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#2704305 - 01/12/18 02:11 PM Post on starting up as an absolute beginner  
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This write up was done over on the r/piano. https://www.reddit.com/r/piano/comments/7porbg/practicing_for_the_absolute_beginner_where_and/

I like the idea behind it, I feel like we be nice to have a similar sticky over here, for people who come here looking to start from scratch. I'm thinking about working on something like this (as I was in this situation two years ago as many of us were), but I'm curious what opinions people have on the redditors post. There's also a ton of knowledge on this forum that would guide a post like this, and any pointers to those posts would be helpful.

Some specific things he talks about I had some concerns about.

"By putting in 10 minutes a day for three weeks, you can learn a piece of music that’s appropriate for your level." This seems optimistic, or my teacher pushes me harder. The pieces I'm learning take much longer than this, though we aren't using a specific method or school. Is this other people's general experience?

"Keep your eyes on the score as you play." I know this is the case in some pedagogies. In my case, my teacher likes me to switch to looking more at my hands once I've memorized the piece so I can focus on the mechanics of my hands.

"Start every piece slowly and work up." So yes, but I'd also emphasize the need to play slowly most of the time (80/20 or something around that ratio.)

" I’ve made a fairly detailed list of material for beginners all the way to an intermediate level." Thoughts on this list? I'm actually not familiar with much of it.

In his theory and technique section, he talks about scales and arpeggios only in terms of technique. I'd probably emphasize their helpfulness in sight reading as well, giving you an intuition on hand position.

Glad to see his section on Synthesia. I think he nailed all the reasons you should avoid it smile


Instruments: Yamaha CLP-685, Kawai ES110
Pieces In Progress:
  • Chopin Waltz in A minor Poshumous (almost performance ready)
  • Chopin Mazurka in B flat Major Op 7 (very much W.I.P.)
  • Beethoven "Easy Sonata" 20 No. 2 (just started)
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#2704308 - 01/12/18 02:14 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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That's Keselo, he is a forum member here.


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#2704311 - 01/12/18 02:25 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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Regarding the looking at the score at all times, that's a big one for me. I tend to memorize pieces as I practice them, not intentionally, then start looking down at my hands. Then I end up losing my place. As I don't have them 100% memorized, it leads to problems. I really am trying to focus on watching the music but possibly b/c I'm playing pieces that are above my level, I tend to drift my eyes to the keys too much and the result is as above.


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#2704312 - 01/12/18 02:34 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: bSharp(C)yclist]  
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Originally Posted by bSharp(C)yclist
That's Keselo, he is a forum member here.


I didn't realize that! Keselo, you should repost here, it's a fantastic post. I'd love to see it stickied here,

Last edited by squidbot; 01/12/18 02:38 PM.

Instruments: Yamaha CLP-685, Kawai ES110
Pieces In Progress:
  • Chopin Waltz in A minor Poshumous (almost performance ready)
  • Chopin Mazurka in B flat Major Op 7 (very much W.I.P.)
  • Beethoven "Easy Sonata" 20 No. 2 (just started)
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#2704318 - 01/12/18 02:54 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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I just read through it (but haven't looked at the list of pieces yet) and it seems pretty good for those just starting out, imo. The statement learning a piece with about ten minutes a day for three weeks might be reasonably close to the mark for the early beginner stage (which is the audience the author is addressing), but doesn't extrapolate as you move into intermediate and advanced pieces.


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#2704404 - 01/12/18 07:16 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: Stubbie]  
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Originally Posted by squidbot
Originally Posted by bSharp(C)yclist
That's Keselo, he is a forum member here.


I didn't realize that! Keselo, you should repost here, it's a fantastic post. I'd love to see it stickied here,

Heh, thank you. I might change the formatting around a bit to get it to work on this forum if it's something that people want. I'm also looking to update the post frequently, and any feedback by members of this forum will be greatly appreciated and might very well make it into the post one way or another. Much of the post is based on advice I was given here, anyway.

Originally Posted by Stubbie
I just read through it (but haven't looked at the list of pieces yet) and it seems pretty good for those just starting out, imo. The statement learning a piece with about ten minutes a day for three weeks might be reasonably close to the mark for the early beginner stage (which is the audience the author is addressing), but doesn't extrapolate as you move into intermediate and advanced pieces.


It's solely aimed at people starting their first year of playing, yes. I can't share any experience beyond this, as I have only played for a year myself. I already start noticing pieces taking longer (4-5 weeks) as they get more complicated.

Originally Posted by squidbot
"Keep your eyes on the score as you play." I know this is the case in some pedagogies. In my case, my teacher likes me to switch to looking more at my hands once I've memorized the piece so I can focus on the mechanics of my hands.


I agree with your concerns. I urge people to look at the score when they first learn the piece (could have worded that better, probably). Once you get further along with a piece (namely, once you start working on the last 20%), you may want to memorize the piece anyway, at which point looking at your hands can be very beneficial.

Originally Posted by squidbot
" I’ve made a fairly detailed list of material for beginners all the way to an intermediate level." Thoughts on this list? I'm actually not familiar with much of it.


That would probably be because I have been very thorough about finding music that's both musically pleasing and not too hard. When I first started playing I was very displeased with how little material for beginners there seemed to be. It turns out it isn't too bad, but you do have to look for it.

Originally Posted by squidbot
In his theory and technique section, he talks about scales and arpeggios only in terms of technique. I'd probably emphasize their helpfulness in sight reading as well, giving you an intuition on hand position.


When you learn a ton of material that's relatively easy for you to learn, you cover these concepts so often that the intuition on hand position that you're concerned about gets developed very well. I do agree with you that the benefits of learning scales and arpeggios are numerous. I have not done enough research on this topic to present a solid argument, though.


Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
#2704432 - 01/12/18 08:30 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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Since I am a complete beginner, a thread like this would be wonderful!

#2704439 - 01/12/18 09:21 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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Counting aloud (1 - 2 - 3 - 4 or '1 and 2 and 3' etc) is the key to developing a good sense of pulse and learning to play in time without relying on a metronome.

I've seen far too many learners become totally reliant on the metronome, without which they cannot play in time, and they don't even realize that their rhythm is all over the place when they play.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
#2704448 - 01/12/18 10:26 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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Originally Posted by squidbot

"By putting in 10 minutes a day for three weeks, you can learn a piece of music that’s appropriate for your level." This seems optimistic, or my teacher pushes me harder. The pieces I'm learning take much longer than this, though we aren't using a specific method or school. Is this other people's general experience?


This is a very subjective question. How much time you need to spend to "learn" a piece is entirely dependent on what your standards are. What your "level" is is entirely dependent on how much time you want to spend learning pieces smile

Learning a piece might mean "getting most of the notes right", or it could mean "performing it at a professional level". You could say, "I don't want to spend more than one hour learning a piece." Then, your level would be whatever you could learn in an hour. Get what I'm saying?

Originally Posted by squidbot

"Keep your eyes on the score as you play." I know this is the case in some pedagogies. In my case, my teacher likes me to switch to looking more at my hands once I've memorized the piece so I can focus on the mechanics of my hands.


If your goal is to improve your sight-reading, then yes, keep your eyes on the score. In general, don't let your anxiety dictate where your eyes go. Practice looking at the score, at your hands, at your left hand, at your right hand, and close your eyes. Notice which of these you are really uncomfortable doing, and get comfortable with them! This will greatly help your mental flexibility when performing.

Originally Posted by squidbot

"Start every piece slowly and work up." So yes, but I'd also emphasize the need to play slowly most of the time (80/20 or something around that ratio.)


Try it and see if it works. I'm not a fan of slow practice the way most are, for the same reason as I mentioned above. Are you playing slowly because you are afraid to make mistakes? If so, this needs to stop. Slow practice should only be used to help you notice small details, after you are comfortable playing fast.

Originally Posted by squidbot

In his theory and technique section, he talks about scales and arpeggios only in terms of technique. I'd probably emphasize their helpfulness in sight reading as well, giving you an intuition on hand position.


Scales and arpeggios should be practiced, but don't obsess over them. Technique is a big subject. Sight-reading you will learn by reading A LOT of music. So get started on that if you haven't already.

Here's some of my advice for beginners:

* Read as much music as you can get your hands on
* Don't be afraid to experiment
* Form and commit to opinions about how your playing should sound. You can always change later.
* Most experts don't know as much as they claim to
* Pay attention to how your body feels
* When you can't get something, accept the fact that you probably aren't ready for it yet
* Piano playing is supposed to feel physically extremely easy and comfortable (yes, from the beginning). If it doesn't, you are doing something wrong.
* Don't be afraid of forming bad habits, or of learning things wrong. This WILL happen. The sooner you let it happen and notice what bad habits you are forming, the sooner you can correct them.

#2704473 - 01/13/18 12:32 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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If you keep your eyes on the score, it's important to read phrase by phrase, rather than note by note. Reading music one note a time is like reading English one letter at a time.


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#2704480 - 01/13/18 01:33 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: bennevis]  
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Counting aloud (1 - 2 - 3 - 4 or '1 and 2 and 3' etc) is the key to developing a good sense of pulse and learning to play in time without relying on a metronome.

I've seen far too many learners become totally reliant on the metronome, without which they cannot play in time, and they don't even realize that their rhythm is all over the place when they play.


Agree about counting and metronome. Except that I have always counted silently in my head when I play, works fine. But we did plenty of clapping and counting aloud as kids. Forming the words while playing may just be too much for some people.

One thing I have noticed is that there are people who despite music and piano lessons don't really understand meter. They try to imitate the rhythm and some may manage to get it right by ear but lack the theoretical understanding so never really know what they should do and why. So this should be checked too. Some people are so afraid of math that they have difficulty absorbing this kind of information and need extra help.

#2704481 - 01/13/18 01:35 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: JohnSprung]  
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Originally Posted by JohnSprung

If you keep your eyes on the score, it's important to read phrase by phrase, rather than note by note. Reading music one note a time is like reading English one letter at a time.
True, but you cannot expect a beginner to be able to read by phrases right away.

#2704496 - 01/13/18 04:22 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK
I'm not a fan of slow practice the way most are, for the same reason as I mentioned above. Are you playing slowly because you are afraid to make mistakes? If so, this needs to stop. Slow practice should only be used to help you notice small details, after you are comfortable playing fast.

I've noticed that you have used terms like "anxiety" and "afraid" a couple of times in your post, and wondered about that. I do agree with much of what you are saying, and btw, welcome to PianoWorld. smile

Slow practice for the sake of practising slowly makes as much sense as fast practice for the sake of practising fast. We need as much time as we need. When I am concentrating on something new, maybe a new element in the music, or new music, then I need enough time for my attention to get there. "Savour", "enjoy", "relish". I do not like playing something fast first as a rule. If someone is an absolute beginner and only learning to read notes, how would they play fast? Actually I wouldn't want a maxim in either direction. You take the time that suits you best for what is at hand.

A lot of good ideas here:
Quote
* Read as much music as you can get your hands on
* Don't be afraid to experiment
* Form and commit to opinions about how your playing should sound. You can always change later.
* Most experts don't know as much as they claim to
* Pay attention to how your body feels
* When you can't get something, accept the fact that you probably aren't ready for it yet
* Piano playing is supposed to feel physically extremely easy and comfortable (yes, from the beginning). If it doesn't, you are doing something wrong.
* Don't be afraid of forming bad habits, or of learning things wrong. This WILL happen. The sooner you let it happen and notice what bad habits you are forming, the sooner you can correct them.


On this point, however:
Quote
* When you can't get something, accept the fact that you probably aren't ready for it yet

My immediate reaction to this was: If I can't get something, I want to find out what I don't know yet, what I can't do yet, because very often there are simple doable things lying underneath an apparently undoable thing. The term "being ready" is a term that I finally realized I didn't really understand. There was a time when I accepted it: "You're not ready." and it wasn't really so. It closed a lot of doors for no good reason. Were I to be told that now, I would ask "What do I need to learn, in order to "be" ready?"

#2704498 - 01/13/18 04:42 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK

* Piano playing is supposed to feel physically extremely easy and comfortable (yes, from the beginning). If it doesn't, you are doing something wrong.


Not necessarily so. Many of us have physical problems before even starting to play and to get over them is not always easy and comfortable. It can be hard work even to get you body used to sitting correctly. Not to mention adjusting when you have really small or really big hands. The adjusting period and finding a suitable technique can be nothing but easy. It's a different matter that one must avoid pain and harmful tension.

Some people can naturally play rather effortlessly, but playing the piano is not physically natural to us in general.

#2704517 - 01/13/18 07:51 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: outo]  
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Originally Posted by outo
Originally Posted by bennevis
Counting aloud (1 - 2 - 3 - 4 or '1 and 2 and 3' etc) is the key to developing a good sense of pulse and learning to play in time without relying on a metronome.

I've seen far too many learners become totally reliant on the metronome, without which they cannot play in time, and they don't even realize that their rhythm is all over the place when they play.


Agree about counting and metronome. Except that I have always counted silently in my head when I play, works fine. But we did plenty of clapping and counting aloud as kids. Forming the words while playing may just be too much for some people.

One thing I have noticed is that there are people who despite music and piano lessons don't really understand meter. They try to imitate the rhythm and some may manage to get it right by ear but lack the theoretical understanding so never really know what they should do and why. So this should be checked too. Some people are so afraid of math that they have difficulty absorbing this kind of information and need extra help.




Counting out loud is better, imo, at least for me. Then you really need to know where the beat is. That's why counting out loud is 10times as difficult, you have a realfeedback loop then. When you're counting wrong, you're doing two different things. But when you know which note is on which beat it's quite easy. Counting in your head will always sound right, even when it isn't, because the brain sucks at being equal, unless you've already developed a sense of rhythm.

1 - 2 - 3 - 4, you don't really have to think about the words. But yes, counting out 16ths the words need to be practiced first 1,2,3,4 - 2,2,3,4 - 3,2,3,4 - 4,2,3,4. I'm only finally getting Doctor Gradus (Debussy) right because I count everything out now. Which is very very frustrating, because I can not count out loud, aslong the notes don't perfectly align with the words I say.

Last edited by hyena; 01/13/18 08:08 AM.
#2704565 - 01/13/18 11:13 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: keystring]  
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Originally Posted by keystring

I've noticed that you have used terms like "anxiety" and "afraid" a couple of times in your post, and wondered about that. I do agree with much of what you are saying, and btw, welcome to PianoWorld. smile


Thanks!

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. They're all related, and the cure is curiosity, playfulness, exploration, etc. That's where I am coming from, so I hope my comments are interpreted in that light.

Originally Posted by keystring

When I am concentrating on something new, maybe a new element in the music, or new music, then I need enough time for my attention to get there. "Savour", "enjoy", "relish".


I'm all in favor of relishing the music. Take as much time as you want. My comment was really addressed at pianists who feel that if they go too fast, things will get out of control, or that they can't get their hands to move fast enough, or they feel their body locking up. If any of this is true, you can't fix it by staying at a slow tempo, incrementally bumping up the tempo until you get to the desired speed. That may even seem like it's working for beginner rep, but how are you going to bridge the gap between that and something like Chopin etudes?

Now, if you have a way to make this work, please disregard everything I'm saying. My comments are probably not addressed to your situation smile

Originally Posted by keystring

I do not like playing something fast first as a rule. If someone is an absolute beginner and only learning to read notes, how would they play fast?


You can play fast at any level. If there are 4 beats in the measure, you can play 4 beats at any tempo. You may not get the notes right, but you can still play 4 beats. I have students practice all pieces at every tempo on the metronome. It's uncomfortable at first, because often we want to try to hit the right notes, and this gets in the way of the beat. This is a mindset that needs to be changed, for real freedom to occur. I want this to start at the very first lesson, if possible.

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.

Originally Posted by keystring

On this point, however:
Quote
* When you can't get something, accept the fact that you probably aren't ready for it yet

My immediate reaction to this was: If I can't get something, I want to find out what I don't know yet, what I can't do yet, because very often there are simple doable things lying underneath an apparently undoable thing. The term "being ready" is a term that I finally realized I didn't really understand. There was a time when I accepted it: "You're not ready." and it wasn't really so. It closed a lot of doors for no good reason. Were I to be told that now, I would ask "What do I need to learn, in order to "be" ready?"


I always take the viewpoint that if you know how to solve your problem, then solve it. My advice is not meant to close doors. It is meant to open them. In other words, if you feel stuck, if you feel like you have tried everything to solve a problem, you have permission to let go of it. It's like being in a foreign country where you only have a rudimentary understanding of the language. If you beat yourself up for not following every word, this is not reasonable, since you just aren't ready for it. Furthermore, this effort will distract you from the things you are able to do and enjoy while you are there.

It sounds like your attitude is to keep exploring, which is exactly what I'm trying to encourage.

As an example, when playing a difficult technical passage, you may not understand why it seems your fingers are not landing in the right place at the right time. It may seem like something is stuck, or that it is going by too quickly for you to even follow it. You may then beat yourself up after a performance or lesson where this doesn't go well. 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. You may not know why you aren't remembering to use the fourth finger, or why your shoulders are tensing. This is all stuff that needs to be figured out eventually, but for right now, you don't know, so let's bring your attention to something else. In this way, you always feel engaged, always feel like there's a way forward, never feel responsible for things you just aren't getting, and are able to be responsible for the things you can get..

#2704573 - 01/13/18 11:30 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: outo]  
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Originally Posted by outo
Originally Posted by MichaelJK

* Piano playing is supposed to feel physically extremely easy and comfortable (yes, from the beginning). If it doesn't, you are doing something wrong.


Not necessarily so. Many of us have physical problems before even starting to play and to get over them is not always easy and comfortable. It can be hard work even to get you body used to sitting correctly. Not to mention adjusting when you have really small or really big hands. The adjusting period and finding a suitable technique can be nothing but easy. It's a different matter that one must avoid pain and harmful tension.

Some people can naturally play rather effortlessly, but playing the piano is not physically natural to us in general.


Let me elaborate on this.

Often, when we try to do something that we are not used to doing, it feels uncomfortable. It might be frustrating, or awkward, or it might make us feel uncoordinated and clumsy. This is a normal part of the learning process. You don't get through this by simply pressing on, in my opinion, however. You do it by finding the ease, and using that as a guide.

If your fingers aren't moving fast enough, you don't fix it by trying to move them faster. You fix it by letting go of whatever was holding them back.

If your fingers aren't feeling independent, you don't fix it by trying to force them apart. You fix it by letting them move together, and focusing more on the musical end you are after.

If your fourth finger doesn't feel strong, you don't fix it by trying to strengthen it. You fix it by letting the momentum of your entire body play the key.

All of these solutions should feel easier. That's how you know they are right. They give you an easier way to accomplish the same task.

If you are feeling pain, fatigue, etc., you are probably doing something wrong (unless you are injured). Now, it may be necessary to do that in order to find the right way. But it's still wrong. The pain will not ever go away until you change what you are actually doing. It's not a matter of getting used to it. It's a matter of finding a different way to approach things.

#2704585 - 01/13/18 11:57 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: cmb13]  
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Originally Posted by cmb13
Regarding the looking at the score at all times, that's a big one for me. I tend to memorize pieces as I practice them, not intentionally, then start looking down at my hands. Then I end up losing my place. As I don't have them 100% memorized, it leads to problems. I really am trying to focus on watching the music but possibly b/c I'm playing pieces that are above my level, I tend to drift my eyes to the keys too much and the result is as above.


Had similar problems before. I can read up to a Gr.3 level. The more difficult pieces involve slow practice a few lines or bars at a time to get the feel of various finger positions for single notes to chords. Tend to rely on memory & muscle memory a lot. Playing a church hymn with 4 or 5 lines on a page it is easy to find your place. With longer pieces, I'd divide the piece up into sections and write in bold letters A, B, C, D... on top of each section so that when I get stuck somewhere I know roughly the section I'm starting at when reading off the page.

#2704609 - 01/13/18 01:35 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: hyena]  
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Originally Posted by hyena
Originally Posted by outo
Originally Posted by bennevis
Counting aloud (1 - 2 - 3 - 4 or '1 and 2 and 3' etc) is the key to developing a good sense of pulse and learning to play in time without relying on a metronome.

I've seen far too many learners become totally reliant on the metronome, without which they cannot play in time, and they don't even realize that their rhythm is all over the place when they play.


Agree about counting and metronome. Except that I have always counted silently in my head when I play, works fine. But we did plenty of clapping and counting aloud as kids. Forming the words while playing may just be too much for some people.

One thing I have noticed is that there are people who despite music and piano lessons don't really understand meter. They try to imitate the rhythm and some may manage to get it right by ear but lack the theoretical understanding so never really know what they should do and why. So this should be checked too. Some people are so afraid of math that they have difficulty absorbing this kind of information and need extra help.




Counting out loud is better, imo, at least for me. Then you really need to know where the beat is. That's why counting out loud is 10times as difficult, you have a realfeedback loop then. When you're counting wrong, you're doing two different things. But when you know which note is on which beat it's quite easy. Counting in your head will always sound right, even when it isn't, because the brain sucks at being equal, unless you've already developed a sense of rhythm.


I have often been told by my teacher that I have excellent sense of rhythm. I must have developed that long before starting to play the piano. So I guess for me counting in my head is not so much for evenness than for keeping the pulse correct to the meter. Unless one does other exercises such as I mentioned above counting loud may be needed.

#2704615 - 01/13/18 01:55 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK
Originally Posted by outo
Originally Posted by MichaelJK

* Piano playing is supposed to feel physically extremely easy and comfortable (yes, from the beginning). If it doesn't, you are doing something wrong.


Not necessarily so. Many of us have physical problems before even starting to play and to get over them is not always easy and comfortable. It can be hard work even to get you body used to sitting correctly. Not to mention adjusting when you have really small or really big hands. The adjusting period and finding a suitable technique can be nothing but easy. It's a different matter that one must avoid pain and harmful tension.

Some people can naturally play rather effortlessly, but playing the piano is not physically natural to us in general.


Let me elaborate on this.

Often, when we try to do something that we are not used to doing, it feels uncomfortable. It might be frustrating, or awkward, or it might make us feel uncoordinated and clumsy. This is a normal part of the learning process. You don't get through this by simply pressing on, in my opinion, however. You do it by finding the ease, and using that as a guide.

If your fingers aren't moving fast enough, you don't fix it by trying to move them faster. You fix it by letting go of whatever was holding them back.

If your fingers aren't feeling independent, you don't fix it by trying to force them apart. You fix it by letting them move together, and focusing more on the musical end you are after.

If your fourth finger doesn't feel strong, you don't fix it by trying to strengthen it. You fix it by letting the momentum of your entire body play the key.

All of these solutions should feel easier. That's how you know they are right. They give you an easier way to accomplish the same task.

If you are feeling pain, fatigue, etc., you are probably doing something wrong (unless you are injured). Now, it may be necessary to do that in order to find the right way. But it's still wrong. The pain will not ever go away until you change what you are actually doing. It's not a matter of getting used to it. It's a matter of finding a different way to approach things.


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

#2704623 - 01/13/18 02:14 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: outo]  
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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.

#2704628 - 01/13/18 02:28 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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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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#2704632 - 01/13/18 02:44 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: Stubbie]  
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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.

#2704643 - 01/13/18 03:48 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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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.

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


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#2704700 - 01/13/18 09:03 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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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%.

#2704704 - 01/13/18 10:15 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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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%.

#2704705 - 01/13/18 10:29 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: keystring]  
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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.


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#2704719 - 01/14/18 01:33 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: keystring]  
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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.

#2704728 - 01/14/18 02:39 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
Joined: Oct 2012
Posts: 1,812
Whizbang Offline
1000 Post Club Member
Whizbang  Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Joined: Oct 2012
Posts: 1,812
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
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