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Part of this probably comes from my amazing ability to procrastinate, lol. I am coming back to the piano after years of being out of the bands I used to play in regularly. They were all just pop/rock/country bands, so on the grand scale of things, the songs were pretty darn easy, though some of them certainly had some challenges.

I’m now, for the past three or four months, trying to get serious about playing again and learning new styles. I was really inspired by a version of Over the Rainbow that I came across, so I picked that up first. It was a lot of left hand shapes I wasn’t used to making, but eventually I got it. I’d say it was an easy-intermediate version.

Next I found PianoHD and bought a year of it to learn. I am a horrible reader. I can do it but it’s literally never a read and play at the same time sort of thing. PianoHD had a piano arrangement of The Feather Theme from Forrest Gump and I absolutely love it, so I picked that next. At first, I was surprised how difficult it was. It’s basically three short movements. I eventually got the first movement down pretty good. I can play it now with no mistakes most of the time.

Then, as difficult as it was, I moved to the 2nd movement. I was doubting my ability to play and memorize both the whole time, and I often feared moving too far ahead, thinking I would never get it memorized. After much work and time, I now have it totally memorized and about 85% of the way to performance level.

So about three weeks ago, I started the third and final movement. It changes keys, so the earlier similarities between the first and second movements vanished and it was all new again. It also got a lot busier with more dense voicing as well. The struggle felt super real. Now at three weeks, I still can’t play it at even the slowest tempos steadily, but I do have it pretty much in my head, what the parts are and memorized pretty well. It’s just that there are hand shapes I’ve never had to deal with and a few jumps that aren’t jumps I’ve had to make before.

In short, with three months of working on what would be a real breeze for many, I wonder if I bit off more than I can chew, or how you decide what is or isn’t too difficult when choosing your repertoire moving forward. I am still completely in love of this piece, so I will continue, but I guess I wonder how others approach this question. I don’t have an instructor and with Covid, I won’t be doing that any time soon.

I’m making a list of things I want to learn, mostly piano versions of film music. In the middle of working on The Feather Theme, I ran across Thomas Newman’s Any Other Name. Fortunately, that was something I was able to learn and memorize in just a couple weeks. I need more pieces like that to give me hope while I work on these other more difficult things I suppose.

Any thoughts on this? I truly want to get a lot better, with the goal of performing some of these at some point.

Thanks!

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Put tops on your list LOTS of music at or below your current level, even if you only learn the music superficially. You will get much better with increased volume. Skip memorizing as a general rule, and limit it to what you want to retain for public playing.

Keep most of your work into the quick and easy category. Add one more difficult/more time consuming piece but don’t make it the focus of your practice time.


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I can really empathize with your struggle. As soon as I become frustrated and stressed with a piece and it's no longer enjoyable to work on, I put it on the back-burner and work on something use (usually an easier piece). If I'm passionate about the harder piece, I'll go back to it after a few days. I'll make a little bit of progress and then get frustrated again, so I'll repeat the process. Eventually my sessions on the harder piece become more and more productive, and everything pays off. The process, however, takes a lot of time. For me, it's worth it because I refuse to be stressed and frustrated playing piano.


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Originally Posted by dogperson
Put tops on your list LOTS of music at or below your current level, even if you only learn the music superficially. You will get much better with increased volume. Skip memorizing as a general rule, and limit it to what you want to retain for public playing.

Keep most of your work into the quick and easy category. Add one more difficult/more time consuming piece but don’t make it the focus of your practice time.

Yes, I agree. The problem is that without a teacher you're only going to pick stuff that sounds good but isn't necessarily the next logical thing to learn at your level. Sometimes you need to take a step back and do smaller things that build up your chops so you can pick up the bigger pieces later.

I don't know if that's true but it sounds like you're learning pieces by copying someone else pressing keys (like Synthesia). Frankly, I really don't think that's a good way to learn piano. You will just have finger memory but very few reusable skills, bad rhythm, and a very weak understanding of music.

I suggest getting one of those easy music books from SheetMusicPlus (they have tons of those in many different styles) and play through all the pieces. If you want to improve you should generally play pieces that you can at least read through at a basic level on your first sitting.

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Being able to judge the difficulty of a piece comes mostly by experience. As a teenager I sometimes asked my teacher if I could study pieces that even after 50 more years of playing are way beyond my abilities. If it was easy for everyone to judge a piece's difficulty, there wouldn't be so many threads asking if the poster was ready to play some piece.

If you start on a piece you like and discover it's too difficult, your time has not been completely wasted. You probably learned something by studying the piece and you can come back to it sometime in the future.

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I agree with what others have posted;
- If you must spend time working on "difficult" pieces, don't spend a lot of that time struggling; if you are not achieving progress, then put the difficult works aside for the present.
- Work on pieces within your current level so that you develop both reading skills and technique.
- You wrote that you are a terrible reader. Unless you work on developing reading skills by practicing reading skills, your progress will be held back considerably.
- Don't spend a lot of time memorizing at your current level of experience.
- Select a piano method book where the pieces go from easy to more difficult and work on them thoroughly and in order.

Much of one's progress depends upon how one practices and you have given no indication of how you practice.
- Do not simply sit at the piano and "play through" the pieces in the hopes that they will eventually come into your fingers.
- Isolate the difficult sections on work on them individually and slowly.
- Do a lot of slow practice; for every time you play through a section at (or near) tempo, play through it very slowly four or five times. How slow? Slowly enough that 1) you keep the tempo going without pauses, and 2) you are not making any mistakes.
- If you keep practicing at a tempo where you make mistakes, you are eventually going to "learn" those mistakes and it will be harder and harder to "unlearn" them.

Regards,


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Originally Posted by BruceD
I agree with what others have posted;
- If you must spend time working on "difficult" pieces, don't spend a lot of that time struggling; if you are not achieving progress, then put the difficult works aside for the present.
- Work on pieces within your current level so that you develop both reading skills and technique.
- You wrote that you are a terrible reader. Unless you work on developing reading skills by practicing reading skills, your progress will be held back considerably.
- Don't spend a lot of time memorizing at your current level of experience.
- Select a piano method book where the pieces go from easy to more difficult and work on them thoroughly and in order.

Much of one's progress depends upon how one practices and you have given no indication of how you practice.
- Do not simply sit at the piano and "play through" the pieces in the hopes that they will eventually come into your fingers.
- Isolate the difficult sections on work on them individually and slowly.
- Do a lot of slow practice; for every time you play through a section at (or near) tempo, play through it very slowly four or five times. How slow? Slowly enough that 1) you keep the tempo going without pauses, and 2) you are not making any mistakes.
- If you keep practicing at a tempo where you make mistakes, you are eventually going to "learn" those mistakes and it will be harder and harder to "unlearn" them.

Regards,
That's good advice!

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Thanks so much for the replies. I know how to read, but just never practiced my reading because I play by ear as well. Can anyone suggest a good song book for an easy level of reading?

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Originally Posted by Eric Watkins
Thanks so much for the replies. I know how to read, but just never practiced my reading because I play by ear as well. Can anyone suggest a good song book for an easy level of reading?

Look at The Best of Movie Sheet Music by Dan Coates for sale on Amazon.
Disclaimer: I haven’t played it but it is marked as easy grading

Also Premier piano course pop and movie hits (different grades) for sale on Abebooks (used and cheap)

Last edited by dogperson; 07/09/20 06:37 PM.

"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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I got some of my music from Schultz Music Publications & Sheet Music Plus online. You can find arrangements of music rated at different levels from easy to intermediate & advanced. A lot of download sites you can see the first page of a score and there is a play button you can hear what it sounds like to determine if it is playable before downloading. And some sites allow you to choose the Key you want the music to be in.

Popular music of any kind including Jazz tend to be repetitive. In the beginning an unfamiliar Jazz tune with strange chords doesn't look easy to learn. But there is a lot of repetition so there is not a lot of material to learn. The last piece I played has an unfamiliar Db7 chord. After the chord came up the third time in the same song I learned how to played it. Any piece you try the first time such as "What a Wonderful World", "My Heart Will Go On", "Beauty and the Beast", etc. there is a learning curve. If you know the piece well it's easier and less time-consuming to learn.

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Originally Posted by Eric Watkins
Thanks so much for the replies. I know how to read, but just never practiced my reading because I play by ear as well. Can anyone suggest a good song book for an easy level of reading?

Jumbo Easy Piano Song book is a fun book for reading.

https://www.amazon.com/Jumbo-Easy-Piano-Songbook-Occasions/dp/0634062883


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Last night I listened to Josh Wright on Youtube talking about How to Divide Up Your Practice Sessions, a good video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60YZ1gIV0gM
He also talks about how long you should work on a hard piece and easier pieces based on skill level and time spent practicing each day, including using the Adult Lesson book for beginners. Maybe this will help you judge your pieces.


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