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Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey #2645728
05/21/17 12:58 PM
05/21/17 12:58 PM
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Keselo Offline OP
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Last month, I started lessons with my new teacher, and she immediately made me ditch my current practicing methods. She teaches a very specific playing technique, as not to “corrupt” her efforts, my full effort was on learning her ways. We started working on Bartók's Mikrocosmos Book 1. I was four months in, having started this January, so I could read the first 10 or so pieces fairly easily. But that wasn't good enough. These pieces are so easy, that she required me to achieve two things:

1. Make every piece sound like music.
2. Don't (consciously) memorize a piece.

Making a piece sound like music is done by using the technique that she teaches; it allows me to play freely. A lot of practice is needed, both for making sure I adhere to her technique, and for getting the piece to sound just the way that I want. Using this technique is only possible when you're in control; it can't be executed without a proper balance between relaxation and tension.

Because I can't consciously memorize the piece, I'm forced to keep my eyes on the page if I want to play it. Yes, eventually I'll know the piece through sheer repetition, but by that time I've read the score 20, maybe even 30 times in about a week. I get a very good understanding of the piece that I'm playing. This is, I think, essential to becoming a better sight reader. Additionally, because of my high exposure to sheet music (I'm playing from a sheet about 95% of my playing time), I simply get more used to reading it. You start to recognize patterns, instead of seeing the individual notes. I think that learning to identify these patterns is more easily done by getting a deep understanding of one piece, rather than reading 10 different ones once. Anything you learn or reinforce with one piece, you'll take in some shape or form to your next piece. This is very apparent while working through Mikrocosmos.

Mikrocosmos starts out very simple. Both hands play in parallel motion, one octave apart. One note up or down at a time. Legato playing. These pieces were easy enough; I didn’t learn anything new from them, but I still reinforced the previously mentioned fundamentals.

From piece #9, things weren’t so easy anymore. New skills were added, one at a time. But still, lots of reinforcing. These new skills, things like syncopation, playing with alternating hands, and change of position, I could practice in an isolated manner. Because I only had one problem to solve, I could quickly play the piece through, sight reading it very slowly, making sure to always stay in control.

At piece #22 came counterpoint, something that tripped me up in the past and that I saw no way I could ever sight read. But, the very conscious and thorough practice of the previous #21 pieces, made sure that my fundamentals were up to par. It took two days of isolated hands alone practice (of course, sight reading the whole time), before I could play it through very slowly with both hands. One week later, and it was up to speed, sounded like music, and I’d stopped panicking every time directions started changing. This might have been due to me memorizing through sheer repetition, but regardless I did learn a lot from it.

Now, two weeks later, I have a pretty easy time with simple melodies containing counter point. It’s not yet at a point where I can immediately sight read them, but I don't need any hands alone practice, either.

It is these results that have gotten me curious as to where this might bring me. The benefits of playing a lot of different music is widely accepted here, but still, I feel like everyone is working on these big projects. What will happen if I continuously play this relatively easy material, without working on this harder material? Will I continue to improve as I have, both as a sight reader and overall as a piano player?

With this method, I question some widely recommended tips for getting better as a player, these include:
- One must play relatively hard material to improve as a player.
- Separately practicing arpeggios, scales, chord progressions, and similar things is a necessity to improving as a player.
- You improve as a sight reader by playing a lot of different material that you can sight read (relatively) easily. It is important not to play the piece more than once or twice before moving on.

That is what I will keep track of in this thread. I very much appreciate discussion on the subject, so do not refrain from commenting if you think that I’m being ridiculous or in other ways wrong. Do note that I am a beginning player, so the chances that I'm wrong are fairly realistic to say the least. Still, I think regardless there are lessons to be learned from a method like this.

Appropriate updates get posted in threads like FOYD and the 40-piece challenge, everything that doesn’t fit there, as well as general updates, will be found here.

Last edited by Keselo; 05/21/17 01:03 PM.

Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
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Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645751
05/21/17 01:30 PM
05/21/17 01:30 PM
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Hi Kesolo,

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

There are similarities and differences in our manner off studies.

The fundamental similarity is that we are both cultivating our skills by continually studying the simple pieces and by doing this we develop deeper and deeper awareness of the music, the instrument, and ourselves.

Where we may differ is that I do not attempt to control anything, i.e. use willfulness. Nor do I seek balance between tension and relaxation. I only seek (feel) flow between my imagination and the instrument and then back again. Unobstructed flow (like water) achieves is own natural balance. It is very real and can be felt, but it a is much more ethereal (spiritual in nature) than muscular movements and permits my creative energy to flow unencumbered.

It takes time and patience to develop this flow, but for me it's worth it. Similarly, your own explorations will undoubtedly yield significant and worthwhile rewards. Wishing you the best with your studies!

Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645806
05/21/17 05:21 PM
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Quote
Last month, I started lessons with my new teacher, and she immediately made me ditch my current practicing methods. She teaches a very specific playing technique, as not to “corrupt” her efforts, my full effort was on learning her ways. We started working on Bartók's Mikrocosmos Book 1. I was four months in, having started this January, so I could read the first 10 or so pieces fairly easily. But that wasn't good enough. These pieces are so easy, that she required me to achieve two things:

1. Make every piece sound like music.
2. Don't (consciously) memorize a piece.


I do not have to read any more. I would advise you to hang on to this teacher. She will turn you into a fine player.

You are very lucky to have found her .... Good Luck


Don

Casio PX-160, Mix 5 Five-Channel Compact Mixer, DR 880 Drum Machine, Spacestation v.3 Powered Stereo Monitor
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645810
05/21/17 05:38 PM
05/21/17 05:38 PM
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My vote is to stick with the progression of skills like you are doing with your teacher and not consciously go out and seek something above your level As the skills come, the difficulty level will naturally increase And you will find it to be a manageable task rather than a struggle that you cannot play well.


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
" I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: dogperson] #2645862
05/21/17 08:46 PM
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I wouldn't get intimidated by what seems like big projects- they are, but that may not be all they are working on. I have some big projects, but I also learn a lot by playing easier pieces. There is always something to learn (and a reminder that I should be honest with myself in the bigger projects) - faster tempo, better hand positions, more accurate voicing of the parts - because I'm not tangled up in knots over the technique.

I second the opinion above - this teacher sounds like a winner!


Mason & Hamlin A ('97)
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645903
05/22/17 12:30 AM
05/22/17 12:30 AM
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Richrf, I think the end result of our methods in terms of technique might be more similar than you think; you simply managed to word it way better than I could.

dmd, I 100% agree with how lucky I am to have found her. Thanks for your encouraging words.

dogperson, that is indeed the point of this project. I can't be sure whether my teacher will desire me to aim a bit higher in terms of relative difficulty in the future, but I hope to keep on going like this. I might have worded it a bit poorly in my original post, but the three bullet points near the bottom are things I do not agree with.

Medved, bigger projects may not intimidate me as such, I rather question how time-efficient working on these projects is. If my hypotheses about these relatively easier pieces holds up, then working on bigger projects will hold back one's progress. I obviously can't be sure if this holds up, and if it does up until which level of ability, but I'm very keen on finding out.

Last edited by Keselo; 05/22/17 12:33 AM.

Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645939
05/22/17 07:03 AM
05/22/17 07:03 AM
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I’m a sucker for completing things. I like the idea of completing something, of getting everything I can from it. This was very noticeable in my years before playing the piano; I was constantly playing video games and I was obsessed with completing so called ‘achievements’. These virtual medals provided me with zero value, other than a visual representation of a certain amount of time spent on a certain activity and a good feeling that I’d done it.

It is odd, in that regard, that I hardly ever completed projects like this. I liked the idea of completing something, but I would lose interest before I ever got to that point. With video games, this was usually due to a few of these achievements requiring an enormous amount of dedication. Dedication to a usually very dull, repetitive and non-interesting activity. I liked the idea of completing it, but I couldn’t be bothered to put the actual effort in.

So, for this piano project to be successful, things must change. Either internally or externally something must differ from the way I approached these goals in my video games. How can I make sure that I remain dedicated?

First, the internal process. I see this as changing myself or a mindset in some way, shape, or form. First and foremost, it’s of the utmost importance that I remain myself. It’s a lot easier than constantly making sure I’m being something or someone that I’m not, if that makes sense. Over the years I’ve tried, with mixed success, changing things about myself, as I’m very critical of my own behaviour, performances, and habits. The only changes that stuck, were changes that I made to my habits.

Internally, there’s only so much we can really change about ourselves. You can’t change who you are, and there’s only so much you can do to change what you like. To go on and dedicate yourself to something that you don’t believe in takes a lot of willpower, and takes away from the eventual satisfaction or happiness that you derive from it. To that end, I’m not trying to change anything about myself on that deep a level. So, let’s talk about habits.

Changing a habit is easy enough. Once you know how a habit works (Cue, Activity, Reward), it’s easy to identify a habit-cycle and change it to something desirable. Changing habits isn’t an unnatural process from a personality point of view. An undesirable habit may have formed from a personality trait that you don’t like about yourself, but, regardless of its origin, changing a habit does not equal trying to change who you are. As such, changing undesirable habits to desirable habits, or simply adding desirable habits into your daily life, is something sustainable. There’s a relatively low chance of inner conflict, as long as the will to change a habit comes from within, and not an outside force (parent, spouse, teacher, boss).

A good example of creating a new habit that many of you will be familiar with, is playing the piano. At some point, you started adding it into your daily routine, as daily practice is the best way of improving. Every day, you’d get some kind of Cue (i.e. thinking “I want to play the piano”, “I should practice”, seeing the piano, scheduling it and keeping to your schedule). This cue leads to the Activity, in this case sitting down and executing your practice routine for the day. When done with the practice, there is a Reward, and this can be all kinds of small things. A good feeling because you practiced, a nice cup of tea, watching your favourite show, logging practice hours on this website. It doesn’t have to be something big like eating a tub of ice cream, which, admittedly, is nice, but is recommended against for a variety of reasons.

What we do when we sit behind the piano is as much of a habit as the more general idea of practicing is. Think of it as a habit within a habit. You sit down behind the piano, because it’s your practice time (this is the “main” habit). For the next 20 minutes, you’re practicing scales, chord progression, and arpeggios, like you do every day (habit within a habit). This habit, most people know as practicing, is the first habit that has turned 180 degrees since I started my lessons. Since I’m constantly graduating material to the ‘done’ pile, my practice routine doesn’t change day to day, but the material changes daily. My thought process should always be: “what needs work today, and what doesn’t”, instead of: “what must I do today.”

This is a way which, hopefully, combats my inability to dedicate myself when I’m not interested in what I’m doing. By actively thinking, every day anew, what needs work and what doesn’t, I connect to my practice. Thinking about what I specifically want to improve, reviewing my practice at the end of the day, and having regular progress updates (recordings and lessons), help me in keeping my eyes on the prize, so to say. I don’t do things because I must do them, I do things because I want to do them.

To this end, it is very helpful to make progress that is easily and regularly measurable. My conclusion in this regard, is that working on 10 easier pieces will result in more regular and steady progress, opposed to working on 2 harder pieces. With a small piece, I start hearing music within a few days, and it’s ready to record in a week. If, at that point, I don’t like it, that’s fine. I’ve learned from it, I’ve completed it, and I can move on. If I do like it, great, I can add it to my repertoire and continue learning from it.

To come back to my video games analogy, a larger piece is the achievement which required a lot of dedication to one thing, often very repetitive and dull. Feeling like you must practice, because you might otherwise lose progress. Feeling that you make very little progress, when practicing the same 4 measures for weeks on end. Feelings of despair, when for every problem that you solve, two new ones arise. These easier pieces are more like the easier achievement. You put some honest effort in, make noticeable, daily progress and, after one or two weeks, you get the boost of having a satisfactory recording.

Back to completing things, where does this leave me? Well, hopefully, I get to a point where I routinely complete Opuses. At my current work rate, I work on getting anywhere between 10 and 20 pieces ready for recording. If I can keep this up, while also being able to play harder and harder material as time goes on, I get exactly what I want from a hobby. I get to complete stuff, I make measurable progress, and I have a lot of fun while doing so.


Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645940
05/22/17 07:06 AM
05/22/17 07:06 AM
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Morodiene Offline
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Originally Posted by Keselo

With this method, I question some widely recommended tips for getting better as a player, these include:
- One must play relatively hard material to improve as a player.
- Separately practicing arpeggios, scales, chord progressions, and similar things is a necessity to improving as a player.
- You improve as a sight reader by playing a lot of different material that you can sight read (relatively) easily. It is important not to play the piece more than once or twice before moving on.

1. I do not agree about playing relatively hard material to improve. Most of what you play should be at or below your current level of playing, adding one concept at a time. Once in a while, doing a stretch piece that you absolutely love is worthwhile, but the stretch should be reasonable - only 2 or 3 new concepts/skills. By "one in a while", I mean maybe once per year or even less frequent.

2. I do think that scales, chords and arpeggio practice is very helpful for many different genres. It is possible that your teacher will eventually add these to your practice routine. Every teacher has different ideas as to when to do these, but from what you've said, I would be very surprised if she never adds them. She sounds like a very good teacher.

3. I agree with this, however, the most benefit comes from learning pieces as a beginner, not sight reading them. Sight reading comes later, but being able to recognize patterns and execute them depends upon really having learned them, not just played through them once or twice. The practice of sight reading should generally happen a bit later in studies, maybe after a year or two. There's no harm in exposing oneself to playing different short pieces that are below your current level of playing for the sake of sight reading, but most of the improvement in this area comes from learning music.


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Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Morodiene] #2645942
05/22/17 07:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Morodiene

1. I do not agree about playing relatively hard material to improve. Most of what you play should be at or below your current level of playing, adding one concept at a time. Once in a while, doing a stretch piece that you absolutely love is worthwhile, but the stretch should be reasonable - only 2 or 3 new concepts/skills. By "one in a while", I mean maybe once per year or even less frequent.

2. I do think that scales, chords and arpeggio practice is very helpful for many different genres. It is possible that your teacher will eventually add these to your practice routine. Every teacher has different ideas as to when to do these, but from what you've said, I would be very surprised if she never adds them. She sounds like a very good teacher.

3. I agree with this, however, the most benefit comes from learning pieces as a beginner, not sight reading them. Sight reading comes later, but being able to recognize patterns and execute them depends upon really having learned them, not just played through them once or twice. The practice of sight reading should generally happen a bit later in studies, maybe after a year or two. There's no harm in exposing oneself to playing different short pieces that are below your current level of playing for the sake of sight reading, but most of the improvement in this area comes from learning music.

I find it equal parts encouraging and confusing to find people agreeing with me here. I'm fairly active in another piano community (Reddit), and most of the people around there vehemently disagree with these thoughts.

As to your second point, maybe, probably, yes. While she has not yet talked about these exercises, this may indeed come at a later time. I do practice these things non-consciously when improvising, which is something else she actively encourages, so I do hope that acquiring these skills by improvising is feasible.

For your third point, I do not quite understand what the difference is between sight reading and learning pieces as a beginner (at least the way I'm doing it). If I actively read the sheet while playing, don't I essentially sight read while learning the music? As I said, the music isn't easy enough that I can immediately play it, so isolated practice is needed. But once that's done, I sight read the piece until I'm satisfied, no more than three times a day over the span of 1 to 2 weeks.

Last edited by Keselo; 05/22/17 07:22 AM.

Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645947
05/22/17 07:31 AM
05/22/17 07:31 AM
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Sight-reading is, officially, to see a piece for the very first time and play it at once. The second time you see a piece you can't officially sight-read it anymore.

Some people think that sight-reading is playing a piece while keeping an eye on the music and never on your hands. But that's not sight-reading.

Last edited by J van E; 05/22/17 07:32 AM.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: J van E] #2645954
05/22/17 07:52 AM
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Originally Posted by J van E
Sight-reading is, officially, to see a piece for the very first time and play it at once. The second time you see a piece you can't officially sight-read it anymore.

Some people think that sight-reading is playing a piece while keeping an eye on the music and never on your hands. But that's not sight-reading.


THANK YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is the most mis-understood concept that is discussed in this forum.

This should be set in STONE somewhere.

Sight-Reading is playing a piece of music at FIRST SIGHT !!!!!!!!!!!!! You can only do this ONCE on a piece of music.

The next time you look at the notation it is not at FIRST SIGHT because you have already previously seen it.

So from there on you are simply READING the music as you play it. You are not sight-reading it.


Don

Casio PX-160, Mix 5 Five-Channel Compact Mixer, DR 880 Drum Machine, Spacestation v.3 Powered Stereo Monitor
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: J van E] #2645955
05/22/17 07:52 AM
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Okay, so keeping that definition of sight reading in mind.

I feel like I improve my sight reading, without specifically practicing it. I can sight read material that I couldn't a month ago, which counts as improvement as far as I'm concerned. I don't go out of my way to play pieces which I can actually sight read, which is what is usually recommended when people want to improve their sight reading. Theoretically, my progress is not very strange; what I'm doing may not be sight reading (strictly speaking), but I'm still doing many of the same things. Playing while reading, recognizing patterns, playing relatively easy material.

That is what I want to keep on doing, by means of experiment. Continually play this material that's just beyond my sight reading capabilities, but still easy enough that I can read along while playing, and use this as a method to become a better sight reader (and, more broadly, a well-rounded pianist).


Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645963
05/22/17 08:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Keselo
Okay, so keeping that definition of sight reading in mind.

That is what I want to keep on doing, by means of experiment. Continually play this material that's just beyond my sight reading capabilities, but still easy enough that I can read along while playing, and use this as a method to become a better sight reader (and, more broadly, a well-rounded pianist).



I believe I understand the skill that you are attempting to nurture to become a well-rounded pianist, but this goal may not be shared by everyone who is studying the piano. For example, in my studies, I am looking to learn to hear music clearly on my imaginative mind so that I can creatively express new music via my gestures through the piano which are non-habitual. The motivation to learn is not habit but rather is creativity (non-habit). In this way I hope to nourish the artist within myself. In a broad manner each person studying the piano may see their studies in a different light and thus approaches it in a different manner.

Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: J van E] #2645969
05/22/17 09:14 AM
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Originally Posted by J van E
Sight-reading is, officially, to see a piece for the very first time and play it at once. The second time you see a piece you can't officially sight-read it anymore.

Some people think that sight-reading is playing a piece while keeping an eye on the music and never on your hands. But that's not sight-reading.
This is correct. It is often misunderstood the difference between reading music and sight reading music. I blame the term "sight reading", but since that is what it's called, we're stuck with it.

edited to add: While these two skills are obviously linked, "sight reading" specifically has to do with being able to play a piece at tempo the first time through, with dynamics and articulations. Sight reading is generally at an easier level (or two) below what you are capable of learning to play. Sight reading is not just being able to play a piece the first time but at a much slower tempo. This latter skill is what students do for pieces they are learning/reading.

Originally Posted by Keselo
I find it equal parts encouraging and confusing to find people agreeing with me here. I'm fairly active in another piano community (Reddit), and most of the people around there vehemently disagree with these thoughts.
Do you mean that the majority of people in this other community encourage playing hard material in order to improve? I'm not quite clear on what you're saying.


Last edited by Morodiene; 05/22/17 09:18 AM.

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Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: dmd] #2645971
05/22/17 09:19 AM
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Originally Posted by dmd

Sight-Reading is playing a piece of music at FIRST SIGHT !!!!!!!!!!!!! You can only do this ONCE on a piece of music.


Except when your memory is as bad as mine. Then it's sight reading every time!


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Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645973
05/22/17 09:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Keselo


To come back to my video games analogy, a larger piece is the achievement which required a lot of dedication to one thing, often very repetitive and dull. Feeling like you must practice, because you might otherwise lose progress. Feeling that you make very little progress, when practicing the same 4 measures for weeks on end. Feelings of despair, when for every problem that you solve, two new ones arise. These easier pieces are more like the easier achievement. You put some honest effort in, make noticeable, daily progress and, after one or two weeks, you get the boost of having a satisfactory recording.
If I perceived practice as never ending suffering and struggle and forcing myself daily to do some unpleasant activity in order to get high in the form of a recording I think I would avoid piano at all costs.

I view practice as an integral part of studying piano and, even bigger, studying music. What can be dull about that?

Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645975
05/22/17 09:24 AM
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I aim to do the same things as you, Richrf. I do not consider a piece well learnt if I can play the notes in the correct order. Habit is not the end goal, nor is it as mechanical as it might seem from what I've written. Habit is an important component of being able to quickly pick up new pieces.The sooner my brain figures out which keys need to be pressed, the sooner it can focus on all the other stuff that comes with playing a piece of music. Of course, no two pieces of music are the same, so the way I press the exact same series of keys in two different pieces can, and indeed will, be different. Habit in playing is also not that set in stone. It is much more comparable to reading a text in English, where you learn to recognize words and phrases, but the way you interpret them always depends on the broader context.

Hearing the music on my imaginative mind, as you so eloquently put it, is one of the key components of my learning process. I find myself singing pieces more and more (I even choose to believe that my singing is improving, though that might just as well be wishful thinking), exploring the possibilities of the set of notes that the composer wrote down. Singing helps me identify exactly what the piece is in my mind, what I want from it, and helps me to translate it to the keys.


Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2645978
05/22/17 09:31 AM
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Originally Posted by PerAspera
If I perceived practice as never ending suffering and struggle and forcing myself daily to do some unpleasant activity in order to get high in the form of a recording I think I would avoid piano at all costs.

I view practice as an integral part of studying piano and, even bigger, studying music. What can be dull about that?

Absolutely, I 100% agree with you.

It's not practice in general, it's the way you practice. I would despise the idea of having to do scales, arpeggios, and sight reading exercises for 30 minutes every day. The same thing goes for these relatively hard pieces that take months to get to a proper level, that would be extremely bad for my overall motivation. If I can make similar (or even bigger) improvements, but by doing things that I like, I prefer going that route.

That route is my current routine of just playing a load of relatively easy music, learning from every piece what I can. This all while maximizing the efficiency of the time I put into it. I improve, I have fun, and I get a load of satisfaction when I manage to get a good recording of the piece.


Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: dmd] #2646037
05/22/17 12:57 PM
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Originally Posted by dmd
THANK YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is the most mis-understood concept that is discussed in this forum.

This should be set in STONE somewhere.

Sight-Reading is playing a piece of music at FIRST SIGHT !!!!!!!!!!!!! You can only do this ONCE on a piece of music.

The next time you look at the notation it is not at FIRST SIGHT because you have already previously seen it.

So from there on you are simply READING the music as you play it. You are not sight-reading it.

I'm not sure why such an emphasis, as though it had never before been stated. I have written about this innumerable times. I'm sure I haven't been alone. I do agree that this matters a great deal.

The more important thing is WHEN and WHY to aim for prima vista sight reading.
Imho, the first skills should be READING SKILLS - and that includes skills that go into reading skills. Sight reading is a specialized skill that is used, for example, by accompanists. The tricks used for learning to sight reading are contrary to - destructive to what is needed for getting primary reading skills. For example, skipping notes and not caring about wrong notes as you try to stay at tempo is not conducive to getting a handle on those notes. For primary reading skills you want to be able to associate a written note with the piano key, and be able to make an instant and accurate beeline for the piano key. You want to have an understanding of what you are doing before you spring into action, and that means taking the time to acquire it. Skimming past stuff for the sake of staying at tempo is counterproductive. It is a later skill.

There IS a READING skill that we do want to have early. When I have a new piece of music, I want to be able to study it, and explore this or that section of it to see what I need to work on, where difficulties are, etc. Here I might study the music - write in little notes - and go over it various ways. I want to be able to at least slowly play over sections, and I don't want to have to rely on a crutch like a CD or listening to it being played on the Internet.

"Sight reading" in the prima vista sense is a specialized skill that comes later.

Last edited by keystring; 05/22/17 12:58 PM.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2646050
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What is 'later' in your opinion? When all notes are memorized and usually not missed during a go through of a piece? Or after a specific time frame? A year, two? I only ask because I just started a Sight Reading set of books by Bastien. I've been playing for about one year now. Maybe I should wait?


~ M.P.

Learning piano on our patient Kawai baby grand who has been waiting for me to get serious for 10+ years. smile
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2646052
05/22/17 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Keselo
Originally Posted by PerAspera
If I perceived practice as never ending suffering and struggle and forcing myself daily to do some unpleasant activity in order to get high in the form of a recording I think I would avoid piano at all costs.

I view practice as an integral part of studying piano and, even bigger, studying music. What can be dull about that?

That route is my current routine of just playing a load of relatively easy music, learning from every piece what I can. This all while maximizing the efficiency of the time I put into it. I improve, I have fun, and I get a load of satisfaction when I manage to get a good recording of the piece.

Don't you get bored though? I mean, if I'm not playing something that is making my head really think while I'm playing, it just doesn't seem fun. Maybe I'm a masochist and don't know it. wink


~ M.P.

Learning piano on our patient Kawai baby grand who has been waiting for me to get serious for 10+ years. smile
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: DutchTea] #2646055
05/22/17 01:52 PM
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Originally Posted by DutchTea
What is 'later' in your opinion? When all notes are memorized and usually not missed during a go through of a piece? Or after a specific time frame? A year, two? I only ask because I just started a Sight Reading set of books by Bastien. I've been playing for about one year now. Maybe I should wait?
What repertoire are you playing? I think it should be not so much and emphasis until you get to intermediate levels.


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Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2646061
05/22/17 02:18 PM
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I'm certainly not playing intermediate pieces yet. So, hold off then? I'm fine with that; just don't want to neglect something that is helpful in learning piano in general.


~ M.P.

Learning piano on our patient Kawai baby grand who has been waiting for me to get serious for 10+ years. smile
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: DutchTea] #2646067
05/22/17 02:30 PM
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Originally Posted by DutchTea

Don't you get bored though? I mean, if I'm not playing something that is making my head really think while I'm playing, it just doesn't seem fun. Maybe I'm a masochist and don't know it. wink

So far, every piece that I've played has had its challenges, both technically and in terms of expressing musicality. Working on the technical aspect is the first part of the puzzle, and takes anywhere from a day to a week. Once I'm more confident on a technical level, I feel ready to address the musical part. This has two levels of satisfaction.

1. The 'good enough'. I can comfortably read the piece and I can make it sound pretty close to the way I want. I don't demand perfection at this stage, as I feel that's setting yourself up for failure. The majority of what I play will be finished once at this point. This takes anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks (this is an assumption based on my current material, which has a maximum length of 32 bars, though my aim is to find a balance where this remains as stable as possible).

2. 'Repertoire'. A piece that I really like and have deemed good enough, gets added to my repertoire. Memorization comes easily, because I've read and played it for at least a week, multiple times a day. For these pieces, I demand that I learn to play the piece the way I hear it in my head and/or sing it. Can take anywhere from 1 week to, well, I don't know yet. I aim for no longer than a month, but I also want to make videos of these pieces, so that raises the bar quite a bit. My aim is, basically, getting the pieces up to performance level.

About 80% of my time is spent on getting pieces to level 1., the rest on acquiring and maintaining a repertoire. Of this time spent on 1., half of that is spent playing new (= first 3 days of playing) material. So 40% of my time behind the piano, I'm analyzing and familiarizing myself with new concepts and I'm playing new material. Every piece has its own challenges, and my fundamentals should be good enough to effectively solve the challenge in a reasonable amount of time.

I feel like this gets you the best of both worlds. You play a lot of different music, and through isolated problem-solving improve your technical abilities in an efficient way. It is more important to get a good go at 100 pieces, than to perfect 30. With the diminishing returns on quality (in terms of time invested), an optimal balance between quantity and quality must be struck. I do not yet know what it is, but I'll try my best to find out.


Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: DutchTea] #2646070
05/22/17 02:34 PM
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Originally Posted by DutchTea
I'm certainly not playing intermediate pieces yet. So, hold off then? I'm fine with that; just don't want to neglect something that is helpful in learning piano in general.
I don't think you need to rush into sight reading exercises. It's not harmful, so if you enjoy it, then by all means spend a little time on it. But if not, it's OK to wait.


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Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2646082
05/22/17 03:06 PM
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I guess to me sight reading has been about practicing short pieces, e.g. pieces from the RCM sight reading books, playing through it at a somewhat reasonable tempo and not stopping, while also paying attention to the dynamics. This has certainly helped me to read and play music easier and faster. Is it prima vista reading? No way, I think I have to wait 15 years before that happens, if it ever happens. Then again, I'm not sure if I'll ever be put into a situation where a score is given to me and I need to play perfectly (or make it appear good enough) the first time around (except the sight reading excerpt I'll have to do for an exam).

So, in short, sight reading to me has been about trying to be a better/faster/more accurate reader in general, not really about prima vista reading. I still think there is part that I like to call "finger gymnastics", that needs to be practiced. Much like a gymnast or ice skater who knows their routine, but needs to train their bodies to articulate the right moves and gestures. But who knows, maybe with enough time and practice it will just happen and I'll play level 10 pieces without blinking laugh


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Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2646088
05/22/17 03:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Keselo
With this method, I question some widely recommended tips for getting better as a player, these include:
- One must play relatively hard material to improve as a player.
- Separately practicing arpeggios, scales, chord progressions, and similar things is a necessity to improving as a player.
- You improve as a sight reader by playing a lot of different material that you can sight read (relatively) easily. It is important not to play the piece more than once or twice before moving on.

In regards to any specific must-do's, I would never go for such a rigid thing. There are skills we need to acquire and things we need to learn, but there is more than one way of getting there. You may have two teachers seeming to do the opposite things, and yet they are on the same path. You can have a teacher who overtly teaches each thing separately so you can tell what is being done, "Now we're working on scales.", "Now we're working on theory.", while another brings out that same knowledge / skills while "only working on pieces". How she teaches, what she asks you to do, and how - that is what makes the differences. You can even have teachers who on the surface appear very structured and skill-oriented, but it's all empty routine. If you're learning, growing, and improving, then it's probably right.

Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2647172
05/26/17 06:49 AM
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I often give advice to fellow beginners. Because I’m in the same boat as them, I feel like they can benefit from my own (recent) experiences. The advice that I give, is nothing more than the advice that I have been given by better and more experienced players. However, time and time again it becomes apparent how easy it is to disregard the advice that you give others when playing yourself.

5 days ago, I started work on No. 32 from Mikrocosmos. It’s a one page piece, written in a Dorian style. It contains many of the concepts that are previously introduced in the book, and as such, when I started it I didn’t think it would be hard to learn. Because this was my mindset going into the piece, I got agitated when I just couldn’t get it right. Every day I’d try playing through start to finish, and there would just be so many hesitations, double checks, and wrong notes. It wasn’t until today, that I realized I did exactly what I always advice against. I kept beating my head against the wall, waiting for improvement to magically occur.

My tempo of playing was right (read: slow), but playing it through start to finish every time wasn’t efficient at all. That’s the change that I brought to my practice today. Instead of struggling through the entire piece, I did as little as splitting the piece into three separate sections. Starting at the last section, I played it through 5 or so times, before setting the piece aside. During my second practice slot, I did the same with the second section, before playing the two through a few times. Third slot, same story, but with the first section. In 20 minutes of practice I achieved what I couldn’t in the last 4 days, just by taking a step back and evaluating the cause of my lack of progress. It still needs some work, but at least I can play it through with a minimal amount of hesitation.

The main issue in all of this, I think, is that the method of playing it through start to finish works for most pieces that I’m learning. These pieces are not only shorter, but also easier by having more distinguishable patterns. The challenge for me at this stage is to get better and faster at recognizing the harder pieces, or at least recognize sooner when I’m not getting any further. Constant re-evaluation of both broader practice routines and specific pieces is a must, and something I should really get used to.


Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2647186
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I agree. The key is "constant reevaluation". Being nimble in learning is as valuable as being nimble in playing. One of the outcomes of learning to learn is understanding that no one approach works in all occasions and over time it is possible to develop a toolkit of knowledge that can be utilized as needed.

Re: Nothing is too easy - A Beginner's Journey [Re: Keselo] #2647390
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The act of practicing in multiple shorter sessions is something that isn’t unfamiliar to most of you. I still feel like it’s valuable to tell you about my practicing ways, with the hopes of shedding some light on the thoughts behind it.

On a typical day, I practice for anywhere between 1.5 and 2 hours. This time is spread out in sessions of 20-25 minutes. I never work on one piece for more than 5 minutes in one session. If I say I practice something for 15 minutes on a day, it gets practiced three separate times, thus it gets reinforced on three separate moments. I don’t have a routine in the sense of technical exercises (scales, arpeggios). I do practice my pieces in a somewhat set order. My pieces can be sorted into one of the following categories and practiced accordingly.

1. New. Piece has been practiced for less than three days and contains technical difficulties. Anything that needs isolated practice, gets isolated practice. New concepts or recently learned ones are the most often in need of isolated practice. I might be able to sight read parts of the piece (at a low tempo, which technically isn't sight reading, but please bear with me), but not yet the whole thing. Progress is measured in terms of getting small sections, that used to give me trouble, to a point where I can play them through without hesitation. In other words, I must tackle the technical difficulties of the piece, as these form the foundation on which the rest of the piece stands.

2. Needs work. Once there are no more problematic spots, the piece gets promoted to this category. Daily practice is limited to a few playthroughs on low tempo. These playthroughs can occur in one session, though I limit myself to 3 playthroughs in one sessions. They can also be spread over multiple sessions, which is done when a piece needs more work. Progress is measured in my increasing ability to play the piece more musically. Playing with musicality can only occur when I’m in control of the piece. As such, holes in my ability to handle the technical aspects of the piece limits progress made here. Pieces take around 3-5 days to get in the right direction, this also includes pieces that I just started working on which had no technical difficulties (and 'skipped; category 1).

3. Good enough. My first point of satisfaction with a piece. I can sit down and play an okay rendition of my piece. This is the point where I start trying to record a piece. This is to hear if it sounds like I think it sounds, as in my experience it sounds so much better when I’m playing. I also like to have audio recordings of my finished pieces, as I like the ability to keep track of my progress. Recording does add some extra layer of difficulty, so it can take some days to get a good recording. After this initial recording, about 70-80% of the pieces get abandoned. I’ve learned a good amount from the piece, both in terms of technical and musical aspects, and my time is better and more efficiently spent learning new, slightly harder material.

4. Future repertoire. Up until this point, everything that I play gets actively read of the sheet. Pieces that I like enough get memorized, which is a relatively easy process, since I’ve played it daily for a week or more. I basically work on a piece until it matches my expectations of how it should sound, within the limits of my own ability. Pieces in this category get 1 or 2 playthroughs every day, and a lot more time when I’m not behind the piano. I sing, hum, and use mental play to get a better idea of exactly what the piece means to me. Mental play is also what solidifies the piece in my brain. It helps to make sure you know what to do, instead of relying on 'muscle memory'.

5. Repertoire. Once a piece is deemed good enough, I make another recording, this time including video. This is the point at which I demand perfection. No ghost notes, no hesitations, musically sound. It takes at least one week in category 4 for a piece to become eligible for recording. Once I’ve recorded a piece, I keep it in my active memory. I’m experimenting with a system of flash cards, but it’s too early to say anything about the effectiveness of this system.

My first three sessions are usually spent playing material from category 1 and 2. I limit myself to having only two new pieces. As such,15-30 minutes are spent on technical improvement, and 30 to 45 minutes on reading music, playing pieces, and improving musicality.

As I get more satisfied with the pieces in 1 and 2, pieces from category 3 get added. I play these through once or twice, and turn on my mic to record. I give myself two tries (in one recording sitting) to get a good recording. If I don’t get one, I try again the next day.

Session 5 and 6 are usually filled up with the practice of (future) repertoire. There’s very little harm done if I can’t practice these on a day, and there’s always the option of mental play, which is why these come last. Time is spent on developing musicality, and really getting to know my piano. I’ve noticed that the quality of my touch has increased since I’ve started working on repertoire pieces, as more of my attention is on the keys.

Six sessions, means at most 30 minutes for a new piece in one day (I average more like 10-15 minutes). I work on 8-10 pages of music at one time. I’m playing some pretty short beginner pieces, so that’s 15-20 pieces at one time. Adding 5-8 new pieces every week, I’m exposing myself to a lot of different music, which is exactly the point of this journey.

I shall post a detailed rundown of my current works in progress this weekend, hoping to make clear what I look for in a piece, how I look for overlap in different works, and how I look to improve.




Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
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