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Hi been playing for 5 months now. Just want to ask some things because I don't have a teacher atm due to the pandemic.

I've read about mental play wherein you practice away from the piano by actually imagining the sound and specific notes that you play on the keyboard which supposedly helps me play the piece more fluidly because I just know what keys to press when I get back to the piano. Which makes me think does this happen because by imagining, we MEMORIZE the piece in our heads? Memorization not in the sense of just hitting the right keys but also how I will press it and the associated sound due to all that vivid imagining I did away from the piano.

As of now I can only comfortably play only 1 piece from beginning to end mostly because I have been trying difficult pieces that I really like so as of now I can play only certain parts of those pieces. I notice that for certain sections of a piece I can pick up its pattern somehow(memorizing it) but when the next section comes I stop to read and try to find another pattern which makes my playing really staggered and makes me wonder if I'm really learning the piece. (I know I should start with relatively easier pieces but I'm still finding ones that I really like so I can at least be motivated to play.)

For the piece that I do know end to end I notice that I can only play it because I've "memorized" its patterns despite spending significantly less time on it compared to other pieces. And because I've memorized it, I can pay attention more to dynamics, proper pedaling and even improvisation.

Any thoughts on this? Also you guys also do this kind of mental play and do you find it effective?

Sorry if this sounds jumbled it's difficult to self-study and make sense of all the conflicting information sometimes..

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i'll give you my take on this. I don't think everyone here necessarily agrees.

I like to memorise the pieces I am learning because I find that I cannot play it well enough if I don't. There are two types of memorisation.

1. muscle memory. i've played the piece so many times that my fingers just know where to go next. I almost don't have to think about it.
2. intellectual memory. i've looked at the structure of the piece and I understand the chord progression and what chord I am playing and yes I can shut my eyes and visualise or verbalise what notes come next

if I just rely on the first one, I am ok whilst I practice but as soon as I am under any pressure (even just playing in my lesson) it falls apart. Also this memory fades pretty quickly. So a couple of weeks without playing the piece and I have lost it. Also if my teacher asks me to start somewhere in the middle, I can't I have no idea how to.

So I have to work on the second method also. In fact this is, for me, is what take the real time in perfecting a piece, but also the part I enjoy the most. Working in it in minute detail.


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The ‘general’ Goal should be to learn to read music — with increasing skill and fluidity, without needing to memorize the music in order to be able to play it. You can memorize the music you want to play for family or friends when you don’t have the sheet music. I know you are having fun right now by trying to play music you really like, even if you can only play snippets, but I hope you will start leaving this as ‘dessert’ and start learning to play easier music that you can learn to play all of it.

You might want to invest in a method book. The music is not always fun but you build on skills and knowledge one-by-one. There are a couple of ongoing threads here where posters are following a particular ‘method’ to teach themselves.


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Originally Posted by dogperson
The ‘general’ Goal should be to learn to read music — with increasing skill and fluidity, without needing to memorize the music in order to be able to play it. You can memorize the music you want to play for family or friends when you don’t have the sheet music. I know you are having fun right now by trying to play music you really like, even if you can only play snippets, but I hope you will start leaving this as ‘dessert’ and start learning to play easier music that you can learn to play all of it.

You might want to invest in a method book. The music is not always fun but you build on skills and knowledge one-by-one. There are a couple of ongoing threads here where posters are following a particular ‘method’ to teach themselves.

Yes I should really start going to easier pieces I'm still trying to find ones that I really like though that's a small problem. Btw do you mean that in order to play a piece fluidly from beg to end with all the necessary dynamics etc., I don't necessarily need to have it completely memorized? Like there are parts where I just need to read and play along?

I can read sheet music but I'm not particularly good yet with pressing the correct keys without looking at my hands and the keyboard. So I read the notes and I know what note it is without all the FACE mnemonics but my fingers still have to find it and I need to look away from the sheet. Any tips on this?

Just to add btw, I've also recently found out that Sight reading is NOT the same as reading. And my goal is really just to play pieces I like so if someone comes up to me with a sheet of a piece I've never heard of I'll just be I'm sorry I don't know that I can only play what I practiced(of course i also need to play other pieces for the general practice) which is ok because piano is not my job but just a hobby.

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There are 2 ways to learn a piece of music: reading & by ear. Some people are good at reading notations that they need a paper copy to reproduce a piece.

I tend to memorize a lot since my reading is weak. I can read music but tend to learn a score by sections and get them memorized. Getting the notes into your head involve a lot of hitting the wrong notes to get a version that sounded right to your ear. A lot of times I'd make a quick recording with the record button on my keyboard or a phone and listen to a section over to hear for wrong notes and especially counting issues.

There are pros & cons of memorizing music. The pro is that you can play a piece with confidence and listen for nuances as you are playing. The con is that if you are just memorizing the notes with little understanding of the music theory behind a piece, the memory is only short-term.

Once I met a professional viola player. He plays piano on the side and knows enough music theory to reproduce just about any piece he hears. Watching him play is always exciting. Unless it is a piece of Classical music that needs to be note-perfect, he would reproduce a melody with proper accompaniment (chords & other notes) by ear. A song may not sound exactly like the original but something that works.

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Tips for getting better at reading music? Simply, time and practice. With time and patience, you won’t ‘need’ to memorize the music to play it, you can just play along as you read it, it takes time and you have only been playing a few months.

Searching for music you like is very time consuming and difficult for you to assess how helpful it will be to your learning. That is why I made the suggestion of a method series and joining one of the groups that are doing that. You won’t like all of the music—- but the choices are designed for you to learn a particular skill and then move on. So music you don’t like doesn’t last very long.


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>I've read about mental play wherein you practice away from the piano

I have the impression that this is a pretty rare ability. You need some kind of perfect memory of the sheet music and the ability to play on an imagined keyboard, including the ability to imagine all the details like how far your hand stretches, how the finger feels touching the keys, imagining the sound it produced, feeling your hand move to the next position, how much time that takes and how much effort, feeling the tension in your muscles etc. Moreover, this mental practice must have the ability to train your muscle memory, while in fact your muscles are not doing anything.

Maybe it's effective already if you can do only part of this but even that seems a stretch for most

>I know I should start with relatively easier pieces but I'm still finding ones that I really like so I can at least be motivated to play.

You're right, motivation is a huge part of making progress and having fun playing the piano. I recommend trying to find the pieces that motivate you and starting with the easiest ones, to make it a bit easier for yourself.

>but when the next section comes I stop to read and try to find another pattern which makes my playing really staggered and makes me wonder if I'm really learning the piece

But the next section IS different? So then of course you also have to learn that part before you can play it.

Learning the piece and sight-reading the piece are very different things. With sight reading the idea is to play a piece right away from first view. With learning you dig into the notes and practice until you can play it. You don't need to sight-read to play the piano. It also depends on the style of music, for classic I think learning is the standard method

>For the piece that I do know end to end I notice that I can only play it because I've "memorized" its patterns despite spending significantly less time on it compared to other pieces. And because I've memorized it, I can pay attention more to dynamics, proper pedaling and even improvisation.


Yes. That's what learning a piece is about. And yes it helps a lot to have it memorized. Reading music takes a lot of mental energy. akc42 mentions 2 types of memory. THere are probably even more types. But for me muscle memory is very important, I can read ok-ish but nowhere near actual performance speed. Maybe 1/2 to 1/8th of that speed. Intellectual memory is about as slow. Only muscle memory allows me to play at performance speed.

As mentioned above muscle memory is also fragile. So you need to learn how it works and use tricks to make it more resilient. This is also learning to play piano, but something that is more useful than just for a single piece.

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There are two kinds of mental practise. Audiating the music, singing it in your heard, is the first and it builds aural memory. Yes, it helps the phrasing and articulation. It helps you know how to play the piece and interpret it. The other kind is to imagine the fingers playing the notes with or without the score. The latter is really difficult but it does constitute very slow practise with zero mistakes. This transfers to the keyboard. We know from sports psychology that mental practise away from the keyboard and without actually moving the fingers grows the same neurons as physical practise at the keyboard. But it's difficult if you've only been playing for five months or years. It's quite manageable after five decades.

Deliberate memorisation, starting when you first pick a new piece, is very important for musical understanding and growth.

There should be aural memory so you can sing it in your head away from the piano with and without the score.

Explicit memory so you know the actual notes at any point in the piece, perhaps well enough that you could write out small sections but definitely well enough that you can play it with your fingers on a desktop or just in your lap, seldom at tempo and frequently at a snail's pace.

Motor memory so that you can play faster sections (faster than you can actually read and faster than you can think through).

There should also be physical memory of the feeling of playing a piece and visual memory of seeing the hands play. Visual memory of the score isn't very important unless you have photographic memory and can actually read your memory of the score. Mostly it's about knowing where in the score you are and where to look on the page enough to 'follow' the score as you play rather than read it.

When you first start learning a piece you'll be reading a lot more. Once you start getting familiar with the piece you won't actually be reading much, just following the score. Prima vista sight-reading requires that you play without preparation or practise. For learning new pieces it need not be playing at speed; in tempo but not at tempo. For accompaniment it should be in and at tempo regardless of getting the notes accurately or even getting all of them in. Being able to hear in your head what you see on the page without having to play is a huge advantage especially for interpreting the music.

All of these things need to be practised and most of them are perishable skills so make reading unseen music a part of your day every day. Play as much as you can without looking at your hands. It will build your proprioception and it's actually faster to play by feel than looking down at the keyboard. Touch doesn't need processing in the brain; it's incredibly quick compared to vision, which needs processing.

Learn a new piece, section or page every week. This will broaden you musical horizons, grow your technique more quickly, improve your reading skills, improve your fingering skills and your problem solving skills. If you only do one thing at the piano every day, do this.

Memorise a new phrase every day, for a day. You don't need to memorise whole pieces unless you intend to perform them without the score but it's an important skill to have for mental practise, for interpretation and to retain the pieces over long periods without having to practise them and to retain the techniques you acquired while studying them. Whatever you actually practise at the piano, using practise strategems such as finger staccato, playing in rhythms, etc. should be from memory not by reading the score.

If most of what you do at the piano is playing the pieces you like you won't progress very quickly - and, goodness knows, learning piano is slow enough for most us. It's better to enjoy learning whatever music is in front of you regardless of whether you'll enjoy playing it. Practise and performance are two very different things. The more music you learn, the wider will be your tastes in music and the more of it you'll like.


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Originally Posted by zrtf90
We know from sports psychology that mental practise away from the keyboard and without actually moving the fingers grows the same neurons as physical practise at the keyboard. But it's difficult if you've only been playing for five months or years. It's quite manageable after five decades.

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I have no aural memory away from the keyboard.

As to memorisation, I'm as with most things a fence sitter.

I don't make memorisation an intention, but after learning a piece for a while and I have coincidentally memorised most of it, I'll often make some effort to memorise the remaining parts but not always.

Once I have memorised a piece well, whether I spend practise time playing from memory or reading the sheet music depends on the piece. The most common reason for me to practise playing from memory is when i find the fingering awkward and I am struggling to provide the dynamics, and flow in the way I want. For some reason focusing on what my hands are doing really helps me find the control necessary to shape a piece the way I want. But as I said this is dependent on the piece. It isn't a matter of hitting the right keys other than when large jumps are involved, but more making sure my fingers move in a smooth controlled way that gives me time for shaping phrases and playing with dynamics.

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Originally Posted by dcbluepiano
For the piece that I do know end to end I notice that I can only play it because I've "memorized" its patterns despite spending significantly less time on it compared to other pieces. And because I've memorized it, I can pay attention more to dynamics, proper pedaling and even improvisation.

That's not unusual for people who have learned piano as adults. The pattern recognition part of your brain is far, far more developed than your ability to read musical notation. So by the time you have mastered the finger skills required for each relatively simple piece that you can play as a beginner, you already "know" it. You don't need to read it. Reading seems to slow you down and make you play worse. You may have even had to stop reading to get to play it fluently! Not uncommon.

But it's worth trying to do it. Playing by reading is so useful long term that it is worth persevering with, even if you find it painful. Even if all you can manage is basic note pitch and duration decoding one note at a time at a slow tempo, that's better than nothing. And following the score with your eyes, even if you know it by memory and don't really need to, encourages you not to look at your hands for every single note, which is another really useful skill to develop.

But don't stress if it's hard and progress is slow. The end goal is the music after all. Reading is just a means to an end.


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You pick your own goals.

However, it is universally accepted that sightreading is the baseline. In the serious piano category, even kids do it.

I think people expect sightreading to come to them like buying a radio and listening to music.

It's more like, working construction for a year and learning spanish, then in a few more years your spanish is almost as good as your english. But this only happens with daily dose and active use.

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I am another of the "memorizers"; unless I learn the music by heart, I cannot play it well. So for me it starts by memorizing all the music, and then I turn to making it sound good. It can take a lot of time to memorize, so this is not a path to acquiring repertoire quickly (although I would personally argue that material that has not been memorized can by definition not be repertoire, but that would be too controversial a comment to ever make in public wink ).

The flip side of memorizing is slow progress with sight reading, and I think that in principle anyone (even me) could probably force themselves to become good sight readers, but for natural memorizers this will be arduous.

I can relate well to akc42's comments but would add another kind of memory: sound memory. For me, that is the most important one. In fact, I would say that my "general goal", much unlike dogperson's opinion, is to become one with the music. In other words, when playing I immerse myself in the music to the extent that I could not say what is muscle memory, what is intellectual memory, and what is sound memory; it all comes together, when the piece is learned well.

For this reason I think learning away from the piano is useful, but possibly not as good as learning at the piano, because the actual tactile sensations are missing. On the other hand, when playing at a particular piano, you condition yourself to be good at playing - at that particular piano. Practising away from it will strenghten your ability to play at any piano.

Ultimately, I think anyone learning to play the piano should have clearly in mind, what it is they are working towards. One person's goal is not shared by every other person, and that specific goal must direct the efforts to reach it.


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Originally Posted by zrtf90
Play as much as you can without looking at your hands. It will build your proprioception and it's actually faster to play by feel than looking down at the keyboard. Touch doesn't need processing in the brain; it's incredibly quick compared to vision, which needs processing.

.

to the OP. If all this talk so far is confusing for someone just starting out, I would at least like to second the above statement. When I was a beginner myself, I would memorise all my pieces until I found that wasn't working so well. As akc42 pointed out, muscle memory on its own is not reliable or long lasting. Once I stopped looking at my hands, or deliberating memorising and kept my eyes on the score, I did in fact find this to be the most efficient way to learn pieces. I will eventually memorise a piece by score reading, and muscle memory still is an important factor, but the piece is more secure. It was only once I started using this method that my visualisation of the piece during, and away from the piano, started. It was also then that I began to notice that I could feel where my fingers were relative to each other and the keys, (proprioception). This most important skill wasn't needed when I simply memorised and was looking at my hands, so it had never developed.


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Originally Posted by QuasiUnaFantasia
I am another of the "memorizers"; unless I learn the music by heart, I cannot play it well. So for me it starts by memorizing all the music, and then I turn to making it sound good. It can take a lot of time to memorize, so this is not a path to acquiring repertoire quickly (although I would personally argue that material that has not been memorized can by definition not be repertoire, but that would be too controversial a comment to ever make in public wink ).

+1

Another one of those here. I probably take it to the extreme, I think. I have a very limited repertoire, which expands just really slowly. Every once in a long while I learn a new piece. In the meantime I keep my limited repertoire alive and completely memorized by playing it over and over, trying to make it sound better every time.

The way you describe yourself as a player makes me think your way is quite similar to mine.

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Developing my reading skills has recently become a high priority for me. I do heavily rely on memorization and had wanted to correct that for awhile, but it recently came to a head when I tried to learn a couple Burgmuller Op 100 etudes that were relatively very simple for me and meant to supplement learning other pieces I was working on. But since I kept freezing/stuttering while reading through it, it ended up being much more time consuming that it should have to get the most out of these pieces.


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Originally Posted by scirocco
Originally Posted by dcbluepiano
For the piece that I do know end to end I notice that I can only play it because I've "memorized" its patterns despite spending significantly less time on it compared to other pieces. And because I've memorized it, I can pay attention more to dynamics, proper pedaling and even improvisation.

That's not unusual for people who have learned piano as adults. The pattern recognition part of your brain is far, far more developed than your ability to read musical notation. So by the time you have mastered the finger skills required for each relatively simple piece that you can play as a beginner, you already "know" it. You don't need to read it. Reading seems to slow you down and make you play worse. You may have even had to stop reading to get to play it fluently! Not uncommon.

No, I don't think that's true at all.

The reason why adults often bypass reading skills is quite simple - they're too impatient to play the songs they like, and the music they want to learn is simply too complicated to read and play while reading. So - they memorize instead.

Adults do it all the time in other things like "learning" languages. Instead of learning from the basics up, we do a crash course in 'traveller's Esperanto' (or whatever) from a phrase book, just so that we can get by on arriving in Esperantantito: after all, we need to be able to order a beer and fried lobster, so we don't dehydrate and starve in the middle of nowhere (i.e. a foreign country), don't we? We aren't there to discuss the meaning of life with the locals.

If you read the Piano Teachers forum, you'll see that kids will also take the lazy way out if given the chance, and some never learn to read properly, let alone sight-read. They can learn pieces simply by memorizing the movements their teachers make when - mistakenly thinking that they are therefore "teaching" the piece - they play for them before the student even has the chance to try the pieces out.

Every adult - if they learn and start from the beginning, and are in full possession of their faculties - can get as fluent as any kid at reading and sight-reading, if they learn at the same pace as kids with good teachers, i.e. lots and lots of practicing on simple readable pieces at the right level, then gradually more and more complex stuff as reading skills improve over several years. I have a friend, now nearly 70, who can easily sight-read a Haydn sonata: he started piano from scratch at 60, but he insisted to his teacher that he wanted to learn all the basics from the beginning. Which is why he's now reaping the rewards.

An adult beginner who's only interested in playing Ballade No.1 and La Campanella will never learn to read - and frankly, he'd be better off copying (note-by-note) very simplified versions from Synthesia rather than learning musical notation.


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My recommendation: Don’t become too dependent on muscle memory. While this type of memory can be beneficial and help your playing, it can also let you down at the worst times (especially when playing in front of people). I’ve learned this the hard way!

Make sure the piece of music is also in your intellectual memory - that is, you consciously know exactly what note your are striking at all times in the music. Can you start playing at a random place in the music or do you always have to start at the beginning? If the piece is in your intellectual memory, then you should be able to start at any spot. If you make a mistake and your muscle memory gets derailed, can you immediately pick back up at that spot in the music? If you have to “reset” and go back in the music to get back on track, then this means you are too dependent on muscle memory.

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I think there is a natural inclination to want to memorize pieces where you are beginning the piano. I started that way as a kid and in my early teens, but as you become more serious it is important to develop the ability to read music fluently. As I entered adult programs in conservatories my reading improved by leaps and bounds as I became more aware of the importance of proper fingering. Now I always want to play pieces by reading. And I almost always have to have the score in front of me or I feel like I'm going to end up being sloppy. In the old days, not reading the score was considered to be in poor taste and an insult to the composer who left marking specifically to instruct the musician of what his intentions were. It was not until Liszt that playing the piano without the score became popular.

The Busoni piece I am polishing and the Chopin Ballade I play about 80% of it just reading the page at pretty much concert speed, but the 20% I do memorize are the sections that are just to difficult to play without looking at the keys. There are large jumps that if I were to play them at the expected tempo would be too difficult to execute. I am finding as I polish the piece I will have to memorize more sections to pull off the piece as a whole. The trick to good reading is to make sure you are always looking ahead. You should never be playing the notes that you are looking at you should be playing the notes that you saw a "moment ago". Kind of like advising people not to look at your feet when you walk- always scan ahead or you are going to fall. Also you should see the music as a whole and not individual notes by recognizing patterns. If you learned the piece correctly (slowly) with proper fingering every time, reading should be more like reviewing an outline rather than relearning the piece every time you play. As you get to play more advanced pieces this becomes a necessity because there's no way to pull off such pieces without efficiency.

That said, there is nothing wrong with memorizing pieces in their entirety. That's kind of an expectation of solo performers. But, I remember the director of my program commenting that it is dangerous to half memorize pieces as you may get lost when you are performing it so either memorize it completely or don't memorize it at all. She told us the story of how she took the music off the music desk when she found one of her students going back and forth between memorized sections and sight read sections. She scolded her to choose one method of playing but don't go back and forth.

I think as learners we should still be developing the ability to sight read through pieces. One of the best ways is to just try to play lots of different new pieces (that you have never seen before) from any genre at your level just for the fun of it. Your sight reading will improve quickly. As a child I used to do that and I think that helped me into adulthood. I also enjoyed hearing pieces on the radio and arranging them on the organ as a child. Taught myself things like arpeggios and inversions by just trying things out on the keyboard without realizing that these were concepts in music theory. Doing things like this helps ear training and composition skills. There are many ways to get there. Have fun!

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Originally Posted by bennevis
No, I don't think that's true at all.

The reason why adults often bypass reading skills is quite simple - they're too impatient to play the songs they like, and the music they want to learn is simply too complicated to read and play while reading. So - they memorize instead..

I’m not sure which bit you think is untrue. It is certainly true for myself, and I’m very confident I’m not alone.

You make it sound like it has to be a binary choice between only playing very simple pieces that one is capable of reading, or only playing more difficult pieces from memory, being too difficult to read in real time. There will be many adults like myself who do both. That is, following a traditional development path with a teacher through method books / repertoire/ technical work, while simultaneously learning (from notation) more complex music that they cannot really follow at full tempo and therefore play from memory.

However you’re right when you say adults will be impatient. Many people will not be happy with staying at the Mary had a little lamb stage when they have another tool in the box to learn more quickly with. But it doesn’t have to be “memorise instead”. Both can coexist.


Yamaha U1. Yamaha P-45.
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