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Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
#2629261 04/02/17 01:38 AM
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Zilthy Offline OP
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Hello, my name is Sasha, and I began learning piano and taking lessons four weeks ago. I would like to share my journey and perspective, as well as welcome any feedback. Piano is new to me, and I would not wish to miss anything!

First, a bit of background. I have been playing music for nearly forty years. I have played guitar, bass, drums, trumpet, French horn, violin, viola, cello and dabbled in a few other instruments. I read sheet music, and I know and I am comfortable with music theory.

I have played a number of musical styles, but my mainstays are classical and rock. At this point in my life, I have a strong desire to finally learn to play piano. Learn beyond the dabbling in keyboards that I have done.

My first decision was “Do I get a teacher or teach myself?” For me, that was a no-brain decision. I was going to go with lessons. I had run in to problems with poor technique on other instruments, leading to limitations and injuries. Unlearning *bad* muscle memory is a pain. It can stick a *long* time.

My other big decision was what methodology did I want to go with? I picked up a few different books, and looked them over. I brought them all in to my first lesson, and we spent a good chunk of time that first lesson going over my goals, and finding which books/method best fit where I was at musically and what my goals are.

We went with and are going with “Exploring Piano Classics (Repitoire|Technique): A Masterwork Method for the Developing Pianist.”

The other alternatives were Alfred’s All-In-One, Alfred’s Basic Adult, Masterwork Classics, and Suzuki. For some odd reason, I had fond memories of Suzuki and learning violin, but those memories grew far less fond very rapidly reading through it again. Alfred’s did not line up at all, and Masterwork Method resonated far better than Masterwork Classics.

Masterwork Method Technique book actually has *musical* exercises, examples and descriptions that lead to the repertoire piece and support it, one technique at a time, vs Masterwork Classics practice/performance which just has note. I think it is a lot more balanced, but I am not sure I would recommend it if the beginner does not know how to read sheet music or count rhythm, etc. It’s great for the beginning pianist, but not necessarily so for the beginning *musician*.

It also seems to advance a lot more rapidly than other lesson books I have seen. From the first lesson, you are playing both treble and bass cleff, both hands. By the 3rd and 4th lesson staccato one hand, legato other hand at the same time. And it goes one. You need to have strong fundamentals in not only how to read music, but how to practice.

Sadly, how to practice is still undertaught in so many methods I have seen, nor is that taught by teachers very well. How to practice needs a lot more importance. Practice makes perfect is a lie. Perfect practice makes perfect, yes. Anything else leads to poor technique, muscle memory, problems, so on and so forth. None of it good.

“I was never allowed to practice incorrectly” – John Williams

So here I am, about four weeks in to playing, and my teacher and I came to a new understanding with each other today. She wants me to play through a piece as if it were a performance. I had a tendency to stop, or rewind, trying to play it perfect if I messed up.

My bad, it’s been awhile since I have had lessons. But I get it, and no problem, will do that from now on. And I get it. It would be a lot easier to see the trouble areas that way.

And from my point, she thought I might be being too demanding of myself for correct physical technique, has agreed to be much more stringent about it.

I think I have found a good fit for a teacher, to meet my goals. 😃
I also got a membership to Piano Career Academy. Mostly due to Richrf’s thread on it. There are things I like about it so far, and things I do not like. In all fairness, what I like is *very* good, and helped me a lot. As for what I dislike, I am going to wait and see if it is my own personal experience in music before declaring.

Overall though, I think I may be enjoying learning piano more so than any other instrument that I have learned to play before. I think a lot of that comes from knowing myself as a person, and where I am at musically, and where I am balanced.

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Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629312 04/02/17 07:51 AM
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Hi Sasha,

I very much agree. Learning piano, and any art for that matter, is all about learning about oneself. After all, art is an expression of oneself.

Wishing you continued enjoyment in your studies?

Rich

Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629401 04/02/17 01:07 PM
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Welcome, Sasha. It will be nice to follow your progress. This forum is wonderful, with a lot of caring, sharing, and knowledgeable pianists, along with a lot of us early beginners. Your wealth of knowledge and experience will probably benefit a lot of us along the way, so, I encourage your full participation (for those selfish reasons laugh ) as well as for your own benefit. This is a cool place.

Last edited by Ralphiano; 04/02/17 01:07 PM.

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Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629465 04/02/17 04:22 PM
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Nice post, Zilthy! Hello smile

Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629470 04/02/17 04:31 PM
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Hi Sasha, fascinating musical path! I am curious about Piano Career Academy, and would love to hear what you think about it. Both good and bad if you're ready, or just good if that's all you want to share yet.


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Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629501 04/02/17 06:20 PM
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I can relate to much of what you are saying, but from my own angle. I self-taught any instrument I could get my hands on since childhood. I did get a piano when young, and the books handed to me were passed on from a grandmother and were in the "classical" tradition in the early 1900's Germany, so I got sonatinas and such, but without instruction. I had no piano from age 18 to around age 55.

The first formal instruction I had was on violin, starting my late 40's, and this went along the RCM program. Because I already had the kind of background I described, what I could and couldn't do was confusing. For example, I could extrapolate how a melody would go through some clues in the music, so it wasn't clear that I wasn't really reading in the conventional sense. I could hear in my head how the music would be expressive, and force out that sound by hook and by crook - which sort of worked at an early level and was more expressive than what little kids would do - but hurt my body in the process. Things went awry for a while. These studies stopped suddenly after a few years, I got a piano again, and found myself on PW, trying to get a handle on "music studies" (as you are doing).

We need to get the technical foundations, and we need to get foundations otherwise too. How that is to be done is a whole other stories. Someone having had lessons from childhood in an instrument is no guarantee either, because were they taught how to practice, how to approach things, how to get at foundations and such --- often not.

In addition to "technique" and, if needed, theory at a practical level, another element is what I call "approach". If you have a 32 measure piece or a 4 page piece, how do you set about working on it? How do you work on a small section? What might you do on day 1, 2, 3 - the next week? What do you focus on, and how? Not that many seem to know how to teach that.

In regards to different instruments: I've found differences but also similarities that have created some "crossover" for me. There is a fluidity and ever changing flexibility in a well trained bow hand which works in harmony with the arm and all the joints, along with a well-balanced body (which one doesn't necessarily get in one's studies) - in piano there are these same attributes. If one element of "louder" is speed of motion, in a sense that is true for both instruments. If I blow too hard into my alto recorder I choke the sound: push too heavily on the bow and ditto: pound piano keys, ditto.

There are differences. On violin, your left hand plays the notes and is more the intellect, while the right hand creates articulation, dynamics, and tone quality. On piano, each hand is responsible for both of these things. Violin is physically asymmetrical with the placement to your left: piano places you in wonderful symmetry. But on piano you can also move your body to the left, to the right, forward and back while the violin is attached to you so to say. On violin and wind the note will sound only as long as you are producing it by blowing or bowing: on piano if you use pedal it will continue sounding but in general you cannot alter the quality of that sustained sound. You can, however, move your hand from that B which must sound for 3 beats, over to another note early while it is still sounding, which is a different relationship of time-sound-motion, and has to do with the characteristics of the instrument. (Technique is in fact a mastery or using of the characteristics of your body and physics, plus the instrument and physics, plus the musical sound you wish to produce, as efficiently as possible.)

That's sort of what seems to be involved when we play different instruments. wink Sorry for the length.

Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629503 04/02/17 06:26 PM
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In a more practical vein, it might be good for you to check out Jaak Sikk's on-line course. He sets out fundamental details very methodically and at a starting point that tends to be skipped or glossed over. There is a plan behind it, all with a view of developing skills. The first month is free. Subsequent "months" are free - "months" in quotation marks because they are course units which you can work on for any desired length of time. When you send in a video of your playing, you will get feedback and insights. In one of mine, for example, there was an observation about perpetual motion in nature - in other words, I was essentially going to a note, stopping at that note for the length of its duration, going to the next note, stopping etc. The playing itself sounded fluid, but each time your motion comes to a dead stop, you have to jerk yourself out of the inertia. There were some insightful comments when I worked with him.
Ilinka's course is different in nature. It might be good to have two differing perspectives, or various angles.

Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629510 04/02/17 06:53 PM
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Some thoughts from my perspective and a few years into the piano journey, if you don't mind. Please feel free to discard anything.

Quote
Masterwork Method Technique book ...

It also seems to advance a lot more rapidly than other lesson books I have seen. From the first lesson, you are playing both treble and bass clef, both hands. By the 3rd and 4th lesson staccato one hand, legato other hand at the same time. And it goes one. You need to have strong fundamentals in not only how to read music, but how to practice.

This actually makes me uncomfortable. When you are playing staccato in one hand and legato in the other, do you actually have a good motion for that legato in the one hand, and a good motion for the staccato in the other hand, as well as good balance and motion throughout for both of them going on at the same time? These things do not get developed in a very short time. You may have the concept of the sound as a musician, but not necessarily the developed physical actions. If you played piano self-taught and unseriously before, you may also have various physical habits by association.

"Reading music" is also a tricky matter. I got a wake-up call and quite a surprise in what I learned that "reading" in the sense of piano music might actually entail.
Quote
Sadly, how to practice is still undertaught in so many methods I have seen, nor is that taught by teachers very well.

Absolutely!
Quote
So here I am, about four weeks in to playing, and my teacher and I came to a new understanding with each other today. She wants me to play through a piece as if it were a performance. I had a tendency to stop, or rewind, trying to play it perfect if I messed up.

Yes to not stopping, rewinding etc. Btw, this is a common complaint of teachers about students wanting to do that, and the difficulty of breaking them from that habit if they already have it, and the effort not to get it started.

However, playing through an entire piece as if it were a performance - yes for playing it in front of your teacher - but I would say no, emphatically, if this were a practice strategy. Especially with piano, where as you advance there are so many notes doing so many different things.

Some key things I have learned in practice strategy:
Analyze your music somewhat, since you are capable of doing that. You might, at your level, play through once reading since you say you can do that, marking out difficult areas - a good teacher should be doing that for a student as well, or keep it in mind. 2) Practising in sections or "chunks". Divide your music into sections and subsections and work on smaller sections (chunks). A good strategy is to go backward: m. 36 - 40; m. 32 - 38 ... always working toward the familiar that you have already practised. Later in performing, the further you go to the end, the stronger your playing is, rather than vice versa. 3) Practising in layers toward achievable goals, especially until you have established technical foundations. You might work on a section aiming for right note with right fingers and good motion (slowly). When that is established, you might add dynamics or something else. Have a strategy for something difficult like a leap. ,.... Then bring this together into a whole. Everything will be more secure and sound more "professional" early. In fact, I'm told this is not a baby-method, but how professionals work.

Quote
Overall though, I think I may be enjoying learning piano more so than any other instrument that I have learned to play before. I think a lot of that comes from knowing myself as a person, and where I am at musically, and where I am balanced.

Highlighted because this is what counts! Congratulations, and keep enjoying the journey. smile

Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629575 04/02/17 10:06 PM
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Well, for the staccato and legato together, it was actually the fifth piece, but fairly soon. As far as good motion, yes, at least for this stage of development. I expect I will be refining all of the motions for some time to come, but bringing them together while correctly maintaining correct motions on both is very doable.

I think that is one of the areas where having experience is helpful, knowing how to train muscle memory, and being able to apply my experience there from other instruments to a new instrument.

And yes, to the practicing in sections or chunks also. I have done that for a long time. I used to play semi-professionally, and there were some times where I had to learn 60+ pieces of music in a matter of a couple of months.

I will check out Jaak's course also, and see what I think of it.

Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629649 04/03/17 07:24 AM
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Sasha, I just wanted to say hello, and welcome! I hope you enjoy your piano journey, and thanks for sharing with us!
cheers
Cathryn


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Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629661 04/03/17 08:15 AM
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The problem I have with most adult methods is that they get to complicated things are too soon, because they feel adults just want to get there faster. While it's true adults want that, it is not true that it's the best course of action to take.

With any kind of skill like piano, one is building in neural connections that were previously not there - or haven't been used in decades for the adult re-learner. While the process for a re-learner will be faster depending on how well they could play when they stopped, for a true beginner it is a very slow process.

Assuming good practice habits are from the start, I wouldn't expect an adult student to play staccato & legato together until at least 6 months of playing. For a re-learner, 4-5 months. And this would mean building up to it by playing a lot of alternating staccato and legato passages, followed by holding down a note in one hand while playing staccato in the other in preparation.

In the method book I prefer, Francis Clark's Keyboard for the Adult Beginner, staccato & legato together doesn't happen until Unit 12 - which would be anywhere from 4-6 months depending on the individual.


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Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629703 04/03/17 09:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Zilthy
I think that is one of the areas where having experience is helpful, knowing how to train muscle memory, and being able to apply my experience there from other instruments to a new instrument.

In terms of timing, in regards to what you have described, I'm not convinced that is true. I'm writing as someone who does have that experience from other instruments, and I've been undergoing retraining in piano for some time, with a fair idea by now of what is involved. But this is all conjecture and abstract in a forum of words. This is between you, your ears, your senses, and those of (a) competent teacher(s) and his/her/their ears, senses, experiences etc. We share the same kinds of goals. Best of luck. smile

Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629715 04/03/17 10:32 AM
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Well, it sounds like this is something that I will bring up with my teacher, and make sure it is not too soon to be attempting and combining some of these techniques.

I have not looked at the mentioned Franci Clark's method, but that time frame seems consistent with other methods.

Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629718 04/03/17 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Zilthy
Well, it sounds like this is something that I will bring up with my teacher, and make sure it is not too soon to be attempting and combining some of these techniques.

I have not looked at the mentioned Franci Clark's method, but that time frame seems consistent with other methods.
With regards to legato/staccato, yes. But this method also doesn't have you playing LH chords too soon, either, and focuses more on getting coordination with the individual fingers, gradually introducing hands together playing.

Of course, you are paying a teacher to teach you, so his/her suggestions on what method to use should be followed, unless there is a problem. wink


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Re: Beginning Piano - Experienced Musician
Zilthy #2629965 04/04/17 03:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Zilthy
We went with and are going with “Exploring Piano Classics (Repitoire|Technique): A Masterwork Method for the Developing Pianist.”

So, you preselected some method book(s) and your teacher agreed on the selection? Sounds great.

As far as the preview pages on the Alfred site give insight into the content of the books, I have to say that I also would love them for my adult beginner classes. They seem to point out straight and clear the important facts along musical excercies/pieces, and by the way inspire to inform yourself about putting the music into its historical context. Kind of "The Classic Piano Course: Omnibus Edition" by Carol Barratt, but the Exploring Piano Classics coming in more tomes with some more explanations and especially more music. Enjoy!


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