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How to listen as I practice? #2720439
03/10/18 11:23 PM
03/10/18 11:23 PM
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impendia Offline OP
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Adult beginner, tense lesson with my teacher last week. I played Chopin's Waltz in A Minor for her -- I thought I did alright, but she was extremely disappointed.

She said (as she has said in the past) that the "quality of tone" is not there. I asked her what she meant, and she did give me some interesting practical advice: to touch the keys before I play them, and to not move my finger at the very last instant.

But, to my frustration (and no doubt hers also), I don't completely understand what she's driving at. I kind of do -- when she plays and imitates my bad habits, I can usually tell the difference and agree that "the other way" is better. (Sometimes much better.) But not always, and I often don't hear this sort of thing when I am the one playing.

When I practice, I confess that I tend to be happy when I hit the right notes at the right time. I do know that there is much more to playing than that, but I wonder if when I play, maybe my imagination is filling in the details from recordings I've heard, and not listening closely enough to the sounds actually coming out of the piano?

She asked me to hold myself to a higher standard. But I don't understand what this is, and have a difficult time telling if I've met it in my own practice. And my asking her to clarify wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped.

Any advice?

Thank you!

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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720445
03/11/18 12:53 AM
03/11/18 12:53 AM
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With the type of interaction you describe, I would consider the possibility that your teacher is not a good fit for you.

It sounds like there is a lack of real communication between you.

It is her job to get you to understand and to begin making progress on what she is talking about.

I hope your next lesson will bring this about.

Otherwise .... you may have to move on.


Don

Current: ES8, Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 audio device, SennHeiser HD598 Phones, Focal CMS 40 Powered Monitors
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720446
03/11/18 01:02 AM
03/11/18 01:02 AM
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Micael K. Offline
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To answer your question on how to listen when you practice well.. easiest way is to not do it. Instead, record yourself and listen to it after. It is crazy the amount of things you notice when listening to yourself as a spectator.

But will that be enough? If you didn't already, you should discuss your concerns with your teacher. Make it clear that you don't understand what she expect from you and that you need some guidance.

I think your teacher is trying to tell you need to develop phrasing, which is very important in chopin. it could help us if you can tell us a little more about you: how long have you been playing, how long have you been with that teacher, what type of music do you aspire to play, etc.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720451
03/11/18 01:29 AM
03/11/18 01:29 AM
Joined: May 2013
Posts: 1,056
Florida
cmb13 Offline
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That sounds like a suboptimal way of interacting for a few reasons. The teacher should be showing you exactly how to do what it is she want an you to do, with specific details. Additionally, it is supposed to be fun; leaving with a sense of disappointment is not that much fun. I changed teachers for similar reasons but it took me to long to do so.

Tone production, dynamics and touch are important, and something you can work to improve. In my case, however, it didn't start to happen until after four years and I still have room for improvement. I think it comes with finger strength, precision, and agility that develops gradually over a long period of playing time. One thing that helped me was learning to center my fingers on the keys, rather than reaching for the keys. There was a video posted on this a while back. Further, a lot of practice to build significant comfort with a piece helps. Finally, my current teacher emphasizes musicality and phrasing and I am working on this specifically.


Boston 118 PE

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Debussy - La fille aux cheveux de lin
Bach - Adagio 974
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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720452
03/11/18 01:31 AM
03/11/18 01:31 AM
Joined: May 2013
Posts: 1,056
Florida
cmb13 Offline
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Here it is. John Mortensen series on tone production. His videos are excellent.



Boston 118 PE

Working On
Debussy - La fille aux cheveux de lin
Bach - Adagio 974
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720454
03/11/18 01:57 AM
03/11/18 01:57 AM
Joined: Sep 2010
Posts: 1,251
Melbourne, Australia
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When it comes to tonality in piano playing, there is usually one or a combination of 2 or 3 factors: the touch on the keys, the use of una coda pedal and the use of sustaining pedal. The most obvious one is the touch on the keys, and the most difficult one.

Touch on the keys doesn't solely involve the fingers. It also involves the hands and arms, sometimes sitting positions. To get the same/similar tonality on different pianos requires adjustments to your playing. Your ears need to learn how to tell the difference, then have your "mechanics" adjust sensitively. It's not possible to put in text to describe the details of how to put it all together. That's why we have teachers to show us the way.

Tonality is not the same as volume. You can get the same volume by playing the same note(s) in different ways but result to different sound quality. For instance, if you want a more "percussive" sound effect/quality, you'd generally play more at the tip of your fingers. For a more expressive sound quality, you'd generally use more finger pads, and go slower into the keys, but applying the right amount hand or arm weight to get the volume you want. For staccatos, depending on the music, you may play from above the keys (fingers dropping onto the keys), or your may play with fingers on the keys, do a "pluck" action and bounce off the keys. All these different techniques produce different tones.

What determines the different techniques to use is the end results, the sound you want. So first you'll need to know/decide what sound you want to achieve. To decide what sound you want depends on your interpretation of the music. Then your ears have to judge if you are getting the sound you want. Then you apply or adjust your techniques to get it. This goes beyond playing the right note with the right finger at the right time. I believe that is what your teacher is asking from you, that you go beyond elementary piano playing.

In summary:
1. Music interpretation (decides what sound)
2. Techniques (to get that sound)
3. Listening/ear training (judge if you are getting that sound, and apply/adjust techniques accordingly)

From your post, it seems like your teacher is asking for 1 and 3, but he/she needs to be able to explain and show you in a way that you understand, and guide you on how you can practise to achieve it.

I hope I have shed some light and not confuse you further.

Good luck!



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Studying:
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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Micael K.] #2720459
03/11/18 03:11 AM
03/11/18 03:11 AM
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Richmond, BC, Canada
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Charles Cohen Offline
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Originally Posted by Micael K.
To answer your question on how to listen when you practice well.. easiest way is to not do it. Instead, record yourself and listen to it after. It is crazy the amount of things you notice when listening to yourself as a spectator.
. . .


+1.

But I'd put it differently:

. . . It's crazy how much you _don't hear_ while you're busy playing.<g>

If your problems are about phrasing, and uneven dynamics, and uneven timing, a recording will show all those things.

Now, your teacher might be talking about things that _don't_ show up on a recording. I'd call those "technique" -- how you hold your hand, how you strike the keys, how you do (or don't) relax while holding the keys. I'd label those things "technique", not "tone". And they _won't_ show up in a recording -- so you won't hear that kind of mistake.

If no teachers respond to this, here, you might want to start a discussion in the Teacher's Forum. It's a fairly deep problem, and you're not the only person who's had it.


. Charles
---------------------------
PX-350 / microKorg XL+ / Pianoteq / Lounge Lizard / Korg Wavedrum / EV ZXA1 speaker
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720467
03/11/18 04:33 AM
03/11/18 04:33 AM
Joined: Jun 2017
Posts: 97
England
Lillith Online content
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+1 for recording yourself and listening to it - endless times I've recorded a perfect performance, then listened back and heard the hesitations frown

+1 for not understanding what the teacher means too - their job is to explain or demonstrate it so you can understand. This often takes a teacher with the same mindset as you, or at least an understanding of it, and some teachers just repeat the same thing louder till you shut up.
I'd think about getting another one.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720468
03/11/18 04:40 AM
03/11/18 04:40 AM
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Moscow, Russia
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Iaroslav Vasiliev Offline
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The ability to hear nuances of one's own playing is, in fact, the most critical thing for every musician. It is the thing that should be trained first of all and I'm sorry to say that without it any other type of training is mostly useless.

What you need to do to develop it, is to get a nice, slow, short phrase, that you feel comfortable playing, close you eyes and imagine how this phrase should sound as vividly and minutely as possible. Play it in your mind how you wish it to be played perfectly. Then, trying to hold that aural image mentally, open your eyes and play it on your piano, carefully comparing every played note to the perfect image that you hold in your mind. Work this way on every phrase until it sounds exactly as you imagine. Just be sure to pick up phrases that are slow and simple enough for you to be able to play it perfectly. You should probably begin with phrases from most simple pieces.

Recording and listening to your recordings is also greatly useful.

Good luck! And be patient!

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720474
03/11/18 05:27 AM
03/11/18 05:27 AM
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Israel
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I can not understand the problem! I have many adult students, some of them even beginners on the piano (after the guitar). I work with everyone, without exception, on the sound, and everyone without exception is progressing. The first progress is usually achieved after working together for 10-20 minutes.
First, I explain that playing with a barking sound like trying to sing while you're trying to strangle yourself (general muscle tension and convulsive movements). And really, instead of singing, strangled barking comes out. Then some students ask: "Yes, there is a difference, but it is very small! (this is exactly so in the first stage) ;is it so important? There are two answers: 1) playing the piano is "art of a little bit" (Heinrich Neuhaus); 2) if we multiply this tiny difference by the number of sounds in a piece of music , they can be hundreds or thousands; then the difference becomes huge.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720495
03/11/18 10:21 AM
03/11/18 10:21 AM
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Chopin is very hard to play well with the correct tone and feel. This takes years to master so if you are a beginner you wont get it correct.

Generally if you want to focus on something like tone, you need to start with a piece well within your comfort so if it is a struggle just to get the notes then I would try it with an easier piece.

If your teacher is demotivating or not explaining so you understand, this is something you should say in the lesson as this is poor teaching skills.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720500
03/11/18 10:40 AM
03/11/18 10:40 AM
Joined: Dec 2007
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Canada
keystring Offline
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Impendia, I looked back and saw that you and I had a back and forth conversation in the teacher forum I think late last year. I didn't remember the conversation or even your name but when you wrote you were a "beginner" and then named a piece that was not a beginner piece, I wanted to check up. I got lost in our conversation and we weren't meeting: getting at foundations and a certain non-rigid order or sense to that is what I see as working, while you were looking at a model in your own field and students, going out on a limb - something like that. Your geography and what is available where you are. It seems you have found a teacher who will work along the lines you want, and thereby you are lodged "between the cracks". I don't know if I can manage to set this out.

Originally Posted by Impendia
... Chopin's Waltz in A Minor for her -- I thought I did alright, but she was extremely disappointed.

She said (as she has said in the past) that the "quality of tone" is not there. I asked her what she meant, and she did give me some interesting practical advice: to touch the keys before I play them, and to not move my finger at the very last instant.

But, to my frustration (and no doubt hers also), I don't completely understand what she's driving at. I kind of do -- when she plays and imitates my bad habits, I can usually tell the difference and agree that "the other way" is better. (Sometimes much better.) But not always, and I often don't hear this sort of thing when I am the one playing.

When I practice, I confess that I tend to be happy when I hit the right notes at the right time. I do know that there is much more to playing than that, but I wonder if when I play, maybe my imagination is filling in the details from recordings I've heard, and not listening closely enough to the sounds actually coming out of the piano?

She asked me to hold myself to a higher standard.

Ok, when you listen to recordings, you are hearing the final result but not the process the pianist went through to get there, and not the underlying things that go into that playing. The musicians uses basic knowledge and skills to shape the piece he plays, and you have to get at these same tools yourself. You cannot try to imitate a final result. What you're struggling with lies somewhere in this kettle of fish.

(It's hard to know what you do and don't know or have learned.)

Ok, with this waltz you have the waltz meter ofc, a LH accompaniment, and the melody in the RH that wants to go in a flowing singing style. The professionals will add some rubato, knowing when to pause a note a little bit, when to speed something up, for drama and interest, when to get louder and softer, all the while not losing the sense of meter and pulse. Before doing anything even close to that, there are things that you must be able to understand in your mind and senses, and be able to carry out in your body. Does this make sense so far?

* Most fundamentally you need to be able to play the correct notes at the correct time. As a process (practising) you would "chunk" the music into smaller sections, working on fundamental aspects to get them into your system; ideally working with the hardest bits first and then moving into them. When you have those notes, you can concentrate on other things. You will work quite a bit slower than the final tempo. This is one element.

* A fundamental element in this piece is that the melody will be played louder than the accompaniment. Do you know how to do that? Can you do that? If you have not worked on such a thing, you may also not really hear it. In my own work with my teachers, I would "discover" things that I had never heard before, which had always been there in performances, because I had not learned to work toward such a thing, so my senses were closed off from these things.

When I listen to a few professional renderings of that waltz, I can hear choices that the performers made by emphasizing certain notes, by shaping phrases, through crescendo and diminuendo. There are pedal choices. I can hear things that I did not hear a few years ago, because of what I have learned to work toward in my own studies. I also hear things that I, myself, cannot pull off, especially in imitation because it is either without understanding, or without the skills.

This is what I mean with my clumsy metaphor of being "between the cracks". You have music that is more advanced, you have an adult's sensitivity to good music and good playing, but not the underlying tools. You are not alone in this. Most of us have to contend with this in some manner. It is NOT a matter of playing easy baby music before going on to more interesting things: that is a repertoire-based view. It is a matter of getting at fundamental skills and knowledge, which give insight into the very sophisticated things that professional musicians manipulate as their building blocks - we have to get at these things ourselves.

This whole post reads like gobbledygook, but I'll send it anyway. wink

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720511
03/11/18 12:17 PM
03/11/18 12:17 PM
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I was wondering how many times your teacher had explained these things to you. Maybe she had had a bad day, but in my experience teachers (of many subjects) don't get "extremely disappointed" unless it is the third or more time of carefully explaining and demonstrating stuff to students and careful instructions on how to practice techniques at home, and finding the student/s have not listened to a word and don't have a clue what you're talking about in the next lesson.

Of course, I could be wrong in your particular case.

(How come when I post what I think are valuable videos from John Mortensen everyone complains ..?)


"Genius is not the sign of demigodliness, but the sign of having a profoundly practical mind" - anonymous

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTc4esj9xQG6NjLIr9an29Q
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720513
03/11/18 12:22 PM
03/11/18 12:22 PM
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Florida
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pianopiI am not finding a post you made of a Mortensen video where everyone complains.....In fact, CMB posted one in this thread. Keep posting them as he is well respected


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
" I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720519
03/11/18 12:48 PM
03/11/18 12:48 PM
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Portland, OR, USA
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Originally Posted by impendia
When I practice, I confess that I tend to be happy when I hit the right notes at the right time. I do know that there is much more to playing than that, but I wonder if when I play, maybe my imagination is filling in the details from recordings I've heard, and not listening closely enough to the sounds actually coming out of the piano?

She asked me to hold myself to a higher standard. But I don't understand what this is, and have a difficult time telling if I've met it in my own practice. And my asking her to clarify wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped.

One suggestion: When you begin a new piece next time, do not listen to any of its recordings. Figure out notes, timing, dynamics, phrasing etc. on your own and finish the piece and record it. Then, listen to your recording and other professional recordings. This way, your imagination of previous impressions of recordings play no role and it will enable you to understand positive/negative aspects of your interpretation.

Osho


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: pianopi] #2720520
03/11/18 12:52 PM
03/11/18 12:52 PM
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Posts: 97
England
Lillith Online content
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Originally Posted by pianopi
I was wondering how many times your teacher had explained these things to you. Maybe she had had a bad day, but in my experience teachers (of many subjects) don't get "extremely disappointed" unless it is the third or more time of carefully explaining and demonstrating stuff to students and careful instructions on how to practice techniques at home, and finding the student/s have not listened to a word and don't have a clue what you're talking about in the next lesson.


Or perhaps the pupil has listened to every word and not understood a word of it. Not all pupils find it easy to say they don't understand, especially when to the teacher it is obvious.

Last edited by Lillith; 03/11/18 12:53 PM. Reason: typos :(
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720525
03/11/18 01:45 PM
03/11/18 01:45 PM
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dogperson, I had posted a suggestion to look at a Mortensen video on someone else's thread, and quite a few people (perhaps not "everybody") were derisive of that video and Mortensen in general. I saw CMB's post in this thread and found it valuable, and that's why I posted my grumpy comment.

Lillith, I presumed the teacher, if any good, had asked the student - in the lessons - to demonstrate a good number of times and describe in his/her own words, the things the teacher was teaching. Perhaps that counters the idea that the student had not listened. Perhaps it was more a case of not practicing what specifically taught.


"Genius is not the sign of demigodliness, but the sign of having a profoundly practical mind" - anonymous

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTc4esj9xQG6NjLIr9an29Q
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: pianopi] #2720539
03/11/18 03:08 PM
03/11/18 03:08 PM
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Canada
keystring Offline
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Originally Posted by pianopi
..... but in my experience teachers (of many subjects) don't get "extremely disappointed" unless ....

I have found that in terms of music instruction (or "instruction") in particular, we cannot assume anything, and at times some sleuthing may be in order. The path can be wrong, the instructions may be unclear, and also, student attitude or student-driven direction can be wrong. I've seen "disappointment" to be genuine, in the manner you're getting at, and I've also seen it used to "motivate" a student to try harder, when the student has every reason to be lost. I'm wondering, since your post came right after mine, whether you had a chance to read it. smile

I'm off to see what you wrote about Dr. Mortenson, since that is a teacher whose videos I respect.

.... edit. Can't find it. Can you link?

Last edited by keystring; 03/11/18 03:32 PM.
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: pianopi] #2720540
03/11/18 03:11 PM
03/11/18 03:11 PM
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Posts: 97
England
Lillith Online content
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Originally Posted by pianopi


Lillith, I presumed the teacher, if any good, had asked the student - in the lessons - to demonstrate a good number of times and describe in his/her own words, the things the teacher was teaching. Perhaps that counters the idea that the student had not listened. Perhaps it was more a case of not practicing what specifically taught.


Haha!! Never having been a teacher, and having been subjected to some bad ones (not music), I always blame the teacher smile
Slightly more seriously, I have had situations where I didn't have a clue what the teacher was talking about, and the teacher thought it was so obvious that my obtuseness needed her to repeat it again and again till I said OK then. That's why I never understood calculus, still don't.
I can say dy by dx with the best of them, but why is another matter!

Anyway pianopi, rest assured that I shall quibble no more!! In addition, I shall google Mortensen and look forward to checking out his videos smile

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720545
03/11/18 03:40 PM
03/11/18 03:40 PM
Joined: May 2015
Posts: 3,148
Florida
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Hi Lillith

As adult students we need to tell our piano teachers that we do not understand and ask him/her to show a different way or explain a different way...... repeatedly, until we do understand. I’m afraid if we don’t do that, the teachers will assume we do understand and we will soon be lost..... the teacher will assume our understanding and be disappointed when we do not improve.

Communication should actively involve both of us, and it is so important!!


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
" I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: pianopi] #2720570
03/11/18 07:19 PM
03/11/18 07:19 PM
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I think the posts about Mortensen that pianopi is thinking of were on the Should recitals be error-free? thread.

There were also two other recent Mortensen threads: Mortensen on tension at the piano and More Mortensen.

Last edited by PianoStudent88; 03/11/18 08:03 PM. Reason: added links

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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: PianoStudent88] #2720575
03/11/18 07:57 PM
03/11/18 07:57 PM
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Originally Posted by PianoStudent88
I think the posts about Mortensen that pianopi is thinking of were on the “Should recitals be error-free?” thread..

Found it, and also a "reaction" - mine. It was not a "complaint" but placing the video in context. It was in the context of 6 videos that presented a complete idea, and if that one was seen alone and out of context, it would be misleading. As part of the whole, it was spot on.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720584
03/11/18 09:28 PM
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Originally Posted by impendia
Adult beginner, tense lesson with my teacher last week. I played Chopin's Waltz in A Minor for her -- I thought I did alright, but she was extremely disappointed.

What made you conclude that she was "extremely disappointed"?

Was this the first time playing the Waltz for her? If so, what were you hoping her reaction would be? If not, what were her reactions and suggestions the previous times?

A common scenario for the first few months with my second piano teacher was that I would learn the notes of a piece and bring it the week after, and she would stop me after a few bars and start reconstructing it completely. After a while I learned that just knowing the bare notes (and hacking them out) was not at all what she was looking for. Slowly I learned to pay attention during my practice to more than "did I play the right note at the right time."

Quote
She said (as she has said in the past) that the "quality of tone" is not there. I asked her what she meant, and she did give me some interesting practical advice: to touch the keys before I play them, and to not move my finger at the very last instant.

With my second teacher, every desired tone from the piano had a specific touch that produced that tone. My lessons could have been called "how to touch the piano" lessons instead of "piano" lessons smile . Is this the first time your teacher has given you physical suggestions for how to produce a certain tone?

Has she made "quality of tone" comments on other pieces beside this Chopin waltz? If so, which pieces? Are there any pieces where you have achieved her desired quality of tone?

Quote
But, to my frustration (and no doubt hers also), I don't completely understand what she's driving at. I kind of do -- when she plays and imitates my bad habits, I can usually tell the difference and agree that "the other way" is better. (Sometimes much better.) But not always, and I often don't hear this sort of thing when I am the one playing.

When you can't tell the difference or when you don't agree that "the other way" is better, do you tell her? What does she say in reply? When you can tell the difference, does she explain how she's producing the different effect? (If she is, I have some more thoughts, but it starts with whether she's explaining at all.)

There is perhaps something to be said for learning to produce different sounds by experimenting with different kinds of touch and listening for the different effects, but when I was taking lessons I had no idea of all the variables I could put into how I touched the piano, and would never have arrived at my teacher's solutions ever in a million years on my own. Fortunately, she gave me actual instruction and I did leave lessons understanding the physical motions and effects she wanted me to practice, and able to hear the difference it made in the sound, and thus I was able to practice on my own. Some effects took me weeks or months to achieve (e.g. the desired sound for the LH part in your Chopin waltz), but I was not operating in an instructionless vacuum.

Quote
When I practice, I confess that I tend to be happy when I hit the right notes at the right time. I do know that there is much more to playing than that, but I wonder if when I play, maybe my imagination is filling in the details from recordings I've heard, and not listening closely enough to the sounds actually coming out of the piano?

Do you want to learn to discern more in your playing than solely whether you're playing the right notes at the right time? If you do, is that your own goal or is it only because you want to please your teacher?

Quote
She asked me to hold myself to a higher standard. But I don't understand what this is, and have a difficult time telling if I've met it in my own practice. And my asking her to clarify wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped.

What did she say when you asked her to clarify? Also, there are two separate issues here: (a) what she means by "a higher standard", and (b) how you achieve that (including how you learn to discern it).

Quote
Any advice?

Thank you!

I have more ideas, but I want to understand more about your situation before going further, hence all the questions above.


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720610
03/12/18 03:46 AM
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"More hearing, less playing" - as Anne Goldsworthy's teacher kept repeating (in her book Piano Lessons).

This is something I have been focusing on recently - even if it's so much easier to just play through something, do scales and exercises, and basically complete your homework without paying enough attention. I'm also still at a point where I'm usually happy if I get all the notes right, especially with some pieces and when I try to practice "performing", but it's very clear to me that when I don't really know how something is supposed to sound, I just can't play it. If I don't "hear it", maybe I can read the notes and rhythm alright, but I can't really learn it and play it fluently, let alone give it expression.

What this really means and how to fit it into your practice, is very subjective and not at all straightforward. Recording yourself is good, even mandatory, but you should also learn to listen while you play. Maybe just slow down enough, and/or practice only short bits. I usually find that I play better if I listen to some great pianist's recording of the piece just before recording myself. I think that if I had a better ear and if I had listened to classical music since childhood, everything would be much easier for me now. I try to make up for it now by listening to a lot of music and also doing ear training exercises, even if that's quite frustrating.


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720635
03/12/18 08:11 AM
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Hi Impendia,

Maybe you can ask your teacher to work with you on listening in small sections, such as 4 measures, RH only. There's a lot to work on in 4 measures of a Chopin melody. If your teacher can't zero in and demonstrate how to improve your sound at this level, I'd suspect that she doesn't know how to teach. Tone quality, phrasing, shaping, shouldn't be tacked on AFTER you've learned all the notes. You have to undo all the bad habits of motion that you've practiced in.

I don't want to read too much into your situation, and I almost didn't reply because I'm painfully reminded of a teacher (highly credentialed BTW) I had some decades ago. I'd work on the entire piece and then she tear it to shreds--especially my "tone." I only had her for a year but she did a lot of damage.

There are teachers who will work with you, right as you start a piece, on tone, articulation, shaping, dynamics in small sections. They can demonstrate and make sure you hear differences and can play them yourself too. You can try out different ways of shaping a phrase, right in your lesson. Then you go home and practice your interpretation (again, in small sections). Eventually you improve your ear and technique and are able to apply what you've learned on your own.

The process is learning how to approach details in a piece and feeling confident about the appropriate movements (technique) to express them. After that, it's fluency, which is lots of practice--more for some of us than others:-)

Sorry if I misunderstand, but alarms went off as I read your post. Decide, as others have suggested, on your goals. Discuss with your teacher--she may not understand that playing musically is important to you. If she can't teach you, rather than just critique you, find a better teacher.


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720648
03/12/18 08:46 AM
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Sometimes our teachers disappoint US too! My teacher is--for the most part--wonderful, but she catches colds, gets watery red eyes, has sinus issues, and sometimes can be distracted by her own discomfort and health problems. I have learned to take the good with the bad, because her "good" is really amazing. She can tell me precisely what I need to do differently, and can figure out exactly why certain passages are difficult for me. However, I distinctly remember a time when she kept repeating the same words over and over and I had no idea what she meant. Finally, I put it into my own words, and she said "no thats' not what I mean," so I tried again, and eventually MY words fit with the meaning behind her words. and suddenly I "got it." It's messy business working so closely with someone who is far superior in skill and ability but trying to speak on equal footing with each other. I'd suggest that you let her know that you need different words to explain what she means, and then if this keeps continuing, I'd find someone else. The most damaging part of what you wrote---to me---is that she was disappointed in you. That's not acceptable, and it can make you feel horrible in the long run. If that continues, you must find another teacher. I hope that she just had an off day.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720673
03/12/18 11:18 AM
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It is necessary but not sufficient that your teacher shows you how to do it. You need to do it yourself during the lesson, after your teacher has demonstrated it, and be able to repeat it at least three times (five would be better).

My teacher can explain something and demonstrate it and it makes perfect sense to me. Then when I try to repeat it myself, I find that I really wasn't picking up on some critical aspect. The time to deal with that is during the lesson, in front of the teacher. There should be a back-and-forth discussion and demonstration until you, the student, get it right.


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: gingko2] #2720680
03/12/18 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by gingko2
Hi Impendia,

Maybe you can ask your teacher to work with you on listening in small sections, such as 4 measures, RH only. There's a lot to work on in 4 measures of a Chopin melody. If your teacher can't zero in and demonstrate how to improve your sound at this level, I'd suspect that she doesn't know how to teach. Tone quality, phrasing, shaping, shouldn't be tacked on AFTER you've learned all the notes. You have to undo all the bad habits of motion that you've practiced in.

I don't want to read too much into your situation, and I almost didn't reply because I'm painfully reminded of a teacher (highly credentialed BTW) I had some decades ago. I'd work on the entire piece and then she tear it to shreds--especially my "tone." I only had her for a year but she did a lot of damage.

There are teachers who will work with you, right as you start a piece, on tone, articulation, shaping, dynamics in small sections. They can demonstrate and make sure you hear differences and can play them yourself too. You can try out different ways of shaping a phrase, right in your lesson. Then you go home and practice your interpretation (again, in small sections). Eventually you improve your ear and technique and are able to apply what you've learned on your own.

The process is learning how to approach details in a piece and feeling confident about the appropriate movements (technique) to express them. After that, it's fluency, which is lots of practice--more for some of us than others:-)

Sorry if I misunderstand, but alarms went off as I read your post. Decide, as others have suggested, on your goals. Discuss with your teacher--she may not understand that playing musically is important to you. If she can't teach you, rather than just critique you, find a better teacher.


Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2720689
03/12/18 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
The ability to hear nuances of one's own playing is, in fact, the most critical thing for every musician. It is the thing that should be trained first of all and I'm sorry to say that without it any other type of training is mostly useless.

What you need to do to develop it, is to get a nice, slow, short phrase, that you feel comfortable playing, ....

Recording and listening to your recordings is also greatly useful.

Good luck! And be patient!


This is the most useful post in this thread (Iaroslav's, not mine).

Recording and playing it back lets you put your full attention on listening, without the distraction of actually playing at the same time.

To give the same quality of attention to the sound you're making while actually playing, you have to work on something slow, short, and easy. It has to be no problem at all to get the right fingers to the right keys fast enough. Four bars melody only is enough to start with. But once you get that right, adding more gets easier.

It's a waste of effort to memorize a bunch of notes without the right tone and feel. That would all have to be un-learned and re-learned to get it right, because the muscle memory would be wrong.




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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720709
03/12/18 01:55 PM
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My own experience of Chopin is that this 'tone' is very hard to achieve. I've spending a lot of time on how to get the effect in some Chopin but I'm never happy with the result when I play the recording. I'm not saying that the above people are wrong, its just that I ask my teacher to explain and improve but I didnt get it sounding really nice. I know Chopin is very popular composer to play but I find get the sound right can be very difficult and I get quite impatient. I don't normally finish his pieces and dont really enjoy playing him. So to be honest I've stopped. There is a lot of other composers to play so I'm not without choices!

I think it is most important that you enjoy what you are playing. If you are not enjoying the Chopin and it is causing frustration , if you cannot get it dont worry. Rather than switching teacher or searching out for a magically tonal style, switching music pieces might be the best option. I often find you learn tone and musical style from many pieces and there are often many ways (hotly debated!) amongst piano players about how to achieve the best tone.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: JohnSprung] #2720730
03/12/18 02:34 PM
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Originally Posted by JohnSprung

Recording and playing it back lets you put your full attention on listening, without the distraction of actually playing at the same time.

To give the same quality of attention to the sound you're making while actually playing, you have to work on something slow, short, and easy. It has to be no problem at all to get the right fingers to the right keys fast enough. Four bars melody only is enough to start with. But once you get that right, adding more gets easier.

That is certainly part of it, but not all of it, so I would not agree that the post you quoted is "the most useful" in this thread. Several things about this:
- You have to be able to know how to produce what it is that you want to produce, i.e. technique
- You have to know what to listen for; combined with what you want to produce

Both of these things come at least in part from teachers.

In my own journey, there are things I hear now that I was unaware of before, and so could not listen for or try to produce - there are ways of moving that I have learned which are far better than the awkward ways I originally had.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720762
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Hello all --

Thanks to everyone for their advice!

So far I've decided (1) I will definitely try recording myself and listening to my own playing; (2) I will try intensively practicing short passages carefully and repeatedly, further than the point where I'm not making any obvious "mistakes"; (3) I will e-mail my teacher and let her know that I want to practice according to her advice but don't understand how. I welcome further input!

To answer some of the questions that people asked: I have been practicing for two years, and working on repertoire like Bach little preludes, Clementi sonatinas, Fur Elise, etc. So maybe "intermediate" rather than "beginner", but I think of myself as a beginner. I've been practicing this simultaneously with a Bach prelude; Bach is my favorite composer to practice, but I love Chopin too.

I've been working on this piece for two months with my teacher. The sorts of issues I mentioned above have come up before, and I've consistently tried to ask for clarification. I've usually felt like I at least sort of understood, and most weeks have been better, but there have been some communication gaps in the past.


To those suggesting I find a different teacher: perhaps it's worth considering. But... I live in a medium-small college town and I don't think there are lots of options. Moreover, the town has a laid back atmosphere and I am very type-A, and so I've experienced these kinds of communication gaps elsewhere also.

My teacher is a student in the Ph.D. piano pedagogy program at the university where I teach. So she's inexperienced (and I think her other students are all little kids), but I do know she's very sincere and wants to help me, and I appreciate that she wants me to excel. Also, if I say something like "I really do want to follow your advice, but I still don't understand it", then she has her graduate program backing her up, so she can get advice on her end too. So I think I should stay the course for awhile, and do my best to make this work.

Thanks again to all!

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720774
03/12/18 04:43 PM
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Frankly, I don't think it's as bad as people here make it to be. I have also experienced communication gaps and my teacher is usually good at seeing my clueless face and trying to explain differently. But I also had "aha" moments months later where I suddenly realised that my teacher did talk about something and I didn't fully understand it at the time but finally got it in retrospective. Sometimes you just need more experience in general to understand something.

My teacher also talked about the physical aspect of tone production. One thing that really helped was when he demonstrated by pressing his fingers on my hand. When he was demonstrating on the keyboard I didn't really get it but when he did it on my hand I really felt what he meant and had a better idea of how to replicate that on the keyboard. If you don't mind your teacher touching you maybe you can ask for such a demonstration.


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720796
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One thought occurred to me.

Tone quality is often almost entirely down to the balance between the melody and the accompaniment (and subsidiary voices if any). Do you have sufficient hand independence? Can your RH playing the melody make it soar above the accompaniment like a bel canto singer, and phrase like one? Or is what your RH able to do tied down to what the LH does?

Listen to Horowitz here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcfkyW_uVBQ

He plays the simple bell-like melody as a great singer might sing it. Listen to the difference in loudness between the melody and the accompaniment (which BTW is not just in LH here, but he makes it sound like it) at the start, and the way the melody seems completely independent of the accompaniment in the way it floats, breathes and phrases - including shading down to a merest whisper. The accompaniment stays subdued, while the 'singer' sings her heart out.......

Pieces like this waltz (and many of the other Chopin waltzes and nocturnes etc) require this sort of hand independence (and finger independence when you have to play pieces where the RH also has a share of the accompaniment, like in the Rachmaninov movement). You have to imagine the melody being sung by the greatest singer who ever lived:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYl8GRJGnBY (OK, she was not the greatest, but better than most).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2J7JM0tGgRY

Chopin loved bel canto singing and always told his students to listen to the great bel canto singers in the operas of Bellini and Donizetti to understand how his melodies should go.


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: keystring] #2721071
03/14/18 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by keystring
- You have to be able to know how to produce what it is that you want to produce, i.e. technique

This is a very interesting point, I remember that we discussed it with you some time ago. I hope you don't mind if I repeat here some things that I said in our private discussion, because I think they are very important.

There are two ways of playing the piano. The first way is when technique guides the music; the second way is when music guides technique. While playing the first way, a person thinks mainly of making correct arm and hand movements, hoping that such carefully performed movements will produce a sound of certain tone. While playing the second way, a person concentrates mainly on the desired sound, hoping that his/her brain will intuitively find out a correct body motions to produce that sound.

Now I' would say, that I believe that the second way is the only way to really play the piano. The first way is much, much inferior, and from what I know, no good pianist relies upon it.

One of great pianists (sorry, I have forgotten who it was exactly) said, "There is no technique". This is a phrase of great revelation. Certainly it doesn't mean that the technique doesn't really exist, but it means that the pianist doesn't pay any attention to it (to his physical movements) when he plays, his motions are almost totally intuitive, they are controlled subconsciously, and the sound and the emotions are the only things that he carries about.

Now, the only way to build such subconscious connection between aural image and the hands, that I'm aware of, is to play with highest possible concentration on the desired aural image, letting the brain to find out the correct physical motions by itself. Playing with eyes closed is even more beneficial, because it removes that unnecessary "visual" unit from sound-to-hands connection. This certainly requires experience, but imo these are the things of extreme importance.

By the way, ear training greatly helps in that matter, too, because not only it improves the pitch, but it also makes sound images inside the mind more vivid.


Sorry for such a long post, I did my best to be make it concise.

Last edited by Iaroslav Vasiliev; 03/14/18 02:09 PM.
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2721078
03/14/18 10:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by keystring
- You have to be able to know how to produce what it is that you want to produce, i.e. technique

This is a very interesting point, I remember that we discussed it with you some time ago. I hope you don't mind if I repeat here some things that I said in our private discussion, because I think they are very important.

There are two ways of playing the piano. The first way is when technique guides the music; the second way is when music guides technique. While playing the first way, a person thinks mainly of making correct arm and hand movements, hoping that such carefully performed movements will produce a sound of certain tone. While playing the second way, a person concentrates mainly on the desired sound, hoping that his/her brain will intuitively find out a correct body motions to produce that sound.

Now I' would say, that I believe that the second way is the only way to really play the piano. The first way is much, much inferior, and from what I know, no good pianist relies upon it.

One of great pianists (sorry, I have forgotten who it was exactly) said, "There is no technique". This is a phrase of great revelation. Certainly it doesn't mean that the technique doesn't really exist, but it means that the pianist doesn't pay any attention to it (to his physical movements) when he plays, his motions are almost totally intuitive, they are controlled subconsciously, and the sound and the emotions are the only things that he carries about.

.,.,.,,,.

I believe you are correct about concentrating on the sound, however, I believe this only applies to more advanced pianists. First you have to develop the skill to be able to translate to your fingers how you want it to sound and have it sound that way. For instanice, to use the example of a singing right hand melody, you need to develop the skill of playing with different volumes and tone between two hands. I believe that every great pianist was not born just knowing how to do this, but I had to develop the skill


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2721113
03/14/18 11:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
.

There are two ways of playing the piano. The first way is when technique guides the music; the second way is when music guides technique. While playing the first way, a person thinks mainly of making correct arm and hand movements, hoping that such carefully performed movements will produce a sound of certain tone. While playing the second way, a person concentrates mainly on the desired sound, hoping that his/her brain will intuitively find out a correct body motions to produce that sound.

.

It is required to clarify: two stages ,and each has its own time.

Last edited by Nahum; 03/14/18 12:07 PM.
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2721122
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Always work on getting the tone right. Playing the notes wrong is as bad as playing the wrong notes.


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: bennevis] #2721146
03/14/18 02:27 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
One thought occurred to me.

Tone quality is often almost entirely down to the balance between the melody and the accompaniment (and subsidiary voices if any). Do you have sufficient hand independence? Can your RH playing the melody make it soar above the accompaniment like a bel canto singer, and phrase like one? Or is what your RH able to do tied down to what the LH does?



Thanks Bennevis. My teacher has also mentioned this, on multiple occasions. It's definitely something I keep working on, but it doesn't seem to be the only thing my teacher wants me to learn.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2721151
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
One of great pianists (sorry, I have forgotten who it was exactly) said, "There is no technique". This is a phrase of great revelation. Certainly it doesn't mean that the technique doesn't really exist, but it means that the pianist doesn't pay any attention to it (to his physical movements) when he plays, his motions are almost totally intuitive, they are controlled subconsciously, and the sound and the emotions are the only things that he carries about.


A few years ago I saw a video in which Maria Joao Pires noted, "Technique does not exist." Found the video below (Quote is in the first 60 seconds)...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIiCPjPZyYE

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: newer player] #2721308
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Originally Posted by newer player
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
One of great pianists (sorry, I have forgotten who it was exactly) said, "There is no technique". This is a phrase of great revelation. Certainly it doesn't mean that the technique doesn't really exist, but it means that the pianist doesn't pay any attention to it (to his physical movements) when he plays, his motions are almost totally intuitive, they are controlled subconsciously, and the sound and the emotions are the only things that he carries about.


A few years ago I saw a video in which Maria Joao Pires noted, "Technique does not exist." Found the video below (Quote is in the first 60 seconds)...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIiCPjPZyYE


Great! Although I think for the first time it was said much earlier.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Nahum] #2721311
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Originally Posted by Nahum
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
.

There are two ways of playing the piano. The first way is when technique guides the music; the second way is when music guides technique. While playing the first way, a person thinks mainly of making correct arm and hand movements, hoping that such carefully performed movements will produce a sound of certain tone. While playing the second way, a person concentrates mainly on the desired sound, hoping that his/her brain will intuitively find out a correct body motions to produce that sound.

.

It is required to clarify: two stages ,and each has its own time.


Not sure about that. I think an adult student can begin playing simple pieces the second way pretty early, if the pieces are very well learned.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2721366
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by Nahum
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
.
..... While playing the second way, a person concentrates mainly on the desired sound, ....
.

It is required to clarify: two stages ,and each has its own time.


Not sure about that. I think an adult student can begin playing simple pieces the second way pretty early, if the pieces are very well learned.


Indeed, you can concentrate on the desired sound pretty much from the beginning, before you have anything memorized. You can do it with a single note melody line. You can do it with the first seven notes of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" -- The first three are G's, and you can play those three G's alone in a way that people will recognize as "Night and Day".

It's what Little Richard says: "It Ain't Whatcha Do (It's The Way How You Do It)"


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2721404
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by Nahum
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
.

There are two ways of playing the piano. The first way is when technique guides the music; the second way is when music guides technique. While playing the first way, a person thinks mainly of making correct arm and hand movements, hoping that such carefully performed movements will produce a sound of certain tone. While playing the second way, a person concentrates mainly on the desired sound, hoping that his/her brain will intuitively find out a correct body motions to produce that sound.

.

It is required to clarify: two stages ,and each has its own time.


Not sure about that. I think an adult student can begin playing simple pieces the second way pretty early, if the pieces are very well learned.

I'm not understanding your thought process in what you're saying. You have a cause-effect: if a piece is "well learned", this will cause the student to be able to intuit correct body movement while aiming at sound. The first thing is to understand what you mean by "learned". Most people seem to use the term to mean that the piece has been memorized, or that the student can ready very well and knows the piece inside-out - what the notes are, and how the notes should sound. Is that what you mean?

If that is what you mean, then I disagree with your logic. There is no reason why knowing what the note are, where they are on the piano, and how they should sound --- that this will cause someone to know how to move properly.

I am going by both logic and personal experience. This is precisely where I have to do the most work. I can grasp a piece of music quite early, and can hear just how I want it to sound. But the motions my body came up with to produce those sounds were awkward and ineffective. For slow beginner piece the desired sound could still be produced, but you can do ineffective and even harmful things for easy slow music and still get an effect. I have had to learn and relearn. The brain does NOT intuitively find the correct motions. If you began as a child, you were probably guided into some quite simple things that became automatic, and from then on, all your motions came from that healthy base.

The bottom line, however,is that nothing is black and white. I don't lean totally toward Nahum's idea either. It depends.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2721422
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev


Not sure about that. I think an adult student can begin playing simple pieces the second way pretty early, if the pieces are very well learned.
I am sure that since each student is individual, so are the methods of work as well. The target is always attacked from several sides, and not necessarily in the same order. In this sense, we can say: for each student - his own method.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2721425
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Three things were brought up. A chicken-egg thing, a) whether feeling the music intuitively will induce the body to move the right way for producing the desired musical sounds, b) whether learning to use the body properly will get us at the desired musical sounds, c) "There is no technique". These three things were main themes in my first attempt at music lesson over about 5 years. It was a wild ride, and I learned from it.

1. "There is no technique".
An old 85 year old teacher told this to me first, after telling me to hang a violin bow from my fingers with no thumb, talking of sensitive fingers, and then, "There is no technique. This is all there is." My violin teacher struggled that year, first saying, "Everything is technique." then "Not everything is technique, you know." and finally executed a simple bow stroke, "There is no technique. This is all there is." All three being true.

If you see technique as a formula, as though we were Ikea furniture that must be assembled per instruction, and each thing like staccato, crescendo etc. is a formulaic set of motions, then you are looking for something that does not exist. In this sense "There is no technique." But there are basic principles, and everything grows out of them. "This is all there is." Some examples:

- If you sit ramrod straight with your hands a single "round shape", maybe somewhat claw-like for a chord, the sound you envision will never come out as you want it to. If you acquire a principle of ease, physical balance, that no joint should ever be locked - if you sit at a good height and distance so your body is not stressed, ditto. The principle of ease, naturalness, working with how your body works, how physics works, and how your instrument works: that is a root of technique. "Everything is technique. There is no technique. This is all there is." But not a formula. This one is true for all instruments.

- I perceived fortissimo as an intense loud sound, maybe an angry sound, and put force into my playing, also making the body tight, and did indeed produce loud sounds. Pianissimo was sad, quiet, the opposite, and was produced by a kind of sad limpness. Otoh, you can understand that loudness depends on speed of key descent rather than force: that a whip-like loose action rather than angry force can create fffffff - that when you engage more of your larger limbs, make larger motions, or smaller motions, you can affect dynamics. In other words, you have known variables to play with What I did initially was not effective. As soon as I tried to play fast and loud, the angry tension tied me into knots. My ppp was cutting out notes, and was uneven.

There IS "technique" in the sense of understanding such principles. In the example of ffff vs. ppppp and all in between; if you understand about keeping the body unspasmed, and the variables of degrees of motion and speed, then you can play with these things. Much is a matter of degree. We have staccatissimo going to a blurred new age super-beyond-legato blur. You could say they are "one thing", namely the amount of space between two subsequent notes.

This is what the teachers I dealt with back then meant by "There is no technique. This is all there is."

Otoh, if an accomplished pianist who maybe doesn't teach says it, then she may not be aware that she is using well practised technique every time she plays, and what she thinks is instinctual (and is) arises from that kind of base.

I hope this makes some sense. I had to figure this out over several years, and some of what happened in between was not a nice experience.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2721432
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On the chicken-egg part, Iaroslav's idea is what was applied first. It was a brand new instrument that I had never played before so there was no issue of starting with wrongly learned technique. I learned several years down the line that the idea was that if I "let go" to instinct, my body would go into a crude direction of the technique that would produce the sound. To some degree that had happened. But I had hit a glass ceiling, and I was also full of aches. When I started finding points of technique - mechanical, technical, "unmusical" things - the quality of my playing made a sudden improvement. The teacher I was with discussed this very thing, and the balance of the two got turned around.

The main principle I learned at the time, is that technique and "music" (the expressive part) are not two separate elements to be pursued separately: you go after technique, then you go after music ..... or; as soon as your attention goes to the one, the other snaps shut. This was the first discussion I ever had. Instead, it was proposed that technique and music are intertwined, one causing the other. The question then came, Which do you focus on, to get the other going?" For me, where I was at, where my strengths and weaknesses were, it had to be:

- understanding how to use my body to affect sound on the instrument; while learning the nature of the instrument
- understanding "theoretical" elements of how music is constructed, music history etc., to help with making musical decisions (how fast, how loud, what to emphasize, etc.)

I had the instinctive part, but without the rest it was raw, crude, and limiting.

A simple example of these two elements would be a waltz. You understand 3/4 time, that it is a dance and if intended for the dance floor, should get the dancers' feet swinging through a strong downbeat and not ultra-rubato to mix them up; if in G major, you can easily find those F#'s. Physically you know how to make the melody louder, how to make the melody sing with phrasing etc.; how to pedal; what sound you want in the LH and how to produce it physically. And then you also "feel" the waltz ..... but also knowing what to listen for in your playing, and what to aim for.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: keystring] #2721484
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Originally Posted by keystring
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by Nahum
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
.

There are two ways of playing the piano. The first way is when technique guides the music; the second way is when music guides technique. While playing the first way, a person thinks mainly of making correct arm and hand movements, hoping that such carefully performed movements will produce a sound of certain tone. While playing the second way, a person concentrates mainly on the desired sound, hoping that his/her brain will intuitively find out a correct body motions to produce that sound.

.

It is required to clarify: two stages ,and each has its own time.


Not sure about that. I think an adult student can begin playing simple pieces the second way pretty early, if the pieces are very well learned.

I'm not understanding your thought process in what you're saying. You have a cause-effect: if a piece is "well learned", this will cause the student to be able to intuit correct body movement while aiming at sound. The first thing is to understand what you mean by "learned". Most people seem to use the term to mean that the piece has been memorized, or that the student can ready very well and knows the piece inside-out - what the notes are, and how the notes should sound. Is that what you mean?

If that is what you mean, then I disagree with your logic. There is no reason why knowing what the note are, where they are on the piano, and how they should sound --- that this will cause someone to know how to move properly.

I am going by both logic and personal experience. This is precisely where I have to do the most work. I can grasp a piece of music quite early, and can hear just how I want it to sound. But the motions my body came up with to produce those sounds were awkward and ineffective. For slow beginner piece the desired sound could still be produced, but you can do ineffective and even harmful things for easy slow music and still get an effect. I have had to learn and relearn. The brain does NOT intuitively find the correct motions. If you began as a child, you were probably guided into some quite simple things that became automatic, and from then on, all your motions came from that healthy base.

The bottom line, however,is that nothing is black and white. I don't lean totally toward Nahum's idea either. It depends.


By saying that a piece is learned very well I mean just that all notes and fingering are learned and memorized by muscle memory, so no cognitive effort is required to hit the right notes. It is difficult to concentrate on sound when one is struggling to hit the right notes. But once the the piece is memorized by muscle memory it becomes much easier.

The idea that the brain can intuitively find the correct motions may seem strange, but, in fact, this idea is fundamental for every sport that requires accuracy: tennis, basketball, soccer, hockey, darts, etc. If you have ever tried to throw a ball into a basket or to hit a bullseye with a dart, you know that concentrating on joint motions will get you nowhere, only very thorough concentration on the target (basket, or bullseye, or whatever) will bring success - after many attempts, of course. The same applies to the piano, but instead of visual feedback, like that in basketball or darts, you get auditory feedback. Being guided by auditory feedback is more difficult, because it's less natural, because the human relied almost exclusively on visual feedback during the evolution (hunting, fishing, etc.). Still being guided by auditory feedback is absolutely possible.

You might be right that for beginner some motions may be suboptimal even if they produce the desired sound, but I think it's only an issue of insufficient practice and slow tempo. As the tempo increases, the motions become more and more optimal, and it also happens intuitively and naturally, because our brain is designed by evolution to optimize the frequently repeated movements and the movements that need to be performed at higher tempo, in order to make these motions more economical. It's a natural process that we should take full advantage of.

And the only reason for this optimization to fail in an otherwise healthy person, that I can think of, is a tendency to constantly mindfully (over)control every motion, that disrupts the natural process of optimization. As one popular young lady said, "Let it go!" wink

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2721539
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Iaroslav, I think that you are going by ideas and what might be, rather than experience as an adult student or teaching students. I'm also hoping that you will address some of the real things that I wrote and described. I wrote three separate posts, each on a different topic. They included concrete things and examples. My actual experience (as opposed to ideas and conjecture) are behind them.

In the meantime:
Originally Posted by Iaroslav
The idea that the brain can intuitively find the correct motions may seem strange,...

This idea does not seem strange. Otoh, over-reliance on this idea is what can get people into trouble.
Quote
but, in fact, this idea is fundamental for every sport that requires accuracy: tennis, basketball, soccer, hockey, darts, etc......

I am quite certain that in those sports, people are guided into their movement, and don't get there all by themselves. Is there any top tennis player who simply intuited his or her way in, and never had coaching or guidance?
Quote
Being guided by auditory feedback is more difficult, because it's less natural, because the human relied almost exclusively on visual feedback during the evolution (hunting, fishing, etc.).

We do not rely almost exclusively on visual feedback, in addition to which some people are more auditory, some more visual, and some more tactile. Be that as it may, whether the cue is from the eyes or the ears, inefficient and wrongly conceived motion to produce the right sound will still happen. Did you read what I wrote, and my examples? That is exactly what did happen.

Quote
....but I think it's only an issue of insufficient practice and slow tempo. As the tempo increases, the motions become more and more optimal, and it also happens intuitively and naturally,

That is a theory. No, that is not what happens. For you, who did learn to move well with a good basis of movement, this will happen. For me it did not happen. I just seized up. However, I have been told by trained pianists and teachers, that if you get on the right track, then the motions may indeed become optimal.

I got stuck four YEARS as a student because I was with a teacher who tried your theory. It was a painful dreadful experience, and it didn't need to happen at all!

Please do read what I wrote previously, especially, the 2nd one defining "technique". I'd be interested in your response.

Last edited by keystring; 03/15/18 10:22 PM.
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2721549
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I think listening is soooo very important. I’m very fortunate and able to listen really well. In fact if I try focusing even more than usual on listening while I practice I’ve found the next day to have improved a lot MORE than if I didn’t bother listening much.

That said, I find it much harder to listen when I’m just beginning a new piece. And yes, recording yourself is AMAZINGLY helpful but I would suggest not only playing it back for yourself but listen WITH your teacher.


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Originally Posted by keystring
Did you read what I wrote, and my examples?

No, sorry, I had no chance to. While I was writing the response to your first post, you wrote two more. smile

Originally Posted by keystring

We do not rely almost exclusively on visual feedback, in addition to which some people are more auditory, some more visual, and some more tactile.

I was talking about feedback that guides our motions. I can hardly imagine prehistoric physical activity that was guided by auditory feedback, except, maybe, for slinking on a hunt. But I agree that there are people who are more talented at being guided by the sound than the others.

Originally Posted by keystring

I am quite certain that in those sports, people are guided into their movement, and don't get there all by themselves. Is there any top tennis player who simply intuited his or her way in, and never had coaching or guidance?

You are absolutely right. Initially the correct motion should be shown and described verbally by the coach. This is quite obvious. The question is when the transition from concentration on a motion to concentration on a target should take place. If I remember correctly, when we learned to play basketball at school we had exactly one lesson on which a coach was showing a correct technique of a throw and then we had a couple of lessons on which he made remarks about it. After that AFAIR he never touched that topic and we were supposed to improve the throw by ourselves, doing exercises and concentrating on a basket. That's the natural way of impovement after some initial guidance. The fine movements on the piano seem to be more complicated and they require more conscious relaxation, still I believe that it doesn't require more than a few months for adult to start playing the simplest phrases with concentration on the internal sound image and auditory feedback. At least to try to do it. I agree with Nahum that each student has different qualities and for someone a few months may be too soon.

And certainly I don't mean that all practice should at once be carried out that way. I just think that it would be great to indroduce such training to adult students early as an exercise, using the simplest, well learned pieces as I have mentioned.

Originally Posted by keystring
I got stuck four YEARS as a student because I was with a teacher who tried your theory. It was a painful dreadful experience, and it didn't need to happen at all!

I'm aware of the problems you had in the past and I'm very sorry about it. But I consider your experience quite exceptional and I would not generalize it. It seems that your first teacher ignored even the most fundamental things that must have been taught first of all and you had no option to learn them from other sources. Furthermore your situation might have been aggravated by some general motion coordination difficulties. But I hope all this is not the case for most students and trying to concentrate on aural image and auditory feedback will bring no harm.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2721728
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
[ trying to concentrate on aural image and auditory feedback will bring no harm.


This view was discussed with the late Vladimir Mazel ( about which I already wrote on the site), which researched it for decades. His conclusions were: 1. in specific situation there is only one correct movement for the desired sound production , 2. you can achieve the correct result by incorrect movement, 3. correct and incorrect movement may look quite the same.
Right movement is a movement that takes place in accordance with anatomical structure and possibility of the human body. The main thesis of the Russian piano (and adjacent) school: "Play even with nose, the main thing is to sound! "- is the complete opposite.
How many performers ruined their technique ,and only then became patients of VM !

Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by keystring
Did you read what I wrote, and my examples?

No, sorry, I had no chance to. While I was writing the response to your first post, you wrote two more.
I have the same problem. ))

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2721750
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Iaroslav, thanks for responding. Yes, I had sort of forgotten that I wrote those three posts one after the other, and if you saw the first right away and responded, you wouldn't see the others.

In the meantime, I would like very much for you read and study those posts retroactively. I put together concepts and things I learned over some years. It's not light reading. I'm no oracle or claim exclusive knowledge, but simply, we can't really communicate about these things unless we catch up that way.

Originally Posted by Iaroslav
I'm aware of the problems you had in the past and I'm very sorry about it. But I consider your experience quite exceptional and I would not generalize it. It seems that your first teacher ignored even the most fundamental things that must have been taught first of all and you had no option to learn them from other sources. Furthermore your situation might have been aggravated by some general motion coordination difficulties. But I hope all this is not the case for most students and trying to concentrate on aural image and auditory feedback will bring no harm.


I will never put out a generalization willy nilly. When you think it may be exceptional, this is by theorizing where adult students are. You're postulating some norms that you find logical, and may not be how things are. Let me try to set out some of what I found.

(A caveat: people differ from each other, and that is kept in mind.)

*** When I got into this over a decade ago, the talk everywhere was about the "impossibility" of adults learning anything of substance in music, that they soon quit, and fall drastically behind. Nobody was looking at what was being taught to adults, or how it was being taught; nor what process adults were using for learning, toward what kinds of goals. Here are some teaching principles:

- If my student isn't learning and is struggling, either it's because that student has limited intelligence or abilities, or a learning disability or physical handicap; or it's because of my teaching (what, how, toward what etc.)
- when I've taught students coming to me with problems, often there were underlying fundamental things that were missing, and when those were gotten, everything else opened up
- teachers can be wedded to the belief that their teaching principles are sound, by tradition or similar, and dismiss any casualty to that method as being due to lack of ability or diligence, and thus don't question their own "what, how, toward what" of teaching.

In short, there was an all-round problem, but it was being dismissed as "this group can't learn". If everybody else was fine, but I wasn't, then I'd be unique.

*** The solution for my own thing was to get a fundamental things, especially for physical playing. Initially I simply had a gut feeling that "there is something at the bottom that's starting from the wrong place". When you seek, you find, since others addressing similar things will appear. So then:

- some teachers starting appearing publicly such as Jaak Sikk and Piano-Ologist. Both went at the most basic elements of moving, using the body, and it was at the level of the small child getting at things. It is logical that if kids are getting it; adults aren't; adults are approaching things several abstract levels above the kids, maybe that's why "kids succeed and adults don't". These folks were addressing things at a base level that I needed, and clearly they saw a need for that. I saw the adult students of some of them, and there was a clear smoothness to their motion and sound that was not "typically adult".

- I was seeing students publicly working out things and being helped, and I also worked together with fellow students here and there trouble shooting. Often again it would be missing fundamental things; the physical was in there, as well as things such as presumed reading abilities, and approach. Very often these students were being rushed forward, or the very basic things were never addressed and so remained faulty. The idea was that it would "gradually come automatically" but it never did. Some sought another teacher and moved forward; others asked their existing teachers for a different kind of teaching. One switched to a teacher who had been trained by Taubman herself, and things turned around that way.

Both of these points suggest that I am not unique. The balance of various elements will be unique to me, but not the whole of it.

- Meanwhile, in PW students will discuss foundations; effective practising; elements such as rotation and other movements. Those who are doing well with their teachers often write about the physical elements being taught to them. If anything, I think I've seen a rise of this over the years.

-----------------
If I write more, it will get tangled up. I'm insisting again to please read where I set things up. For example, the idea of "technique" can go the wrong way.

Last edited by keystring; 03/16/18 02:51 PM. Reason: still not satisfied with what I wrote
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2721768
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Originally Posted by keystring
For example, Nahum's quote about the body, which leaves out the nature of the instrument and knowledge of music. .
keystring, you counterpose the body and instrument? Because the student from the very beginning studies 2 tools, and not by very intuitive way, otherwise there would be no need for teachers.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Nahum] #2721771
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Originally Posted by Nahum
Originally Posted by keystring
For example, Nahum's quote about the body, which leaves out the nature of the instrument and knowledge of music. .
keystring, you counterpose the body and instrument? Because the student from the very beginning studies 2 tools, and not by very intuitive way, otherwise there would be no need for teachers.


Sorry, I deleted a rather brief post because I was finding myself too insistent (pushy) writing too many posts in a row.

I wrote three posts yesterday where I tried to set out all my main ideas and how they intermesh together. You will find the three elements in there. wink I hope that helps.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2721867
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I've read all the posts- but can't take the time to comment on so many. I have to say I appreciate keystring's efforts to "fight the good fight" and represent music students who have had poor teaching (insufficient or misdirected) or negative learning experiences which handicap their progress. I have similar experiences to examples presented here, both as a student and a teacher.

Tension can cause stilted, unnatural movement. Over-zealous, unnatural practice can cause injury. For example, I played Hanon and other exercises fingers high and pounding month after month until my forearms swelled and I had ganglion cysts in my wrists. No pain no gain, right? No one told me not to practice that way and I figured the problem was that I needed more rigorous training. Seems silly now--but anyone older should be able to relate to this mind set.

Mental or emotional tension can also cause stilted, unnatural movement. That may come from overly negative, critical teaching (or family dynamics). Once a student becomes self-conscious, on-cue efficient, natural execution of a physical movement can be very difficult. I don't think there's any need to give examples here. It's a vicious circle of tension, poor performance, and criticism.

I don't think just these two types of experiences are that uncommon. Add to these, what's already been discussed, just some lack of athleticism, or need to break a bad habit...etc. Not that uncommon.

I was not taught much technique as an adolescent piano student. Two examiners commented that while I was "mature" in musical feeling, unfortunately my technique was too poor to support that expression. I wasn't from a musical family. If my teacher didn't correct me, who knew? After 6 piano teachers in my life, and hurting myself a lot (with long, long breaks between) I finally learned, for example, how to move the wrist at the end of a slur. That was a couple years ago. Amazing, isn't it? I had some well-credentialed teachers too. (I am so grateful, finally in my 60's, to have a wonderful teacher who teaches "me.")

I don't believe we can all have ideal, well-matched teaching. Realistically we all make do with opportunities we have. My point is that a student should not be told by their teacher they're doing something wrong, without the teacher demonstrating and teaching, step by the tiniest step, if needed, how to correct the problem for that particular student. Students need tasks broken down to varying degrees.

The other route is to only accept naturally talented students.

As a child and adolescent I wanted to study music. I didn't, I studied foreign language. I really like learning and teaching foreign languages. How many people say they got nothing from their foreign language studies? Well, I lucked out and had incredibly gifted foreign language teachers--storytellers and comics who knew how to feed the students just the right amount and deal tactfully and efficiently with problems before they became big obstacles.

So much has been written here--better than what I've contributed. Just wanted to add my 2 cents.

(Another thumbs up for Jaak Sikk)


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2722144
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Originally Posted by keystring
In the meantime, I would like very much for you read and study those posts retroactively. I put together concepts and things I learned over some years.

All right. Sorry for delay. Today I have time to read your posts very carefully and I'll do my best to find some sensible comments for them.

Originally Posted by keystring
Three things were brought up. A chicken-egg thing, a) whether feeling the music intuitively will induce the body to move the right way for producing the desired musical sounds, b) whether learning to use the body properly will get us at the desired musical sounds, c) "There is no technique". These three things were main themes in my first attempt at music lesson over about 5 years. It was a wild ride, and I learned from it.

1. "There is no technique".
An old 85 year old teacher told this to me first, after telling me to hang a violin bow from my fingers with no thumb, talking of sensitive fingers, and then, "There is no technique. This is all there is." My violin teacher struggled that year, first saying, "Everything is technique." then "Not everything is technique, you know." and finally executed a simple bow stroke, "There is no technique. This is all there is." All three being true.

If you see technique as a formula, as though we were Ikea furniture that must be assembled per instruction, and each thing like staccato, crescendo etc. is a formulaic set of motions, then you are looking for something that does not exist. In this sense "There is no technique." But there are basic principles, and everything grows out of them. "This is all there is." Some examples:

- If you sit ramrod straight with your hands a single "round shape", maybe somewhat claw-like for a chord, the sound you envision will never come out as you want it to. If you acquire a principle of ease, physical balance, that no joint should ever be locked - if you sit at a good height and distance so your body is not stressed, ditto. The principle of ease, naturalness, working with how your body works, how physics works, and how your instrument works: that is a root of technique. "Everything is technique. There is no technique. This is all there is." But not a formula. This one is true for all instruments.

- I perceived fortissimo as an intense loud sound, maybe an angry sound, and put force into my playing, also making the body tight, and did indeed produce loud sounds. Pianissimo was sad, quiet, the opposite, and was produced by a kind of sad limpness. Otoh, you can understand that loudness depends on speed of key descent rather than force: that a whip-like loose action rather than angry force can create fffffff - that when you engage more of your larger limbs, make larger motions, or smaller motions, you can affect dynamics. In other words, you have known variables to play with What I did initially was not effective. As soon as I tried to play fast and loud, the angry tension tied me into knots. My ppp was cutting out notes, and was uneven.

There IS "technique" in the sense of understanding such principles. In the example of ffff vs. ppppp and all in between; if you understand about keeping the body unspasmed, and the variables of degrees of motion and speed, then you can play with these things. Much is a matter of degree. We have staccatissimo going to a blurred new age super-beyond-legato blur. You could say they are "one thing", namely the amount of space between two subsequent notes.

This is what the teachers I dealt with back then meant by "There is no technique. This is all there is."

Otoh, if an accomplished pianist who maybe doesn't teach says it, then she may not be aware that she is using well practised technique every time she plays, and what she thinks is instinctual (and is) arises from that kind of base.

I hope this makes some sense. I had to figure this out over several years, and some of what happened in between was not a nice experience.


I see. I usually use the word "technique" in a narrow sense, meaning exactly a motional formula that is used to produce a sound of a certain tonal quality. E.g. "finger staccato technique", "wrist staccato technique", "finger legato", "pedal legato", etc. Such formulas undoubtedly exist, trust me, and are widely used to communicate ideas between pianists. And I think the great pianist used that word in the same sense; by saying "There is no technique" he meant that he did not need a predefined formula, the formula (the technique) was born instantly in his fingers when he followed his mental sound. (Of course this requires experience and training.)

And when we say, for example, "Horowitz' octaves technique" we mean exactly that - his own technique, his own manner of playing octaves that was born this way in his fingers when he desired the new specific sound of octaves. At the same time we may say "Mister Smith's octaves technique is mediocre", it means that his octaves don't sound nice. If his octaves sounded nice, but his motions looked somewhat awkward, we would say "His octaves technique is unusual". wink We may perceive his technique as suboptimal, but in fact that technique may best suit his anatomy. That's why giving birth to one's own technique at some point is so important - we all have different hands. Just repeating the motions after somebody (a teacher, for example, or Dorothy Taubman, or Horowitz) is always suboptimal. And all the motional formulas are very schematic. Only by exercising and following our mental aural desires everyone of us naturally develops and optimizes his own technique(s). With time.

Your teacher obviously used the word "technique" in a broader sense, meaning not only the whole of these motional formulas, but also all the basic principles of playing piano and all the physics of the process. In that case yes, it makes some sense to say "Everything is technique" or "This is all there is". Though, strictly speaking, technique in any sense is still not the music.

Now, can some technique (in a narrow sense) be developed without mental sound image? In my opinion, in my experience, no. Except, maybe, the most simple things, I don't think anyone can consistently archieve the desired sound without imagining it first, at least for a fraction of a second before playing. Do I believe that it is possible to concentrate on both the motions and the sound equally at the same time and still archieve the desired sound? No. I think that adjusting motions knowingly inevitably breaks the desirable direct unconscious connection between inner sound and the hands. And when the tempo is high enough there is simply no time to think of both the motions and the sound, you have to choose. Do I believe that knowing the basic principles of piano playing (like keeping the unused muscles relaxed, keeping wrists flexible, using the arm weight) is essential for development of any technique? Absolutely. Until these principles are well learned and applied it may be better to stay away from the piano at all.

I hope I managed to make some points clear.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2722152
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Quite interesting to read the philosophical discussion here!

In the meantime, I e-mailed my teacher, said I'd like to practice according to her suggestions, but didn't know exactly how.

She encouraged me, for now, to focus on balance between the left and right hands, and on playing all notes in chords at exactly the same time. This I know how to work on. (When I started, I had a bad habit of loudly banging out accompaniment parts in the LH.)

She seemed to have more she wanted to convey -- I'll see what she has to suggest next time around.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2722270
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Iaroslav, thank you for finding the time. This is a good conversation. smile
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I see. I usually use the word "technique" in a narrow sense, meaning exactly a motional formula that is used to produce a sound of a certain tonal quality. E.g. "finger staccato technique", "wrist staccato technique", "finger legato", "pedal legato", etc. Such formulas undoubtedly exist, trust me, and are widely used to communicate ideas between pianists. ....

.... At the same time we may say "Mister Smith's octaves technique is mediocre", it means that his octaves don't sound nice. If his octaves sounded nice, but his motions looked somewhat awkward, we would say "His octaves technique is unusual". wink We may perceive his technique as suboptimal, but in fact that technique may best suit his anatomy.


You got what I'm getting at. This area is extremely important and may even be at the heart of everything. If you find a teacher who can bring even some such things across, you have a gem. It goes astray many ways.

What I've cobbled together over time:

To play a piece musically, you have to know what you want to achieve (eg. crescendo), optimally knowing why you want to achieve it (understanding), be capable physically to produce it. If you don't know it should crescendo, or can't picture cresc., then you're missing a key element. A 3-legged stool is sturdy. Remove a leg and it topples. Often our training can miss even the 'knowing' part.

Staying with one "leg" of the stool: physical technique: As you have set out, it is not a formula, or especially not an isolated formula. Instead, there are some overarching principles lying underneath, which are like a steady floor allowing us to dance any dance. Being well balanced and free to move, and free to move about the 3-dimensional topography of the piano is one principle. "Every joint must be free to move at least a little bit and none should be locked." The fact that loudness comes from velocity, which can also be affected by what proportion of small and large joints you move. These are the "atoms" that can be combined in many ways, continually changing, to give you "finger staccato", "wrist staccato" etc. which are simply variants.

If we're not there, we have to get at it. How teachers bring us there is a topic by itself. As is how teachers might actually block us from it. When we have a bit of knowledge, we can listen to our bodies for what feels more comfortable, what sounds better, and the practised eye and ear of a good teacher works wonders.

Quote
That's why giving birth to one's own technique at some point is so important - we all have different hands. Just repeating the motions after somebody (a teacher, for example, or Dorothy Taubman, or Horowitz) is always suboptimal. And all the motional formulas are very schematic.

Yes. Otoh, if you have started to sense things so that you can see some things behind what a pianist does, sometimes you can catch things or get insight. But not (I'm agreeing) the way described.

Quote
Only by exercising and following our mental aural desires everyone of us naturally develops and optimizes his own technique(s). With time. .....

Now, can some technique (in a narrow sense) be developed without mental sound image? In my opinion, in my experience, no. Except, maybe, the most simple things, I don't think anyone can consistently achieve the desired sound without imagining it first, at least for a fraction of a second before playing. Do I believe that it is possible to concentrate on both the motions and the sound equally at the same time and still achieve the desired sound? No. I think that adjusting motions knowingly inevitably breaks the desirable direct unconscious connection between inner sound and the hands. And when the tempo is high enough there is simply no time to think of both the motions and the sound, you have to choose. Do I believe that knowing the basic principles of piano playing (like keeping the unused muscles relaxed, keeping wrists flexible, using the arm weight) is essential for development of any technique? Absolutely. Until these principles are well learned and applied it may be better to stay away from the piano at all.


The main thing I disagree with is the "only", and the ONE-directional process. I do not disagree with the whole thing. :)I want to write about this separately, as it is another concept.

Last edited by keystring; 03/18/18 03:11 PM.
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2722276
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To Iaroslav again. smile

On the concept you proposed:
Quote
Only by exercising and following our mental aural desires everyone of us naturally develops and optimizes his own technique(s). With time. .....

Now, can some technique (in a narrow sense) be developed without mental sound image? In my opinion, in my experience, no. Except, maybe, the most simple things, I don't think anyone can consistently achieve the desired sound without imagining it first, at least for a fraction of a second before playing. Do I believe that it is possible to concentrate on both the motions and the sound equally at the same time and still achieve the desired sound? No. I think that adjusting motions knowingly inevitably breaks the desirable direct unconscious connection between inner sound and the hands. And when the tempo is high enough there is simply no time to think of both the motions and the sound, you have to choose. Do I believe that knowing the basic principles of piano playing (like keeping the unused muscles relaxed, keeping wrists flexible, using the arm weight) is essential for development of any technique? Absolutely. Until these principles are well learned and applied it may be better to stay away from the piano at all.


I disagree with part of this, and in particular with the unidirectional cause-effect.

We have here: a) desired sound image b) physical action for creating it c) spontaneous unconscious connection between the two. I want to explore this. I suggest a fluid omni-directional approach.

A few scenarios. I mentally hear crescendo, and my "direct unconscious" connection is increasing force and tightness, which does create that crescendo. Or I mentally hear a sustained note, and I "hold it down" for its duration because that's how I picture it; even if pedal will hold it. These are not good, and they will stay. However, I can [i]create[/b] such connections, which will then be there in my "direct unconscious". I can use conscious knowledge, direct my body to do the effective motion for that sound, keeping my attention on the physical motion and tactile sensations, and hearing the sound secondary. After a while, when I picture that crescendo, my body will go into "automatic" and will go into that mode. The correct reflex will not necessarily be automatic through a "sound-cue" and it can in fact be very wrong.

I believe in a shuttling, or fluid approach, and it also depends where the person is at. Someone who "prehears" strongly will be in different place than someone who doesn't imagine any music as they play, and passively receive the sounds after typing them in.

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2722280
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Originally Posted by impendia
Quite interesting to read the philosophical discussion here!

In the meantime, I e-mailed my teacher, said I'd like to practice according to her suggestions, but didn't know exactly how.

She encouraged me, for now, to focus on balance between the left and right hands, and on playing all notes in chords at exactly the same time. This I know how to work on. (When I started, I had a bad habit of loudly banging out accompaniment parts in the LH.)

She seemed to have more she wanted to convey -- I'll see what she has to suggest next time around.

This sounds promising. smile First, you communicated willingness to work with what she has given, and then asked a question that told her how she can guide you. Now you have been given something specific that you can work on. If you work on those specific things, in your next session she will hear where you are at in this thing. You may also end up with new questions that are even more specific, or observations that may come up if she observes that you are doing this or that - or she may just be able to lead. Since she seems to have more to convey, if you work on what she said, this may start taking direction.

It sounds much more promising than your first post. Looking forward to what comes of it. smile

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2722473
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Impendia,

Sorry I got so personal, wasn't trying to hijack your thread. I just wanted to support your concern for more detailed, more explanatory teaching. I quit piano long ago essentially because I wasn't get helpful enough instruction. I am now and I love practicing. Music is at the center of my life again.

You will teach your teacher to be a better teacher, which I'm sure she'll be happy for. Sounds like you are on the right track.

I'm not advocating rigidity or a "cook book" style of connecting movement to musical expression. If I could just sum it up in one sentence, it's good to play every note and every phrase with "intent." Eventually you'll have more ideas on what you want the sound to be and how you get it. Experiment. You can change your mind at any time. Why not? Developing the ear, making choices and connecting those with movement eventually becomes more intuitive. Best wishes!


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2722570
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While practising just now, I thought of this thread - namely the idea that the musical sound you hear in your internal ear will lead your body to do the right movements. I was practising a series of chords, 3 notes per hand, mostly an octave apart, played as sustained whole notes. The actual piece consists of eighth note arpeggios dancing up and down the piano, but to memorize them, you might play them as block chords as I was doing. Essentially you end up with a whole other piece which is beautiful and poignant in its own right.

Ok, the last thing I just wrote: I hear this exercise as music, with feeling to it. I am also hearing those whole note chords as a sustained sound. And since I hear them as a sustained sound, my internal ear tells me to hold those notes down for as long as they sound. If the sound is to endure with their intensity as much as possible, my body wants to "push forward those notes for their entire duration". This is what my musical ear tells my body to do, and it is WRONG. Some elements of playing an instrument are counter-intuitive.

I have a feeling like a bruise in a corner of my right elbow, and I know it is a precursor to "tennis elbow" or "golfer's elbow, or in the least, sign of strain. It is why I watched this morning how I was doing this. Instead of subconsciously and therefore physically "keeping those notes sounding" with the hands, I have to let go of the down-push the moment the (virtual) hammers are sent flying. When you "push forth and let go", the natural thing you'd expect is loud-soft, but that is not how the piano works. There is a disconnect. To get myself into the right habit, I plan to play the whole note chords staccato with the hands, since the pedal will hold the sound, and gradually allow the hands to remain on the keys. Now there is an absolute disconnect between what my hands are doing, and the sound I'm producing. Well, I can play them without pedal, so that I actually hear the staccato, and thus create a connection --- then mentally still hear that staccato feeding into the hand motion I want. At that point I am training my body to connect a particular motion (hands and pedal) to a sound, and only then will it become a "natural subconscious spontaneous action" that we don't want to interfere with.

But first we have to get there.

And this is where I think it falls apart when teachers tell students to make it sound musical, show them how it should sound, when the student does not have the underlying trained reflexes of this nature.

Does this make sense to anyone?

Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: keystring] #2722614
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Originally Posted by keystring
Now there is an absolute disconnect between what my hands are doing, and the sound I'm producing. Well, I can play them without pedal, so that I actually hear the staccato, and thus create a connection --- then mentally still hear that staccato feeding into the hand motion I want. At that point I am training my body to connect a particular motion (hands and pedal) to a sound, and only then will it become a "natural subconscious spontaneous action" that we don't want to interfere with.

But first we have to get there.

And this is where I think it falls apart when teachers tell students to make it sound musical, show them how it should sound, when the student does not have the underlying trained reflexes of this nature.

Does this make sense to anyone?


It makes sense.

Making music combines lots of skills and sensibilities, among them a certain athleticism. Some people are naturals, some have varying degrees of potential. Just about everybody can benefit from good instruction to wed thought and action. I was surprised when I first started recording myself that passages where I felt the most emotion fell flat. It is really valuable to listen and evaluate.




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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: keystring] #2722643
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Originally Posted by keystring
...I hear this exercise as music, with feeling to it. I am also hearing those whole note chords as a sustained sound. And since I hear them as a sustained sound, my internal ear tells me to hold those notes down for as long as they sound. If the sound is to endure with their intensity as much as possible, my body wants to "push forward those notes for their entire duration". This is what my musical ear tells my body to do, and it is WRONG. Some elements of playing an instrument are counter-intuitive....... Now there is an absolute disconnect between what my hands are doing, and the sound I'm producing. Well, I can play them without pedal, so that I actually hear the staccato, and thus create a connection --- then mentally still hear that staccato feeding into the hand motion I want. At that point I am training my body to connect a particular motion (hands and pedal) to a sound, and only then will it become a "natural subconscious spontaneous action" that we don't want to interfere with.

But first we have to get there.

And this is where I think it falls apart when teachers tell students to make it sound musical, show them how it should sound, when the student does not have the underlying trained reflexes of this nature.

Does this make sense to anyone?
It does. A mature, accomplished musician can let his or her experience and mastery of sound (tone) production take over and not give it conscious thought. But not initially. You don't just arrive the first day at the piano knowing how to make the desired sound magically happen. You have to figure out--better yet, have a teacher dissect and then reassemble--the motions that are necessary to make a particular sound. And practice them until they become automatic.


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2723097
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It seems that me and keystring agree on almost every point.

keystring is absolutely right that without knowing the mentioned basic principles a good technique to do things can hardly be found from scratch. Particularly the idea that keys can be held pushed down just by the weight of the arm is really not very intuitive; it is really more intuitive to push the keys down. And I suppose the idea that keys can be released while the sound is being sustained by the pedal is also not very intuitive; it probably requires some time to figure this out, sometimes maybe much time. So the technique initially acquired solely by intuition is in most cases inferior to the technique based on appliance of knowledge, and it requires much time to improve. And I suppose that for people with motional problems the intuitive way may really lead to a dead end. Otoh, if you know the basic principles and you knowingly forbid yourself to do some plainly wrong things on the initial stage of learning, you get a shortcut - you aim your brain's learning abilities in the best possible direction right away. So the knowledge of the basic principles is extremely important, I totally agree.

I also agree that it takes time to establish the connection between the pre-imagined sounds and physical motions. First of all it requires experimenting, because the brain needs to understand the relations between different physical motions and the resultant sounds. Then it takes time to "transfer" these relations from conscious area to unconscious area. In fact this is true for any physical activity that involves external devices, e.g. for driving, for operating machinery, for operating endoscope. Then the stage of technique optimization begins and it virtually lasts for lifetime.

It is unclear if the brain stores the very fine "pre-programmed" elements of every trained motion and then re-assembles them one by one on the fly in order to create a full motion that will produce the desired sound, or the brain operates with the "pre-programmed" functional relations between individual joint movements and sounds, or maybe both. I think it's not very important.

What I was trying to emphasize is the necessity to stop typing in the sounds (a very good metaphor!) at some point, as though you had a mental list of motional formulas (techniques, in the narrow sense) to execute, and to switch to mental concentration on the aural images, letting the cerebellum do all the "dirty work" for you. Not only it frees cognitive resources to allow you to play at a high tempo, but it also allows you to change your plans very quickly, to alter a piece interpretation right on the fly according to your mood or imagination and to express yourself naturally. In my mind it's the only way to really play the piano. Executing a list of motional formulas is not nearly comparable to this second way in terms of self-expression.

And again I repeat that what I was just talking about is not a replacement for learning basic principles.

Last edited by Iaroslav Vasiliev; 03/21/18 04:23 AM.
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2723127
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In person, agreement would have taken much less time :-). Different emphasis with different types of students in mind.

Appreciate your perspectives, Iaroslav--especially with your teaching and performing experience. There is a danger of mechanical playing with thinking too much about every move. There are technically brilliant pianists who leave their audiences cold. Just wanted to say, even with my limited knowledge, that your concerns and observations ring true.


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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Stubbie] #2723129
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Originally Posted by Stubbie
Originally Posted by keystring
...I hear this exercise as music, with feeling to it. I am also hearing those whole note chords as a sustained sound. And since I hear them as a sustained sound, my internal ear tells me to hold those notes down for as long as they sound. If the sound is to endure with their intensity as much as possible, my body wants to "push forward those notes for their entire duration". This is what my musical ear tells my body to do, and it is WRONG. Some elements of playing an instrument are counter-intuitive....... Now there is an absolute disconnect between what my hands are doing, and the sound I'm producing. Well, I can play them without pedal, so that I actually hear the staccato, and thus create a connection --- then mentally still hear that staccato feeding into the hand motion I want. At that point I am training my body to connect a particular motion (hands and pedal) to a sound, and only then will it become a "natural subconscious spontaneous action" that we don't want to interfere with.

But first we have to get there.

And this is where I think it falls apart when teachers tell students to make it sound musical, show them how it should sound, when the student does not have the underlying trained reflexes of this nature.

Does this make sense to anyone?
It does. A mature, accomplished musician can let his or her experience and mastery of sound (tone) production take over and not give it conscious thought. But not initially. You don't just arrive the first day at the piano knowing how to make the desired sound magically happen. You have to figure out--better yet, have a teacher dissect and then reassemble--the motions that are necessary to make a particular sound. And practice them until they become automatic.


I agree with your post, Stubbie. It's certainly part of my experience--though starting in early childhood and/or having musical environment probably would make some difference!

Again, not advocating a rigid "cookbook approach." Well, the cooking analogy might be appropriate. If one cooks enough, eventually the cookbook isn't needed.


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