorising them before you're learning them you may need to shorten the time you spend on them to clear them out of your short term memory and vary your reading or slow down your playing of them so you make fewer mistakes until they're consistently accurate AND comfortable enough to let the tempo come up.

I covered this elsewhere but if you're practising a piece for days on end you're establishing the motor memory and you can play faster without conscious control - though not without slips. This is not a desirable position. What you need to do is establish a thinking process, one that you can maintain as part of the playing, concentrating on the music, knowing what passage you're about to play, how to phrase it, etc. and as the thinking process gets faster you are still in control of your playing. Your thinking must still continue to retain the musical expression, longer phrases, gentler crescendos and so on, but you have to get it faster than your playing. This is what you need to practise.

It's made easier by dropping pieces periodically and clearing them out of short term memory so that going back to them is as much rebuilding the reading and the conscious thought as it is relearning the physical mechanics. It's also easier for eliminating errors.



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Originally Posted by zrtf90
Originally Posted by outo
...5-10 repetitions will not usually establish any sort of permanent muscle memory...
No, nowhere near. It takes time as much as it does repetitions to build muscle memory but that's not what I'm talking about here.

The idea is to establish a base physical action as being correct. Once that's done it can begin to be absorbed and eventually become muscle memory. But when we make a mistake during the first few repetitions it takes a lot more correct repetitions, empirically tested as around five to seven times more, for the correct action to become established (registered in the brain as the correct action). This is why learning a piece by playing through it and going back over trouble spots is a slow and inefficient method compared to perhaps one single play through followed by detailed work on each phrase and getting it correct, and only correct, a few times before moving on to the next phrase.

And no, it's not an immutable, universal law but it is generally applicable as a rule.

Effecting a refingering is a different situation because the brain is treating first one and then the other as the correct action. A mistake, by contrast, is registered as a wrong action only (and immediately) after it's happened but it has been triggered (and practised) as correct and so it becomes a point of confusion in the brain until the correct action has gained sufficient stranglehold over the error as well as requiring more concentration to prevent the error recurring until then.

Does that make sense?



Not sure I fully get what you are saying. Are you talking about learning to know what the correct notes are from the start or the best movements to play them? For me those are different things and both need to be worked on. To be able to memorize, I usually have to learn to physically play the passages first and then with laborous work get it into my fuzzy brain what exactly it is that I am doing. If I try the other way round my brain just refuses to co-operate.

To know exactly what I am doing and put it into context of the whole piece is essential to avoid black outs when my motor memory fails me. And it always does sooner or later, no matter how many times I have played the piece correctly before. Suddenly I add a finger out of nowhere, jump over one or my nervous system plays some other nasty trick on me. I need to find the perfect balance between trusting my body and keeping it in order consciously. That takes a lot of time. I think this kind of natural imbalance or clumsiness does make learning considerably slower. It's kind of fascinating to see how my system tries it best to stop me from learning to play. But the battle continues smile

But what seems to contradict what you write in my case is that it greatly enhances my memory when I need to consciously correct something as opposed to getting it right at once. Which is why with already pretty well learned pieces I still have trouble with the parts that were correct from the beginning. When I have to correct a mistake, it registers in my brain in a much stronger way and I don't forget it again. But maybe this is not normal and is unique to me. My head certainly is a strange one, much more comfortable with chaos and anomalies than piece and order smile

When it comes to how to learn a piece, I think the playing through method has quite well been proven ineffective, so we agree there...

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Originally Posted by outo
Are you talking about learning to know what the correct notes are from the start or the best movements to play them?
I'm talking about playing the correct notes from the start, by going slow enough and being sure enough to avoid mistakes. Every mistake in the first few attempts is recorded as a possible response for future attempts and takes precedence over later attempts to get it right. Getting it right in the first few attempts lessens the impact of later mistakes.



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Hello eighty80eights8s,

Don't let the "shoulds" get you down. Playing the piano is hard and the magic of seasoned performers is that they make it look easy! Behind the easy-looking performance lies many years of hard work at music-making in general, and many hours of mistakes and frustrations working on that particular piece. Do not feel that it should be as easy for you as they make it look onstage.

You have many posts of good advice above so I will add just one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet: "old favorite" pieces. Maybe try finding some pieces you loved from the earlier levels and brush them up. It will be much easier the second time, you'll have a chance to enjoy the fun and feeling in those pieces, you already learned how to conquer the difficulties, and how nice to see how far you've come and how much easier those pieces are now. We grow a lot as musicians when we revisit old pieces.

(part of how performers make it look easy is... they perform only pieces they've mastered, and often those are pieces they've had mastered for years.)


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Originally Posted by zrtf90
Originally Posted by outo
Are you talking about learning to know what the correct notes are from the start or the best movements to play them?
I'm talking about playing the correct notes from the start, by going slow enough and being sure enough to avoid mistakes. Every mistake in the first few attempts is recorded as a possible response for future attempts and takes precedence over later attempts to get it right. Getting it right in the first few attempts lessens the impact of later mistakes.


Maybe it's mainly a case for people with small span or limited movement, but correct notes is often the least of my worries with a new piece... More than often the first thing is to figure out how exactly it will even be possible to play the passage without too much strain, not leaving out notes and finding the best fingerings and tricks for bringing out the voices. Change of fingerings, dedistributing between hands, experimenting with the pedal...The more experienced one gets with a certain composer's style, the less this is needed of course.

It usually requires experimenting near full tempo to know what will work and what not, so just slowly repeating the correct notes is not always the best way to start. What feels ok in slow motion, will often prove impossible, messy or unhealthy when sped up. That is also usually the reason why I end up refingering pieces after a while. More practice just won't make it better, but a slight change in fingering may suddenly solve the problem.

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outo, I was addressing the OP's need of having to "play a song daily for months" before getting it right. That suggested many attempts getting it wrong and that's what I tried to address. Getting the right notes is not the first thing to do, per se, but it is important to get them before getting the wrong ones.

Just so we're clear, I'm not advocating practise in slow motion or slowly repeating notes as the best way to start. Yes, getting up to tempo quickly is important and knowing the right motion for fast playing is necessary but that's a problem solving situation and is not what I'm addressing here. We should still contain the speed to one in which we CAN play the passage correctly. At first that needs a lot of cerebral effort and that reduces the tempo inordinately but once the motion is sorted intellectually, often from only one or two tries, the brain can outstrip the physical actions faster than the physical mechanism can respond.

Going faster than the brain can contend with is what causes mistakes and going slow enough, though that may still be fast, is the remedy.

Getting it right is what needs to be done and once can be enough. Make a single mistake and you need to get it right five times. Make two mistakes and you need to get it right a dozen times. Make three mistakes and you have to get it right over twenty times. That's the problem.



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Originally Posted by zrtf90
outo, I was addressing the OP's need of having to "play a song daily for months" before getting it right. That suggested many attempts getting it wrong and that's what I tried to address.


I guess we just don't really know what the OP meant by that. I did not take it so literally, but rather thought he meant it takes him long to get the piece to a level of consistency and perfection that he wants. Which is my experience as well.

Understandably we often expect to be able to play at least something perfectly and beautifully after 3 years and when it doesn't happen it's a source of frustration. One gets many pieces almost to that level, but then new ones come and no matter how much you'd want to, it's too hard to keep polishing the old ones with all the new things to absorb for lessons. I may be wrong but I assumed this is what is bugging the OP and made him think about the worth of lessons.

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Originally Posted by outo
Originally Posted by zrtf90
outo, I was addressing the OP's need of having to "play a song daily for months" before getting it right. That suggested many attempts getting it wrong and that's what I tried to address.


I guess we just don't really know what the OP meant by that. I did not take it so literally, but rather thought he meant it takes him long to get the piece to a level of consistency and perfection that he wants. Which is my experience as well.

Understandably we often expect to be able to play at least something perfectly and beautifully after 3 years and when it doesn't happen it's a source of frustration. One gets many pieces almost to that level, but then new ones come and no matter how much you'd want to, it's too hard to keep polishing the old ones with all the new things to absorb for lessons. I may be wrong but I assumed this is what is bugging the OP and made him think about the worth of lessons.

I also don't quite know what that means. However, as someone who is approaching 2.5 years, the accomplishments of the OP at 3 years seems pretty darn good to me. smile


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OP here. What I meant by having to play a song for months in my original post is needing that much time to have it so committed to memory that I feel confident that I will not lose my place, or if I do will be able to recover quickly and go on, and will not overall make too many slips. I can't depend on sheet music so it's all on me to remember everything, notes, fingering and one oops, and it gets ugly. I played about 10 songs from memory for family on Christmas Eve. I think I made it through one or two without any slips, and the others I was able to recover. But one song I lost my place and had to start over. One song, Fur Elise which I started learning in late August and have played everyday, I got tripped up within the first few notes. And that's the easy part. I don't know why. Nervousness? My finger just went to the wrong note, and the same wrong note a few times before I got it right and was off and running. That's one fear that I cannot shake. Out of the blue, a song that I can play, suddenly I can't. Lastly, I have been working on Toccata In D minor since 11-29-15. I have basically reached the end with being to hit all the right notes but my teacher hasn't heard me play it yet. I'm certain I don't have all the rhythm correct but it sounds good to me. That's another issue. Having to play something to perfection, vs getting it good enough that I enjoy playing. But I would never try to play it for anyone for months to come.

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So you are talking about secure memorization? I can just say it takes a long time for me too, regardless of the technical difficulty of the piece. There are specific methods to help with that, I think we have several threads about those...

If you managed to play through 10 songes from memory it's quite an achievent even if they weren't perfect. I could maybe play a couple at the moment after some preparing. If your slips happen in certain places, the pieces may not be properly learned. But it could also be nervousness and losing focus on what you are doing that happens randomly.

But this part about the Toccata is not really good: You are certain you don't have all the rhythm correct? But it sounds good to you? It's Bach and you just cannot play through or speed up until you absolutely have the rhythm correct. You should slowly work out the rhythm for any part properly before trying to get to the end. Can you do this without your teacher? If not, then it's better to wait until you have a lesson before going further. And if not, you are definitely not ready to quit lessons smile

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I keep pressing the wrong buttons today...

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Originally Posted by zrtf90
Originally Posted by outo
Are you talking about learning to know what the correct notes are from the start or the best movements to play them?
I'm talking about playing the correct notes from the start, by going slow enough and being sure enough to avoid mistakes. Every mistake in the first few attempts is recorded as a possible response for future attempts and takes precedence over later attempts to get it right. Getting it right in the first few attempts lessens the impact of later mistakes.


Exactly right.
The brain takes to a habit instantaneously. Show it only once what it can do instead of the true path, and it will add it as an alternative.
I set out to test and verify this with the last exercise that I'm memorizing and learning.


Will do some R&B for a while. Give the classical a break.
You can spend the rest of your life looking for music on a sheet of paper. You'll never find it, because it just ain't there. - Me Myself
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Originally Posted by RaggedKeyPresser
Originally Posted by zrtf90
Originally Posted by outo
Are you talking about learning to know what the correct notes are from the start or the best movements to play them?
I'm talking about playing the correct notes from the start, by going slow enough and being sure enough to avoid mistakes. Every mistake in the first few attempts is recorded as a possible response for future attempts and takes precedence over later attempts to get it right. Getting it right in the first few attempts lessens the impact of later mistakes.


Exactly right.
The brain takes to a habit instantaneously. Show it only once what it can do instead of the true path, and it will add it as an alternative.
I set out to test and verify this with the last exercise that I'm memorizing and learning.

That's really not how the brain works. We still don't really know that much about it, but that simple it definitely isn't. Research has found great differences on the individual brains, so even if in practice it works that way for you, there's no guarantee that it works that way for the OP.

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Originally Posted by outo
Originally Posted by RaggedKeyPresser
Originally Posted by zrtf90
Originally Posted by outo
Are you talking about learning to know what the correct notes are from the start or the best movements to play them?
I'm talking about playing the correct notes from the start, by going slow enough and being sure enough to avoid mistakes. Every mistake in the first few attempts is recorded as a possible response for future attempts and takes precedence over later attempts to get it right. Getting it right in the first few attempts lessens the impact of later mistakes.


Exactly right.
The brain takes to a habit instantaneously. Show it only once what it can do instead of the true path, and it will add it as an alternative.
I set out to test and verify this with the last exercise that I'm memorizing and learning.

That's really not how the brain works. We still don't really know that much about it, but that simple it definitely isn't. Research has found great differences on the individual brains, so even if in practice it works that way for you, there's no guarantee that it works that way for the OP.


That's true,I have no idea if somebody is wired in a similar way.
I have only found out that it works this way for me.

For the piece I'm learning now I learned the LH and the RH separately, and made careful note to play it exactly correct for both hands EVERY time...and NEVER a wrong note. I did this with several repetitions for both hands until memorized, then gradually put the hands together.
The only thing the brain has slipped up on is the fingering if I don't check up on it, since some of the harmonies in the LH are played with slightly different fingerings in order to prepare for moving up or down the keyboard (sometimes the 4th sometimes the 5th finger on the lower chord tone). So that seems to confirm that it happens because the brain has been presented with two different paths from the beginning, when it comes to fingering.

Playing the part in a tempo within my abilities I have still not played the wrong note in either hand. The brain simply has no other path to chose from except for that single original one.
I know that I will need to stick to this careful treatment, and I don't know for how long. So far, I always warm up doing LH and RH separately first and reconfirming the commitment to memory, and then putting the hands together again.
I have a hunch that should I later make a mistake it will immediately form a 2nd path and creep into the performance. And how to protect against that I have no idea so far.

If it leads to an unavoidable 4-5 repetitions to iron it out, then it's a bit disappointing. And mainly the question is how solid will this fix be, and for how long in time?
Maybe just reaching another level in playing skills and musicianship will completely eradicate it.
These are all interesting details to study.
I have even found that I retain the memorized image of the piece easier this way. Since I have a mental image for both hands that is always the same and there is no confusion, I can visualize both parts in my mind and play them without the keyboard and hear the notes.
It also leads to unerringly "hearing" e.g. when the harmonies should change for the LH, and relying only on this and not from the score, or a memorized score, since no playing errors are tripping up the playing and the memory.


Will do some R&B for a while. Give the classical a break.
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eighty80eights8s,

How comfortable do you feel playing your pieces without looking at the keyboard? The same goes for scales, arpeggios, etc. It's not always automatic to achieve keyboard control by repetition if you're using your eyes. I would re-learn scales and pieces without looking at your hands and see if you get the control that you're missing. Learn how to put your hands into the keys instead of just playing them from above. If this doesn't make sense now, it'll make sense later.


There is a big difference between knowing something and being good at executing. One is conscious, the other is subconscious, and the path to the subconscious does not usually lead through the conscious.
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