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Five years in, facing the long plateau
#2625558 03/21/17 12:23 AM
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Five years ago, I set sail on my journey into the world of pianos and pianists. I don't post that often these days, but thought it would be nice to share a few of my thoughts.

The good news: I thought I would be terrible, I am not terrible. I thought this because I have chronic repetitive stress issues that limit my practice time and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). With these physical limitations, I could not justitfy the money for a teacher or a proper digital piano at the start. Some on the forum have asked "can't you hear the difference?" No, with my tinnitus, I'm afraid I often can't. I flunked out of the Coursera for ear training. The list of defects is longer, but gets boring.

The bad news is that after five years of almost every day playing, I'm not very good by any objective measures. I am probably far short of what most new beginners are hoping for at their five year mark. While friends, family, general audiences often find my piano recordings and live performances to be entertaining, many piano teachers, well trained pianists may want to cringe and/or smirk, or make funny faces at my efforts.

Where am I now? I am on that long plateau, unwilling to make the huge effort of time (and possibly money) to climb the next significant hills. I have less motivation to do so. My local music group has shut down. Without regular performance dates, there is far less motivation.

There is the ABF recital, and I am thankful for that. Regulars know that I do a lot of original compositions. I feel like that I have some sense of my own music style. I have participated in most if not every ABF recital during those five years, despite my relatively low skill level. I have written a lot of original music over the five years, and I am pleased by some of it. The curious can hear my recordings at my piano blog:

http://sandtigerpiano.blogspot.com/

The run-on sentence summary: I am self-taught, at the five year mark, started with a Yamaha NP11, upgraded to a Casio PX150, performed live over a dozen times, including on stage on a grand piano. Composition I am proudest of: Capistrano Suite. Current location? The long plateau, where any signficant improvement likely involves more effort (and possibly money) than I am willing to commit.

If you made it to the bottom, thanks for reading. Good luck and God bless.

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Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625563 03/21/17 02:13 AM
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Hi Sand Tiger:
I'm sure many can express my thoughts much better than I, and I'm sure they will later... I just didn't want to leave your heartfelt post without a reply for very long! It sounds like you will no longer be playing or composing? I hope I have misunderstood the anguish in your post, and that you will continue with where you are now.

All of us (yes, even those on the Pianists Forum that enter professional competitions), have or will reach a point where we realize 'I will never play THAT or THERE; this is as good as I can get', but that doesn't mean there is not a world of music to play that is within our personal grasp--- whatever that level might be! Maybe you will never compose a Beethoven symphony-- but there are few that will. Enjoy the composing that you can do, treasure every note that you hear and the images it creates for you. You don't realize you already have skills that many of us DON"T HAVE and never will have: if you put a gun to my head, I don't believe I could compose what you have done! Take pride in where you have come from, and treasure what you can do, not dwelling on the limitations that you see. The limitations don't matter in the world of music.

For some of us, we recognize that we will never play all of the etudes by XXX or by XXX, or XXX... but we can still take personal pleasure in what we can learn and play for ourselves. I hope you will give yourself a little time... to not to think about where you cannot go, but to take pleasure in the music that you can play and can compose WITH WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW. Rediscover the joy of music.... just for yourself.


Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625565 03/21/17 02:33 AM
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I can relate because I too struggle with issues related to health. When I started 5+ years ago I did not realize how much those will affect my learning. So I started lessons and assumed that with a teacher and regular practice I would be able to play at least intermediate music well. But it was not so simple. The lessons have helped me stay on it even when times are really rough but at the same time they add regular stress that is not working in my favor. If I happen to have a difficult day as I had yesterday, the lesson is uncomfortable for both me and my teacher. I have many times contemplated stopping lessons and focus on learning repertoire that I know I can learn instead of trying to "progress". Because progressing has not made me any more able to play for my own or others entertainment...There's just not enough time and good days for both...but so far the technical challenges give me enjoyment, so I'll keep going every Monday.

But I hope you will not give up playing. You have found a way that works, who cares if you sit on a plateau when you are actually making music.

Last edited by outo; 03/21/17 02:36 AM.
Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625571 03/21/17 02:59 AM
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Sorry to have an extra post, but I felt like an additional thought might be warranted:

After you take some time to take personal pleasure in what you can do, RIGHT NOW, without ever improving further... think about what you can do to find another performance opportunity, since that gives you pleasure and motivates you. You state that audiences have enjoyed your music? Find another audience. Since your performance group has disbanded, find your own group-- you live in Southern California, where I am sure 500 musicians would fall out of the tree if you rattle the branches. Look at MeetUp for your area for like-minded souls.

Can't find a group? Do your own little performance for nursing homes or assisted living. You reminded me that I set a goal two years ago when I started lessons again that I would do a little recital at nursing homes... and I haven't done it. Time to step up my own game and get it done.

There is an audience somewhere for you--- it might be a nursing home, a community event, or even elementary schools where you talk about how you compose music and give a demonstration. You never know what budding musician you might inspire.

If what you personally need to enjoy the plateau is a performance..... find the performance. The opportunities are there.

Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625572 03/21/17 03:04 AM
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But do you really need to "improve"? And what does that mean? Enjoy the music as much as you can!

Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625578 03/21/17 04:00 AM
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I’m also heading towards the five year mark, and also self-taught. I think we each reach a plateau at some stage - hopefully for now mine has a slight upward grade - but at my age I expect it.

Never mind where others may be in the same period: in my five years I'm delighted that I’ve learned enough to attempt the music I love best. I play every day, just for me, for the love of it. I’m setting my own goals, and doing it my way, and it’s a fabulous journey. My ongoing significant hill is my next ABF Recital piece, and I concentrate on that.

Focus on what you love to play, and write, while you sit on your plateau - and let us keep enjoying your efforts in the Recitals thumb .







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Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625591 03/21/17 05:56 AM
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it seems we all face our demons every now and again, particularly on our anniversaries, and that just seems to be a fact of life. There are no easy answers, but making music at no matter what level is a million times better than making none at all. In addition, to be able to create original music, (believe me I have tried but just can't), is a gift so cherish and revel in it.


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Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625596 03/21/17 07:14 AM
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Quote
Where am I now? I am on that long plateau, unwilling to make the huge effort of time (and possibly money) to climb the next significant hills.


Hey ST, my tinnitus is awful too and has been for about thirty year. Never thought about it but it might be why I like working with rhythm ... the tinnitus doesn't seem to come into play when it comes to how a tune moves along. It may be Latin, waltz, blues, gospel, boogie, C&W, etc. Rhythm patterns seem to catch my attention first when listening to radio, tv, etc. ... it might be something intriguing to you too or it could be some other musical element Whatever, don't quit.


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Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625607 03/21/17 08:23 AM
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Every time I begin a new piece I think it is the one I will never be able to play. In general, I can ignore this thought as useless, but maybe now it is a sort of encouragement as it is now very familiar, and has applied to many pieces.


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Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
malkin #2625608 03/21/17 08:36 AM
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Originally Posted by malkin
Every time I begin a new piece I think it is the one I will never be able to play. In general, I can ignore this thought as useless, but maybe now it is a sort of encouragement as it is now very familiar, and has applied to many pieces.


Me too! It has become almost a fear that 'this is the one I can NEVER learn'... and then when I do, amazement.

Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625613 03/21/17 09:21 AM
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Why must it always be an upward climb? Lateral moves can be just as interesting - because the plateau is vast and you'll never tire of things to do.

I think it is a positive thing to recognize when you've reached as far as you want to go, but you do need to change things up to keep motivated. But it's more about refining what you can do right where you are. Change your music, perhaps even try a different style. But even staying within a style there's always new pieces to learn that will use the skills you already have acquired.

Learning piano or any instrument can be a lonely process, but I think piano is moreso because one can do it alone. One can also do violin alone, but there are orchestras or chamber groups one can play in. Piano doesn't quite fit in with that usually (unless you play at a high level, then perhaps you can get in with some string players to do piano quartets and quintet works). But for the amateur, it's much harder.

If you enjoy composing, then why not be your own best promoter of your compositions? Pursue that, and just do enough piano exercises or review pieces to keep yourself capable of playing.

Piano looks different for each individual, and that's really OK. smile


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Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625621 03/21/17 09:45 AM
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Sand Tiger, what shines through with your posts is your love of music. The beauty (as in cool thing) of music is that it is such a large tent. We each get to make music that is right for us. It is ours to make.

I came to playing music late in life. There is no going back and rescuing all those lost years. But I'm okay with that. I'm thankful that I found piano, period. I'll quote what I said in the "Why do you play?" thread: "Because nothing beats sitting down at the piano and making music come out of it."

I think that is what drives you as well. Good luck and God bless!


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Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Stubbie #2625629 03/21/17 09:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
I came to playing music late in life. There is no going back and rescuing all those lost years. But I'm okay with that. I'm thankful that I found piano, period. I'll quote what I said in the "Why do you play?" thread: "Because nothing beats sitting down at the piano and making music come out of it."

This exactly mirrors my experience and feelings about this topic.


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Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625639 03/21/17 10:25 AM
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One of the things I challenge myself with (from time to time) is ....

Can I learn to play this or not ?

If I am not careful, learning to play becomes meandering around doing "this and that" with no particular accountability associated with learning.

EVERYTHING IS OK ...

Well, I can do that but it will usually result in getting nowhere.

After an extended period of that feeling (getting nowhere) one begins to wonder what the point is of this effort.

That is when I would suggest you give yourself a challenge and try to learn to play something that is definitely within your skill set (not too hard).

AND ... do not learn it just ok.

Learn it very, very, well.

Play it absolutely perfectly. ONTIME with meaningful DYNAMICS. Make absolutely beautiful music.

Now ... you (Sand Tiger) like to create your own music, and that is fine.

However, doing that can sometimes allow you to play in a manner that is EASY and EVERYTHING IS GOOD.

You are never challenged to develop your skill set because you only play what is easy for you.

I would challenge you to learn to play a piece of music that is predefined to be played in a particular manner and spend time learning to play it very, very well.

I believe that may give you a sense of progress and ... maybe .... will jolt you out of your sense of despair.

Good Luck to you


Don

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Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625646 03/21/17 10:47 AM
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Some long plateau and not seeing any next step to ever be likely to become accomplished, this can be frustrating if not watching out at it from a different view point. I found despite feeling abandoned on a plateau to still advance: playing the pieces which I already have under the hood more musical, more relaxed in my head, thus with more joy! And I found that learning new pieces from the same grade of difficulty, not reaching out for higher levels, are easier and quicker to learn, not so frightening anymore. That's quite something!
I am sure you can see this as well!

For the moment not being able to commit more to piano practicing, I simply enjoy to enlarge my personal repertoire. I could swear that nobody else has such a large collection of low graded pieces in his program, but then I remember PW and know I am not alone in this believing, many others face the same situation. The ones who reach highest student level and the ones who even make a living on stage, they are exceptional. My situation is the most common piano player's situation and I am happy to just be one out of the million normal players simply making and enjoying some music.
I am sure you can see it this way as well!

Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625727 03/21/17 03:58 PM
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I remember reading in Pianist magazine that Graham Fitch - well-known to ABF - described how he once witnessed a passenger on a cruise ship playing a few classical pieces very well, from memory.

On chatting to her, he discovered that those pieces were all she could play, and she'd been playing them for many years. But because she kept playing them again and again, she was able to play them very well, and she was happy just playing those few pieces that she really loved.

And why not? No-one should feel obliged to keep on 'getting better', and keep learning and playing more and more difficult pieces. In the end, it's whatever makes you happy when playing the piano, as an amateur. (For a pro, that's not the case of course).

For myself, I like exploring and learning new stuff all the time (not necessarily playing them to performance standard: I sometimes discard pieces that are barely beyond sight-reading stage), but I also like to keep some pieces that I really like and can play any time.


"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."
Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625747 03/21/17 04:55 PM
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Thanks for all the replies, thoughts, concerns, and advice. Let me make it clear that I enjoy what little I can do. I have no immediate plans to give up playing or composing. I mentioned that my local music group shut down, so I have less incentive to practice or compose. The recitals are nice enough, but for me, making recordings is not near as much fun as performing live.

Some analogies of the piano plateau come to mind. Say an adult started running later in life. He/she might go in with some distance goals or time goals. Some may aspire to run a full marathon. Others may be content with a half-marathon or 10km or 5km.

Think about an older runner that started late, that never ran before, that had some physical ailments that made things more difficult. That's analogous to my start in piano, a bit older than average, with physical problems that most other people don't have. Depending on the person, even as little as one or two miles (2 or 3 km) might be considered an achievement.

Some new runners might want to go all in and hire a personal trainer and work out several hours a day. He/she might want to run as far, as fast as their body will permit. Others will be content with a more casual and modest level of effort, and achievement. There is no right or wrong with either decision, or any place in between.

Re: Five years in, facing the long plateau
Sand Tiger #2625759 03/21/17 05:29 PM
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The fact that you are still referring to your situation as a "plateau" suggests that you are still somewhat negative or discouraged about your current situation.

Might it be beneficial for you to do a slow, thorough assessment of all the things you have enjoyed about your piano/music experience? I would encourage you to take stock of EVERYTHING piano related, no matter how small, that has brought you pleasure over these 5 years. Perhaps one of these is a bit of a doorway to another "world" in which you might find a lot of piano related pleasure.

Analogize to the 360 degrees of the world surrounding you right now. Each of those 360 degrees appears small, and perhaps small enough that you might reasonably think that there is nothing in there of interest or benefit to you. However, if you walk outward from your current position in the center, and into that wedge formed by that one degree, you soon find that you are in quite a large space, large enough for all kinds of interesting things. Some of the very small things that you sporadically enjoyed along your piano way might hold great, undiscovered treasures for you.

For me, I once pursued a very unknown composer after having enjoyed just one of his compositions. That almost idle curiosity opened into a world of music that was unlike any that I had yet experienced. And, the pleasure has been immense for me. Perhaps there are things in your 5 year experience that, if explored further, might provide a very fertile garden in which you could further cultivate your creative piano/musical interests.

Enjoy yourself, and good luck finding something that enthuses you.

Last edited by Ralphiano; 03/21/17 05:31 PM.

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