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#3102027 04/04/21 11:53 AM
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Hi all,

I am trying to connect with a wider community of piano enthusiasts for advice and exchanges smile.

I am 52 y.o and started 5 years ago. Practicing a few hours a week in total regularly (trying to play every day even if only a few minutes), including 45mn with a teacher. Mostly classical pieces, with a pinch of modern stuff. I do feel I am learning pieces very slowly even after 5 years, and I also have a hard time playing fast.

On the learning speed side and for example, it took me 6 whole months to learn to play Bach's BWV 919 (see https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/fantasia-in-c-minor-bwv-919-digital-sheet-music/20106203), is this considered a hard piece? And I can't to the trills.

On the speed of playing side, I tried Mozart's K545, the second part was easy enough, but the first one which is faster I could never get right. Sixteenth note from Allegretto are way beyond reach still.

What do you think? Not practicing enough perhaps, or not the right practice for speed? Age may be a factor too? I am not sure where to go, the last year has been a bit frustrating. One last thing, I am wondering if after 5 years I should be able to play quickly while reading the music, I can decipher a piece looking at the music sheet and play very very slowly, but in my learning process and to increase speed I essentially play by memory and must look at the keyboard.

Happy playing,
Jacques

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hi jacques,

i'm not qualified to give you a good answer that transcends my own experience. a teacher could probably do that; since they will have a perspective that informs whats "average" given their distribution of students.

with that said, though, here is my experience.

i've been playing about 30months. i'm in a similar age demographic as yourself. in terms of "learning speed", i average 1 measure / day on a fairly "complex" song. that breaks down to ~20mins learning hands separate; ~20 learning hands together; ~20 mins playing the previous measure into the new measure.

obviously "complex song" is subjective. am i learning Rach or Chopin or that Scriabin dude? no. its early blues -- think Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis....

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Have you discussed this with your teacher? Unless the Bach piece is many pages I think six months is too long for that piece(I only see the first page of that piece). That piece and the Mozart might be too big of a stretch for you now. It would be helpful if you were more specific about how many hours you typically practice in a week. If by a "few" you mean only two hours on average that could be part of the problem. You also need to practice playing while looking at the score and only fairly occasionally looking at the keyboard.

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The Fantasia in C minor is not an easy piece. I'm not surprised it took you so long. But just to be clear, are you saying that it took you 6 months to learn to play the notes or to polish the piece to make it sound good? If the latter then that's normal with a difficult piece. If the former then I would say the piece is way too difficult for you right now. Ask your teacher for easier pieces. Also, practice reading new music for a few minutes every day to get better at reading. It will help you learn a lot faster.

Speed takes a long time to develop so don't worry. Practice your scales every day and it will get better. I'm 42 and 6.5 years into piano and my speed has improved a lot but it really took me dedicated daily exercises over several years.

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What’s the last piece you completed that took you a month or less? How long do you practice daily? What piece do you feel comfortable playing right now/polished to you and your teacher’s approval?

It seems like you’re playing too far above your level, but it’s impossible to know without more info.


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In relation to raw speed of playing I am so with you. I'm older than you, returned to the piano 2 1/2 years ago with a 40 year gap after 5 years of lessons as a child. I've given up on the first movement of K545. The second movement, like for yourself was learnt quickly and relatively easily. Under a month. I submitted it for the last quarterly ABF recital.

I could only play the first movement relatively securely at under half the speed of the expected tempo but it sounds like a funeral march at that tempo. I've got a recording at about 2/3 of the expected tempo, but I felt like I got my fingers in a tangle at one point and slowed down and then overcompensated, sped up too much and then had to slow down again to the original tempo, a disaster really.

I spent over a year on that first movement, whereas my recollection of learning it as a child, playing at speed was never an issue. I had lessons then for 6 years and that first movement wasn't in my last year of lessons.

I remember delighting in the fast part of Für Elise as a child, but I can't contemplate it now.

My trills are slow, ugly and uneven. I like the slower romantic era pieces and mostly I'm ok with them, but so many have a bollocky trill somewhere, so what I think could otherwise make sound nice I fail to do so, and somehow my failure to do the trill nicely disrupts my tempo elsewhere.

I suppose what I'm saying in relation to being able to play quickly, don't expect to match the progress of a child doing a similar amount of appropriate practise. You'll get there but it just takes more time and that is how it is. Your teacher will also be more use to how a child progresses, than an adult.

Second Movement K545 on Vimeo

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Thanks very very much everyone, for your responses.

@kitkatclubmc: thanks, I like your "one hour a measure" split by 20/20/20. I do it in chunks of half a dozen measures and maybe these are too big blocks.

@pianoloverus: The Bach piece is two pages. I practice I think between 2 to 3 hours per week (in spans of 30mn to 45mn), plus the 45mn lesson. Perhaps that is not 'enough'? I'd like to do more ideally, but work, kids, etc. make the weeks busy. I confess I am slightly afraid to discuss this with my teach (at 50+ oh boy...).

@Qazsedcft: it took me 6 months to learn to play the Bach Fantasia and make it sound ok (probably not great actually as I pound on the keyboard a lot, but ok to me and I suspect the teacher could not stand it anymore :-)). I enjoy playing it even if not perfectly. I find that if I do not practice it daily I lose it quickly. The way I practice while learning is by taking half a dozen measures to a polished point, before moving on to the next ones.

@ebonyk: see above for practice duration. The last pieces that I completed that took me less than a month (probably 2 to 3 weeks each, that is say 6 hours of practice each) were
and
A piece I feel comfortable playing right now :
(this exact one, albeit at slower speed). Another piece I have felt comfortable with (but forgot it now completely):
I thought K545's first movement would be easier than these last two, but it was actually much harder, perhaps due to speed.

@KevinM: thanks for your comments, and for the share, that's a nice K545 second movement! This is a piece I continue to find lovely year after year.

I have always felt like knowing how to play the piano was about being able to play at good speed while reading the score, but there is not much practice about it in my lessons, I am wondering if that is common. Keeping that whole Bach piece in my head is a stretch!

Kind regards,
Jacques

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5 years isn't that long in the scheme of things learning piano. Bach's BWV 919 would be a stretch piece for most learners with only five years experience, and it would not be expected that they would be performing it well after six months. Say for example this was an exam piece, the average student would spend a year, to a year and a half on their pieces for this grade level, (without a lot of info I am going to say ABRSM Grade 6 based on what Pianosyllabus.com rated it). Sure you might learn it after six months, but then take up to a year to get it to a performance level and even then that might just be adequate and not exceptional.

I like to think of the first ten years as an apprenticeship, so I would definitely not be too hard on yourself after only five.

Part of my own learning journey is this problem of not being able to read fast enough, and I started with memorising and looking at my hands, went to just reading the score and am now trying a bit of both. It is a long journey developing these new skills, longer than most people anticipate you just have to hang in there and take enjoyment out of where you can.


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Quote
Mostly classical pieces, with a pinch of modern stuff. I do feel I am learning pieces very slowly even after 5 years, and I also have a hard time playing fast.

On the learning speed side and for example, it took me 6 whole months to learn to play Bach's BWV 919 (see https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/fantasia-in-c-minor-bwv-919-digital-sheet-music/20106203), is this considered a hard piece? And I can't to the trills.
Yes, that is a hard piece, probably only played by learners after seven years. And the 'version' (or 'transcription' as sheetmusiciplus would have it) you linked seems to have been augmented with bass octaves, among other minor notation changes. Is that what you're playing, and if so, why are you making it harder for yourself, rather than playing the original?
https://us.imslp.org.ong/imglnks/usimg/6/68/IMSLP109051-PMLP180586-Sibley.1802.1316.bach919.pdf

Quote
On the speed of playing side, I tried Mozart's K545, the second part was easy enough, but the first one which is faster I could never get right. Sixteenth note from Allegretto are way beyond reach still.

What do you think? Not practicing enough perhaps, or not the right practice for speed? Age may be a factor too? I am not sure where to go, the last year has been a bit frustrating. One last thing, I am wondering if after 5 years I should be able to play quickly while reading the music, I can decipher a piece looking at the music sheet and play very very slowly, but in my learning process and to increase speed I essentially play by memory and must look at the keyboard.
You didn't say whether you're doing any essential technical stuff like scales & arpeggios. K545(I) is full of them. Speed comes with technical fluency and takes years to develop. Improvement comes slowly - and with lots of dedicated practicing.

I'd say that for a learner after five years, you're doing OK, comparable to most kids - pretty good going, in fact, considering the limited amount of practicing you can fit in your life. (Normally, at your level, students would be practicing at least an hour a day, if not 90 minutes or more.) And definitely start learning scales & arpeggios if you haven't already been playing them: they are the backbone of classical piano technique.

As for playing from the music, if you practice playing from it (which means that you look down at your hands when necessary and look back again at the score and know where you are) you'll get fluent at it. Sight-reading is something quite different.


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Oops, sorry, not sure why some pieces are not showing up. Trying again

https://vimeo.com/97931311 (easy one learned in 2-3 weeks).

https://vimeo.com/149617823 (one I felt comfortable with)

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I think the point I keep failing to get across is how adults progress when learning the piano is a different experience than a child. I certainly feel this very strongly from my own experience.

The typical program for learning the piano is built around children learning, so you have ABRSM, RCM, AMEB with levels that match how most children are expected to progress from one year to the next when learning the piano.

In some aspects I think an older adult can draw upon experience that means they can progress faster than a child, but I think in other areas the opposite is the case, from my own personal experience the two big areas are ability to play quickly and proprioception, and I think this comes down to a childs neural plasticity is superior to an adults.

What I think this mean for the adult learner. I think it means progress is uneven in comparison to that of a child, and piano is taught and progress is often measured by one of the exam boards (ABRSM, RCM, AMEB) and that is based on how a child is typically expected to progress. This means that as an adult learner you may well be able to cope with pieces that are complex for a particular exam board level, but that any piece requiring fast play is beyond your reach.

I am not sure there is a solution, I've worked hard on just trying to have my ability to play at speed to catch up to my other skill levels without success. I'm sure speed will come, but I don't think I can force it by hard work and stubborness as I did. Trying to push yourself too hard on this and you don't relax and being relaxed is essential to being able to play quickly and smoothly. Both my teacher and myself now recognize that what my level is can't really be measured against ABRSM. We've got it wrong a few times now on both underestimating and overestimating what pieces I should be learning next. Of course I mostly remember the pieces which have been a struggle. The ones I moved on after a week because they were easy are quickly forgotten. So I think there is a little more to it than just you are playing pieces above your level, if level is measured against the usual exam board yardstick.

As an adult returner there is one aspect of playing the piano I miss from when I learnt as a child, it is the joy of just ripping through those notes, I might not have given much thought to musicality quite a lot of the time but I don't remember the jarring unevenness of the notes when trying to play fast that is a feature of my playing today.

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1. Are you in a hurry?

2. If it helps you feel better, no matter how slow you are, I am probably slower.

2b. But I am not in a hurry.


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Don't worry. Putting in a few hours a week, a few minutes here & there, I estimate you have 600-800 lifetime piano hours under your belt. A piano year is 1000 hours (20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year). You are approaching 1 year of piano experience. You're doing well! I'm near 6000 lifetime hours and I would have a hard time sight reading BWV 919. You have no reason to feel discouraged. Piano as an adult beginner is far harder than most people realize.


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Originally Posted by Fidel
Don't worry. Putting in a few hours a week, a few minutes here & there, I estimate you have 600-800 lifetime piano hours under your belt. A piano year is 1000 hours (20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year). You are approaching 1 year of piano experience. You're doing well! I'm near 6000 lifetime hours and I would have a hard time sight reading BWV 919. You have no reason to feel discouraged. Piano as an adult beginner is far harder than most people realize.
Where did you get the idea how long a "piano year" is? Very few amateurs practice 20 hours/week. I'd guess maybe 1%.

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Originally Posted by Lecoff
@ebonyk: see above for practice duration. The last pieces that I completed that took me less than a month (probably 2 to 3 weeks each, that is say 6 hours of practice each) were
and
A piece I feel comfortable playing right now :
(this exact one, albeit at slower speed). Another piece I have felt comfortable with (but forgot it now completely):
I thought K545's first movement would be easier than these last two, but it was actually much harder, perhaps due to speed.
The pieces that you can comfortably play are very nice, I like them a lot! The thing is, they are nowhere near the level of the Bach or the Mozart. That's just reality. Bach is hard. He's hard for me. He's hard for a LOT of people. Mozart is also very challenging. Playing for 30 min/day will absolutely give you some very nice pieces in a reasonable amount of time, as you've experienced. This Bach and Mozart need a LOT more time and effort to conquer, as well as skills such as being able to play, comfortably, quick scales, chords, and arpeggios. You're trying to run when you're not really ready yet.

You're at a level where you seem pretty comfortable, so the thing to do now is move forward, gradually increasing difficulty level. That will include not only slightly more challenging pieces, but also starting (if you haven't already) to learn and practice all 24 major and minor scales, chords, and arpeggios, as well as other technical skills. You don't have to rush to learn these, learn maybe one major and minor scale a month, starting with two octaves and try to get to four octaves. Work similarly with the arpeggios and basic chord progressions. Don't rush anything, just take one at a time, and stay with it until you're comfortable. Speed will increase the more you practice them. Technical work will only benefit you, it is NEVER a waste of time.

The RCM syllabus has a nice progression of pieces, etudes, and technical study that can help guide you. https://files.rcmusic.com//sites/default/files/files/RCM-Piano-Syllabus-2015.pdf

DO NOT think that you just can't play these pieces because you're old, I'm older than you, LOL! And you don't have to practice tons of time, but another 15 minutes, if possible, would benefit you. Adding that bit of time for technical work, and working on your pieces as you are, can get you closer to where you want to be AS LONG AS YOU'RE METHODICAL. Gradually increasing difficulty and playing more appropriate pieces, as well as doing your technical work, will reap some very nice rewards for you. You can do it! ❤️


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Fidel
Don't worry. Putting in a few hours a week, a few minutes here & there, I estimate you have 600-800 lifetime piano hours under your belt. A piano year is 1000 hours (20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year). You are approaching 1 year of piano experience. You're doing well! I'm near 6000 lifetime hours and I would have a hard time sight reading BWV 919. You have no reason to feel discouraged. Piano as an adult beginner is far harder than most people realize.
Where did you get the idea how long a "piano year" is? Very few amateurs practice 20 hours/week. I'd guess maybe 1%.

I agree that 20 hrs per week is very rare. Aldi the OP is not practicing 20 hrs and has been playing 5 yrs


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Not an expert on the subject. A piano teacher would say play more easier pieces and come back to the difficult piece later. Throw in 1 or 2 difficult pieces in between the pieces you're more comfortable learning. Many of us have to go through the stage of playing easier pieces like the ones out of the Notebook for Anna M Bach including "Minuet in G".


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A good way to improve handling is by playing scales. They're quick to memorize and you can focus on speeding them up right away. Once you get comfortable with being fast playing Something/Anything, you will understand how to manage that internal clock to apply it elsewhere.

Before you attempt this though, make sure you discuss technique with your teacher, you don't want to end up with RSI. Check out Glenn Gould's technique which is Alberto Guerrero's finger tapping technique. You don't have to do it exactly like that, just understand the mechanics and the rational behind applying minimal force. When beginners first speed something up, they tend to over-exert and tense up their whole body/ shoulder. You want to avoid that.

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Jacques, I've been playing the piano for 63 years, and I have the same problems you write about. I can't read music fast enough, I can't learn new repertoire fast enough and I can't play fast enough. We have a lot in common.

So you've been playing for 5 years as a 52-year-old. I'd say you've made great progress, and stop stressing out. Can't play the K545 1st movt fast enough? Well, we may have different ideas about fast, but I've heard performances of the K545 that are too fast and lack musicality.

Some pianists just play too fast - just because they can. Earlier on, I was discussing learning the Haydn sonata #31 in A-flat. A great piece for you to have a look at. You can easily find two versions of this on YouTube. Have a listen to Pogorelich and Jean Efflam Bavouzet and see what you think. The fastest is not necessarily the best.

Be happy with what you achieve, and have achieved.

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You may want to try some specific training for speed.
The best method of training for speed that I'm aware of is playing with what I call "speed bursts". It's done like that: get some very simple exercise, simpler than a scale, it may be one of Hanon's simplest exercises, or this one that I particularly like, and play it hands separately 3 notes at a time, trying to play 3 notes as fast as you can and then stopping and resting on a 3rd note.

For Hanon's #1 it's like that:
CEF-GAG-FED-FGA-BAG-FEG-...

When resting on a third note check if your hand and arm is fully relaxed, relax it mentally or shake it if needed. Make sure that no joint is locked or rigid when you're playing, the wrist must be very flexible and helping.

When you can play 3 notes at a time quickly with ease, start playing 4 notes in one burst, then 5 notes, and increment it until you can play a whole pattern evenly with one speed burst. Then switch to another key or get more difficult exercise.

Good luck!

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