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Originally Posted by TimR
However, that very traditional approach doesn't seem to build the level of fluency the 10 year old taught herself in the OP.

Something is missing.
What's missing is that adult learners and some children constrained by very strict teaching are not learning how to "let go".

The 10 year old child in the OP (like I did at her age) plays with what other might hear as "fluent" because she completely "lets go". She has no external constraints placed upon her. No demands for keeping strict tempo. No demands for keeping curved fingers. No demands for proper fingering. No demands even for playing slow. The music is internalized. She "feels" the music rather than feels pressure of external constraints demanding her to play in a specific way- just like a string puppet. That's what I hear when I listen to some adults and even children by "the method". Don't play like a robot thinking about all those things the method teaches you- relax, curved fingers, count out loud, think about phrasing, play on your finger tips. At some point you just have to learn to let go and just play. Play from the heart. That's what this kid is doing and I know this from my own personal experience. She plays relaxed because she's completely playing free of any external constraints.

Now of course there could be problems with this. When you play completely free you may play with improper fingering. You may play with improper rhythm. Improper phrasing. Sloppy playing, missed notes, additional notes. But there has to be a balance. It is good to learn the music slow so that you know all the notes, so that you learn the "best" fingering for "you". You learn the proper rhythm. But given all the guidelines that "the method" is supposed to teach you, at some point you are going to have to "let go" or you're going to end up playing like a string puppet and it doesn't matter how many scales, arpeggios, exercises you have done. You will end up sounding like a robot and an uptight one at that.

As a note to the OP poster, if you can play a piece fast well but can't play a piece well slow it just means that you just don't know the notes as well as you should. That's where slow practice is very beneficial. You have to really know the music. When you play well fast you are just relying on motor memory and superficial learning, but once you know notes, stop thinking about all the things you think you have to think about and just play. That's my two cents anyway.

Last edited by Jethro; 01/12/22 01:54 PM.
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Don't do note-by-note, do group-by-group.


Soli Chopin gloria
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Is letter-by-letter reading the best way to learn English?

The atomic elements of the English language are words, not letters.
By the same token, the atomic elements of music are musical vocabulary, not musical notes.

When we learn a natural language, we build up our vocabulary, we learn sentence structures, we learn expressions, we learn the organization of the paragraphs, finally, we learn the entire article, the entire book.

Music is a natural language.

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Originally Posted by The Monkeys
Is letter-by-letter reading the best way to learn English?

The atomic elements of the English language are words, not letters.
By the same token, the atomic elements of music are musical vocabulary, not musical notes.

When we learn a natural language, we build up our vocabulary, we learn sentence structures, we learn expressions, we learn the organization of the paragraphs, finally, we learn the entire article, the entire book.

Music is a natural language.


Good summary ! It’s so important to get beyond reading individual notes in music, just as it is getting beyond single letters in reading.


"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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There seems to be an assumption here that lack of fluency is caused by reading note by note rather than in larger phrases.

I think lack of fluency is a physical technique problem that will still be there with larger phrases.

If you have the wrong root cause your solution is likely to be less than optimal.


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Originally Posted by TimR
There seems to be an assumption here that lack of fluency is caused by reading note by note rather than in larger phrases.

I think lack of fluency is a physical technique problem that will still be there with larger phrases.

If you have the wrong root cause your solution is likely to be less than optimal.

Most likely both the intellectual part (understand the music - knowing what you want to achieve) and the physical part (the techniques - ability to achieve) are contributing factors.

Every one of us will hit one of the two limits in our life.

For many people who love music, actually understand music, the vast majority of them will eventually hit the physical limit, so they can't become concert pianists. But they can be critics, they still can play to entertain themselves and others, and can have life long love for music.

But for more people, for most of the kids that take piano classes, they don't seem to understand the music, they don't recognize the musical patterns and relate them to what they are playing. With note-by-note learning, some of the kids that are physically capable, but don't really understand music, can put up good performances on recitals. But unless the intellectual part later on develops, they don't get beyond the elementary level of playing, despite their physical capabilities. The result is they don't retain anything from their years-long piano classes after they stop the classes.

"Note-by-note practice", emphasizing perfection from the very beginning, can be a valid way of learning when you understand the music you are playing, and understand what you are doing.

Imposing "Note-by-note practice" on young kids, demanding perfection from the very beginning, probably will hurt more than help.

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Originally Posted by TimR
There seems to be an assumption here that lack of fluency is caused by reading note by note rather than in larger phrases.

I think lack of fluency is a physical technique problem that will still be there with larger phrases.

If you have the wrong root cause your solution is likely to be less than optimal.


There are several members here that have very deficient reading skills and haven’t invested the time and effort to develop them. Therefore, they memorize everything in order to avoid learning note-by-note, when they are forced to read a score it is note-by-note with frequent pauses to figure out the notes or chords.


"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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Originally Posted by dogperson
There are several members here that have very deficient reading skills and haven’t invested the time and effort to develop them. Therefore, they memorize everything in order to avoid learning note-by-note, when they are forced to read a score it is note-by-note with frequent pauses to figure out the notes or chords.

Time & time again brings me back to a retired man in his 70s I met 3 years ago. He got into piano playing for learning the 1 Classical piece (over 5 min.) his father played years ago. He learned it by watching video demos online. After 3 months of painstakingly copying hand positions, he was able to play the piece reasonably well even with no concept of counting beats, tempo & dynamics.

There were unanswered questions whether he had any piano lessons from his father or a teacher as a child. Every time I suggested that he should learn basic music theory like reading notes he would compare the symbols to a foreign language that is difficult to master. Learning piano at an advanced age may be a factor but I noticed he has serious "undisclosed" health issues that may affect his ability to learn to read.

Many people like myself who have taken music lessons may not be a proficient reader but at least we can learn pieces from sheet music. The man I met before has absolutely 0 reading skills and is not planning to learn notations. In other words he is relying 100% on memory. At least he is happy to be able to play the piece he heard as a child.

People like myself is a typical music student who would learn to read easier pieces and work towards advanced pieces. He dived into a difficult piece from day 1 by memorizing hand positions. In a year he only mastered 5 relatively difficult pieces and only from memory.

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Time & time again brings me back to a retired man in his 70s I met 3 years ago. He got into piano playing for learning the 1 Classical piece (over 5 min.) his father played years ago. He learned it by watching video demos online. After 3 months of painstakingly copying hand positions, he was able to play the piece reasonably well even with no concept of counting beats, tempo & dynamics.

I would guess for singers and guitar players (among others) it's probably more the norm than the exception.

There's an old joke that goes something like:

Q: How do you mess up a piano player?
A: Take his sheet music away from him.

Q: How do you mess up a guitar player?
A: Put some sheet music in front of him.


It's also interesting that for most of human history people learned to become very good speakers without ever learning to read or write in their native language. In 1820 only 12% of the world's population could read and write and even in 1960 it was only 42%.

Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
People like myself is a typical music student who would learn to read easier pieces and work towards advanced pieces. He dived into a difficult piece from day 1 by memorizing hand positions. In a year he only mastered 5 relatively difficult pieces and only from memory.

I'm jealous of this guy in his 70's who managed to learn a 5-minute piece in three months starting from nothing and five difficult pieces in a year smile

I started in my late 40's and I took a ton of courses in music theory. I can read (but not sight read) and I don't think I could keep up with that guy (at least not while maintaining the ability to play all five pieces and certainly not in my first year of playing).

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Since people are telling their stories. I was given a little electric organ at age 8, and a book for adult autodidacts that stayed in C major and A mnor for most of its 12 or so pages, and it moved fast. My "reading" was a weird hybrid affair. Then I was given a passed on book of sonatas and a piano. I was surprised, decades later, to discover that the Mozart K545 and the (full) Fuer Elise were supposed to be more advanced music - they're the first things I dashed off. The book was from a conservatory in Bayreuth where my grandmother had taken a course for young ladies. The TAKEAWAY: ---- I had fluid, lyrical playing, at times excessively rubato or emotional; fingers that hammered in fixed shapes, and no sense of steady underlying pulse. Returning to piano decades later, my job is to get the strict, steady, early things. When those get married to the rubato and the rest, then you get some nice playing. i.e. it appears to be both.

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Originally Posted by TimR
There seems to be an assumption here that lack of fluency is caused by reading note by note rather than in larger phrases.

I think lack of fluency is a physical technique problem that will still be there with larger phrases.

If you have the wrong root cause your solution is likely to be less than optimal.
Put another way, to solve a problem, you first have to know the cause of the problem, because more than one thing can cause a same thing. I identify with what you're saying, Tim. At times it's a physical thing that has to be figured out. That's not just pauses - two notes can rush together due to an awkward movement.

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At age 5 I had a toy keyboard with just 2 octaves. I had next to no experience in music except a few Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven pieces my father used to play off his LP. Mom got an upright and a teacher for me to try piano for a month. Coming from a non-musical family I had to rely on the teacher 100%

After a month the lessons stopped and the piano was out of the house. Mom wasn't keen any of the kids get into music. She believes someone who has talent would show it early. I developed my skills reading & memorizing music a decade later playing violin. Learning piano for a month at age 5 is not long enough to develop reading skills or a good memory.

Years ago I was clueless. Today I track my progress, know my deficiencies and what I need to work on. I do memorize my pieces so that I can play them at gatherings without the sheet music. I also carry my pdfs on my phone as backup. Sight reading a piece at an intermediate level I can get about 40%

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