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Re: Can't concentrate - interrupting thoughts, possible ADHD
Tom97 #3038814 10/24/20 04:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Tom97
Originally Posted by QuasiUnaFantasia
My immediate thought is that you should practise meditation, in order to train your ability to not think.


I am sorry, I know this is not a forum about meditation but meditation is not "learning to not think" - in a typical mindfulness practice session thoughts come and go. So do not force yourself to not think, thats not even possible in practice.

I just wanted to make that clear so that the OP doesnt go meditate with the goal of "not thinking" and then go crazy because he will think smile

I didn't imply that meditation is "learning to not think". Meditation is much more than that. But if you practise meditation, you will improve your ability to let stray thoughts quickly go, instead of keeping them in mind.

Everytime a thought appears, during meditation, the immediate task is to let the thought go again, because that thought is blocking the way to the object of the meditation (whatever that object happens to be).

Playing the piano can actually be meditative, if the object is listening to the music. In my view, that is an important part of becoming a better pianist.


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Re: Can't concentrate - interrupting thoughts, possible ADHD
meghdad #3038816 10/24/20 05:26 AM
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I also get crazy nervous playing in front of people - but recording is way worse.

With other people, presumably non-experts, mistakes may go unnoticed and if they notice they probably don't care as long as they like the piece and it stays recognizable.

With recording, your mistakes are there forever, in plain sight of the worst critic of them all: yourself wink

Re: Can't concentrate - interrupting thoughts, possible ADHD
meghdad #3038822 10/24/20 06:46 AM
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Quite apart from the individual medical issues, I think it's important to allow things to happen as they do. Otherwise you can develop a "thing" about playing. When you're concentrating on not thinking about other things you will think about them.

If you just let things happen, you have a much better chance. It's a bit like walking around a building three times without think of the word "wolf". If you actually don't care, you will focus on other things (eventually). This seems perfectly normal to me. I find it can be tough to maintain thee necessary level of focus, especially when playing something multiple times.

Again, this is on top of whatever difficulties an individual might have.

Re: Can't concentrate - interrupting thoughts, possible ADHD
meghdad #3038843 10/24/20 08:36 AM
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One of the great advantages of being human, is the ability we have to control our own thoughts. It is one of the few things we actually have control of. Doesn't mean it comes easy though.

You managed to get whatever you are working on to a performance ready level. Now your focus needs to change to managing the performance. Think about the expression, tempo posture and such. But not anything else that is not related to the performance.

Controlling your thoughts takes practice too. Much is written about it and it is something you can definately improve. Even without a pill.

Re: Can't concentrate - interrupting thoughts, possible ADHD
meghdad #3038965 10/24/20 02:23 PM
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Hi Meghdad,

I too have this problem of focusing. It does indeed feel very much like ADHD with thoughts bouncing all over the place. I have no other symptoms of hyperactivity however. But this mental distractedness when practicing is so frustrating!

I decided two or three weeks ago, that I decided to take on a challenge: the Pianos of Cha’n’s jazz arrangement of Summertime, a piece I’ve always loved. A couple of years ago, I had started on it, thinking I could learn it in a year if I spent 15 minutes a day (there are 96 measures) but I let it go after a couple of weeks. This time round, I decided it would take an hour day which I am doing most days. It’s actually coming along and I’m enjoying every bit of it, every measure.

In trying, yet again, to resolve the focus issue, I watched Graham Fitch’s excellent video(s) on learning a new piece. I was already working in small sections (sometimes only three notes, sometimes a phrase), hands separate, going slowly. But his video helped me approach the piece in greater depth, to recognize more of what I was playing, the chords, the patterns, etc., to spend time analyzing it and understanding it. In other words, thinking about it.

A second piece for me has been to “lower my standards and achieve”, i.e. recognize that it is going to take one heck of a lot of practice, but that’s okay because I love learning it; I'm playing piano because I love playing piano. My short-term goal is the end of page one, measure 18, by Christmas. I’m currently each day reviewing the first seven measures (just spent 20 minutes on that), and am working on 8-11 (25 minutes). I plan to do more on 8-11 today and to go over it all again before bed.

Before I start a section, I pause, take a slow breath and relax, and look at and see what I’m about to play. If there’s a part that’s weak, I remind myself what I need to do there. I’m thinking about what I’m going to play. It’s like having a deeper relationship with the music. Zeroing in. It makes my “other way” of playing (without much thinking) seem like superficial skittering around. Nothing for my mind to anchor to. This way there’s no room for other thoughts and it’s much more interesting and satisfying. If rogue thoughts do happen to sneak in, I say “Focus” out loud… and breathe. It’s important at that point, to relax and that section again; no need or point in getting frustrated. If I can’t focus, I take a break. If I know that sometimes I’m going to lose focus and simply accept that, and go back to it, it needn’t escalate. Though far from perfect, I am getting better at staying focused.

As for tempo, I’ve always struggled with that (good thing I mostly like ballads). I have found that working with a metronome is helpful when I am at a point that I’m wanting to focus on increasing the tempo. Starting where I can play it and increasing gradually five bpm at a time. I may do this with individual sections before joining them up and then with the larger section.

Basically, the way I’m looking at this problem of focusing, is to engage my mind more deeply with the music, so that it doesn’t get bored and look elsewhere. It’s working for me. And the fact that I’m expanding my skills as I go is a bonus.

Another challenge for me is with reading versus memorizing, the notation of the score versus the patterns of the chords on the keyboard. But that is perhaps a separate issue for a separate thread.

I hope this is of some help to you, Meghdad. I agree with Iaroslav about practicing and playing for the inherent pleasure and satisfaction of it.

Warmly,
April


April
Re: Can't concentrate - interrupting thoughts, possible ADHD
meghdad #3039006 10/24/20 04:22 PM
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I can only offer the sympathy of someone who is in the same boat. I've been attempting to learn to play for nearly 10 years now, and I seem to have little to show for it. However, I have the freedom of my (60+) years and no illusions about this being a new career or any need to perform for anyone. It is done purely for the pleasure of approaching songs that I love and inhabiting them as well as I can at any given moment. Only in the past year have I attempted to play a few little things in front of other people. (No, none were perfect. I did it just to get past that "hump", which was good.)

Although I've had/have a few teachers along the way, this is indeed very much a journey of self-teaching/(and learning about oneself). I am also a person easily given to anxiety and worries. and "shoulding all over myself" that intrude during practice. I think in one of the threads here somewhere, someone said "Put your thoughts where you will not visit them" during practice. In the book "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank" one of the characters advises; "Empty yourself" when you sit down to practice.

One thing I have discovered is that yes, practicing a piece, _mindfully_, several times is good. However, there is something of diminishing returns if you don't give it a rest after that. Relentlessly pounding away at the same piece is pointless. I find that stepping away from such a piece for several days or even a week or two seems to allow some of the learning (that you thought never took place) actually DID have time to coalesce and when you begin to get back to it, you are at a whole different place with a little better confidence and flow.

I also read something recently about the process of learning in older adults (that's me, not sure if it's you): As we get older our brains often simply do not have as much capacity for new information and skill development as we had when we were kids. BUT a way to get around that requires two things: (1) clearly (sometimes even painfully) focusing on the subject/skill, and (2) real rest and relaxation between learning/practice sessions (however defined).

Best of luck!

Bibliotherapy: Two good/interesting/enjoyable books:
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhardt
Playing Scared by Sara Solovitch

Re: Can't concentrate - interrupting thoughts, possible ADHD
meghdad #3039116 10/25/20 04:37 AM
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I would not be in a rush to self diagnose, sometimes the answer is the most obvious one. A week ago you wrote:

Originally Posted by meghdad
It's been barely into 5 months of my learning process at a dedicated piano school and I'm already being skeptical about my second teacher with whom I've had only 5 0.5 hour sessions so far.

I am assuming from the above you started playing 5 months ago, and the piece is Beethoven's Sonatina in G Major (that you also mentioned). So, this Sonatina is (according to Pianosyllabus.com) a grade 2 piece (RCM grade 3).

This may well be your first stretch piece, and even it isn't, it is odd to me that you don't accept what is going on here. A stretch piece is never going to be simple no matter how easy it sounds to you, or how easy others make it look. The journey for the early beginner (at least for me it did) has to include an acceptance of what can and cannot be achieved at that point in time, given the lack of experience and technique that we start out with. I have a long list of pieces I started in my early years that I had to abandon, simply because I didn't have what it took to complete them at that time. If you don't accept that now, I don't know how you are going to accept what is to come. For it is going to get worse, as you will be constantly learning material at the limits of your capability which can have the effect of making you feel like you are not improving, or of being a complete failure. Adjusting to this isn't necessarily easy, but you have to remind yourself you are a beginner and its ok for beginners to make as many errors as necessary. Perhaps the most common flaw for all of us is we are seeking mastery without the required skills, while those teaching us are only looking for improvement.

As for concentration and piano, from my experience it is a learned skill just like any other. I didn't have the ability to focus very well at the start, and perhaps that is because concentrating while making complex movements, and complex decisions, had never been asked of me before😎. Add to that, the need to keep the whole process going for several minutes, with the slightest lapse derailing everything. After nearly eight years, my ability to concentrate has improved only as other facets of playing that previously required brain power have become second nature.


Originally Posted by meghdad
I mean if I can't record it, how the heck am I supposed to perform in front of him?


Recording is one of the most difficult things a beginner can do, but performing is a whole lot harder again. So, ask yourself this; how much piano recording and performance experience do you have? If the answer is little to none, cut yourself some slack because both of those are skills that have to be learned and developed.

However, what you probably meant was ''to play it for your teacher'' as you would a recording. Well again I think you need to review your expectations of what a piano lesson should be. Keep in mind that as soon as you cross over that line from elementary pieces to real classical pieces that stretch you, then it is a whole different ball game. The continuing journey will at times seem less about learning actual pieces, and more about your process of learning. Now that is for me when piano gets really interesting 👍


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Re: Can't concentrate - interrupting thoughts, possible ADHD
AprilE #3039117 10/25/20 04:44 AM
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Many informative and helpful posts! Thank you everyone. Some of the tips offered by Joe and April are in fact something that one would expect from his/her teacher. Well, I'm not going to complain about that hehe.

During my latest practice sessions, I tried singing the rhythm along playing and it worked pretty well on slow tempo. Somebody actually suggested this in my other thread but my reply there was sort of dismissive because I thought of "counting" as simple spoken counting and no singing. The singing really helped though and even made it more enjoyable after going over it like I don't know 70 times hehe.

From now on, I'm gonna raise the tempo by steps of 5 or 10, as suggested above and as I do myself too when practicing scales.

I've also found during learning this piece that finding patterns is very instrumental to memorizing. However, longer and sophisticated pieces must be a challenge in this regard as well.

Oh and I'm not gonna take more drugs because of this issue hehe. Thanks for the friendly warnings and advice. smile

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