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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

Kawai MP11SE, Focal CMS 40 Powered Monitors, SennHeiser HD 559 Headphones, Pianoteq and numerous other VSTs
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: 2,236
Florida
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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.


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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: 2,236
Florida
cmb13 Offline
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Here it is. John Mortensen series on tone production. His videos are excellent.



Steinway A3
Boston 118 PE

Working On
Chopin 28:15
Tchaikovsky Seasons: October

"You Can Never Have Too Many Dream Pianos" -Thad Carhart
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: 1,264
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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Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: Micael K.] #2720459
03/11/18 03:11 AM
03/11/18 03:11 AM
Joined: Dec 2012
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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
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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: 170
England
Lillith Offline
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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.


Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?
Roland FP30 in white
Re: How to listen as I practice? [Re: impendia] #2720468
03/11/18 04:40 AM
03/11/18 04:40 AM
Joined: May 2016
Posts: 900
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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Posts: 2,821
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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Moo :) Offline
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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
Posts: 16,578
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 ..?)


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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
dogperson Offline
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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
Joined: Jun 2017
Posts: 170
England
Lillith Offline
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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 :(

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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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Posts: 293
pianopi Offline
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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
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 16,578
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
Joined: Jun 2017
Posts: 170
England
Lillith Offline
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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


Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?
Roland FP30 in white
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: 3,795
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
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Piano in hospital
by CharlesXX. 03/22/19 06:38 PM
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