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Posted By: eighty80eights8s Beginner Frustrations... - 01/22/14 11:32 PM
Hello all,

I started taking piano lessons 1 year ago when I was age 57, now I'm 58. I have played the guitar for years so I had some musical knowledge when I started piano. I take 1 hour lessons weekly and practice at least 3 hours daily. At this point I am frustrated that I am not better at it. I just completed Alfred's Adult All-In-One Level 1 course. I can almost play about 22 songs but NEVER make it all the way through without any mistakes. I recently recorded myself play Scarborough Fair, a fairly simple song in the Alfred book and it took me 38 attempts before I got it right. I think I have a good teacher; she gives a mixture of learning songs, exercises, and lessons. But for some reason it feels like I am learning songs one by one, not learning to play the piano. I can read the music and struggle through the fingering to learn/memorize the songs and play from memory while blankly staring at the music but don't actually play from reading the music in real time. If I get stuck or lose my place, it's a real struggle to restart. I wind up starting from the beginning of the song. Am I being too impatient? Is it an age thing? Any input would be appreciated?
Posted By: LS35A Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/22/14 11:45 PM
You sound a lot like me. I'm a 59 yr old ex-guitar player who finished Alfred book 1 and was somewhat frustrated.

Here is what has completely changed my piano experience:

Find either or both of two materials:

'Fundamental Keys' by Rachel Jimenez.

http://fundamentalkeys.com/index.html

'Learn to Read a Line a Day' series.

http://tinyurl.com/lyedarm

Play each piece until you can play it from memory. If you are making mistakes STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Go back to what you can do without errors, even if it is only one measure.

You need to do less and repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition of fairly simple pieces you can play without errors is the KEY.

It's working out well for me. REPETITION OF FAIRLY SIMPLE PIECES YOU CAN PLAY WITHOUT ERRORS. REPETITION. Don't think, 'Oh, I know this, let's move on'. Knock these pieces into little bits (a measure, two measures, maybe a line) you can play with ZERO ERRORS. Then repeat, repeat, repeat, and move on.

Both the Fundamental keys and the 'Line a day' books have lots of good, fun, easy to play music. Don't play something till you can play it once or twice. Play it till you can play it five times.

DO NOT REPEAT MISTAKES. If you start making mistakes STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING.


Posted By: Sweet06 Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 12:00 AM
You are probably being impatient. You should NEVER "practice" 38 times over and NOT get it right. In my opinion i think you need to slow down. Practicing should be slow and purposeful. You should be playing songs as slow as you can WITHOUT making a mistake (try starting at the troublespot and cleaning that up, vs going thru entire piece just to miss the trouble-spot at full tempo). If you make mistakes, you need to slow down and slowly work your way up. let me repeat, SLOWLY work your way up. This is not an instant process, you literally need to program your brain properly.

You ARE learning piano, its just hard to notice and see. You are getting familiar with learning to read music. You are getting basic technique mastered. You are getting some basic rhythms ingrained into you. Personally I felt 100% the same way you did. The songs were just simple melody trade off between hands and it was frustrating. Now we are (finally) starting to add consistent left hand bass into songs and my god is it nice to finally start doing.
I'm noticing tho, its giving me the tools to create music how I want. I learn a left hand bass line pattern and now I can play that song as well as use that learned pattern to improvise over!


Check your shoulders for tension as well. Try to play in a relaxed state ALL the time. If you feel tension, more than likely you need to slow down. You need to get the feel for playing tension free.


I can relate to "just learning songs one by one" completely.

Just keep going, taking it a day at a time. forget the fantasy you have in your head about playing well and just "hitting the piano". That will come, you need to enjoy the journey which you are currently on and the results WILL come smile
Posted By: Michael Martinez Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 12:43 AM
Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
I can almost play about 22 songs but NEVER make it all the way through without any mistakes.


The point of playing music is not to "not make mistakes". It is that if you do make "mistakes", you keep playing and recover from it without messing up the rhythm (and without messing up the harmony too badly.)

Actually you shouldn't approach it as trying to imitate verbatim what someone else wrote. You should approach it with the perspective that you are free to embellish and make changes to the music as you see fit.

Quote

I recently recorded myself play Scarborough Fair, a fairly simple song in the Alfred book


There are two strong elements to Scarborough Fair: the guitar and the harpsichord, and neither of these arrangements on the Simon and Garfunkle album recording are "simple." The harpsichord is used strictly as an accompaniment, in a pretty sophisticated way. So what you're doing on piano is a basic arrangement of the melody and harmony.

Quote
I think I have a good teacher; she gives a mixture of learning songs, exercises, and lessons. But for some reason it feels like I am learning songs one by one, not learning to play the piano.


I think you've hit it on the nail. You're not learning to play piano. Instead you're learning to memorize songs, but this isn't the right approach.

Get off the written page. Learn your chords, learn melodies, and learn how to play these by ear. I give some pointers on starting to do this on my website.

Posted By: RemyPianissimo Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 01:09 AM
I would like to reiterate the advice offered by another post: Slow down when you practice. I had been studying for over 10 years until I heeded this very advice and immediately noticed the difference. We tend to hurry through the stage of learning the note and the rhythm, and once we have figured out the melody we would play it from memory without looking at the notes and the music markings. Our memory is of course not perfect, especially for older folks, and the additional stress of playing before an audience or for a recording session would mess it up further. Learn a piece VERY SLOWLY until when playing it you'd know exactly where you are in the written scores and what notes are coming up, that will boost your performance confidence tremendously. I just attended a taping of NPR's "From The Top" program that showcased young gifted musicians. A 14-year old girl dazzled us with her virtuosity on the piano. She said the best, even life-changing, advice that she got from a teacher was: "Practice slowly." If a genius like her conceded that she needed to practice slowly, we can't afford not to.
Posted By: Rerun Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 01:33 AM
It's not an age thing 88, Michael's advice could be right on the money ... I started learning how to play by ear when I turned 60.
Posted By: dmd Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 02:14 AM
Originally Posted by LS35A
You sound a lot like me. I'm a 59 yr old ex-guitar player who finished Alfred book 1 and was somewhat frustrated.

Here is what has completely changed my piano experience:

Find either or both of two materials:

'Fundamental Keys' by Rachel Jimenez.

http://fundamentalkeys.com/index.html

'Learn to Read a Line a Day' series.

http://tinyurl.com/lyedarm

Play each piece until you can play it from memory. If you are making mistakes STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Go back to what you can do without errors, even if it is only one measure.

You need to do less and repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition of fairly simple pieces you can play without errors is the KEY.

It's working out well for me. REPETITION OF FAIRLY SIMPLE PIECES YOU CAN PLAY WITHOUT ERRORS. REPETITION. Don't think, 'Oh, I know this, let's move on'. Knock these pieces into little bits (a measure, two measures, maybe a line) you can play with ZERO ERRORS. Then repeat, repeat, repeat, and move on.

Both the Fundamental keys and the 'Line a day' books have lots of good, fun, easy to play music. Don't play something till you can play it once or twice. Play it till you can play it five times.

DO NOT REPEAT MISTAKES. If you start making mistakes STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING.





Some good advice in here.

Especially the part about DO NOT KEEP REPEATING MISTAKES.

When you make mistakes it is because you are playing something that is too difficult for you or you are going too fast.

Go as slow as you have to play it without mistakes and then play it again and again without mistakes. Prove to yourself that you absolutely can play it perfectly regardless of how many times you play it.

Posted By: Sand Tiger Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 02:16 AM
There was a survey asking the time to complete book one and the median was nine months. So a year is on the high side, but not by much.

The advice given by several others to slow down is good. Also focus on one small segment of music at a time. It might be as little as one or two bars of music. Keep slicing until you can get through without errors at very slow speed. Repeat that same bit over and over until five to ten correct repetitions are complete. If a mistake is made, start the count at one again. Only after many correct reps are done, move on to the next small bit of music.

By practicing and playing with errors, a person reinforces the errors. By practicing the correct notes, they get reinforced. A third suggestion is to take a break after 15 to 20 minutes of dedicated practice. If an hour is scheduled, resume after a three to five minute break.

For almost all of us, piano is a long journey. Once in a while an exceptional talent shows up on the forum and writes about playing Chopin after a short time, but those people are 1 in 1000 or 1 in 10,000 or fewer. If a person wants to learn to play by ear, that is an option. However, not everyone has a good ear. For folks with "tin" ears (below average ears), that path will tend to be even more frustrating than the method books.

/edit to add: How are you allocating the time? The frame work I use is: 40% new pieces, 20% old pieces, 20% musicianship, 20% technique (from the book The Musician's Way). I find this to be a balanced approach and it has served me well. These are very loose allocations. Musicianship includes sight reading, ear training, rhythm training, theory. Technique includes posture, fingering, scales, arpeggios.
Posted By: keystring Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 02:33 AM
I'm going to start off with two facts:
- you played guitar for many years
- you are having lessons
Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
. I think I have a good teacher; she gives a mixture of learning songs, exercises, and lessons. But for some reason it feels like I am learning songs one by one, not learning to play the piano.

In a sense, your feeling is probably right, and you are indeed missing some important elements in your instruction. They are basic things can be taken for granted especially if a student comes in and already has some kind of background in music (which you do). Some of us who started lessons as adults had to sort this out - sometimes after a couple of years. (!) Let's see if I can set this up.

A teacher called "Marbeth" divided teaching into two paths: "project" vs. "process". In "project" the main purpose is to complete projects: teach one piece after another, prepare for a recital etc. Skills and such are coincidental. I.e. if piece x needs legato, you teach legato for the piece. 2. In "process" the main purpose is to develop skills in the student. Ad adult student, I would want process.

Small children will automatically get more "process", because they are lacking skills everywhere, and the music is also simpler for longer. If you have played another instrument for years, then you will be able to dash off pieces faster, you'll stay near the surface, and miss out on the acquisition of skills. Often teachers will also think that adult students want to get through levels in a hurry, and have lots of pieces under their belt.

You can actually go through the same material from a different angle, and get something totally different out of it. If you have a teacher, this assumes the teacher switching to an aim toward skills, if the teacher is inclined this way.
Quote
I can read the music and struggle through the fingering to learn/memorize the songs and play from memory while blankly staring at the music but don't actually play from reading the music in real time. If I get stuck or lose my place, it's a real struggle to restart. I wind up starting from the beginning of the song.

This suggests some missing skills right there. Your reading skills may not be what you think. There is also how to approach a piece. "Starting from the beginning" over and over is also a sign of things you were not taught to do. There are probably other things besides reading.

I don't want to go into details because it would get too long, so this is just a very rough idea.

** Addendum: I see Sand Tiger's post, and elements of musicianship on the bottom. That's part of it too.

My thinking is that if you have a teacher, you should be getting approaches from that teacher. This doesn't always happen, unfortunately.
Posted By: earlofmar Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 03:34 AM
All the advise is spot on so far but just want to add something else. We have very similar histories, similar age group, long time guitar player, a little musical knowledge going into piano, have a teacher and spend too much time per day on piano. I also had my first piano anniversary in mid November.

On finishing my first year I of course reflected on the journey to date and concluded similar things. I wasn't as far along as I had hoped and I could not play much without multiple mistakes and recording was a nightmare. But of course I had to add in all the good things, I had learned over 20 pieces in the year, my sight reading went from zero to something just past zero (lol) but improvement I was happy with. Added to that was a new appreciation of classical music and a new hobby that may well bankrupt me but gives me hours of pleasure.

What they don't tell you at the piano store and even the teachers can be coy about is this is a very hard instrument to learn and one year is but the introduction. The first year in particular, but the first two years in general are regarded as very difficult for the beginner. Ultimately you are trying to create a symbiosis with a machine using fingers, arms, legs, etc more used to lifting, pulling, throwing or clicking the mouse as you browse through the web.

Reading some old posts here at PW I found making random mistakes is a fairly common complaint that many put down to our junior status. Of course lack of concentration, a reliance on muscle memory, or a lack of intimacy with the piece are all possible factors I am sure you teacher will have warned you about. IMHO it is lack of concentration that will, a bit like sight reading develop naturally, the more you play.

Congratulations on completing Alfred book 1, many start and never finish. The good news is there is lots of great material even at our low levels which are very rewarding to learn and play.
Posted By: peterws Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 07:03 AM
Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
Hello all,

I started taking piano lessons 1 year ago when I was age 57, now I'm 58. I have played the guitar for years so I had some musical knowledge when I started piano. I take 1 hour lessons weekly and practice at least 3 hours daily. At this point I am frustrated that I ma not better at it. I just completed Alfred's Adult All-In-One Level 1 course. I can almost play about 22 songs but NEVER make it all the way through without any mistakes. I recently recorded myself play Scarborough Fair, a fairly simple song in the Alfred book and it took me 38 attempts before I got it right. I think I have a good teacher; she gives a mixture of learning songs, exercises, and lessons. But for some reason it feels like I am learning songs one by one, not learning to play the piano. I can read the music and struggle through the fingering to learn/memorize the songs and play from memory while blankly staring at the music but don't actually play from reading the music in real time. If I get stuck or lose my place, it's a real struggle to restart. I wind up starting from the beginning of the song. Am I being too impatient? Is it an age thing? Any input would be appreciated?


I`m doin` that all the time. Been playing for years. EVERYBODY makes mistakes. You learn to charge through them and come out the other side still smiling even if you face is red. Much more fun!
Posted By: casinitaly Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 07:26 AM
Lots of great advice in this thread.
One thing that has come up several times is the slowing down.

I would add that even when you slow down as much as you think reasonable, it isn't enough. I've learned this the hard way. When you're working on something particularly challenging (and that can happen at any level!) - play ONE note in each hand, make sure you're in the right place, comfortable, then play the next note, check, remember the sensation and so on. Play without respecting the tempo until you are sure of the fingering and then very slowly add in the right tempo. I know I'm not the only one who has struggled with this idea of slowing down -but it does pay off.

I do think that age has a bit to do with it. I had some musical background before starting piano - I could read music (treble clef , - I had to learn bass cleff), I knew note values and could figure out tempos fairly easily). However, getting two hands, and then sometimes my right foot to coordinate with 2 lines of music often turned my brain to mush!
I started piano when I was 51.

It goes in waves too. You'll be moving along thinking you're making good progress and then you'll hit a new piece and feel like you'll never get it. But you do. And another hurdle is overcome!

I don't use the Alfred books but from what I understand each piece is designed to teach a technique. What is important though, is that you don't feel you are learning technique, only to memorize pieces.

My first teacher wanted me to memorize, my second teacher insists I read (what happens is that eventually you do memorize but it isn't a conscious effort).

We get hung up on memorizing so we can play without music. Playing without music is great if you are at a friend's home and you want to play something - but I don't think we should get to that level of memorizing without being able to read really well and comfortably.
With the last piece I studied I made a point of being able to work from memory AND know exactly where to look when I need to refer to the score.

All in all what it boils down to is that learning piano is much harder than any of us ever expected it would be and it takes so much longer to make significant progress. You have to celebrate your baby steps.

As for getting through a piece with no mistakes - hardly anyone does it. The trick is to recover quickly and smoothly and not let a slip mess up your performance.

Posted By: Tubbie0075 Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 10:11 AM
I have the same problem even though I am a bit more advanced. I realised that the problem is not how many hours I practice, but how concentrated when I am practising, and the way I practice.

I also realise that muscle memory is not very reliable. Muscle memory comes from repeatedly playing a piece of music half mindlessly. It it more reliable to know the music and be very conscience with everything you are doing and every note you are playing.

So when I now sit at the piano, I make sure I am 100% concentrated and 100% aware of what my arms, hands fingers are doing. If I cannot give that for a piece I am learning, then I practice scales and arpeggios instead and give all the concentration and awareness I have. If I cannot give that level of concentration and awareness to a piece at the required tempo, I slow down the tempo. If I cannot give that to the entire piece, I practice the section(s) I struggle the most. It can be half a page, 2 lines, a bar. But when I learn that 1 bar, I give it all I've got. I analyse why I have trouble with it. I experiment the different techniques I've learned and apply them to that bar and see which is best. I practice hands separately if necessary to get to the root of the problem. If forte makes my fingers/arm tense up, I practise it softly. When you make the weakest part of a piece your strongest part, then the entire piece becomes a lot more manageable and you get more confident. If I do all the and still struggle, that's when I ask my teacher for help during lesson.

If I am tired or can't be bothered, I don't practice for the sake of practice. I rest up for tomorrow.

So in short, quality vs quantity. This is what I am trying to change my practice sessions. Good luck to you!

Posted By: -Frycek Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 12:05 PM
Only 38 attempts? It took me roughly 300 (over the course of a month) to get a submission for the last ABF recital. Most of these attempts would have done just fine in a live recital. With recording we're always tempted to just go one more, trying to get it "perfect." Of course there's no such animal. Don't sit down with the intention of recording. Sit done with the intention of playing with the recorder running. Eventually you"ll manage to sneak some really good performances onto your device. Whatever you do, don't stop playing when you "mess up". That just creates frustration and hesitancy. Fluidity is more important that perfect accuracy. You'll eventually get both but only if you relax and lower the stakes.
Posted By: casinitaly Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/23/14 12:56 PM
Originally Posted by -Frycek
Whatever you do, don't stop playing when you "mess up". That just creates frustration and hesitancy. Fluidity is more important that perfect accuracy. You'll eventually get both but only if you relax and lower the stakes.


Well said!
Posted By: Silver Keys Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 02:38 AM
What everyone else said!

I just want to emphasize slow down AND read! You will start out at a snail's pace. It will take some time, but stick with it. It is necessary to re-wire your brain. As your reading improves, so to will your ability to memorize a piece. I do not consciously "try" to memorize a piece. I work on learning the piece by playing from the score and gradually I rely less and less on the score. By the time the piece is ready, I usually have it committed to memory.
Posted By: 4evrBeginR Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 06:31 AM
My take on self-recording is treat it like a professional recording event. That means you treat it like you booked a studio at $$$ per hour, and you perhaps get 5 to 7 tries. If you cannot get it right with 5 tries, then you haven't memorized enough. Memorize means pretty much the ability to start from almost any measure, certainly from any phrase, not from the beginning. You need to be able to perform a piece for real before you should attempt to record. I know this stuff is all really hard for adults not used to memorization, but it does come slow and sure with practice. Memorization is the key to a good performance. Check out the website mentioned above for Fundamental Keys's forum on discussion on memorizing. It's really helpful. http://fundamentalkeys.com/community/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=4
Posted By: 4evrBeginR Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 06:36 AM
Originally Posted by -Frycek
Only 38 attempts? It took me roughly 300 (over the course of a month) to get a submission for the last ABF recital.


That's why I don't do the ABF Recital. The perfectionistic pressure you guys put yourself through this event quite intimidates me. smile
Posted By: casinitaly Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 07:37 AM
Originally Posted by 4evrBeginR
Originally Posted by -Frycek
Only 38 attempts? It took me roughly 300 (over the course of a month) to get a submission for the last ABF recital.


That's why I don't do the ABF Recital. The perfectionistic pressure you guys put yourself through this event quite intimidates me. smile


With all due respect to -Frycek, I don't believe 300 takes is the norm, not by a long stretch.

Sure, we often put some stress on ourselves to get the best possible recording -because there is something quite intimidating about putting up a recording that folks will go back and listen to (who knows how many times)....

The first recital I did a few takes and posted. After I listened to the recital I thought ..oh. hmmm... and the next time I tried a few more. But at a certain point you realize that the truth is either you can get it in under 5 takes or not. I now limit myself and have (more than once) gone with the first take, just as though it were a real recital.

Participating in the ABF recital should never be about how someone else's play make you feel (unless it is inspiring smile )
We have to acknowledge and accept that there are folks at many different levels and just as there will always be someone better than each of us, there are always new comers with less experience.

It is an opportunity to show where you are in your piano adventure --- and it gives you a chance to benchmark you skills at a specific point in time. I've gone back and listened to my early contributions and I can really see how far I've come (and how far I still have to go too!) --- There are very few flawless performances. I think I managed 1 in all the e-citals I've joined. C'est la vie.

Posted By: bluem00n010 Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 10:36 AM
When we reach the age of 50 and above, piano playing should be studied/learned for enjoyment, fun and leisure. Perfection should not be your primary goal unless you are doing a recital exam and everything needs to be perfect to pass the exam, or planning to become a concert virtuoso pianist or professional pianist playing in hotels or restaurants as a living. But they too make mistakes. We just don't notice it because they are good at covering up their mistakes. And that's what we should learn - how to cover up mistakes when playing the piano. Whenever you make mistakes, just continue playing until you finish the song. Enjoy the music you are making.
Posted By: -Frycek Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 11:16 AM
I think it may be fairer to say I practiced the piece for roughly the last 300 times with the recorder running. I wasn't trying to get THE recording most of the time. I was trying to get over a very severe case of "red dot fever" which turns my hands into crab claws the minute the recorder is turned on. I only partially succeeded. I was made to participate in recitals when I was a child but they were so traumatic for me that I've literally blacked them out. I was only reminded that they had even taken place when my Dad asked me to go through some very old papers he had and I found a note referring to one from my piano teacher. The fact that recording is so difficult for me is just another reason I've decided not to participate in the recitals in future. The fact that most of you are getting acceptable recordings in five takes or less was a wake up call. Probably, I have no business even being in the same room as a piano.




Posted By: sinophilia Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 11:27 AM
I think we need to establish a support group for people who suffer from the red dot syndrome! I'm probably end-stage but there's still hope.
Posted By: keystring Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 11:37 AM
Originally Posted by bluem00n010
When we reach the age of 50 and above, piano playing should be studied/learned for enjoyment, fun and leisure.

When we reach the age of 50 and above, we should know what we value and insist on living our lives accordingly. It may be time to stop going with the flow if that is what we have been doing. That includes deciding whether we want the next thing we tackle to be only for enjoyment, fun, and leisure.

The thing is that regardless of our ultimate goals, there are ways of approaching learning an instrument, that will set us up for series of gradual small successes that add up, or the opposite. The same thing that can make simple music and playing for pleasure a fun thing because we can get at it, can also help us do more serious things. A foundation is a foundation. Good strategy that works is good strategy. And these are the very things that are often missing in lessons, especially for older students.
Posted By: adultpianist Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 11:56 AM
Originally Posted by keystring
Originally Posted by bluem00n010
When we reach the age of 50 and above, piano playing should be studied/learned for enjoyment, fun and leisure.

When we reach the age of 50 and above, we should know what we value and insist on living our lives accordingly. It may be time to stop going with the flow if that is what we have been doing. That includes deciding whether we want the next thing we tackle to be only for enjoyment, fun, and leisure.

The thing is that regardless of our ultimate goals, there are ways of approaching learning an instrument, that will set us up for series of gradual small successes that add up, or the opposite. The same thing that can make simple music and playing for pleasure a fun thing because we can get at it, can also help us do more serious things. A foundation is a foundation. Good strategy that works is good strategy. And these are the very things that are often missing in lessons, especially for older students.


I am 50 and took up the piano at age 42 with no musical knowledge whatsoever. I am a perfectionist. I HATE making mistakes and whether this is a problem or not, I look at the professionals and think, if they can do it so can I. But they are not me, and I am not them and we have different brains and we all learn differently. I am not an academic and do not find study and learning easy. I did not go to University because I hated school and wanted to leave as soon as I could and get a job. Now that I am older (and perhaps wiser)I like to learn things so I took up the piano and although I find some of the theory hard, I do like playing (and not simply chopsticks lol)
Posted By: keystring Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 01:23 PM
I'm reading advice about playing through, playing fluidly, and similar. It depends on what you are doing while practising. If you are preparing for a performance or at the final stages, then yes, that's what you aim for. It is also right that you should not play through a section, stop where you stumble, go over those notes correcting them, and do that over and over. I see what you guys are saying and agree.

But there's more to practising. You may be working on three notes, getting the movement. You may be learning to read, and if it takes 3 seconds to coordinate note 1 to note 2, then take that time. This is the very thing that leads to fluidity later on. A lot of my practising even now has elements that sound most unmusical and unfluid, but they lead to skills, and they also lead to that fluid.

By chance I noticed a recording of practising a small section of the Grieg last month. It's a single measure, and starts with a middle beat, repeated a few times, then the preceding beat plus the middle beat, and finally the whole measure. There are two measures from entirely different sections of the music, isolated because they do the same thing in different keys. It's an example of not playing through, and it's a thing we do in practising.

https://app.box.com/shared/static/2vfeppvwb3ycjwsfhd4k.mp3
Posted By: TimR Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 01:45 PM
Everybody struggles. Well, except me, but that's because my time is going towards my primary instrument rather than piano right now - but trust me I struggle on that one.

Re-read keystring's comments on projects versus process. That's a distinction that easily gets blurred, or is not made at all. And it's a bit different for piano than for guitar, at least IMO.

With very careful choice of repertoire, doing enough projects will eventually teach you process. But piano is unusual. It's not just a linear increase in process skill, like you might expect from other instruments. It also requires mastery of small difficulties. These are different for each piece, and that's why learning one piece doesn't give you the ability to play the next one at the same level. There are purely process skills such as fluency, dynamics, etc. that apply to everything, but you may not notice your progress with those when the individual piece difficulties get in the way. Or, you may not be making progress with those.

I have a couple of friends who have been taking lessons for years, and who I know practice regularly, who are not making progress on process skills. My diagnosis is poor teaching, and I think you need to consider that too. Learning piano as an adult is hard; it's supposed to be hard! but it is not impossible. You've been at it a year now. The first two years are a struggle for all of us. But if you're not making progress by then, you need to seriously consider a teacher change.
Posted By: eighty80eights8s Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 02:53 PM
I am the OP on this thread and just wanted to thank everyone for their input. Boy am I glad I found and joined this forum! For me, there's nothing like trying to learn the piano to make you feel there is something wrong with you! I keep thinking I should have my head examined to either see if there is something physically wrong, or for trying to learn this thing at my age in the first place smile It's almost as if everyday is my first day learning. I can practice a piece or a measure many times and eventually get it, but the next day, I have to start over with it. My teacher gets upset when I say I don't want to make mistakes, she says I should concentrate more on touch, technique, and the overall sound rather than worrying about hitting the correct notes. But when I hit a clunker, it sounds so awful. I liken playing the piano to playing a video game. The bad guys are coming at you and you've got to be on your game to get them before they get you. Once you start playing a piece the notes keep coming at you at THEIR pace not YOURS so you better be ready. She tells me I should love the piano but I feel more like I'm going into combat! I've heard that adults need to take lessons and practice daily for at least two years before they can play anything that someone wants to listen to. So I have another year to go. Thanks again for all of your input smile
Posted By: anrpiano Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 03:05 PM
I am late joining this conversation 88, however, I don't think you are not experiencing anything different than all of us feel from time to time. Even after playing for over 40 years there are days the notes come faster than the brain can process. The piano has such a wealth of literature that you can continue to challenge yourself for your entire life and live at the edge of learning the whole time. Or after a few years you can sit back and enjoy a nearly life time supply of music available right at your level. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Posted By: sinophilia Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 03:44 PM
Your teacher sounds very wise to me! Hold on, it gets better - or so they tell me wink
Posted By: TwoSnowflakes Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 05:34 PM
Random thoughts from this thread:

1) Every once in a while, my lesson with my teacher is less teaching and more "assisted practice." We just sit down and instead of me showing her what I've accomplished this week and her making corrections and tasking me with the next elements to be mastered, we sit down and do it together. She'll slow me down over one measure, and repeat and repeat and repeat, then she will add am easure back, a measure forward, put it together, then repeat. If there are mistakes or problems, she'll either cut out how much lead in or lead out, or slow it down. Staccato practice, or some such thing. Things to show me how to tackle things when she's not with me.

It helps.

2) I struggle mightily to record myself. I haven't yet submitted anything because, in addition to the fundamental inconsistency of my playing at this point, the red light drives me absolutely bonkers. I've tried to jsut let the thing run and pretend it's not there and not try to start and stop the thing between "takes" but no luck. I just use at least 25% of my concentration trying not to concentrate on it.

I am getting better at this. I have to relax. Slow down. And give myself permission to make mistakes, but not enough permission to play sloppily or too fast overall.

And then, the shame of it is, even if I do end up with a take that is mistake-free, I'll hate the interpretation. It then will lack in some way whatever else it was I wanted to do with the piece.

Mistake free and exactly as I want it to sound?

I fear I will never get there.
Posted By: keystring Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 05:52 PM
Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes
She'll slow me down over one measure, and repeat and repeat and repeat, then she will add a measure back, a measure forward, put it together, then repeat. If there are mistakes or problems, she'll either cut out how much lead in or lead out, or slow it down. Staccato practice, or some such thing. Things to show me how to tackle things when she's not with me.


That is a very powerful device. You work on a small difficult spot, then you bring the easy spot that comes just before it into it and continue to the easy spot that comes after it. Later when you play the whole piece or a larger section, you don't end up hesitating at "oh oh - here's that hard part", because you have already practised gliding in and out of it.

You sound like you have an excellent teacher.
Posted By: Michael Martinez Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 06:13 PM
Originally Posted by peterws


I`m doin` that all the time. Been playing for years. EVERYBODY makes mistakes. You learn to charge through them and come out the other side still smiling even if you face is red. Much more fun!


Maybe a lot of people here are doing classical music , but in other genres when you're doing gigs you just have to keep on playing. You can't let the mistakes affect you. Mistakes are just a part of it - sometimes your fingers slip, sometimes you forget where you're at, sometimes you start out in the wrong key, and so on.
Posted By: jotur Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 06:28 PM
Originally Posted by Michael Martinez
... sometimes you start out in the wrong key, and so on.


I am *so* glad I'm not the only one who's ever done that smile

Actually, I've seen so many musicians laugh out loud when they do this that we could start a club laugh

Cathy
Posted By: keystring Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 06:39 PM
Originally Posted by TimR
And it's a bit different for piano than for guitar, at least IMO.

With very careful choice of repertoire, doing enough projects will eventually teach you process. But piano is unusual. It's not just a linear increase in process skill, like you might expect from other instruments.

I'd say that process and repertoire flow into each other, and knowing which to emphasize depends on where a student is at, and maybe also the makeup of the student. What I mean by "flowing into each other" is that when you work on a piece, you need to get the technique in order to play it. If you want to learn technique, you need a piece for applying it. The same is true for anything else. Which will you put first?

If you do go along repertoire, you need to make sure that you know how to approach it. You can play piece after piece after piece, doing the same ineffective thing in all of them - then what have you accomplished? But if you learn how to approach things in each piece, you have that for the next one. That's what makes or breaks a repertoire-based approach.

I have to ask, Tim - Knowing that you play a brass instrument, did you first have to get some technical things (such as - how on earth do I produce a Bb and how do I buzz my lips? - how do I breathe) before doing any pieces? How did the technical and the musical jive when you began? I don't play any brass instruments.
Posted By: keystring Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/24/14 06:43 PM
Originally Posted by Michael Martinez

Maybe a lot of people here are doing classical music , but in other genres when you're doing gigs you just have to keep on playing. You can't let the mistakes affect you.

The same is true for classical performance. But we're talking about practising and learning. I'm sure that non-classical musicians will also work on small sections if something is sticky, and do other, non-performance things as they work on their music.
Posted By: Bobpickle Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/25/14 06:41 PM
Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
I can almost play about 22 songs but NEVER make it all the way through without any mistakes. I recently recorded myself play Scarborough Fair, a fairly simple song in the Alfred book and it took me 38 attempts before I got it right. I think I have a good teacher


This right here is indication that you don't have a good teacher if they're letting you waste your time practicing inefficiently like this. A good teacher would be able to teach you how to practice songs/tunes - especially simple ones - so that they can be played mistake free and musically. And they would never take for granted that you know how to practice like so many do because the fact is, doing so correctly is neither intuitive nor common knowledge.

At any rate, here's a short introduction to the topic of practicing efficiently and effectively: http://kantsmusictuition.blogspot.com/2007/09/secret-on-how-to-practice.html
Posted By: Stubbie Re: Beginner Frustrations... - 01/26/14 12:31 AM
Originally Posted by eighty80eights8s
Hello all,

I started taking piano lessons 1 year ago when I was age 57, now I'm 58. I have played the guitar for years so I had some musical knowledge when I started piano. I take 1 hour lessons weekly and practice at least 3 hours daily. At this point I am frustrated that I am not better at it. I just completed Alfred's Adult All-In-One Level 1 course. I can almost play about 22 songs but NEVER make it all the way through without any mistakes. I recently recorded myself play Scarborough Fair, a fairly simple song in the Alfred book and it took me 38 attempts before I got it right. I think I have a good teacher; she gives a mixture of learning songs, exercises, and lessons. But for some reason it feels like I am learning songs one by one, not learning to play the piano. I can read the music and struggle through the fingering to learn/memorize the songs and play from memory while blankly staring at the music but don't actually play from reading the music in real time. If I get stuck or lose my place, it's a real struggle to restart. I wind up starting from the beginning of the song. Am I being too impatient? Is it an age thing? Any input would be appreciated?


It's not age (I started later than you). It's that you are at that slow, excruciating stage of beginner-dom. Remember, too, that learning piano (or a piece) is rarely linear. We feel like we're treading in place for *forever* and then we make a big jump, seemingly overnight, but it's the product of all that came before.

Don't expect to play error-free at this early stage. Be patient. It will come.

The pieces in Alfred's AIO are gradated--new things are added gradually. Are you clear in your mind what new thing (key, note type, rhythm, etc) is featured in each piece? If not, ask your teacher. Your teacher should be able to point it out immediately.

Good luck!
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