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35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) #2935276 01/17/20 10:59 AM
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Before I started:

I had played a semester of clarinet and a semester of trumpet in high school, so I could read the treble clef, but had no idea how to read the bass clef or grand staff. When I was in high school, my brother had a keyboard that would liight up with a few demo songs. I managed to memorize (a simplified version of) Canon in D and always wanted to play more. Fast forward 20 years, I've been in and out of both school and the military. I'm now in my 30s with 2 kids and 1 on the way.

The first few days:

I got my first piano about 4 months ago in September. I purchased the Alesis Recital 88-key (semi-weighted). When I finally made the decision to buy it, I managed to purchase it without a stand, bench, or sustain pedal. This was not optimal. After a few days of playing with it propped up on my bed, the other equipment arrived and I was finally ready to play for real.

I had no idea what to do next, so I went looking for recommendations.

The first month:

A friend at work recommended me the SimplyPiano app. I signed up and I couldn't get enough of the lessons. I blew through almost all of the content, practicing between 2-3 hours a day with a few 'breaks' of 30 minute sessions. The beginner lessons for reading bass clef and general hand positions (RH1 on C, F, G, D, etc.) were very helpful, because I had always wondered "where should my hands be?!" I could see significant improvement in my note and chord recognition, my fingers speed and dexterity, and my ability to sight read. One of the things I think was most valuable to me was that I had hundreds of songs that I didn't know on the "Play Beta" that were roughly graded into "Essential, Intermediate, Pre-Advanced." Being able to have a good idea of where I was in relation to the difficulty of the pieces on the app was very helpful. Lurking in the back of my head, though, was that there was a key element that I was missing. I could see the progress, but I wondered if I was developing any bad habits.

I started consuming a lot of media content, trying to learn as much as I could about good practice habits. Some of the most helpful things I did were:

  • Listen to a podcast for Fundamentals of Piano Practice (FoPP)
  • Watch youtube videos on Music Theory ( I really enjoyed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ud9CpGOG1GE )
  • Watch a lot of online "Tips for Beginners" type videos. These are difficult to judge before watching because some will be as simple as finding middle C, where others are tips far were beyond my, at the time, understanding.


Looking back on this now the "lurking" feeling was:

  • My playing was not musical. It was like playing Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero where I would hit the notes as they reached the line. Dynamics (volume) and articulation (tone/sound) were not considered.
  • I relied on the app to keep the beat. When playing songs from the "sheet music" portion of the app, I noticed that playing out unfamiliar rhythms was exceedingly difficult if the piece was unfamiliar to me.
  • Many of the songs I would play through to what the app would grade as 2*. This meant I was missing a portion of the notes.


Second month:

Mostly continuing with the SimplyPiano app, I found that I was hitting a point where most of the songs I had thought were difficult before in the early stages were coming more easily to me. I had a lot of fun with Bohemian Rhapsody, but equal difficulty with Fur Elise. I began to go back through the "essential" and "intermediate" songs with the intent of playing through each song missing <1% of the notes.

Near the end of the month, I bought Alfred's All-in-One Course: Level 1 & 2. Unbeknownst to me, this would signal the end of my fascination with the SimplyPiano app. Many of the problems I described in Month 1 reared their ugly heads when I began working through the Alfred's book. I wasn't counting well, I didn't hold a rhythm, etc. This isn't to say that I didn't make a lot of progress playing with the app - I did. I just saw that there were things that I was missing.

Around this time I became interested in getting some "formal" training. I searched online for different piano learning programs and stumbled upon ABRSM. So in addition to Alfred's, I also purchased some of the books for ABRSM Grade 1.

Third month:

I finally broke down and found a piano teacher. I didn't realize that piano lessons would be so expensive! Finding a teacher actually sort of happened by accident. I was in a break for a meeting at work when a co-worker noticed that I had a few books of sheet music in my bag. We got to talking and apparently he had played piano for 30+ years. He helped me find a local teacher. I expressed my desire to move forward with the ABRSM curriculum and really dived into learning theory this month.

Around this same time I ended up making a deal with a co-worker for him to give me a fully-weighted Casio for my Alesis. He wasn't playing much and I was playing daily so he thought it might be a good idea for me to upgrade and him to downgrade (and I split the difference in price for the two models). I was highly motivated to do this because playing on my teacher's grand was so very different from playing on weighted keys that I could tell I was missing a vital component of musicality. Also, I learned that I was CRUSHING the accompaniment to the melody on a lot of songs and started working to make the melody more audible.

Some of the achievements I worked towards during this month were:

  • All Major Scales - 2 Octaves - To date, having learned C, G, D, A, E, B, F, C#, haven't gotten beyond here.
  • Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic minors of the above - 2 Octaves - To date - having learned d, a
  • Three ABRSM Grade 1pieces (Theme, Attwood; The Lonely Road, Swinstead; The Egyptian Level, Wooding)
  • Broken Chords (ABRSM Grade 1 style) for C, G, F, d, a


Fourth month: (Now)

  • After seeing my interest in the piano, I actually received a lot of books of sheet music for Christmas from my family. Played (passably, not great) through a few non-curriculum pieces such as Minuet in G.
  • Spiced up my playing with some work on a goal piece (Goner - Twenty One Pilots) - using this arrangement Musescore - Goner, Twenty One Pilots
  • Put together a more formal practice method (Scales, Broken Chords, Sight Reading (or) work on specific pieces)
  • Started work on two ABRSM Grade 2 pieces (Lesson in C, Diabelli; Arabesque, Burgmuller); these are far more complicated than my previous endeavors.
  • Found a few tutorial / teaching style videos on Youtube for the ABRSM pieces that I'm working on.
  • I've heard some good things about Audacity since it's free recording software that seems to be good. Might try getting this together.


My goals:

  • I've signed up for the ABRSM Grade 1 exam in May and hope to be ready and take both Grade 1 and Grade 2.
  • I would like to begin uploading videos of pieces that are "almost ready" for feedback by 6 months.
  • Work on getting some pieces together over time for a "one year progress" video.
  • Download a recording software on the computer.



Now that that long intro is out of the way (thanks if you made it this far), I hope to make daily updates to this with notes from my practice and maybe even some videos/recordings for you to learn from, critique, or enjoy. Hopefully, a little of each.

Last edited by oBreak; 01/17/20 11:03 AM.

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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935282 01/17/20 11:06 AM
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Welcome to PW & ABF, oBreak! There is an exam thread over here, which you might want to post on to discuss your upcoming exams and exam prep. I for one would be interested in hearing why you are taking the ABRSM 1 if you think you will already be ready for ABRSM 2 at that time?


[Linked Image]
across the stone, deathless piano performances

"Discipline is more reliable than motivation." -by a contributor on Reddit r/piano
"Success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration." -by some other wise person
"Pianoteq manages to keep it all together yet simultaneously also go in all directions; like a quantum particle entangled with an unknown and spooky parallel universe simply waiting to be discovered." -by Pete14
Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2935295 01/17/20 11:29 AM
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Edit: Thank you for the kind welcome!

Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Welcome to PW & ABF, oBreak! There is an exam thread over here, which you might want to post on to discuss your upcoming exams and exam prep. I for one would be interested in hearing why you are taking the ABRSM 1 if you think you will already be ready for ABRSM 2 at that time?


My teacher asked me the same question just two days ago. The short answer is I don't know if I'll be ready for ABRSM 2. My hope is that I can be ready for, and take both, by May (Testing slots seem to only be offered once a year in my area). I read that grade 1 is typically somewhere between 6-18 months of playing and grade 2 was typically 12-36 months. In May, I will have been playing for 8 months. Obviously, all of this in contigent on a bunch of factors like dedication, understanding of theory/application, talent, etc.

I guess I set the arbitrary goal of doing 1 and 2 this year, thinking that I could do 1 in the spring and maybe 2 in the fall or early winter. When I saw that 2 was only offered in May, I compressed the timeline to doing both at once.

Last edited by oBreak; 01/17/20 11:31 AM.

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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935327 01/17/20 01:01 PM
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Originally Posted by oBreak
Edit: Thank you for the kind welcome!

Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Welcome to PW & ABF, oBreak! There is an exam thread over here, which you might want to post on to discuss your upcoming exams and exam prep. I for one would be interested in hearing why you are taking the ABRSM 1 if you think you will already be ready for ABRSM 2 at that time?


My teacher asked me the same question just two days ago. The short answer is I don't know if I'll be ready for ABRSM 2. My hope is that I can be ready for, and take both, by May (Testing slots seem to only be offered once a year in my area). I read that grade 1 is typically somewhere between 6-18 months of playing and grade 2 was typically 12-36 months. In May, I will have been playing for 8 months. Obviously, all of this in contigent on a bunch of factors like dedication, understanding of theory/application, talent, etc.

I guess I set the arbitrary goal of doing 1 and 2 this year, thinking that I could do 1 in the spring and maybe 2 in the fall or early winter. When I saw that 2 was only offered in May, I compressed the timeline to doing both at once.

If you want an exam system with more testing slots, there is always the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) system out of Toronto which has 3 exams cycles per year. I'm take those myself, here in Washington DC.


[Linked Image]
across the stone, deathless piano performances

"Discipline is more reliable than motivation." -by a contributor on Reddit r/piano
"Success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration." -by some other wise person
"Pianoteq manages to keep it all together yet simultaneously also go in all directions; like a quantum particle entangled with an unknown and spooky parallel universe simply waiting to be discovered." -by Pete14
Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2935364 01/17/20 02:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop

If you want an exam system with more testing slots, there is always the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) system out of Toronto which has 3 exams cycles per year. I'm take those myself, here in Washington DC.

I think the OP needs to be aware of the significant differences between ABRSM and RCM, the biggest of which is the requirement to play your pieces from memory with RCM.

Not an issue for you with your extraordinary powers of memorization (and you've said you play everything from memory even if you don't need to, because everything gets memorized so easily & securely), but it could be a huge deal-breaker for others - including myself, a mere human mortal who requires at least five times as long to learn to play a piece from memory as from the score. If I did the RCM, I'd be spending the whole year (rather than two months with ABRSM) to learn my exam pieces to play them from memory - which leaves no time to learn anything else -, and even then my memory could still blank out due to nerves during the exam.


"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: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935368 01/17/20 02:41 PM
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Welcome to PW, oBreak smile
The fully weighted Casio was a good decision. Good luck on your journey.


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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: bennevis] #2935381 01/17/20 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop

If you want an exam system with more testing slots, there is always the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) system out of Toronto which has 3 exams cycles per year. I'm take those myself, here in Washington DC.

I think the OP needs to be aware of the significant differences between ABRSM and RCM, the biggest of which is the requirement to play your pieces from memory with RCM.

Not an issue for you with your extraordinary powers of memorization (and you've said you play everything from memory even if you don't need to, because everything gets memorized so easily & securely), but it could be a huge deal-breaker for others - including myself, a mere human mortal who requires at least five times as long to learn to play a piece from memory as from the score. If I did the RCM, I'd be spending the whole year (rather than two months with ABRSM) to learn my exam pieces to play them from memory - which leaves no time to learn anything else -, and even then my memory could still blank out due to nerves during the exam.

True, true. I should remind myself 😜 to list that as a downside of the RCM exams next time I bring it up smile

There is one more downside, I think, I discovered after I took my RCM Level 4 exam. Or at least I believe it is a downside. Isn't "Distinction" on the ABRSM exams a score of 80 or more out of 100? Because I found that on the RCM, Distinction requires a minimum of a 90 out of 100 (First class honors is 80, Honors is 70, and Pass is 60). Can any ABRSM'er confirm this?


[Linked Image]
across the stone, deathless piano performances

"Discipline is more reliable than motivation." -by a contributor on Reddit r/piano
"Success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration." -by some other wise person
"Pianoteq manages to keep it all together yet simultaneously also go in all directions; like a quantum particle entangled with an unknown and spooky parallel universe simply waiting to be discovered." -by Pete14
Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2935383 01/17/20 03:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
. Isn't "Distinction" on the ABRSM exams a score of 80 or more out of 100? Because I found that on the RCM, Distinction requires a minimum of a 90 out of 100 (First class honors is 80, Honors is 70, and Pass is 60). Can any ABRSM'er confirm this?

ABRSM practicals are marked out of 150, not 100.

130 is Distinction. In other words, 86.66666666666666.....% = Distinction.

And you need 100 to Pass. That is, 66.666666666666......% = Pass


"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: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: bennevis] #2935386 01/17/20 03:16 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
. Isn't "Distinction" on the ABRSM exams a score of 80 or more out of 100? Because I found that on the RCM, Distinction requires a minimum of a 90 out of 100 (First class honors is 80, Honors is 70, and Pass is 60). Can any ABRSM'er confirm this?
ABRSM practicals are marked out of 150, not 100.

130 is Distinction. In other words, 86.66666666666666.....% = Distinction.

Thanks. Alas, I got 82% so would have missed the ABRSM cutoff also. Well as you were!


[Linked Image]
across the stone, deathless piano performances

"Discipline is more reliable than motivation." -by a contributor on Reddit r/piano
"Success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration." -by some other wise person
"Pianoteq manages to keep it all together yet simultaneously also go in all directions; like a quantum particle entangled with an unknown and spooky parallel universe simply waiting to be discovered." -by Pete14
Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: bennevis] #2935425 01/17/20 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop

If you want an exam system with more testing slots, there is always the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) system out of Toronto which has 3 exams cycles per year. I'm take those myself, here in Washington DC.

I think the OP needs to be aware of the significant differences between ABRSM and RCM, the biggest of which is the requirement to play your pieces from memory with RCM.

Not an issue for you with your extraordinary powers of memorization (and you've said you play everything from memory even if you don't need to, because everything gets memorized so easily & securely), but it could be a huge deal-breaker for others - including myself, a mere human mortal who requires at least five times as long to learn to play a piece from memory as from the score. If I did the RCM, I'd be spending the whole year (rather than two months with ABRSM) to learn my exam pieces to play them from memory - which leaves no time to learn anything else -, and even then my memory could still blank out due to nerves during the exam.


Interesting. I'm not necessarily locked into only doing ABRSM work, so I'll definitely take a look!


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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935449 01/17/20 05:36 PM
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Originally Posted by oBreak
Interesting. I'm not necessarily locked into only doing ABRSM work, so I'll definitely take a look!

For RCM, exam dates in the US are on this webpage. (There will be dates in November-December 2020 also, but they will not be published until August 2020.) There are 3 exam centers around SC: Columbus SC, Cary NC, and Alpharetta GA.

The RCM exams are conducted as in this video. For an idea how the RCM exam is scored, you can see my score sheet from my December exam here.

The official syllabus with the allowed repertoire pieces for each level is given in the 2015 Piano Syllabus here. For each level, you may substitute for one of the required études, a pop piece instead from the 2019 popular selections list here.

It's possible to prepare for exams with just the above syllabus. However, for those who want more materials to study from, RCM does publish 5 books per level (including music theory). They are available from the RCM bookstore. Note however that theory is not required for the level 1 or 2 exam.

As bennevis mentioned memorization, this is how memorization works for the RCM exam at levels 1 or 2. Out of a maximum of 100 points, you lose 2 points for every one of the 3 repertoire pieces you aren't playing from memory. Keep in mind that at RCM Level 1, the repertoire pieces are mostly only 1 page long. So, for example, if during the exam, you play 1 of the 3 repertoire pieces from memory and 2 of the 3 with the scores, then you will automatically get 4 of the 100 points deducted.

RCM requires scales and études. The scales may not be played with score (not a surprise, I hope), but all études may be played with score. When I took the RCM Level 4 exam in December, my examiner treated me as a bit of an anomaly that I wanted to play my études from memory. I thought he might insist I have my études book open in front of me. 😂


[Linked Image]
across the stone, deathless piano performances

"Discipline is more reliable than motivation." -by a contributor on Reddit r/piano
"Success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration." -by some other wise person
"Pianoteq manages to keep it all together yet simultaneously also go in all directions; like a quantum particle entangled with an unknown and spooky parallel universe simply waiting to be discovered." -by Pete14
Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935458 01/17/20 05:56 PM
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Welcome to the forums, you’ve done a great job with organizing your plan and practices. All the best with the journey and this is a great group of people here on PW to support you as you go.


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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935473 01/17/20 06:45 PM
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welcome, and good luck for your exam(s)


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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935553 01/17/20 11:10 PM
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Thanks again to everyone who gave me a warm welcome.

Dropping by with my notes from today. Got in a little practice this morning and this evening, probably 1.5-2 hours in total. Played through some major scales, took my first swing at chromatic contrary motion starting on D, my ABRSM G1 selections and Lesson in C.

The chromatic scale was a lot easier and more intuitive than I expected; starting on D is infinitely easier than starting on C. Hands separate for Lesson in C sounds really good. Hands together is quite slow and transitions are not at all on rhythm. I think I’m getting the notes down but need to do a better job of remembering what is coming ahead.

I played mostly p-mp range because I have a little soreness on the pads on my fingers, particularly the pinky on my left hand.


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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935912 01/18/20 09:16 PM
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Notes from today:

Practiced a lot today, probably 3+ hours in total. Mostly playing through Lesson in C. Did hands separate and then hands together. I can now play it at about 70% of what my final speed will be; however, I still find myself pausing at some of the transitions between sections, particularly before C in the ABABC pattern. It definitely sounds more like a song now than it did yesterday and far more than it did when I tried it last week. Also played through Arabesque a number of times. Some of the middle section is quite tricky.

I think both pieces could be improved with counting out loud and/or metronome playing, I might try to do that for a few easier pieces to get the hang of it. Also played scales a bit, Chromatic starting on D is coming along. I definitely need to figure out and write down what minor scales I want/need to learn.


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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935927 01/18/20 11:04 PM
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welcome aboard! I am about to finish my 6th month. How are you liking the Alesis recital? I am keeping that in consideration for a midi controller.


6 years learning the ukulele and started playing toy piano in late July 2019
Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: HarmonySmurf] #2935928 01/18/20 11:24 PM
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Originally Posted by HarmonySmurf
welcome aboard! I am about to finish my 6th month. How are you liking the Alesis recital? I am keeping that in consideration for a midi controller.


Haha. Sorry, I already swapped it out. I enjoyed playing it, but it was not great for getting a feel for an actual piano. When I started my lessons with a teacher, the difference between the Alesis Recital and an acoustic was too much.


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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2935931 01/18/20 11:48 PM
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right on. thanks. only considered it because it was a couple hundred less than the Roland FP-10 that I strongly desire.


6 years learning the ukulele and started playing toy piano in late July 2019
Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: HarmonySmurf] #2935965 01/19/20 07:34 AM
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Originally Posted by HarmonySmurf
right on. thanks. only considered it because it was a couple hundred less than the Roland FP-10 that I strongly desire.

Which makes it a few hundred worse. To a certain extent you get what you pay for.

I don't see how you can learn real piano playing on a unweighted or semi-weighted keyboard though, long-term. As a stop gap, one can learn on anything, even on a piece of cardboard, but long-term, piano students will want a fully-weighted, hammer-action keyboard. Alesis does have one of those, but it is the Alesis Recital Pro, and that is already not a few hundred less than the FP10.


[Linked Image]
across the stone, deathless piano performances

"Discipline is more reliable than motivation." -by a contributor on Reddit r/piano
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Re: 35 Year Old Adult Beginner (Practice notes - 4 months in) [Re: oBreak] #2936109 01/20/20 12:50 AM
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Joined: Jan 2020
Posts: 17
Notes from today:

More of the same, practicing Lesson in C and Arabesque. I had a few relatively good runs through each. Probably practiced about 3 hours in total. I also did some initial forays into the world of arpeggios. I can tell that there is a lot of work needed there. Fairly late, so I won't be that detailed on this entry. Have a great night all!


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