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Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner #2934714 01/16/20 09:54 AM
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Hello. I am now 60 yrs old. I have been playing piano now for over 40 years, but only as a hobby or as an "enthusiast" (i.e. I'm not a professional or concert pianist). As an indication of my skill level, I know and am comfortable many of Bach's 2- and 3-part inventions, and have worked on a few pieces in The Well-Tempered Clavier. I struggle with faster tempos and more demanding technical passages (trills, rapidly alternating notes, etc.).

I have tried out a number of local teachers in the past couple of years. They all make their business teaching younger and beginning students, and my feeling is I do not get the technical instruction I think I need and specifically request from the teachers I have visited. (Ex: one teacher responded to my specific request for instruction on sight-reading by saying s/he could not help at all with sight-reading, and that was something I simply had to work on by myself. Another teacher did not feel comfortable instructing me on Bach.). So my experience with teachers is I get instructed on the "low-hanging fruit" - i.e. pointing out the incidental mistakes I make and not addressing the systemic problems arising from deficiencies in my technique.

To make matters worse, I live in a rural area where there are not many teachers. Plus, my internet speed and cell reception is poor, making tele-lessons problematic. I can probably do online YouTube lessons, but haven't researched what is available.

So: I'm asking for suggestions. Do I continue taking local lessons inwhich my sense is I am not getting the instruction I need or want? Do I drive a couple of hours to the big city to find more advanced instruction? What online instruction will address my needs and wants?

Your thoughts?

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Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934734 01/16/20 10:31 AM
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How about going to piano camp? Sonata or Intermezzo in Vermont (5 and 10-day immersives), or Summerkeys in Maine, or one of the others that you can find discussed on the forum, could give you a big boost with high-level instruction suited to your needs and wishes.


Mister Upright, Yamaha YUS5.
Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934737 01/16/20 10:31 AM
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I think you are not allowing these "teachers" to help you.

You have a pre-conceived concept of what they should be doing and when they do not do that you view it as a failure on their part.

I would suggest you find a local teacher you feel most comfortable with and let that teacher help you for 6 months and see what happens.

You might be surprised at the result.

Of course, you will still want to discuss your needs with the teacher but allow that teacher the freedom to instruct you on what should come next.

Good Luck


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Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934747 01/16/20 10:51 AM
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Here are a few adult piano camp opportunities; you can find more by searching PW threads:

Summerkeys (Lubec, Maine)
Rocky Ridge Music Center (Estes Park, Colorado)
Piano Retreat (Williams College, Massachusetts)
Sonata (Vermont)
Rhapsody Piano Camp (NY)

If you are on the west coast, Washington state has Icicle Creek adult piano retreats. University of Victoria (BC) has a summer piano program that a number of PW people have attended year after year.

Good luck finding the right teachers to enrich your experience!


Mister Upright, Yamaha YUS5.
Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934755 01/16/20 11:13 AM
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Myself, I would not be inclined to go back to a teacher I had already tried and found to not fit my needs. Your internet speeds make Skype a no-go. Two hours is a long drive for a lesson. If you have to do that to find a decent teacher, you might want to make your lessons every other week to lessen the driving load.

Do you have any junior or community colleges in your area with music departments, and that are within what you would call a reasonable driving distance? You could take lessons via signing up for an applied piano class. Or you could ask the head piano instructor there for the names of teachers who have more experience teaching beyond the beginner stage and that you might have missed.


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Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934761 01/16/20 11:23 AM
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You may want to learn the skill of learning without a teacher. It is a very valuable skill. To finally throw away the crutches and see what happens. It changed my life - for the better.

Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934762 01/16/20 11:24 AM
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You wrote "As an indication of my skill level, I know and am comfortable many of Bach's 2- and 3-part inventions, and have worked on a few pieces in The Well-Tempered Clavier. I struggle with faster tempos and more demanding technical passages (trills, rapidly alternating notes, etc.)."

Is your goal for finding a teacher only to (1) increase your repertoire to learn more advanced pieces (ie like a Bach Partita or a Fugue), or (2) improve your technical skills in order to play the pieces you already know and can play or sightread to a higher quality/almost professional standard?

I do think there is a subtle difference in this because it will affect how you approach the purpose of finding a teacher. If you know a lot of music theory and can self-teach a Bach 2/3 part invention - you may only need a teacher to just spot-check missed notes and even then you could do just as well to record yourself playing the piece and upload the recording to many of the Piano Teacher Facebook groups that allow for open critiques/feedback (Rami Bar Niv's group is good for this there are various videos posted daily from players of all levels around thw world seeking feedback).

If you want a teacher to help you reach the "next level" in terms of technique (ie learning how to play and practice a Chopin Etude), then I think driving 2 hours to see a teacher every 2 ro 3 weeks is not a bad idea. Right now, I commute about 1 h 30 min for weekly lessons with a teacher at Juilliard and he is worth every penny because of his ability to hone exactly on my weak spots and suggest ideas and strategies for tackling difficulties in my learning process and performance skills.

Last edited by AssociateX; 01/16/20 11:25 AM.

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Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: dmd] #2934763 01/16/20 11:25 AM
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Originally Posted by dmd
I think you are not allowing these "teachers" to help you.

You have a pre-conceived concept of what they should be doing and when they do not do that you view it as a failure on their part.

I would suggest you find a local teacher you feel most comfortable with and let that teacher help you for 6 months and see what happens.


I am open to the possibility you are correct. However, I just decided to discontinue lessons I was taking with a teacher I saw weekly for the past 18 months. We worked extensively on romantic pieces I had never tried before, and I improved markedly on dynamics, phrasing, and use of staccato and legato. But there was zero improvement on the tempo at which I can play at. Nor was there instruction on improving demanding technical passages. When I specifically asked "how do I improve this passage here", the response was "don't worry about it". When I asked "what do I do this week to play this passage better next week", and tried to work the suggestion, I did not see improvement over time. So, my feeling was I was improving with this teacher, but not in the area of speed and technique that I specifically told the teacher was my goal.

I left on good terms with this teacher, and so can continue with them if I choose to. Again I feel I would be a better player for the instruction, but not in the area that concerns me and motivates me to seek instruction. And if I am paying for instruction, I feel I deserve to see improvement in those specific areas I identify as my goals.

Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934766 01/16/20 11:27 AM
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Originally Posted by BbAltered
Originally Posted by dmd
I...

But there was zero improvement on the tempo at which I can play at. Nor was there instruction on improving demanding technical passages...



Speed comes with experience and practice. If you know the notes by heart and can play them in your mind (away from the piano), then you gradually will execute them quickly. How long are your practice sessions? Can you play the first Hanon exercise quickly even if you play it 30 min every day?

Last edited by AssociateX; 01/16/20 11:30 AM.

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Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: AssociateX] #2934847 01/16/20 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by AssociateX
Originally Posted by BbAltered
Originally Posted by dmd
I...

But there was zero improvement on the tempo at which I can play at. Nor was there instruction on improving demanding technical passages...
Speed comes with experience and practice.
I think one must have a good understanding of basic technique and specific ways to solve technical problems. Just practicing a passage over and over will often not be successful unless one understands exactly what to do to deal with some technical issue. The OP feels he has not received much instruction in that area.

Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934850 01/16/20 01:22 PM
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Is there some way to improve your internet connection? If that's possible you could probably do skype lessons with an appropriate teacher?

Where are you located? If you give your location, it's possible there are some really good teachers nearby that would be appropriate for technical training that are known to forum members.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 01/16/20 01:24 PM.
Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934875 01/16/20 02:11 PM
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I would say if you could make the time to drive those hours to the city I would look into it. Should be able to make arrangements for lessons every two weeks.


All these years playing and I still consider myself a novice.
Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: AssociateX] #2934941 01/16/20 04:43 PM
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Originally Posted by AssociateX

Speed comes with experience and practice. If you know the notes by heart and can play them in your mind (away from the piano), then you gradually will execute them quickly. How long are your practice sessions? Can you play the first Hanon exercise quickly even if you play it 30 min every day?


I don't disagree that speed and tempo will improve with practice, but will it necessarily improve to the place it should be? I sometimes have to learn pop songs that have eighth notes inside of a 150 bpm tempo and I never quite pull it off. Assuming we are mostly adult beginners here, is it possible that we reach a speed wall, based on physical limitations and maybe having a slower brain than we did when we were teenagers? If I started a running program I am sure I will get to the point where I can finish a 10k. I doubt. however, if I ran, trained, and practiced everyday for a few years, that I would get anywhere close to the winning time.


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Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: Josh1770] #2934954 01/16/20 05:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Josh1770
Originally Posted by AssociateX

Speed comes with experience and practice. If you know the notes by heart and can play them in your mind (away from the piano), then you gradually will execute them quickly. How long are your practice sessions? Can you play the first Hanon exercise quickly even if you play it 30 min every day?
I don't disagree that speed and tempo will improve with practice, but will it necessarily improve to the place it should be? I sometimes have to learn pop songs that have eighth notes inside of a 150 bpm tempo and I never quite pull it off. Assuming we are mostly adult beginners here, is it possible that we reach a speed wall, based on physical limitations and maybe having a slower brain than we did when we were teenagers? If I started a running program I am sure I will get to the point where I can finish a 10k. I doubt. however, if I ran, trained, and practiced everyday for a few years, that I would get anywhere close to the winning time.

I'm open-minded on this point. But we aren't really talking about competing with a young person. We can imagine ourselves next to a skilled pianist of our own age. And when we imagine this, we should ask the question, what neurologically changed in that person by taking piano lessons at a young age that makes them faster than me today? The transmission speed of his nerves didn't get faster. His synapses aren't more efficient. So what was it? I'd really like to know the answer to this question. Any neurosciences folks on this forum?


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Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: Josh1770] #2934959 01/16/20 05:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Josh1770
I don't disagree that speed and tempo will improve with practice, but will it necessarily improve to the place it should be? I sometimes have to learn pop songs that have eighth notes inside of a 150 bpm tempo and I never quite pull it off. Assuming we are mostly adult beginners here, is it possible that we reach a speed wall, based on physical limitations and maybe having a slower brain than we did when we were teenagers? If I started a running program I am sure I will get to the point where I can finish a 10k. I doubt. however, if I ran, trained, and practiced everyday for a few years, that I would get anywhere close to the winning time.
I definitely think physical limitations and natural technical facility can limit technical skills, one of which is speed. But, in addition, technical training is very important. Almost all (and maybe all) the great Russian pianists(just one piano school known for their technical prowess) had detailed technical training from an early age. Their teachers didn't just tell them to practice scales or learn some etude, they got instruction on how to to achieve technical facility and how to achieve great tone. Just practicing, without that kind of knowledge is limiting in terms of how much one can accomplish and how quickly one can accomplish it.

I think that kind of instruction is what the OP of this thread is looking for.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 01/16/20 05:29 PM.
Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2934961 01/16/20 05:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop

I'm open-minded on this point. But we aren't really talking about competing with a young person. We can imagine ourselves next to a skilled pianist of our own age. And when we imagine this, we should ask the question, what neurologically changed in that person by taking piano lessons at a young age that makes them faster than me today? The transmission speed of his nerves didn't get faster. His synapses aren't more efficient. So what was it? I'd really like to know the answer to this question. Any neurosciences folks on this forum?


My one neuroscience class 15 years ago doesn't quite classify me as "neuroscience folk", so I may be way off base, but I've always imagined it was due to synaptic pruning. Those who don't need/use that coordination as children lose those pathways and have to work really hard to try to build them up to a reasonable level again.

Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: enw10] #2934968 01/16/20 05:42 PM
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Originally Posted by enw10
Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop

I'm open-minded on this point. But we aren't really talking about competing with a young person. We can imagine ourselves next to a skilled pianist of our own age. And when we imagine this, we should ask the question, what neurologically changed in that person by taking piano lessons at a young age that makes them faster than me today? The transmission speed of his nerves didn't get faster. His synapses aren't more efficient. So what was it? I'd really like to know the answer to this question. Any neurosciences folks on this forum?


My one neuroscience class 15 years ago doesn't quite classify me as "neuroscience folk", so I may be way off base, but I've always imagined it was due to synaptic pruning. Those who don't need/use that coordination as children lose those pathways and have to work really hard to try to build them up to a reasonable level again.


This is a good question and one that I agree is probably rooted in brain pathways and fine motor skills that are cemented at an early age and may be lost as an adult if they were never cultivated. It is similar to why adults may have trouble learning another language but if they had some type of exposure to learning another language as a child,or even the target language, they fare better in trying to read/write and speak it. A child's brain is basically a sponge.

One of my classmates in my group piano class can't execute lightning fast trills or mordents no matter how hard she practices. Shes younger than me (36) but only started piano lessons at around age 16-18 and only took 3 years of lessons. She says she can't play Hanon or Czerny any faster than say 100-110bpm, and when we practiced together I had no trouble doing a C major scale at 180 bpm (using one of those phone metronome apps). I was shocked that she couldnt do it, even when she said she would practice daily trying to get to that tempo. She said since she didnt start piano lessons as a child, that her brain simply cant make her fingers do things that come natural to those who had those neurological synapses in their brains already formed..It was eye opening for me..

Last edited by AssociateX; 01/16/20 05:49 PM.

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Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: BbAltered] #2934972 01/16/20 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by BbAltered

So: I'm asking for suggestions. Do I continue taking local lessons inwhich my sense is I am not getting the instruction I need or want? Do I drive a couple of hours to the big city to find more advanced instruction? What online instruction will address my needs and wants?

Your thoughts?


It sounds like the teachers you've worked with haven't really helped you understand piano playing on a deeper level. You will probably continue to be frustrated with them, and there's no reason you should take lessons with someone who isn't helping you. You do deserve to feel like your stated goals are being addressed. Even if your goals are unrealistic, your teacher should help you to see that, and help you choose more attainable goals.

I can imagine your frustration in having trouble playing trills, etc. in Bach. That kind of music is much more fun to play when your fingers aren't fighting you.

In my opinion, it definitely could be worth driving extra distance to work with a better teacher, even if you see them less frequently. I have at times traveled a few hours to see a teacher once every few months.

Or, you could try teaching yourself. Your problems do have solutions, but it might take some exploration to discover them.

Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2934984 01/16/20 06:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by Josh1770
Originally Posted by AssociateX

Speed comes with experience and practice. If you know the notes by heart and can play them in your mind (away from the piano), then you gradually will execute them quickly. How long are your practice sessions? Can you play the first Hanon exercise quickly even if you play it 30 min every day?
I don't disagree that speed and tempo will improve with practice, but will it necessarily improve to the place it should be? I sometimes have to learn pop songs that have eighth notes inside of a 150 bpm tempo and I never quite pull it off. Assuming we are mostly adult beginners here, is it possible that we reach a speed wall, based on physical limitations and maybe having a slower brain than we did when we were teenagers? If I started a running program I am sure I will get to the point where I can finish a 10k. I doubt. however, if I ran, trained, and practiced everyday for a few years, that I would get anywhere close to the winning time.

I'm open-minded on this point. But we aren't really talking about competing with a young person. We can imagine ourselves next to a skilled pianist of our own age. And when we imagine this, we should ask the question, what neurologically changed in that person by taking piano lessons at a young age that makes them faster than me today? The transmission speed of his nerves didn't get faster. His synapses aren't more efficient. So what was it? I'd really like to know the answer to this question. Any neurosciences folks on this forum?

Well I'm a neuroscience guy and its all about hardwiring more efficient neural pathways at a younger age. So those guys who learned in the years when their brain was developing and more plastic were laying down and are now using fiber optic cables while the rest of us are relying on dial up 56K baud modems.

Last edited by Jethro; 01/16/20 06:40 PM.

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Re: Lessons for the More Advanced Beginner [Re: Jethro] #2935019 01/16/20 08:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Jethro
Well I'm a neuroscience guy and its all about hardwiring more efficient neural pathways at a younger age. So those guys who learned in the years when their brain was developing and more plastic were laying down and are now using fiber optic cables while the rest of us are relying on dial up 56K baud modems.

Is it really that dramatic? Can you break it down for us in a tiny example?

What appears to be an important element of keyboard virtuosity is finger speed. So for example, the speed playing even a simple C major scale with one hand, or broken down further, you've played one key, say finger 3, now you want to play finger 4 as fast as you can, and the time difference between playing finger 3 and 4 is just one element of playing the entire C major scale fast. Can you explain how these "fiberoptic cables" help, say, a 70yo woman play finger 4 as quickly as possible (have a small time difference with finger 3, for faster scales), over say an otherwise similar 70 yo woman who only has "56K baud modems," because she didn't have 12 years of piano lessons starting from age 6yo?


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