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Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece #2901997
10/19/19 09:28 AM
10/19/19 09:28 AM
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Antihero Offline OP
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I am new to the forum and have been playing for about 9.5 months. I am learning to read music and yes I have a teacher. I am in my early 40's.

I am also learning to read music. i played clarinet and saxophone in middle school and essentially had to start over reading music. I also play drums, guitar, percussion, and ukulele---though am unfortunately self taught (read stagnated and mediocre at best) as a result. Most of this music is rock/country/funk/grunge.

I can play the following piano pieces in their entirety: Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata first movement, Raindrop Prelude (Op. 28 no. 15), and Opening by Philip Glass. I can play them---but am not happy with the final product.

I am currently making early progress on Handel's Suite for Harpsichord No.4 (Sarabande movement-HWV 437), Bach's Prelude in C major, and Chopin's funeral march.

My question is: What is your approach to polish? Do you move on or not move on to the next piece until it is near a professional sounding level (I have failed miserably to rise to this standard)?

Or do you just spend a few minutes per session working on the trouble spots and aim for a presentable version in the upcoming months or even years?

Do you accept that a piece is being played to the best of your current ability or strive for a much higher standard?

I imagine there is no right/wrong---just interested to hear different viewpoints.

i have recently allowed myself to move on (due to frustration--perfectionist tendencies) and work on trouble spots in the hopes of having a decent version at my fingers in a 90 day span or so.

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Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902016
10/19/19 09:55 AM
10/19/19 09:55 AM
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Welcome to PW Antihero smile
Personally, IF I like a piece, I keep at it until I can play it 'at the best of my current ability', which isn't all that much. If I really like it, I'll 'keep it' and hope to be able to play it better some time in the future.
I think the 'current ability' is the key. At 9.5 months you can't expect perfection, certainly not on those kind of pieces. Likely your teacher means for you to learn certain things from these pieces, and then move on?
Are these really 'lesson pieces' from your teacher? I find the order of things a bit peculiar.

Last edited by Jytte; 10/19/19 10:00 AM.

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Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902017
10/19/19 10:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Antihero

I can play the following piano pieces in their entirety: Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata first movement, Raindrop Prelude (Op. 28 no. 15), and Opening by Philip Glass. I can play them---but am not happy with the final product.

I am currently making early progress on Handel's Suite for Harpsichord No.4 (Sarabande movement-HWV 437), Bach's Prelude in C major, and Chopin's funeral march.


I think you're trying to do far too much, far too soon. It's a recurring problem with adult learners. Were those pieces what you picked, or what your teacher picked for you? Most students have four to five years of lessons before playing them.

You currently haven't got the technical skills to play them to a standard that satisfies you. In a year or two's time, if you come back to them, you might well be able to.

My advice is to switch to learning simpler pieces that you're able to play better, and let your technical and musical skills develop in their own time.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902019
10/19/19 10:09 AM
10/19/19 10:09 AM
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Hi Antihero and welcome to our forum!

I am totally stunned at the pieces your can play in their entirety after only 9.5 months. But of course, you are probably a truly musical person, and having experience with so many other instruments certainly helps a lot.
My advice to you would be to leave these pieces for now, and to add much - much! - easier pieces to your practice that you polish until you are truly satisfied.


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Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Jytte] #2902022
10/19/19 10:15 AM
10/19/19 10:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Jytte
Welcome to PW Antihero smile
Personally, IF I like a piece, I keep at it until I can play it 'at the best of my current ability', which isn't all that much. If I really like it, I'll 'keep it' and hope to be able to play it better some time in the future.
I think the 'current ability' is the key. At 9.5 months you can't expect perfection, certainly not on those kind of pieces. Likely your teacher means for you to learn certain things from these pieces, and then move on?
Are these really 'lesson pieces' from your teacher? I find the order of things a bit peculiar.


Thanks. I am trying to be more at ease playing to my current level and gradually working to polish certain phrases, etc.

To answer your question-I think my working relationship with my piano teacher is maybe different than what I have read about from others.

We started with some method books---but veered away after a period. I generally share some pieces I'd like to play and get guidance as to whether or not it is a good "stretch" or just too ambitious.

We work through the technique/fingerings/ phrasing during lessons and as needed.

These are original works. Her feeling is that each piece presents different challenges and builds skill over time. Yes she is qualified and has a solid academic pedigree.

So I would say that they are lesson pieces to an extent--but not in a "standard" gradual method.

I have always been a "deep end of the pool" learner. I enjoy the challenge---though hit periodic walls of frustration---but wouldn't have it any other way.

Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Animisha] #2902029
10/19/19 10:34 AM
10/19/19 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Animisha
Hi Antihero and welcome to our forum!

I am totally stunned at the pieces your can play in their entirety after only 9.5 months. But of course, you are probably a truly musical person, and having experience with so many other instruments certainly helps a lot.
My advice to you would be to leave these pieces for now, and to add much - much! - easier pieces to your practice that you polish until you are truly satisfied.


Thanks. I am somewhat musical---though FAR from any sort of good talent.

I am just doggedly deternined---probably to an unusual degree.

I am dialing down the difficulty a bit with the pieces I'm presently working on (the Handel/Bach pieces are technically less demanding imo). I love Chopin but it took a pretty long time to be able to play Raindrop---and the late middle section is still not fluid.

I thought it may be a bit of a boost to tackle some easier material while gradually polishing the other pieces.

Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902035
10/19/19 10:46 AM
10/19/19 10:46 AM
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If some piece is a huge stretch, you may need to recognize that you will not be able to polish it NOW and will need to put it aside for awhile until your skills catch up. I don’t think it is always productive to keep polishing as extra effort just doesn’t always work. sometimes I just need to say ‘later’ and tackle something I can truly polish now and come back to the old piece when my technique has caught up.

Ask your teacher ‘should I keep working on this now or put it aside and come back later?’ Putting it aside without completion is not emotionally easy. Just look at it as ‘postponement’ until a better time. I’ve had a few of these blips and am surprised at how much quicker success is when I’ve waited.

Last edited by dogperson; 10/19/19 10:48 AM.
Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: bennevis] #2902036
10/19/19 10:49 AM
10/19/19 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Antihero

I can play the following piano pieces in their entirety: Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata first movement, Raindrop Prelude (Op. 28 no. 15), and Opening by Philip Glass. I can play them---but am not happy with the final product.

I am currently making early progress on Handel's Suite for Harpsichord No.4 (Sarabande movement-HWV 437), Bach's Prelude in C major, and Chopin's funeral march.


I think you're trying to do far too much, far too soon. It's a recurring problem with adult learners. Were those pieces what you picked, or what your teacher picked for you? Most students have four to five years of lessons before playing them.

You currently haven't got the technical skills to play them to a standard that satisfies you. In a year or two's time, if you come back to them, you might well be able to.

My advice is to switch to learning simpler pieces that you're able to play better, and let your technical and musical skills develop in their own time.


Thanks. I've already responded to most of this in prior responses to others. You suggest returning to them at a much later time. I would tend to agree if it were a matter of an absolute impasse--but if gradual progress is being made (and discussed/validated with one's teacher)---does that change your opinion?

My question to the forum really can be summarized as "what do you do?"

Grind away at polish---or move on and periodically work on the troublesome passages over a longer span of time?

I'm not truly frustrated---just interested in making the most rapid.progress possible.

Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902040
10/19/19 11:04 AM
10/19/19 11:04 AM
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Like others have said, likely in order to play these pieces at a reasonable level of quality, you would need some more technique and also just more hours "under the belt" so to speak. So I would see it that way: if you are using these pieces to challenge yourself, then you should continue working on them as long as you continue to make progress; working through and improving the sections that are not good enough. If you see that you are reaching a plateau and no more can be done at this stage, then you should put them on the side. Just to manage your expectations, a piece like Fur Elise as simple as it may seems has a couple of really challenging sections, the central one in particular does require a pretty good control; so you should probably adjust down your expectations in terms of end result for now. I think your criteria of success should be different, not trying to compare yourself with people that have already 4 or 5 years of piano practice.

It is also a good practice to mix pieces of various difficulties, most slightly more difficult than your level, some above and a rare few challenging ones. Unlike what most people think, spending time on difficult pieces is not the best usage of your time in terms of efficiency.

Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Sidokar] #2902044
10/19/19 11:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Sidokar
Like others have said, likely in order to play these pieces at a reasonable level of quality, you would need some more technique and also just more hours "under the belt" so to speak. So I would see it that way: if you are using these pieces to challenge yourself, then you should continue working on them as long as you continue to make progress; working through and improving the sections that are not good enough. If you see that you are reaching a plateau and no more can be done at this stage, then you should put them on the side. Just to manage your expectations, a piece like Fur Elise as simple as it may seems has a couple of really challenging sections, the central one in particular does require a pretty good control; so you should probably adjust down your expectations in terms of end result for now. I think your criteria of success should be different, not trying to compare yourself with people that have already 4 or 5 years of piano practice.

It is also a good practice to mix pieces of various difficulties, most slightly more difficult than your level, some above and a rare few challenging ones. Unlike what most people think, spending time on difficult pieces is not the best usage of your time in terms of efficiency.


Thanks!

Funny you mentioned Fur Elise. The second part gave me fits for quite some time---just to be able to play it up to speed. Now it is primarily a question of definition. I

I'm glad you mentioned mixing pieces if various difficulty. I have wondered whether that was comminly accepted as a good approach (my teacher says it is perfectly fine) but interested to hear the opinions of others. Sometimes a (relative) "quick win" is nice. And at this stage I can still learn something from most any piece.

Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902045
10/19/19 11:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Antihero

My question to the forum really can be summarized as "what do you do?"

Grind away at polish---or move on and periodically work on the troublesome passages over a longer span of time?

I'm not truly frustrated---just interested in making the most rapid.progress possible.

I was far from having your musical talent when I was a student, but perhaps some of my experiences might ring a bell with you.

There were several pieces that I tried to learn on my own after some four years into lessons - the fast and/or noisy ones (I was a teenaged kid, and that was what I was attracted to wink ): Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu, "Heroic" Polonaise (Op.53), 'Revolutionary' Etude, Mendelssohn's Rondo capriccioso, Beethoven's Pathetique. My teacher didn't teach me them - in fact, what she was teaching me then were of similar standard to what you're currently trying to master.

I got stuck at the first technical hurdles I encountered in every one of them (only the slow movement of the Pathetique yielded to my clumsy efforts), and soon put them aside, but I never discarded them, but returned to each of them every few months, and was gratified to see that I was able to do a little more with each piece on each subsequent occasion. All the while, I was continuing to learn more 'reasonable' pieces with my teacher, developing more skills (technical & musical) all the while. My teacher chose all the pieces for me.

It took years before I could actually play them at the right speed with something approaching fluency (five years, in fact, with the Chopin and Mendelssohn) but the satisfaction was all the sweeter for their long gestations (what I called 'delayed gratification' grin). I never spent more than a few days at each when I returned to them - a few days was more than long enough to realize that my technique still wasn't up to getting my fingers round them, until they actually could.

These days, all of them are part of my regular performing rep........


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: bennevis] #2902049
10/19/19 11:27 AM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Antihero

My question to the forum really can be summarized as "what do you do?"

Grind away at polish---or move on and periodically work on the troublesome passages over a longer span of time?

I'm not truly frustrated---just interested in making the most rapid.progress possible.

I was far from having your musical talent when I was a student, but perhaps some of my experiences might ring a bell with you.

There were several pieces that I tried to learn on my own after some four years into lessons - the fast and/or noisy ones (I was a teenaged kid, and that was what I was attracted to wink ): Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu, "Heroic" Polonaise (Op.53), 'Revolutionary' Etude, Mendelssohn's Rondo capriccioso, Beethoven's Pathetique. My teacher didn't teach me them - in fact, what she was teaching me then were of similar standard to what you're currently trying to master.

I got stuck at the first technical hurdles I encountered in every one of them (only the slow movement of the Pathetique yielded to my clumsy efforts), and soon put them aside, but I never discarded them, but returned to each of them every few months, and was gratified to see that I was able to do a little more with each piece on each subsequent occasion. All the while, I was continuing to learn more 'reasonable' pieces with my teacher, developing more skills (technical & musical) all the while. My teacher chose all the pieces for me.

It took years before I could actually play them at the right speed with something approaching fluency (five years, in fact, with the Chopin and Mendelssohn) but the satisfaction was all the sweeter for their long gestations (what I called 'delayed gratification' grin). I never spent more than a few days at each when I returned to them - a few days was more than long enough to realize that my technique still wasn't up to getting my fingers round them, until they actually could.

These days, all of them are part of my regular performing rep........



Thank you.

This is very relatable---albeit I'm at a MUCH lower skill level.

Encouraging though---Sounds like your persistence paid off in dividends.

I dream of being able to play Pathetique some day. I mentioned it to my instructor and she, of course, said "Not for a looooong time."

Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902196
10/20/19 12:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Antihero


Or do you just spend a few minutes per session working on the trouble spots and aim for a presentable version in the upcoming months or even years?


Depends on how much you want to work on those trouble spots given that time is important, and there is little to no improvement by sheer will alone. Gaining a good technique should be the goal which is acquired over years by learning many pieces, not by working away at a few.
My experience is that to be able to polish a piece, it is necessary to have already gotten the piece to just under the peak of my ability. That is hard to maintain, never mind try to improve on, without a continued deep commitment. So to my mind there is a window of opportunity which is only open for as long as I can maintain the piece at a peak.

Originally Posted by Antihero


Do you accept that a piece is being played to the best of your current ability or strive for a much higher standard?


when I am playing a piece to the best of my current ability, there is no striving for a higher standard. I may hear/know there is something missing but if I don't have the ability/technique to take the piece forward at the time, then I have to let it go.


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Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902197
10/20/19 01:24 AM
10/20/19 01:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Antihero
I am new to the forum and have been playing for about 9.5 months. I am learning to read music and yes I have a teacher. I am in my early 40's.

I am also learning to read music. i played clarinet and saxophone in middle school and essentially had to start over reading music. I also play drums, guitar, percussion, and ukulele---though am unfortunately self taught (read stagnated and mediocre at best) as a result. Most of this music is rock/country/funk/grunge.

I can play the following piano pieces in their entirety: Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata first movement, Raindrop Prelude (Op. 28 no. 15), and Opening by Philip Glass. I can play them---but am not happy with the final product.

I am currently making early progress on Handel's Suite for Harpsichord No.4 (Sarabande movement-HWV 437), Bach's Prelude in C major, and Chopin's funeral march.

My question is: What is your approach to polish? Do you move on or not move on to the next piece until it is near a professional sounding level (I have failed miserably to rise to this standard)?

Or do you just spend a few minutes per session working on the trouble spots and aim for a presentable version in the upcoming months or even years?

Do you accept that a piece is being played to the best of your current ability or strive for a much higher standard?

I imagine there is no right/wrong---just interested to hear different viewpoints.

i have recently allowed myself to move on (due to frustration--perfectionist tendencies) and work on trouble spots in the hopes of having a decent version at my fingers in a 90 day span or so.


I don't think you ever stop learning a piece. There always another approach, a new interpretation, one way to make it better. I read that world class pianists are often times not satisfied with their own performances and are often self critical working on pieces again and again over many years and different performances. For them it is not so much the technical which most have mastered, it seems their concern is more about relaying message to their audience with the message they intended.


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Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902233
10/20/19 07:06 AM
10/20/19 07:06 AM
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I am very much like you in my approach. I like jump into the deep end also. I play pieces that are above my level, and learn from them. That said..........

I’m surprised that no one else has said it, so I’ll be the first.

I would not recommend that you polish them. In fact, I believe that the pieces you’re playing are too advanced for under a year. Why do I say that? Not because you cannot play them, but because the time commitment required to learning them is significant. Polishing them will take too long. The trade off is in acquiring skills that will enable you to play whatever you want, whenever you want. Shorter, easier pieces that teach a certain skill, such as effective trills, dynamic phrasing, chords, progression, sight reading, etc will pay off down the road.

The Raindrop Prelude is a Grade 6-7 piece. That means it takes on average 6-7 years to acquire the skills to play this piece well. Maybe you’re a great learner and way smarter than average, but that seems excessive.

Bach’s Prelude In C is a great choice. It’s something I learned by year two and still play at year 5-6. As a matter of fact, it grows as I grow. It is relatively simple, yet phrasing, control and technique can improve. I use it as a warmup piece.

Moonlight was my first piece. Nice one but can you phrase it well? Can you bring out the upper voice?

As far as keeping them, it’s too much effort. I tried to maintain a repertoire of my favorites, but it was at the expense of spending time learning new material. I still have a few favorites that I hit from time to time, but there is only so much time in a day to work on all that I am working on.

Good luck with your studies - I think you’re off to a great start, and seem very motivated.


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Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: cmb13] #2902234
10/20/19 07:27 AM
10/20/19 07:27 AM
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Originally Posted by cmb13
I’m surprised that no one else has said it, so I’ll be the first.

I would not recommend that you polish them. In fact, I believe that the pieces you’re playing are too advanced for under a year. Why do I say that? Not because you cannot play them, but because the time commitment required to learning them is significant. Polishing them will take too long. The trade off is in acquiring skills that will enable you to play whatever you want, whenever you want. Shorter, easier pieces that teach a certain skill, such as effective trills, dynamic phrasing, chords, progression, sight reading, etc will pay off down the road.

I think this is a great explanation of concept of diminishing returns applied to piano learning. I'll tweak your comment a bit though since I think a certain amount of polishing might be appropriate. While you are learning, never polish beyond a certain point when you can learn a new piece, unless it is a piece you wanted to play in your repertoire or you are preparing for a recital or piano exam.

Why I say beyond a certain point, is because sometimes learning the notes is straight forward but the polishing is what you need in your current phase of piano learning. For example, I am in a phase where learning to voice the melody is important. So working on a piece to improve the voicing seems appropriate. But frankly I am not at the point where I even know what a "singing tone" is, so I really think trying to polish "that" would be a waste of time for me since it's like I'm blinded a sighted person is trying to teach me about elephants.

For pieces that you want to play for others or for recital or exam pieces, a certain amount of polishing is called for to allow you to put your best foot forward. For example, I will probably polish a bit a piece I played recently that is a bit rough just because my wife wants me to play it for her, and I don't want to embarrass myself. It's hard enough to play anything in front of my wife!


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Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902237
10/20/19 07:46 AM
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I think it's a bad idea to tackle higher level pieces that you won't be able to play well. Because firstly it will bring frustration and diminish your desire to play, secondly you will not learn proper technique from those pieces, because proper technique is only what sounds good and everything else is rubbish. And thirdly you will lack repertoire. Repertoire pieces are pieces that you can play really well, that you enjoy playing and that you're not embarrased to play in front of others. Without repertoire your artistry skills won't grow.

Ask your teacher to choose a good, appropriate repertoire for you and start working on it.

Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2902255
10/20/19 08:58 AM
10/20/19 08:58 AM
Joined: Dec 2010
Posts: 2,407
Midwest USA
Stubbie Offline
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Stubbie  Offline
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Joined: Dec 2010
Posts: 2,407
Midwest USA
Originally Posted by cmb13
....I would not recommend that you polish them. In fact, I believe that the pieces you’re playing are too advanced for under a year. Why do I say that? Not because you cannot play them, but because the time commitment required to learning them is significant. Polishing them will take too long. The trade off is in acquiring skills that will enable you to play whatever you want, whenever you want. Shorter, easier pieces that teach a certain skill, such as effective trills, dynamic phrasing, chords, progression, sight reading, etc will pay off down the road......

Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
....And thirdly you will lack repertoire. Repertoire pieces are pieces that you can play really well, that you enjoy playing and that you're not embarrased to play in front of others. Without repertoire your artistry skills won't grow. Ask your teacher to choose a good, appropriate repertoire for you and start working on it.

It seems to me that these two are advocating more or less opposite approaches (assuming 'polishing' = pieces you can play really, really well and in front of other people). To me, working on building a repertoire in your first year (or first years) is not time well spent. The time spent polishing a piece (taking it to repertoire stage) and keeping it at that level would be time better spent working on learning additional, new skills.


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Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Stubbie] #2902269
10/20/19 09:44 AM
10/20/19 09:44 AM
Joined: May 2013
Posts: 3,337
Florida
cmb13 Online content

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cmb13  Online Content

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Posts: 3,337
Florida
Originally Posted by Stubbie
Originally Posted by cmb13
....I would not recommend that you polish them. In fact, I believe that the pieces you’re playing are too advanced for under a year. Why do I say that? Not because you cannot play them, but because the time commitment required to learning them is significant. Polishing them will take too long. The trade off is in acquiring skills that will enable you to play whatever you want, whenever you want. Shorter, easier pieces that teach a certain skill, such as effective trills, dynamic phrasing, chords, progression, sight reading, etc will pay off down the road......

Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
....And thirdly you will lack repertoire. Repertoire pieces are pieces that you can play really well, that you enjoy playing and that you're not embarrased to play in front of others. Without repertoire your artistry skills won't grow. Ask your teacher to choose a good, appropriate repertoire for you and start working on it.

It seems to me that these two are advocating more or less opposite approaches (assuming 'polishing' = pieces you can play really, really well and in front of other people). To me, working on building a repertoire in your first year (or first years) is not time well spent. The time spent polishing a piece (taking it to repertoire stage) and keeping it at that level would be time better spent working on learning additional, new skills.

I don’t think we are saying opposite things. I think we are more or less in agreement, and with you as well. Developing a piece to a polished level is not necessary or appropriate at this level, but if the OP does want to, for instance to play for others be it in a recital or friends and family, do it with a piece at an appropriate level that won’t take too much time away from continuing to learn.


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Re: Beginner Question: "Polishing" a Piece [Re: Antihero] #2902284
10/20/19 10:19 AM
10/20/19 10:19 AM
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 980
Sheffield, UK
K
KevinM Offline
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KevinM  Offline
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K

Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 980
Sheffield, UK
I definitely stay too long with each piece I learn. I think partly because I am not doing any syllabus, I get to choose my own pieces to learn and so I choose pieces I like, then of course I want to be able to play them so that I like them. I think there is something to be said for having someone else pick pieces for you to reduce this connection with the piece you are learning.

Having said that once I have submitted, Mendelssohn Song Without Words 19,2 for the next recital that is it, my taking of the piece any further is 100% limited by not having the necessary skill and technique. I think I'm going to have to do a lot of legato scales in thirds to be learnt to be played really smoothly before I'll be able to play it like I want. But I have spent way longer on this piece than I should have already.

I 100% get the concept of diminishing returns but I just wish I could apply it as I should.


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