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Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
#3013753 08/14/20 10:02 AM
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Hi all,

After some thought I decided to start up piano lessons again. I am 40 now and started learning at 30. I got to grade 4 about 8 years ago then personal circumstances meant I stopped lessons. However I carried on playing, mostly learning a small number of pieces that I liked.

However recently, I have realised that even though I can play the piano, and even though I can learn some pretty complex pieces if I put my mind to it, I am not in any way a musician.

The problem is that I can only play what I learn. I can't just sit at the piano and play something that I haven't spent months learning in advance. I don't understand what Im playing, I just learn it. For example, I don't know what chords are being played, why they are there, why it jumps from chord X to chord Y. I feel like I can play the piano but I'm not a musician.

My repertoire is extremely small as well, because if I don't play something for a while, I forget how to play it. Sure I can learn it again, but that's not what I want from my playing. I don't want to only be able to play a small handful of pieces.

I want a toolbox that I can use to 'just play something'. Does that make sense? I want to learn to play the stuff I like the sound of, so its boogie, blues, swing, stride, ragtime. I want to know how to just sit and play a beginning middle and ending from a toolbox of skills. I want to know what keys go with what other keys and why, and what chords are used in what keys and what chords and notes are used to move between other chords. I want to be a musician, not just a player of pre-written stuff. Ultimately, I want to be able to sit at the piano and play something fun and happy and just enjoy it.

Any tips on how I get what I am looking for in a new teacher? How do I explain to them what it is I'm after (I feel like I have difficulty articulating what my vision for my playing is).

Thanks

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Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3013761 08/14/20 10:22 AM
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Well I think you’ve explained it well and although I cannot help you I am interested in this myself.
One of the things I'd like to be able to do in the future is to be be able to play random fillers like a cocktail pianist does between pieces. I sort of hope that this will come naturally in time but part of me is saying 'What if it doesn't? What if it’s a skill that you either have or you don’t and do you have to have a particularly good ear for music in order to be able to transfer your thoughts to the keyboard like they do?'

Last edited by treefrog; 08/14/20 10:30 AM.
Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3013764 08/14/20 10:31 AM
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On the recommendations here sometime last year I did buy a boogie woogie book and a blues book. They have some useful things in them but I need a teacher still because whilst I can learn a dozen licks and I can learn a dozen bass patterns, well I still can't put them together and make something with it. I still don't know what keys to play in other than C and I still don't know what notes go with what other notes.

But at least now I have realised what it is that is missing. I don't know why its taken me this long to figure this out but it has. What's missing is musicianship. That's what I need a teacher to help me with. Now I have realised what it is that is missing, I now believe that gaining it is achievable. Before, I felt this way but didn't know what it was that was wrong.

Maybe my mistake was going with ABRSM early days - perhaps should have gone straight into jazz or blues? But anyway that's in the past now and I can try and find that type of teacher going forward.

@treefrog - I'll never get to the skill level of Jools Holland thats pretty certain, but I don't need to. I just need to learn enough to sit and play some upbeat, fun stuff in a few keys on an impromptu basis. That is my vision.

Last edited by danlightbulb; 08/14/20 10:34 AM.
Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3013769 08/14/20 10:38 AM
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It sounds to me like you have already articulated what your vision is. Explain that to potential teachers when you interview them. If they respond in kind, then you may have found your new teacher.

I returned to piano lessons after nearly a 40 year hiatus (I played off & on in the interim but didn't have any lessons) and have many of the same interests/concerns that you express. I went over them with potential teachers until I got lucky and found one that seemed to align with my interests. Three years in, I am very happy with my progress and his help along the way. But it takes concentrated work to develop one's skills and repertoire. I can do some complex pieces and am generally working at levels 4-7 but I still can't sit down & just play, much less from memory. And do I ever want to get to that point! I take solace that I'm only in year 3 and have made significant progress; but I have years to go!

As for music theory, I can highly recommend Robin Tilanus' book The Fifth Factor: A Practical Approach to Harmony. I recently found out about it here on PianoWorld and it is superb - unlike every other theory book I have ever seen. I just got my copy and it's answering all kinds of questions I have had. The other thing my teacher has done is when we begin a new piece he has me spend time figuring out (and writing on staff paper) what the chords are in each measure. This has helped me understand the piece. The aha moment came when I was having difficulty with a passage in Bach's Prelude #6 in E minor. Once I wrote out the chords that the succession of notes represented, I exclaimed "OMG, so that's what he's doing!" and guess what - after that I could play it!

Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3013777 08/14/20 11:15 AM
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I had a few lessons as a child but not enough to go anywhere. I restarted in my 30s after playing violin for a few years. As an adult learner I had to pick up everything from scratch except reading music. Many of us don't have enough training on music theory to be able to play by ear. At least I can read pieces at an intermediate level.

The past few months my teacher got into playing some old Jazz tunes from a book for easy piano. Being trained to play Classical pieces, I'm very much following the notes on a page.

When you get into non-Classical styles, you learn to play by ear & improvising that I haven't quite master. I only play pieces I learned in advance. Learning to play by ear is something you should be aiming for.

Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3013789 08/14/20 11:43 AM
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Originally Posted by danlightbulb
Hi all,

After some thought I decided to start up piano lessons again. I am 40 now and started learning at 30. I got to grade 4 about 8 years ago then personal circumstances meant I stopped lessons. However I carried on playing, mostly learning a small number of pieces that I liked.

However recently, I have realised that even though I can play the piano, and even though I can learn some pretty complex pieces if I put my mind to it, I am not in any way a musician.

The problem is that I can only play what I learn. I can't just sit at the piano and play something that I haven't spent months learning in advance. I don't understand what Im playing, I just learn it. For example, I don't know what chords are being played, why they are there, why it jumps from chord X to chord Y. I feel like I can play the piano but I'm not a musician.

My repertoire is extremely small as well, because if I don't play something for a while, I forget how to play it. Sure I can learn it again, but that's not what I want from my playing. I don't want to only be able to play a small handful of pieces.

I want a toolbox that I can use to 'just play something'. Does that make sense? I want to learn to play the stuff I like the sound of, so its boogie, blues, swing, stride, ragtime. I want to know how to just sit and play a beginning middle and ending from a toolbox of skills. I want to know what keys go with what other keys and why, and what chords are used in what keys and what chords and notes are used to move between other chords. I want to be a musician, not just a player of pre-written stuff. Ultimately, I want to be able to sit at the piano and play something fun and happy and just enjoy it.

Any tips on how I get what I am looking for in a new teacher? How do I explain to them what it is I'm after (I feel like I have difficulty articulating what my vision for my playing is).

Thanks
I think a lot of what you are asking for depends upon what type of music you want to learn. There are many advanced and even professional classical pianists who can't just sit down and start improvising blues or jazz. Their focus is more a performance art where they are reproducing with their own interpretations the work of others. They are just like you that they forget pieces (maybe not to the extent as you or I) if they don't practice them for a while.

I remember telling my teacher that I had been working on the Busoni Chaconne for several months now, shouldn't I have polished by now. (I'm very much a perfectionist and I don't to play things for others until I feel the piece is acceptable at the professional level) And she laughed and she said, this is what we do all day long and you are not trying to join competitions or give professional concerts. Professional classical pianists put A LOT of time into their practice (like 3 to sometimes even 10 hours a day) so try not set your expectations too high. Personally I can go days without touching the piano so I try not to be too hard on myself.

I'm happy to learn just a few of the masterpieces and several of the intermediate pieces that I like. I don't have the time to live a classical pianists life. I own my own business and travel a lot during the day. But what piano gives me is actually an experience and I appreciate even more the hard work and talent that is demonstrated by the professionals. I appreciate the concerts I go to because I understand how hard it is to do what they are doing by attempting some of these difficult pieces myself. When I retire I will always have something to look forward to, but I try to keep things in perspective. It's the journey that matters.

Last edited by Jethro; 08/14/20 11:53 AM.

Working on:

Bach/Busoni Chaconne in D minor BWV 1004
Chopin: G Minor Ballade
Schumann/Liszt Widmung

Shigeru Kawai SK2
Kawai VPC-1
Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3013815 08/14/20 01:12 PM
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@Jethro - boogie, blues, stride, swing & ragtime. That's what I want to play. Its fun, it has a beat to it, its lively.

Classical stuff was one of the reasons I lost my motivation for lessons 8 years ago, I just didn't realise it then.

The whole 'performing arts' idea is not for me, not what I'm looking for. I only just starting playing in public, at a local quarterly piano group. Its been cancelled since the lockdown started unfortunately but hopefully it will start up again.

Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3013820 08/14/20 01:33 PM
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Originally Posted by danlightbulb
@Jethro - boogie, blues, stride, swing & ragtime. That's what I want to play. Its fun, it has a beat to it, its lively.

Classical stuff was one of the reasons I lost my motivation for lessons 8 years ago, I just didn't realise it then.

The whole 'performing arts' idea is not for me, not what I'm looking for. I only just starting playing in public, at a local quarterly piano group. Its been cancelled since the lockdown started unfortunately but hopefully it will start up again.
That's all good.

Many of those ragtime and jazz players played by ear and quite a few couldn't read music. So I think it is a different kind of playing and thinking that is involved with improvisational works. Usually I think it is whatever comes to mind played around a few simple chord progressions. But I think it is a skill in and of itself. I had a barber once who was a jazz trumpet player and he taught himself some rudimentary jazz following some simple chord progressions he was taught by another jazz player. He was showing me the chord progressions on a piece paper once and said, if you just learn these simple progressions you can improvise at the piano.

Right now I'm into the performance arts thing but I used to play some rag, honky tonk in my youth. It's been a while though.


Working on:

Bach/Busoni Chaconne in D minor BWV 1004
Chopin: G Minor Ballade
Schumann/Liszt Widmung

Shigeru Kawai SK2
Kawai VPC-1
Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3013907 08/14/20 05:23 PM
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Originally Posted by danlightbulb
@Jethro - boogie, blues, stride, swing & ragtime. That's what I want to play. Its fun, it has a beat to it, its lively.

Classical stuff was one of the reasons I lost my motivation for lessons 8 years ago, I just didn't realise it then.

The whole 'performing arts' idea is not for me, not what I'm looking for. I only just starting playing in public, at a local quarterly piano group. Its been cancelled since the lockdown started unfortunately but hopefully it will start up again.

I'm in a similar situation as you. I have a great teacher but very traditional classical approach and I keep at it but it's like I have to force myself keep learning her assigned pieces. I developed a lot with her but I'm at the point now where I can't keep forcing myself to learn her assigned pieces and none of what I want to learn. I like classical just have to desire to learn it. I'm starting with a new teacher that is a pop teacher, I'm excited to see what the lessons will bring and what we'll study. My goal is to play pop/classic rock covers, improvise and do it well, not just reading a score. With that said, I'd say make sure you find a teacher you enjoy the lessons and works with you on what you want to achieve. I started to realize my teacher just has her own approach doesn't seem to really listen to what I want to play.

Last edited by Sebs; 08/14/20 05:25 PM.
Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3013982 08/14/20 09:49 PM
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Originally Posted by danlightbulb
@Jethro - boogie, blues, stride, swing & ragtime. That's what I want to play. Its fun, it has a beat to it, its lively.

The theory-/improv-/ear- based approach (my ear is just bad) to early modern American music is not something I am good at, at all, but the good news for you is that the chord progressions around these styles are typically very clear. There is not a wide range of chords in the pantry! So with a basic grounding and a lot of practicing along improvisation you will be on your way.

What chord-based training gets you is a sense of relative intervals. The fifth is like king of intervals in early modern, so if you are playing in C, then you are certainly going into G at some point. If you are playing in Bb, then you are certainly going into F at some point. These relationships are relative and would be in numeric notation represented by I-V (one-five).

You will practice a lot of chords, a lot of inversions (mix up the notes of the chord), scales. And probably add in the 7th degree of the chord a lot!


Whizbang
amateur ragtime pianist
https://www.youtube.com/user/Aeschala
Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3014005 08/14/20 11:03 PM
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For what it is worth I have always found ragtime and stride to demand a pretty solid technique. A transcribed Waller solo or a contemporary rag by someone like Roberts or French are about the same physical level as a Chopin or Liszt study, with the added special musical issues of rhythm and phrasing.


"We shall always love the music of the masters, but they are all dead and now it's our turn." - Llewelyn Jones, my piano teacher
Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3014044 08/15/20 03:22 AM
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I agree that first of all you need to train your ears and to learn to play by ear decently. No amount of theory will get you there if your ears are not ready.

Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3014055 08/15/20 05:22 AM
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When I read this forum I get the feeling that people forget to just have fun. Sometimes I just don't feel like practicing but I still sit down at the piano and start fooling around, playing stuff that sounds good, experimenting, playing things by ear. After a few years of doing that you start to develop a sense of what sounds good. If you also learn a bunch of standards you can improvise over them or incorporate bits and pieces of different pieces. But none of that happens by itself. You have to do it regularly like any other skill.

Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3014167 08/15/20 10:21 AM
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I would arrange a trial lesson. Try and find a teacher who is qualified to teach (check qualification) and the style you want. If you are looking online there are lots of options. It is a great idea.

Re: Starting up with lessons again! Want to be more musical?
danlightbulb #3014221 08/15/20 12:10 PM
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Hi,
I think, in some ways, I have the same "problem". I'm not musical. Got to 54 (6 years ago) without being able to do much more than listen! And I'm really interested in jazz ... which is not a good situation; or, indeed, which is a great challenge!

Here's what I think:
Folks who can riff, noodle, improvise etc. have a framework, a tune and/or harmonic structure in their heads they're working around, using lots of bits - jazzers call licks, phrases, embellishments etc. Acquired by learning tunes - and pulling phrases out of them - learning licks, learning tricks with licks (based on harmonic theory etc.)

To get going, what I'm doing is
a/ just learning music. Just that. Growing a bit of brain that can do music better and putting musical ideas into it. Pop, classical, blues, jazz, chords, scales, baselines... whatever.
b/ starting somewhere specific. For example. The most recommended place to start (for jazz) is the blues. It's musically foundational, obviously. But also it's a simple framework to have in the head - de de de de, da da de de, dum da de de... Or start with embellishing a tune you can play, or what ever, but start somewhere specific and start small... eg just a note or two, then a phrase from the blues scale over an appropriate 12 bar backing track.

IMveryHO there is no one toolbox. want do jam blues? practice blues. Want to be a lunge lizard? practice cocktail... etc. You need to have the riffs and tricks and structures for each style.

It's taken a while, but slowly I can not only noodle a little, but - more importantly - start to hear properly what others are actually doing; and that's a big win because you learn lots by transcribing or just hearing and being able to identify individual ideas being played.


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