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Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: outo] #2704623
01/13/18 02:14 PM
01/13/18 02:14 PM
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MichaelJK Offline
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Originally Posted by outo

You are probably young and fit smile
After my first lessons with my present teacher I was exhausted physically in the same way I am after a visit to a physiotherapist. Because she did not let me hunch and she wanted me to move my arms...Piano playing IS physical and if you body is out of sync and tense it takes some work to get it to adjust. Otherwise I do agree with you.

I still have a rather bad posture but my teacher has adjusted to that smile


Do you find that you can play the piano easily? What I mean is, do your fingers predictably land on the right keys at the right time, and you can get the sound you want? Do you feel connected to the music? Are you able to play in tempo? If so, sounds like you are on the right path. But, I would ask why you say you have "bad posture" in this case (since your posture seems to be working for you).

If not, then I would ask: why not? How do you know it's not because of your posture?

To me, the goal is to make piano playing easy and comfortable. When you start out, it may be uncomfortable, painful, or tiring. Usually, this means that you are doing something wrong. That is understandable, because when you first start learning something, you bring to it habits from the rest of your life, which may not work here. I'm not claiming you can completely avoid this discomfort. You may not know how. The process of learning to play is the process of learning to bring awareness to those habits.


Michael
My blog on mindfulness in piano playing
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Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot] #2704628
01/13/18 02:28 PM
01/13/18 02:28 PM
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK
....To play the piano well, you need both freedom and accuracy. I believe freedom is best learned from fast practice, and accuracy is best learned from slow practice. And accuracy is much more easily acquired once you have freedom, so I prefer to start fast.
In other words, you're saying you need speed first and then accuracy to play well.

I disagree. You don't always need speed to play well, but you do need accuracy, fast or slow. I can't see how playing a bunch of wrong notes (and probably poor rhythm), fast, does anyone any good. You might be playing freely, but so what? My dog (if I had one) could play freely. "Accuracy is much more easily acquired once you have freedom." This sounds like wishful thinking, imo.


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Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: Stubbie] #2704632
01/13/18 02:44 PM
01/13/18 02:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Originally Posted by MichaelJK
....To play the piano well, you need both freedom and accuracy. I believe freedom is best learned from fast practice, and accuracy is best learned from slow practice. And accuracy is much more easily acquired once you have freedom, so I prefer to start fast.
In other words, you're saying you need speed first and then accuracy to play well.

I disagree. You don't always need speed to play well, but you do need accuracy, fast or slow. I can't see how playing a bunch of wrong notes (and probably poor rhythm), fast, does anyone any good. You might be playing freely, but so what? My dog (if I had one) could play freely. "Accuracy is much more easily acquired once you have freedom." This sounds like wishful thinking, imo.



You don't need speed (depending on the music), but you absolutely need freedom. In my opinion, speed is the most reliable way to find freedom immediately. Yes, your dog could play freely. I'm not sure how to teach the dog to play accurately, however.

This is not wishful thinking. Would you learn to dance in a tiny closet? Would you learn your way around an unfamiliar neighborhood by insisting that you never took a step in any direction unless you were 100% certain where it would lead? You learn by making mistakes. The sooner you let yourself make them, the faster you will learn.

If you struggle with neither accuracy nor freedom, then you've probably found something else that works for you.


Michael
My blog on mindfulness in piano playing
Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK] #2704643
01/13/18 03:48 PM
01/13/18 03:48 PM
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK
Originally Posted by outo

You are probably young and fit smile
After my first lessons with my present teacher I was exhausted physically in the same way I am after a visit to a physiotherapist. Because she did not let me hunch and she wanted me to move my arms...Piano playing IS physical and if you body is out of sync and tense it takes some work to get it to adjust. Otherwise I do agree with you.

I still have a rather bad posture but my teacher has adjusted to that smile


Do you find that you can play the piano easily? What I mean is, do your fingers predictably land on the right keys at the right time, and you can get the sound you want? Do you feel connected to the music? Are you able to play in tempo? If so, sounds like you are on the right path. But, I would ask why you say you have "bad posture" in this case (since your posture seems to be working for you).

If not, then I would ask: why not? How do you know it's not because of your posture?


Many of my problems are indeed because of my posture (I have scoliosis) but I do feel I play the piano comfortably now and I do not have to worry about the physical side much anymore. But it took a few years to get there.

Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK] #2704687
01/13/18 08:00 PM
01/13/18 08:00 PM
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK

I believe that "anxiety" (loosely defined) is the single major cause of difficulties in piano playing. This takes many forms: fear, perfectionism, avoidance, boredom, frustration, etc.


In my personal experience, very true and pretty insidious.


Whizbang [Linked Image]
amateur ragtime pianist
https://www.youtube.com/user/Aeschala
Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK] #2704700
01/13/18 09:03 PM
01/13/18 09:03 PM
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 16,332
Canada
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Michael, thank you for your quick and full response to my post. I see forums as a place for dialogue where we learn from each other. We initially come in each carrying our own experiences with our ideas, and have to get beyond that to truly meet. So I'm hoping to do that.

I'm seeing that you have isolated ** a ** thing that can affect music learning, and you seem to focus on it especially, probably because you have seen the effects that anxiety or fear can have on learning where it is a factor. I don't disagree when that's the case. But there can be other things, including instead of, or the chicken might be the egg, and I think it's important to look through various lenses and not only carry the one. I'm hoping I'll make more sense as I explain myself. smile

Looking at anxiety or fear first, where it does exist, and some causes (chicken egg circle).
a) There can be wrong beliefs. What you play should sound perfect from the get go. Since when you begin that won't happen, this can make you anxious. Your teacher wants perfection, because in school academics, assignments should be as perfect as possible. Your teacher will be displeased if it's not perfect. There is a basic misunderstanding of what music learning is about. In this case the wrong belief creates the anxiety, and the way out is not to address the emotion (anxiety), but the belief by learning / teaching what music learning is about. At the same time, becoming aware of this anxiety and its cause; also knowing that others have it and you're not alone.
b) Some teaching practices. If you want each piece to be perfect before we can move on. If you try to "inspire" me by how wonderfully you can play, with all the skills you acquired over 20 years, and I can hear I can't do it, and end up feeling inadequate - not knowing that it's a matter of learned skill. If from the beginning the student is expected to play voicing the melody over the accompaniment, plus be expressive, plus use correct articulation, plus crescendo etc., plus (add to this list), when the student's initial coordination isn't at that stage yet ..... because frankly that teacher doesn't know what he's doing or how to teach beginners. The student won't know he's being mistaught, and will assume there is something wrong with him.
c) There are abusive and mean teachers, still.

You have to know which is chicken and which is egg. If you have anxiety or fear, and you are generating it for no reason but attitude or habit, then you must counter this by doing other things. Quite a few of the things that you have suggested as a teacher can go toward that. But if anxiety or fear are being caused, then you have to get at the cause, not the symptom. Making sure that a new student / student new to you understands what music learning is about ... and not about is one preventative measure. This includes those who have had music lessons with other teachers in the past, because there may be damage in this respect. If the student is being asked to do things that are unreasonable at that stage - or where underlying skills are missing - it may be time for a different teacher, or in the very least, the student must know that it's ok to say "I don't know how to do xxxx, can you help me?" This is a very common problem with adult students, because we can appear to know more than we do for various reasons. Teaching adults is a relatively new field and teachers are not always familiar with all the pitfalls.

Those are some of my thoughts on anxiety and fear. You have highlighted anxiety and fear as a cause of difficulties. I see other scenarios which I want to get into separately.

A note about this:
Originally Posted by MichaelJK
Even your teacher may contribute to this by saying "you know you're supposed to use your fourth finger on that F#" or "stop tensing up your shoulders." And yet, the problems continue. I may suggest in this case that you just may not know how to solve this issue.

To be frank, that doesn't sound like a very good teacher. And if it is up to the student to solve the issue, especially so. Certainly a student has a role in experimenting and finding solutions, but this is with guidance. Here is an example:
- Some years ago, try as I might, my left hand was awkward. I tried all kinds of things with my hand. My (then new) teacher saw instantly that the angle of my body, the closeness to the piano, were factors. These days I know what kinds of things to watch for as I experiment. It is not blind experimentation.
The F# issue: How much guidance has our student had as to structuring and planning his practice: dividing up his material: setting goals; practice strategies? "You know you're supposed to...." is rather poor teaching, in this hypothetical situation. If the student doesn't know how to solve it, he'll emotionally flinch at the thought of this same thing coming up time and again. Adult students often want to please their teachers: it's special.

I DO AGREE with many of the things you have written and the atmosphere of the whole in general, but wanted to get this out there. I especially agree with the idea of letting go of what you cannot yet solve. I came to piano having self-taught decades before as a child with all kinds of iffy entrenched habits, which have been gradually solved and replaced over time. Where there is something that can't be handled, then it's "Well, there goes that thing passing by again." and the focus goes toward something that CAN be done or solved. I agree with this 100%.

Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK] #2704704
01/13/18 10:15 PM
01/13/18 10:15 PM
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Canada
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2nd response to other ideas, again to Michael. I'll do so mostly by way of my own story.

I had no music teacher until I was almost 50, and then it was for a technically difficult instrument that was brand new to me. But at age 8 I'd been given my first little electric organ and a book for adult autodidacts, 10 full pages - 20 half (horizontal) which I sang myself through. A few years later it was an upright piano, and my grandmother's old books from the Bayreuth conservatory: sonatinas and a musical Czerny. More singing. Solfege and Clementi go well together since those sonatinas are so diatonic. I experienced all the freedom and playfulness you could want. As the 8 year old I'd play some chords in the music, or a 5-note passage, and take off creating out of it. I loved the M6 interval (not knowing its name) because the little reed organ made it especially sweet. I loved how the mouth organ vibrated in my fingers. My descant recorder eventually was joined by an alto and tenor when I was an adult. I knew nothing about judgment, fear of being called out for a wrong note or fingering. The whole anxiety/fear thing was foreign to me. When I was 19 the piano disappeared when my parents moved house - it got substituted with a classical guitar, and I didn't see a piano again for 35 years.

The instrument I learned the first time I ever had a teacher, at almost 50, was violin. What I had went into it: the ear, the solfege, etc. I had little body awareness and no idea about technique or approach. My habit on any instrument was to aim for the sound I heard in my head and by hook or by crook I'd produce it. This can lead to contortions and tension, and it can be invisible if you are still keeping the "good form" you learned. I advanced 4+ grades in a year before everything crashed, and then limped into something that sort of worked. A bit before this ended, I got a piano again after 35 years. By now I recognized what I'll call "technique" --- i.e. effective body use when playing an instrument. The things that were healing the one instrument were what was needed on the other. Same person; same body; same habits.

In that "free as a bird" childhood time, I had never seen anyone play the piano. When I heard staccato in my head, I tightened my forearm and gave sharp pokes which gave the desired sound. All that Clementi and notes mostly on white keys mostly spanning a fifth left me with "ball-holding" round hands, motionless arms, forearms, fingers poking that Alberti bass. You reach for a cup as you have always reached for a cup. You reach for the notes as you have always done. I could solve some of the things on my own, but for others I simply went in circles. I have been working together with an excellent teacher for a number of years. I had to find my way into the effective free motion, in steps and stages.

My point is this: The men and women in this forum have different backgrounds and abilities, characters and attitudes. Mine is probably extreme. For me much of what you are proposing such as letting go, playing fast first, etc., would be anathema - depending. I'm now touching on "fast" sometimes, for a very small passage, where I'm learning how to move to make it happen. Each student has to address where he or she is at: what is going on in total and individually. You are addressing one general area that may fit many people, but may be entirely the wrong thing for many more.

For me it's about FOUNDATIONS. I've been a broken record since coming here, because it seems so important. The problem right away will be "What do I mean by foundations?" "What you you think I mean by foundations?" "What does everyone else picture?" Whatever I mean by foundations, these are the cornerstones, the magic pill that make everything else work at every level. It's what works for me.

Meanwhile, as I moved from teaching in the public school to doing so privately on occasion, very often the kids in trouble at grade 7 - 9, are missing foundations from the low grades, and while their confidence is low, and anxiety is high, the cause is actually the missing skills. Competence builds confidence. Struggling because you're missing essential skills or knowledge will destroy confidence. Of course we have to address both sides, because fear and anxiety can be so paralyzing that they prevent learning, and do a number of focus and concentration. But where I'm at personally, I need the skill part.

When you write about mindfulness, and various such things in your blog, I'm with you 100%.

Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: keystring] #2704705
01/13/18 10:29 PM
01/13/18 10:29 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
The men and women in this forum have different backgrounds and abilities, characters and attitudes. Mine is probably extreme


I would say that, but it is super cool. I always like reading your perspective. I also think that you and Michael come from the same place in certain ways and are very different in certain ways so this conversation is really interesting.


Whizbang [Linked Image]
amateur ragtime pianist
https://www.youtube.com/user/Aeschala
Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: keystring] #2704719
01/14/18 01:33 AM
01/14/18 01:33 AM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Michael, thank you for your quick and full response to my post. I see forums as a place for dialogue where we learn from each other. We initially come in each carrying our own experiences with our ideas, and have to get beyond that to truly meet. So I'm hoping to do that.


Thank you as well! I suspect that we don't entirely disagree with each other, but our experiences may be causing us to describe things differently.

Originally Posted by keystring

a) There can be wrong beliefs. What you play should sound perfect from the get go. Since when you begin that won't happen, this can make you anxious. Your teacher wants perfection, because in school academics, assignments should be as perfect as possible. Your teacher will be displeased if it's not perfect. There is a basic misunderstanding of what music learning is about. In this case the wrong belief creates the anxiety, and the way out is not to address the emotion (anxiety), but the belief by learning / teaching what music learning is about.


Let me tell you that first that I generally don't find it very useful to think of beliefs as being "wrong". The examples you gave are common beliefs, and all of us have them or ones like them. Furthermore, we acquired them because at the time, it made good sense to do so. We only evaluate them later on as being "wrong" because in a new context, they don't seem quite as helpful anymore. The whole thing is a very subjective process.

Originally Posted by keystring

You have to know which is chicken and which is egg. If you have anxiety or fear, and you are generating it for no reason but attitude or habit, then you must counter this by doing other things. Quite a few of the things that you have suggested as a teacher can go toward that. But if anxiety or fear are being caused, then you have to get at the cause, not the symptom.


This relates to what I said above. It sounds like you are trying to draw a distinction between "reasonable anxiety" and "unreasonable anxiety". All anxiety is reasonable. By this, I mean that when you feel anxiety, it's a pretty safe bet that your mind is generating reasons to go along with it.

I make a big deal out of this because I think it clears up a lot of confusion. It becomes a real sticky mess when we try to convince ourselves something like "I know this fear is unreasonable...I just need to face my fear...why am I such a wimp???" Here's an alternative way of looking at it:

You have the fear because you learned it at some point in the past.
You know it's unreasonable because you learned that at some point in the past.
Beliefs don't have to be logically consistent!
It's affecting your behavior today because you're believing what you think (go figure!)

OK, I've gotten far away from piano at this point. My point is that your anxiety is part of you. It's not going anywhere. I can't talk you out of it. My concern as a piano teacher is only how it affects your playing. And we can address exactly how it affects your playing without having to figure out if it's logical, or necessarily understand exactly where it came from.

Originally Posted by keystring

A note about this:
Originally Posted by MichaelJK
Even your teacher may contribute to this by saying "you know you're supposed to use your fourth finger on that F#" or "stop tensing up your shoulders." And yet, the problems continue. I may suggest in this case that you just may not know how to solve this issue.

To be frank, that doesn't sound like a very good teacher. And if it is up to the student to solve the issue, especially so. Certainly a student has a role in experimenting and finding solutions, but this is with guidance.


I want to be clear that I was giving that as an example of questionable teaching. Teachers often insist students solve problems that students have no idea how to solve. I have seen this in lessons taught to professional musicians at high levels.

Originally Posted by keystring

Here is an example:
- Some years ago, try as I might, my left hand was awkward. I tried all kinds of things with my hand. My (then new) teacher saw instantly that the angle of my body, the closeness to the piano, were factors. These days I know what kinds of things to watch for as I experiment. It is not blind experimentation.


I'm not saying that blind experimentation is the only way to go. A teacher can be very useful in pointing you in the right direction. My point is not exactly to criticize the pointing so much as to describe the pitfalls of a fear of experimentation.

Originally Posted by keystring

If the student doesn't know how to solve it, he'll emotionally flinch at the thought of this same thing coming up time and again. Adult students often want to please their teachers: it's special.


Yes, exactly. And this problem is not limited to adult students. Almost everyone in our culture learns it at a very young age.

Originally Posted by keystring

The instrument I learned the first time I ever had a teacher, at almost 50, was violin. What I had went into it: the ear, the solfege, etc. I had little body awareness and no idea about technique or approach. My habit on any instrument was to aim for the sound I heard in my head and by hook or by crook I'd produce it. This can lead to contortions and tension, and it can be invisible if you are still keeping the "good form" you learned. I advanced 4+ grades in a year before everything crashed, and then limped into something that sort of worked.


Thank you for sharing your story! Please correct me if I'm wrong about this next part. What I'm hearing is that you are saying that you developed bad physical habits leading to tension, by way of trying very hard to produce a desired sound. It sounds like you are saying that this came from a foundation of freedom that you developed in your childhood. Is that correct?

If so, let me try to relate it to my experience. I personally have found that a lot of what has masqueraded as merely a desire to do well is, upon closer examination, an insistence on doing well. I can identify this somewhat easily at this point, when I start noticing things such as discomfort, fatigue, contortions, etc. The child me could listen to the music in his head, notice how it doesn't match what he's hearing, and continuing bang on the keys anyway, simply because it's fun. The adult me, on the other hand, will force his hands to make that sound (whether it works or not), disconnect from the feelings of discomfort, and not care at all that he's not having fun, because I don't want to be incompetent, dammit!. Or maybe something less panicky, like Wow, this is really hard!

Originally Posted by keystring

The things that were healing the one instrument were what was needed on the other. Same person; same body; same habits.


Exactly! It's all the same.

Originally Posted by keystring

In that "free as a bird" childhood time, I had never seen anyone play the piano. When I heard staccato in my head, I tightened my forearm and gave sharp pokes which gave the desired sound. All that Clementi and notes mostly on white keys mostly spanning a fifth left me with "ball-holding" round hands, motionless arms, forearms, fingers poking that Alberti bass.


It sounds to me like you were given fairly limited experiences playing the piano as a child.

Originally Posted by keystring

You reach for a cup as you have always reached for a cup. You reach for the notes as you have always done. I could solve some of the things on my own, but for others I simply went in circles.


You did not know how to solve the problems on your own. That is completely understandable. But you probably also didn't know how to teach yourself how to solve the problems on your own. Which is also understandable. I think, however, that this is learnable skill. It's not obvious how to do it, but I believe it's doable.

Originally Posted by keystring

For me much of what you are proposing such as letting go, playing fast first, etc., would be anathema - depending. I'm now touching on "fast" sometimes, for a very small passage, where I'm learning how to move to make it happen. Each student has to address where he or she is at: what is going on in total and individually. You are addressing one general area that may fit many people, but may be entirely the wrong thing for many more.


Here's how I look at it. Language is somewhat arbitrary. The words I am using have a certain meaning to me, which is why I use them. Someone else may interpret them differently. I try to understand how others interpret them, so that I can modify my language accordingly.

I know that when I say "play fast", it will be interpreted a certain way by many. I wish I could be more precise, but I don't know if it's possible. Language cannot convey exactly what I'm getting at here, because it's about an experience. When someone hears "play fast", and that triggers all of their old tension-filled habits from the past, I need to insist that I'm not the one who told them to do that. I said "play fast." I did not say "contort your wrist" or whatever you think playing fast entails for you.

We need to explore these things thoroughly. The words have no absolute meaning. This is why I advocate for awareness more than correctness. There's no sense in trying to be correct until you have a good idea what "correct" really means (and even then, accepting that we are probably wrong about it to some degree).

Originally Posted by keystring

Meanwhile, as I moved from teaching in the public school to doing so privately on occasion, very often the kids in trouble at grade 7 - 9, are missing foundations from the low grades, and while their confidence is low, and anxiety is high, the cause is actually the missing skills. Competence builds confidence. Struggling because you're missing essential skills or knowledge will destroy confidence.


The cause of the anxiety is not the point. When a student lacks skills and feels incompetent and struggles as a result, everyone rushes to correct the skill deficit, but:

You can lack the skills, and feel no incompetence.
You can have the skills and still feel incompetent.
You can feel that incompetence, lack the skills, and not struggle.

Originally Posted by keystring

Of course we have to address both sides, because fear and anxiety can be so paralyzing that they prevent learning, and do a number of focus and concentration. But where I'm at personally, I need the skill part.


This may very well be true, and maybe what I'm saying doesn't apply to you. I would be interested to know more about what you do currently struggle with at the piano, if you feel comfortable sharing that.

Originally Posted by keystring

When you write about mindfulness, and various such things in your blog, I'm with you 100%.


Thanks! It's all tied together, really.

I'm sorry for the long reply. I wanted to address as many of these points as I could.


Michael
My blog on mindfulness in piano playing
Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot] #2704728
01/14/18 02:39 AM
01/14/18 02:39 AM
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Whizbang Offline
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK

You can feel that incompetence, lack the skills, and not struggle.


Here it is! The crux of what I think what is going to be the point of confilct (having read your blog).

You've got a class that 'lacks the skills', 'feels it', and 'struggles'

I think I am there. And I felt it, oh, decades ago. But I did struggle for a long time and I definitely play better than I did. Do you give up on me?

So, do you categorize your students and say 'it does not matter, just do whatever' to the incompetent [your words]? Or do you say that to every one your students?

Do your incompetent students perform better than they would without your approach or do you think that calculated goalposts would help your incompetent students achieve their potential.

I would encourage you to really be honest and open with your philosophy. Having read your articles, I understand the basis of what you are coming from but I do not understand your goals. Do you consider entertainment as a goal of music. If you have a student that wants to entertain, then do you change your approach?

I should probably leave all this questioning to keystring.

This is a completely honest questioning engagement. Your answers may change me and my questions may change you.


Whizbang [Linked Image]
amateur ragtime pianist
https://www.youtube.com/user/Aeschala
Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK] #2704745
01/14/18 06:16 AM
01/14/18 06:16 AM
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 16,332
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Michael, thank you again for replying. My experience in forums talking to strangers who have never met and coming from very different backgrounds has taught me that it may take several sincere tries before one actually manages to communicate. The effort counts a lot, and yours is there as is mine. smile

The first thing I was trying to bring across is that things have different causes, and to address / improve / solve them, you must get at the actual cause. You seem to have a single model - a single cause - for everyone: fear and anxiety - emotion. Get at fear and anxiety by replacing them with letting loose, embracing freedom, fast playing or similar, and ability to play will gradually blossom; difficulties will gradually disappear, because both growth and difficulty are tied in with an emotional cause. It is this which I disagree with, unless a thing is in fact caused by these emotions, and unless these emotions exist. Because you need to address what is actually there.

In my first post I explored cases where anxiety or fear may actually exist. I also explored some other factors that may be present. I am proposing that with these other factors, what you address in order to help with the learning may need to be different. In my previous examples:

** Belief that when I am assigned a piece of music, I am expected to return next week playing it perfectly, with good timing, dynamics, expression, correct notes, everything. If this is what I believe, and I have not yet acquired skills, esp. if I also don't know how to approach practising, I will struggle all week, unable to reach these things. This will cause those kinds of negative emotions.
- The solution to this is to address the belief, because it is the belief that is causing the problem. Since this is a common belief, it is a good idea for a teacher to be pre-emptive, and let a student know what it's actually about. For example, when you play in front of a decent teacher, "weaknesses", "errors" are GOOD things, because they are opportunities for further learning. For the teacher, it gives you a new thing to work with. If the student sees the process and the goals differently, the anxiety will go away. In this case you don't address the emotion; you address the belief.

** Teacher who doesn't understand enough about teaching and learning, and creates goals of perfection that may not be dissimilar to the above. If that teacher is creating impossibility, the solution is not for the teacher to address the resulting anxiety in her students by comforting them, but to learn how to teach. The solution for a student with such a teacher is not to meditate and try to think positive thoughts, but to find another teacher. If this student has been with the poorish demanding teacher any length of time, then both the student and the new teacher will indeed need to address anxiety and fear. wink As well as the new teacher redefining what goals and approaches actually are.

** Anxiety or fear as primary things, causing the mischief. Then this is what you address first of all. Your solutions and causes go in this direction, and they are good ones. However, when there are other primary things, then they need to be addressed.

Bottom line: Address what exists, and what exists will not be the same for everyone.
----------------------
This thing of fear and anxiety may not exist at all. I gave my example. The only thing I had ever experienced in music for 50 years was spontaneity, fun, creativity, enjoyment. What I did not understand then, but understand now, is that I needed to be introduced to skills, especially foundations, which would carry my endeavours. Because I could get at a desired sound "somehow", I'd reach the desired end result that my teacher was aiming for ---- a piece played with correct notes, sounding acceptably musical --- but the physical skills were not developing as they should. Now for me, everything felt "normal" because this was all I knew. I was not bothered or disturbed by anything until suddenly my ability to play this difficult instrument unraveled. When a house is built in shaky foundations, you're happy with the house (I'm seeing a child's wooden building blocks) and then you're stunned when the whole thing tumbles down.

When I got back to piano after that, I understood myself and also music making a lot better. For me, I "have" spontaneity, fun, grasp the music side very quickly, and I don't need more of the same. Your solutions of "play fast first" in order to get a feel for that freedom would be entirely the wrong solutions for me. If lots of buildings lean to the west, you fix them by making them lean to the east so that they end up being upright. But of another building leans to the east, and you make that one lean more to the east because that's the solution for all the other buildings, you'll just make that one topple. What I need is foundations especially on the physical side, a slow and gradually rebuilding and reshaping. I had a roof floating with little underneath. What has worked for me is to relearn to use the body; to untangle habits that prevent things; and then as things start working together, using that. It tends to be slow-toward-fast, because "fast and free" throws me back to where I don't want to be. I'm the building that leans to the east.

In summary, such solutions as you propose are not for everyone, because it depends where a student is, what the actual causes of that student's areas of difficulty are, and therefore the solutions for that student. Were I to have read ten years ago what you wrote here, it would have been the wrong thing for me. There will be students reading this now who are in a different boat. Any time there is one general direction - even the solutions that work for me in my case - I get cautious.

Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK] #2704748
01/14/18 07:15 AM
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Switching to general to specific and hopefully shorter.
Originally Posted by MichaelJK
Thank you for sharing your story! Please correct me if I'm wrong about this next part. What I'm hearing is that you are saying that you developed bad physical habits leading to tension, by way of trying very hard to produce a desired sound. It sounds like you are saying that this came from a foundation of freedom that you developed in your childhood. Is that correct?

If so, let me try to relate it to my experience. I personally have found that a lot of what has masqueraded as merely a desire to do well is, upon closer examination, an insistence on doing well. I can identify this somewhat easily at this point, when I start noticing things such as discomfort, fatigue, contortions, etc. The child me could listen to the music in his head, notice how it doesn't match what he's hearing, and continuing bang on the keys anyway, simply because it's fun. ....

Not quite the same as your experience. As a child I was happy as a clam with what I was doing. I also did not own my own music (records & tape recorders in the 1960's) so I wasn't trying to sound like anyone, and would not have heard any differences. What I was doing worked with what I imagined, what I managed to hear in my own playing, and also the type of music I was playing which was primarily sonatinas, esp. Clementi. The music I imagined, or drew out of what I saw on the page, matched what I produced. There were no frustrations, nothing. The habits and reflexes I developed, which became automatic, would have made other things difficult - faster music, music of a different type - or had I learned to hear more subtle things and tried to correct them. That is what I contended with on my return.

We sorted out a few things from that time. To start, Clementi and such are 95% white keys, middle of piano, 5-finger span. Your hands are constantly in the same shape, the old "round ball-holding" shape - if you play an octave, your hand spreads out and the fingers flatten more. You don't need to move in and out to black keys, change your hand shape, move your body from center. I discovered my grandmother had been taught to keep a pencil balanced on her wrist, be motionless except for poky-fingers: I developed this form simply from the repertoire itself. Your forearms at the elbow can create different angles as you fold and unfold your arm. This was locked in one position. No rotation, nothing - I didn't need it for this music. This set of habits were what I cam in with. By the time I returned to piano, I knew about technique from the other experience, I tried playing other music where these things didn't work.

One of the things in my work with my teacher is that I will discover what "ease" feels like. Only then will you recognize "lack of ease".

You asked about what is being done at piano currently, and how.

I'll go to Alberti bass. I have stayed away from A.b. until now, because my most entrenched old habits are in A.b. because that's what was in all those Clementis as a child. I finally started to play a sonatina that had Alberti bass, and two measures in I could feel mount discomfort. I sometimes have the camera on. The old habit was there: fingers doing all the movement, hands and arms motionless. Those old habits were causing the problem. Otoh, I couldn't free-experiment my way out of it, so I did some research, and also applied PRINCIPLES that I had learned. I made a video of one of these explorations.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/mvq9luc48sbss1o/17.12.30a%20Alb%20-%20idea%201.mp4?dl=0
The piece is one that I used to play as a child, but the physical motions and the ease are very different from how I experienced it then.

This is how I work. It is not "fast and fun" --- it starts with slow, detailed, deliberate explorations and experiments. As good things come into the body, I allow some automatism come in. This is what works for me. But I also know I'm not alone with this. I know there are teachers that teach this way, students that learn this way. For me when the focus is on skills, well, emotions just don't come into the picture. It has been very frustrating in the past when teachers wanted to "comfort" me, "reassure" me, address my feelings, or get me to be spontaneous, when what I wanted and needed were the tools.
Quote
I would be interested to know more about what you do currently struggle with at the piano, if you feel comfortable sharing that.

I shared this one thing publicly. However, I'm not playing semantics when I want to change the word "struggle" to something else - because this does go into mindset and attitude. I do not "struggle". I am toward achievable goals. In the above example, my goal was to acquire ways of moving that would make Alberti bass become comfortable. After that initial exploration and a few others, I could apply this to the piece. For me the order of "slower" and "faster" is the opposite of yours. Once I have such things in my body in slow mode, they won't tangle up in faster mode. If I start fast, it is icky. I don't like how icky feels. I like how this feels.

Btw - I don't know if you have had a chance to explore the various threads here. There is one featuring ideas from prof. Mortensen which a few of us have found useful and that can make a difference.
--------
at random:
Quote
It sounds to me like you were given fairly limited experiences playing the piano as a child.

If you mean the material itself - It was mostly sonatinas, common practice era. So no Chopin, Debussy, where you start spanning across octaves or various configurations, pedal, going all over the piano.

If you want to hear something really weird: I found the book I was given as an 8 year old to self-teach that came with the little organ. The entire book was 10 full-size pages. This was on page 9 --- I set my dp on "organ mode" and recorded it:
https://soundcloud.com/usernewtothis/childhood-organ-music/s-RdYZv
This is music for beginner learning? Or for instant gratification? I mean, I loved it then, and enjoy it now, but what did it teach?

Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot] #2704751
01/14/18 07:53 AM
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Other aspects:
Originally Posted by MichaelJK
That is completely understandable. But you probably also didn't know how to teach yourself how to solve the problems on your own. Which is also understandable. I think, however, that this is learnable skill.

We need to be careful about this, and this also goes to the role of the teacher. What I had written was "I could solve some of the things on my own, but for others I simply went in circles." I was writing about the return to piano, and by that time I had a pretty good idea of how to get at things. If in "how to solve the problems" you mean the general idea of exploring, experimenting etc., I had that. But there are things that a teacher will know to look for, or recognize, or principles that are not obvious that we simply won't discover on our own. I have called some of these things "tools" for lack of a better word. In "knowing how", this also includes knowing what you can't solve on your own, going to your teacher and saying "Can you figure out what's going on here?" The teacher may have a big massive solution that solves everything - or he may give a principle that you can play with to get you further - or a single observation for you to play with.
Quote
Language is somewhat arbitrary. The words I am using have a certain meaning to me, which is why I use them. Someone else may interpret them differently. I try to understand how others interpret them, so that I can modify my language accordingly.

Absolutely. That's why we're writing back and forth. Communication among strangers is hit and miss, with 90% "miss" in the beginning (often). wink
Quote
I'm not saying that blind experimentation is the only way to go. A teacher can be very useful in pointing you in the right direction. My point is not exactly to criticize the pointing so much as to describe the pitfalls of a fear of experimentation..

I see. Yes, I can see where a student may fear experimenting; or fear that a teacher will disapprove of experimenting; or even has had a teacher who insisted in being followed rigidly and therefore does not dare experiment. Gotcha!
Quote
The cause of the anxiety is not the point. When a student lacks skills and feels incompetent* and struggles as a result, everyone rushes to correct the skill deficit, but:

You can lack the skills, and feel no incompetence.
You can have the skills and still feel incompetent.
You can feel that incompetence, lack the skills, and not struggle.

* (highlight mine)


I see what you're saying, esp. when the feeling of incompetence is there. Nor is this at all uncommon for the oft-cited reason that adults are used to feeling competent, and competency being demanded of them.

What I ran into as I tried briefly to work with this and that teacher was that a lot of them did not address skills at all: they all wanted to address emotion or attitude that they expected to see. That was tremendously frustrating and aggravating. I actually understand the scenario you're talking about. I once tutored a 12 year old boy who was reading at a grade 1 level; there were some specific underlying things causing the problem and when these were addressed, his reading shot up to grade level (to my own surprise). But because of the many years of difficulty, I also had to address the eroded confidence and fears this had created.

To be clear, the aspects that you have been addressing are not at all trivial. Perhaps this last quote summarizes it; all sides must be addressed, and you may addressing in particular one that may be neglected. I'm stressing the skills side, but the problem-solving, experimentation part you're talking about is also part of it.

Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot] #2704799
01/14/18 11:35 AM
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I feel like I've written too much and too often, and also may have played a role in kind of hijacking the direction of the thread. It was actually originally about information that Squidbot had found, which turned out to be things written by Kesolo. So apologies also to Kesolo for the hijack. smile

Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: keystring] #2704801
01/14/18 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by keystring
So apologies also to Kesolo for the hijack. smile


There's no need to apologize, your discussion was terribly interesting to read.


I've started playing January 2017, Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.

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Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: Whizbang] #2704913
01/14/18 04:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Whizbang
Originally Posted by MichaelJK

You can feel that incompetence, lack the skills, and not struggle.


Here it is! The crux of what I think what is going to be the point of confilct (having read your blog).

You've got a class that 'lacks the skills', 'feels it', and 'struggles'

I think I am there. And I felt it, oh, decades ago. But I did struggle for a long time and I definitely play better than I did. Do you give up on me?


I'm a little confused about what you mean by "I think I am there". Do you mean that you struggle, or that you stopped struggling?

Originally Posted by Whizbang

So, do you categorize your students and say 'it does not matter, just do whatever' to the incompetent [your words]? Or do you say that to every one your students?


I do not categorize students like that. We are all incompetent at some things, and competent at others, and it can change depending on the weather.

Originally Posted by Whizbang

I would encourage you to really be honest and open with your philosophy. Having read your articles, I understand the basis of what you are coming from but I do not understand your goals. Do you consider entertainment as a goal of music. If you have a student that wants to entertain, then do you change your approach?


My goal is to provide a path whereby students:

Can achieve with ease any musical result they desire.
Can learn to tell the difference between what they have control over and what they don't.
Will be rewarded as long as they keep walking down that path, with or without a teacher.

I am not always successful at this. Also, it takes time!

Is entertainment a goal of music? If the student desires this, then sure. I suspect you are asking because you think I am saying that you should be happy not playing well.

This is not what I'm saying. My point is that sometimes our efforts to play well actually get in the way of playing well. I have nothing against wanting to sound good. If you know how to sound good, then do it! (but then, why take lessons?) It's only when that "wanting" starts to interfere that I urge you to reexamine it.

You may ask "how can I possibly stop wanting to play well?" or "what's the point of playing if I don't play well?" To the first question, I would say: you can't stop wanting, but we can take a look at what that wanting is causing you to do, and change that. To the second, I would say: this is worth asking! If you are a beginner, you will NOT play well, so you really should have some other motivation for playing, if you want to be motivated in the long-term.

Originally Posted by Whizbang

This is a completely honest questioning engagement. Your answers may
change me and my questions may change you.


Please keep questioning! These are important topics, and they are worth discussing. I hope your questions change me.


Michael
My blog on mindfulness in piano playing
Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot] #2704926
01/14/18 06:38 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Michael, thank you again for replying. My experience in forums talking to strangers who have never met and coming from very different backgrounds has taught me that it may take several sincere tries before one actually manages to communicate. The effort counts a lot, and yours is there as is mine. smile


I agree, and I really appreciate your taking the time to articulate what you are concerned about. I am probably wrong about a lot of things, and also probably not explaining other things very well, so it's great to be able to have this conversation.

Originally Posted by keystring

You seem to have a single model - a single cause - for everyone: fear and anxiety - emotion.

Get at fear and anxiety by replacing them with letting loose, embracing freedom, fast playing or similar, and ability to play will gradually blossom; difficulties will gradually disappear, because both growth and difficulty are tied in with an emotional cause.


My model is more complex than that (and it's not set in stone):

I have a model of how to play the piano.
I have a model of how to learn to play the piano.
I have a set of exercises for learning.
Based on observing common difficulties with these exercises (both my own difficulties and those of others), I have a model of why students struggle with the exercises. Yes, this tends to be psychological in nature.

I can relate to your skepticism of anyone telling you to just let go and not worry. First of all, it's not very obvious how to just "stop worrying". And second, even if you could, how will that get you to play piano better? It won't, because you aren't actually learning anything. You need to also engage in activities that do show you exactly what you need to know.

Originally Posted by keystring

If that teacher is creating impossibility, the solution is not for the teacher to address the resulting anxiety in her students by comforting them, but to learn how to teach. The solution for a student with such a teacher is not to meditate and try to think positive thoughts, but to find another teacher.


Absolutely. And I've seen teachers do this.

I want to make it clear that my strategy is not to "comfort" students, or encourage "positive thoughts". Rather it is to help them see what is there.

Originally Posted by keystring

** Anxiety or fear as primary things, causing the mischief. Then this is what you address first of all.


Let me stress that I don't believe anxiety and fear are abnormal. We all experience them. My contention is that anytime we are experiencing anything like fear, boredom, frustration, tension, there is something like this at the core.

In learning piano, some things came easily to me, and others did not. I experienced an unbelievable amount of frustration as a result of this. And physical pain at times. And envy toward others for whom things came more easily.

Let me also emphasize this point about tension. My experience is that tension often masquerades as lack of skill. Yet almost invariably, when I give an exercise to correct the problem of physical miscoordination, the anxiety shows its head. This has led me to the conclusion that there is generally anxiety at the core of physical problems, serving as some kind of protective mechanism. This really became clear to me when I saw it in myself. It was uncanny.

Originally Posted by keystring

I was not bothered or disturbed by anything until suddenly my ability to play this difficult instrument unraveled. When a house is built in shaky foundations, you're happy with the house (I'm seeing a child's wooden building blocks) and then you're stunned when the whole thing tumbles down.


Let me try to understand what you are saying. You are saying that you never felt upset with your playing as a child, and didn't become upset until you realized later on that what you learned was limiting you. I can imagine that it must have been disappointing to realize that you would have to backtrack and relearn everything, and you may have felt frustrated or angry that no one had set you on the right path to begin with. Am I understanding this correctly?

If I am, how do you feel about the suggestion that the tension you experienced may have been exacerbated by the frustration from not being able to play well? Now, I'm not at all saying that without the tension, you would have been able to play well from the beginning. I'm just throwing this stuff out there, to see if it resonates with you.

I don't want to suggest that the path I am laying out is the only way to learn to play the piano. Many (most?) great pianists have taken other paths. This has been personally useful for me, however, and I hope it can be useful to others as well. This is why I want to understand how other pianists see things.

You've brought up a lot of very interesting points, and I want to address more.


Michael
My blog on mindfulness in piano playing
Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK] #2704965
01/14/18 09:57 PM
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK
Originally Posted by Whizbang
Originally Posted by MichaelJK

You can feel that incompetence, lack the skills, and not struggle.


Here it is! The crux of what I think what is going to be the point of conflict

You've got a class that 'lacks the skills', 'feels it', and 'struggles'

I think I am there.


I'm a little confused about what you mean by "I think I am there". Do you mean that you struggle, or that you stopped struggling?


Keeping the deep nested quotes there for context.

I'm in the class that 'lacks the skills, feels it, and struggles'. Now, I work very hard on accepting that the inner critic is there and making peace with him, but he's there.

Originally Posted by MichaelJK

My goal is to provide a path whereby students:

[1] Can achieve with ease any musical result they desire.
[2] Can learn to tell the difference between what they have control over and what they don't.
[3] Will be rewarded as long as they keep walking down that path, with or without a teacher.

I am not always successful at this. Also, it takes time!


Point 1 I think is the main point that doesn't necessarily come through in your blog. But there is a hard truth in there that I think you may evade. Or is "desire" the variable in the equation?

Originally Posted by MichaelJK

Is entertainment a goal of music? If the student desires this, then sure. I suspect you are asking because you think I am saying that you should be happy not playing well.

This is not what I'm saying. My point is that sometimes our efforts to play well actually get in the way of playing well. I have nothing against wanting to sound good. If you know how to sound good, then do it! (but then, why take lessons?) It's only when that "wanting" starts to interfere that I urge you to reexamine it.


This paragraph took some untangling. I think it comes down to the last sentence. What do you consider to be the possibilities of such a reexamination?

Originally Posted by MichaelJK

You may ask "how can I possibly stop wanting to play well?" or "what's the point of playing if I don't play well?" To the first question, I would say: you can't stop wanting, but we can take a look at what that wanting is causing you to do, and change that. To the second, I would say: this is worth asking! If you are a beginner, you will NOT play well, so you really should have some other motivation for playing, if you want to be motivated in the long-term.


These hold up for me.

Last edited by Whizbang; 01/14/18 09:58 PM.

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Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK] #2704991
01/15/18 12:47 AM
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Responding to the response. smile
Originally Posted by MichaelJK
My model is more complex than that (and it's not set in stone):

I have a model of how to play the piano.
I have a model of how to learn to play the piano.
I have a set of exercises for learning.
Based on observing common difficulties with these exercises (both my own difficulties and those of others), I have a model of why students struggle with the exercises. Yes, this tends to be psychological in nature.

I can relate to your skepticism of anyone telling you to just let go and not worry. First of all, it's not very obvious how to just "stop worrying". And second, even if you could, how will that get you to play piano better? It won't, because you aren't actually learning anything. You need to also engage in activities that do show you exactly what you need to know.

That works for me. I imagine that you have models inside the models to suit every student and occasion as well. smile The thing when presenting anything in limited space like forums, is that we can only present a few ideas at a time, and they may appear to be the whole of a person's concept. Of course teaching is more complex than that. When you first wrote, my impressions kept going toward emotion and emotion and I didn't feel comfortable with that, but I also suspected that there had to be more sides.

In regards to this:
Quote
I can relate to your skepticism of anyone telling you to just let go and not worry.

What I tried to express before was not skepticism, but rather that different things can be happening with different students at different times. If the person is not worrying, then that's a thing that isn't there. If the person has a technical problem because it's a technical problem, and there is no worry, then ditto, and please let's get at the technical difficulty. If worry causes a technical problem, then please address the worry (there's the expression "paralyzed with fear"). But if a technical problem makes a person feel bad, then fixing that problem will also change the bad feeling. If I have a flat tire and my car can't move, you'll make me happier changing my tire, than commiserating. wink Of course, problems and worry can coexist. If this is clearer, that's what I meant.
Quote
My experience is that tension often masquerades as lack of skill. Yet almost invariably, when I give an exercise to correct the problem of physical miscoordination, the anxiety shows its head. This has led me to the conclusion that there is generally anxiety at the core of physical problems, serving as some kind of protective mechanism.

There is definitely food for thought there. I prefer not to have any one conclusion, however. I'd rather say that different things can cause something, and one canbe open to all possibilities, and maybe shuttle among them.
Quote
Let me try to understand what you are saying. You are saying that you never felt upset with your playing as a child, and didn't become upset until you realized later on that what you learned was limiting you. I can imagine that it must have been disappointing to realize that you would have to backtrack and relearn everything, and you may have felt frustrated or angry that no one had set you on the right path to begin with. Am I understanding this correctly?

Sorry for the confusion. At that point I was talking about the new instrument, not piano which I returned to later. To keep it simple it's better to leave that part out, I'm thinking.
Quote
If I am, how do you feel about the suggestion that the tension you experienced may have been exacerbated by the frustration from not being able to play well?

Talking about piano, ofc. What I felt, felt normal, familiar, what I had always known. Except I was no longer 12 - I was 62 - and the body is less forgiving of poor movement. But then, when I was 12 I could not hear what I now hear, since I did have some musical training by then, and I wanted to grow past what I had done then, and how I had done it. The emotions are fascination, delight, need for patience and wishing there were more time. There is a lifetime of things one can grow into, and I no longer have a lifetime left. Obligations of work eats more into it.

Last edited by keystring; 01/15/18 01:39 AM. Reason: simplified
Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot] #2705018
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I just woke up and realized what has been feeling off for me personally this whole time, as well as what has been effective for me.

The number one element is this: focus .... on something.
It must be simple and clear enough.
That's it, in a nutshell.

This sound, to the next sound, from this moment to the next moment. This action to the next action. And I need to know somewhere in my mind or body or being what that thing is that I'm focusing on. It also relates to being in the moment and being present in the manner that this pertains to music making.

These matters of emotion, I've been down that road before with a teacher here and there. I can't do anything with that. Trying to be tranquil, to be focused, to feel fine - nope. BUT when I focus on a simple thing, an intent in my playing in this moment, as I act and focus, this also takes care of the emotion. Mention was made of meditation somewhere. Well, what's the first stage in learning to meditate in yoga for example? It's not to try to feel peace or a higher state - it's to focus on your breathing and stay present to it.

Everything I've learned these last 10 years since things in music started to change for me has this one element in it.

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