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#2704745 - 01/14/18 06:16 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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Michael, thank you again for replying. My experience in forums talking to strangers who have never met and coming from very different backgrounds has taught me that it may take several sincere tries before one actually manages to communicate. The effort counts a lot, and yours is there as is mine. smile

The first thing I was trying to bring across is that things have different causes, and to address / improve / solve them, you must get at the actual cause. You seem to have a single model - a single cause - for everyone: fear and anxiety - emotion. Get at fear and anxiety by replacing them with letting loose, embracing freedom, fast playing or similar, and ability to play will gradually blossom; difficulties will gradually disappear, because both growth and difficulty are tied in with an emotional cause. It is this which I disagree with, unless a thing is in fact caused by these emotions, and unless these emotions exist. Because you need to address what is actually there.

In my first post I explored cases where anxiety or fear may actually exist. I also explored some other factors that may be present. I am proposing that with these other factors, what you address in order to help with the learning may need to be different. In my previous examples:

** Belief that when I am assigned a piece of music, I am expected to return next week playing it perfectly, with good timing, dynamics, expression, correct notes, everything. If this is what I believe, and I have not yet acquired skills, esp. if I also don't know how to approach practising, I will struggle all week, unable to reach these things. This will cause those kinds of negative emotions.
- The solution to this is to address the belief, because it is the belief that is causing the problem. Since this is a common belief, it is a good idea for a teacher to be pre-emptive, and let a student know what it's actually about. For example, when you play in front of a decent teacher, "weaknesses", "errors" are GOOD things, because they are opportunities for further learning. For the teacher, it gives you a new thing to work with. If the student sees the process and the goals differently, the anxiety will go away. In this case you don't address the emotion; you address the belief.

** Teacher who doesn't understand enough about teaching and learning, and creates goals of perfection that may not be dissimilar to the above. If that teacher is creating impossibility, the solution is not for the teacher to address the resulting anxiety in her students by comforting them, but to learn how to teach. The solution for a student with such a teacher is not to meditate and try to think positive thoughts, but to find another teacher. If this student has been with the poorish demanding teacher any length of time, then both the student and the new teacher will indeed need to address anxiety and fear. wink As well as the new teacher redefining what goals and approaches actually are.

** Anxiety or fear as primary things, causing the mischief. Then this is what you address first of all. Your solutions and causes go in this direction, and they are good ones. However, when there are other primary things, then they need to be addressed.

Bottom line: Address what exists, and what exists will not be the same for everyone.
----------------------
This thing of fear and anxiety may not exist at all. I gave my example. The only thing I had ever experienced in music for 50 years was spontaneity, fun, creativity, enjoyment. What I did not understand then, but understand now, is that I needed to be introduced to skills, especially foundations, which would carry my endeavours. Because I could get at a desired sound "somehow", I'd reach the desired end result that my teacher was aiming for ---- a piece played with correct notes, sounding acceptably musical --- but the physical skills were not developing as they should. Now for me, everything felt "normal" because this was all I knew. I was not bothered or disturbed by anything until suddenly my ability to play this difficult instrument unraveled. When a house is built in shaky foundations, you're happy with the house (I'm seeing a child's wooden building blocks) and then you're stunned when the whole thing tumbles down.

When I got back to piano after that, I understood myself and also music making a lot better. For me, I "have" spontaneity, fun, grasp the music side very quickly, and I don't need more of the same. Your solutions of "play fast first" in order to get a feel for that freedom would be entirely the wrong solutions for me. If lots of buildings lean to the west, you fix them by making them lean to the east so that they end up being upright. But of another building leans to the east, and you make that one lean more to the east because that's the solution for all the other buildings, you'll just make that one topple. What I need is foundations especially on the physical side, a slow and gradually rebuilding and reshaping. I had a roof floating with little underneath. What has worked for me is to relearn to use the body; to untangle habits that prevent things; and then as things start working together, using that. It tends to be slow-toward-fast, because "fast and free" throws me back to where I don't want to be. I'm the building that leans to the east.

In summary, such solutions as you propose are not for everyone, because it depends where a student is, what the actual causes of that student's areas of difficulty are, and therefore the solutions for that student. Were I to have read ten years ago what you wrote here, it would have been the wrong thing for me. There will be students reading this now who are in a different boat. Any time there is one general direction - even the solutions that work for me in my case - I get cautious.

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#2704748 - 01/14/18 07:15 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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Switching to general to specific and hopefully shorter.
Originally Posted by MichaelJK
Thank you for sharing your story! Please correct me if I'm wrong about this next part. What I'm hearing is that you are saying that you developed bad physical habits leading to tension, by way of trying very hard to produce a desired sound. It sounds like you are saying that this came from a foundation of freedom that you developed in your childhood. Is that correct?

If so, let me try to relate it to my experience. I personally have found that a lot of what has masqueraded as merely a desire to do well is, upon closer examination, an insistence on doing well. I can identify this somewhat easily at this point, when I start noticing things such as discomfort, fatigue, contortions, etc. The child me could listen to the music in his head, notice how it doesn't match what he's hearing, and continuing bang on the keys anyway, simply because it's fun. ....

Not quite the same as your experience. As a child I was happy as a clam with what I was doing. I also did not own my own music (records & tape recorders in the 1960's) so I wasn't trying to sound like anyone, and would not have heard any differences. What I was doing worked with what I imagined, what I managed to hear in my own playing, and also the type of music I was playing which was primarily sonatinas, esp. Clementi. The music I imagined, or drew out of what I saw on the page, matched what I produced. There were no frustrations, nothing. The habits and reflexes I developed, which became automatic, would have made other things difficult - faster music, music of a different type - or had I learned to hear more subtle things and tried to correct them. That is what I contended with on my return.

We sorted out a few things from that time. To start, Clementi and such are 95% white keys, middle of piano, 5-finger span. Your hands are constantly in the same shape, the old "round ball-holding" shape - if you play an octave, your hand spreads out and the fingers flatten more. You don't need to move in and out to black keys, change your hand shape, move your body from center. I discovered my grandmother had been taught to keep a pencil balanced on her wrist, be motionless except for poky-fingers: I developed this form simply from the repertoire itself. Your forearms at the elbow can create different angles as you fold and unfold your arm. This was locked in one position. No rotation, nothing - I didn't need it for this music. This set of habits were what I cam in with. By the time I returned to piano, I knew about technique from the other experience, I tried playing other music where these things didn't work.

One of the things in my work with my teacher is that I will discover what "ease" feels like. Only then will you recognize "lack of ease".

You asked about what is being done at piano currently, and how.

I'll go to Alberti bass. I have stayed away from A.b. until now, because my most entrenched old habits are in A.b. because that's what was in all those Clementis as a child. I finally started to play a sonatina that had Alberti bass, and two measures in I could feel mount discomfort. I sometimes have the camera on. The old habit was there: fingers doing all the movement, hands and arms motionless. Those old habits were causing the problem. Otoh, I couldn't free-experiment my way out of it, so I did some research, and also applied PRINCIPLES that I had learned. I made a video of one of these explorations.
https://www.dropbox.com/s/mvq9luc48sbss1o/17.12.30a%20Alb%20-%20idea%201.mp4?dl=0
The piece is one that I used to play as a child, but the physical motions and the ease are very different from how I experienced it then.

This is how I work. It is not "fast and fun" --- it starts with slow, detailed, deliberate explorations and experiments. As good things come into the body, I allow some automatism come in. This is what works for me. But I also know I'm not alone with this. I know there are teachers that teach this way, students that learn this way. For me when the focus is on skills, well, emotions just don't come into the picture. It has been very frustrating in the past when teachers wanted to "comfort" me, "reassure" me, address my feelings, or get me to be spontaneous, when what I wanted and needed were the tools.
Quote
I would be interested to know more about what you do currently struggle with at the piano, if you feel comfortable sharing that.

I shared this one thing publicly. However, I'm not playing semantics when I want to change the word "struggle" to something else - because this does go into mindset and attitude. I do not "struggle". I am toward achievable goals. In the above example, my goal was to acquire ways of moving that would make Alberti bass become comfortable. After that initial exploration and a few others, I could apply this to the piece. For me the order of "slower" and "faster" is the opposite of yours. Once I have such things in my body in slow mode, they won't tangle up in faster mode. If I start fast, it is icky. I don't like how icky feels. I like how this feels.

Btw - I don't know if you have had a chance to explore the various threads here. There is one featuring ideas from prof. Mortensen which a few of us have found useful and that can make a difference.
--------
at random:
Quote
It sounds to me like you were given fairly limited experiences playing the piano as a child.

If you mean the material itself - It was mostly sonatinas, common practice era. So no Chopin, Debussy, where you start spanning across octaves or various configurations, pedal, going all over the piano.

If you want to hear something really weird: I found the book I was given as an 8 year old to self-teach that came with the little organ. The entire book was 10 full-size pages. This was on page 9 --- I set my dp on "organ mode" and recorded it:
https://soundcloud.com/usernewtothis/childhood-organ-music/s-RdYZv
This is music for beginner learning? Or for instant gratification? I mean, I loved it then, and enjoy it now, but what did it teach?

#2704751 - 01/14/18 07:53 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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Other aspects:
Originally Posted by MichaelJK
That is completely understandable. But you probably also didn't know how to teach yourself how to solve the problems on your own. Which is also understandable. I think, however, that this is learnable skill.

We need to be careful about this, and this also goes to the role of the teacher. What I had written was "I could solve some of the things on my own, but for others I simply went in circles." I was writing about the return to piano, and by that time I had a pretty good idea of how to get at things. If in "how to solve the problems" you mean the general idea of exploring, experimenting etc., I had that. But there are things that a teacher will know to look for, or recognize, or principles that are not obvious that we simply won't discover on our own. I have called some of these things "tools" for lack of a better word. In "knowing how", this also includes knowing what you can't solve on your own, going to your teacher and saying "Can you figure out what's going on here?" The teacher may have a big massive solution that solves everything - or he may give a principle that you can play with to get you further - or a single observation for you to play with.
Quote
Language is somewhat arbitrary. The words I am using have a certain meaning to me, which is why I use them. Someone else may interpret them differently. I try to understand how others interpret them, so that I can modify my language accordingly.

Absolutely. That's why we're writing back and forth. Communication among strangers is hit and miss, with 90% "miss" in the beginning (often). wink
Quote
I'm not saying that blind experimentation is the only way to go. A teacher can be very useful in pointing you in the right direction. My point is not exactly to criticize the pointing so much as to describe the pitfalls of a fear of experimentation..

I see. Yes, I can see where a student may fear experimenting; or fear that a teacher will disapprove of experimenting; or even has had a teacher who insisted in being followed rigidly and therefore does not dare experiment. Gotcha!
Quote
The cause of the anxiety is not the point. When a student lacks skills and feels incompetent* and struggles as a result, everyone rushes to correct the skill deficit, but:

You can lack the skills, and feel no incompetence.
You can have the skills and still feel incompetent.
You can feel that incompetence, lack the skills, and not struggle.

* (highlight mine)


I see what you're saying, esp. when the feeling of incompetence is there. Nor is this at all uncommon for the oft-cited reason that adults are used to feeling competent, and competency being demanded of them.

What I ran into as I tried briefly to work with this and that teacher was that a lot of them did not address skills at all: they all wanted to address emotion or attitude that they expected to see. That was tremendously frustrating and aggravating. I actually understand the scenario you're talking about. I once tutored a 12 year old boy who was reading at a grade 1 level; there were some specific underlying things causing the problem and when these were addressed, his reading shot up to grade level (to my own surprise). But because of the many years of difficulty, I also had to address the eroded confidence and fears this had created.

To be clear, the aspects that you have been addressing are not at all trivial. Perhaps this last quote summarizes it; all sides must be addressed, and you may addressing in particular one that may be neglected. I'm stressing the skills side, but the problem-solving, experimentation part you're talking about is also part of it.

#2704799 - 01/14/18 11:35 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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I feel like I've written too much and too often, and also may have played a role in kind of hijacking the direction of the thread. It was actually originally about information that Squidbot had found, which turned out to be things written by Kesolo. So apologies also to Kesolo for the hijack. smile

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#2704801 - 01/14/18 11:40 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: keystring]  
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Originally Posted by keystring
So apologies also to Kesolo for the hijack. smile


There's no need to apologize, your discussion was terribly interesting to read.


Tim

Started playing January 2017

Nothing is too easy is where I keep track of my progress.
#2704913 - 01/14/18 04:58 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: Whizbang]  
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Originally Posted by Whizbang
Originally Posted by MichaelJK

You can feel that incompetence, lack the skills, and not struggle.


Here it is! The crux of what I think what is going to be the point of confilct (having read your blog).

You've got a class that 'lacks the skills', 'feels it', and 'struggles'

I think I am there. And I felt it, oh, decades ago. But I did struggle for a long time and I definitely play better than I did. Do you give up on me?


I'm a little confused about what you mean by "I think I am there". Do you mean that you struggle, or that you stopped struggling?

Originally Posted by Whizbang

So, do you categorize your students and say 'it does not matter, just do whatever' to the incompetent [your words]? Or do you say that to every one your students?


I do not categorize students like that. We are all incompetent at some things, and competent at others, and it can change depending on the weather.

Originally Posted by Whizbang

I would encourage you to really be honest and open with your philosophy. Having read your articles, I understand the basis of what you are coming from but I do not understand your goals. Do you consider entertainment as a goal of music. If you have a student that wants to entertain, then do you change your approach?


My goal is to provide a path whereby students:

Can achieve with ease any musical result they desire.
Can learn to tell the difference between what they have control over and what they don't.
Will be rewarded as long as they keep walking down that path, with or without a teacher.

I am not always successful at this. Also, it takes time!

Is entertainment a goal of music? If the student desires this, then sure. I suspect you are asking because you think I am saying that you should be happy not playing well.

This is not what I'm saying. My point is that sometimes our efforts to play well actually get in the way of playing well. I have nothing against wanting to sound good. If you know how to sound good, then do it! (but then, why take lessons?) It's only when that "wanting" starts to interfere that I urge you to reexamine it.

You may ask "how can I possibly stop wanting to play well?" or "what's the point of playing if I don't play well?" To the first question, I would say: you can't stop wanting, but we can take a look at what that wanting is causing you to do, and change that. To the second, I would say: this is worth asking! If you are a beginner, you will NOT play well, so you really should have some other motivation for playing, if you want to be motivated in the long-term.

Originally Posted by Whizbang

This is a completely honest questioning engagement. Your answers may
change me and my questions may change you.


Please keep questioning! These are important topics, and they are worth discussing. I hope your questions change me.

#2704926 - 01/14/18 06:38 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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Originally Posted by keystring
Michael, thank you again for replying. My experience in forums talking to strangers who have never met and coming from very different backgrounds has taught me that it may take several sincere tries before one actually manages to communicate. The effort counts a lot, and yours is there as is mine. smile


I agree, and I really appreciate your taking the time to articulate what you are concerned about. I am probably wrong about a lot of things, and also probably not explaining other things very well, so it's great to be able to have this conversation.

Originally Posted by keystring

You seem to have a single model - a single cause - for everyone: fear and anxiety - emotion.

Get at fear and anxiety by replacing them with letting loose, embracing freedom, fast playing or similar, and ability to play will gradually blossom; difficulties will gradually disappear, because both growth and difficulty are tied in with an emotional cause.


My model is more complex than that (and it's not set in stone):

I have a model of how to play the piano.
I have a model of how to learn to play the piano.
I have a set of exercises for learning.
Based on observing common difficulties with these exercises (both my own difficulties and those of others), I have a model of why students struggle with the exercises. Yes, this tends to be psychological in nature.

I can relate to your skepticism of anyone telling you to just let go and not worry. First of all, it's not very obvious how to just "stop worrying". And second, even if you could, how will that get you to play piano better? It won't, because you aren't actually learning anything. You need to also engage in activities that do show you exactly what you need to know.

Originally Posted by keystring

If that teacher is creating impossibility, the solution is not for the teacher to address the resulting anxiety in her students by comforting them, but to learn how to teach. The solution for a student with such a teacher is not to meditate and try to think positive thoughts, but to find another teacher.


Absolutely. And I've seen teachers do this.

I want to make it clear that my strategy is not to "comfort" students, or encourage "positive thoughts". Rather it is to help them see what is there.

Originally Posted by keystring

** Anxiety or fear as primary things, causing the mischief. Then this is what you address first of all.


Let me stress that I don't believe anxiety and fear are abnormal. We all experience them. My contention is that anytime we are experiencing anything like fear, boredom, frustration, tension, there is something like this at the core.

In learning piano, some things came easily to me, and others did not. I experienced an unbelievable amount of frustration as a result of this. And physical pain at times. And envy toward others for whom things came more easily.

Let me also emphasize this point about tension. My experience is that tension often masquerades as lack of skill. Yet almost invariably, when I give an exercise to correct the problem of physical miscoordination, the anxiety shows its head. This has led me to the conclusion that there is generally anxiety at the core of physical problems, serving as some kind of protective mechanism. This really became clear to me when I saw it in myself. It was uncanny.

Originally Posted by keystring

I was not bothered or disturbed by anything until suddenly my ability to play this difficult instrument unraveled. When a house is built in shaky foundations, you're happy with the house (I'm seeing a child's wooden building blocks) and then you're stunned when the whole thing tumbles down.


Let me try to understand what you are saying. You are saying that you never felt upset with your playing as a child, and didn't become upset until you realized later on that what you learned was limiting you. I can imagine that it must have been disappointing to realize that you would have to backtrack and relearn everything, and you may have felt frustrated or angry that no one had set you on the right path to begin with. Am I understanding this correctly?

If I am, how do you feel about the suggestion that the tension you experienced may have been exacerbated by the frustration from not being able to play well? Now, I'm not at all saying that without the tension, you would have been able to play well from the beginning. I'm just throwing this stuff out there, to see if it resonates with you.

I don't want to suggest that the path I am laying out is the only way to learn to play the piano. Many (most?) great pianists have taken other paths. This has been personally useful for me, however, and I hope it can be useful to others as well. This is why I want to understand how other pianists see things.

You've brought up a lot of very interesting points, and I want to address more.

#2704965 - 01/14/18 09:57 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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Originally Posted by MichaelJK
Originally Posted by Whizbang
Originally Posted by MichaelJK

You can feel that incompetence, lack the skills, and not struggle.


Here it is! The crux of what I think what is going to be the point of conflict

You've got a class that 'lacks the skills', 'feels it', and 'struggles'

I think I am there.


I'm a little confused about what you mean by "I think I am there". Do you mean that you struggle, or that you stopped struggling?


Keeping the deep nested quotes there for context.

I'm in the class that 'lacks the skills, feels it, and struggles'. Now, I work very hard on accepting that the inner critic is there and making peace with him, but he's there.

Originally Posted by MichaelJK

My goal is to provide a path whereby students:

[1] Can achieve with ease any musical result they desire.
[2] Can learn to tell the difference between what they have control over and what they don't.
[3] Will be rewarded as long as they keep walking down that path, with or without a teacher.

I am not always successful at this. Also, it takes time!


Point 1 I think is the main point that doesn't necessarily come through in your blog. But there is a hard truth in there that I think you may evade. Or is "desire" the variable in the equation?

Originally Posted by MichaelJK

Is entertainment a goal of music? If the student desires this, then sure. I suspect you are asking because you think I am saying that you should be happy not playing well.

This is not what I'm saying. My point is that sometimes our efforts to play well actually get in the way of playing well. I have nothing against wanting to sound good. If you know how to sound good, then do it! (but then, why take lessons?) It's only when that "wanting" starts to interfere that I urge you to reexamine it.


This paragraph took some untangling. I think it comes down to the last sentence. What do you consider to be the possibilities of such a reexamination?

Originally Posted by MichaelJK

You may ask "how can I possibly stop wanting to play well?" or "what's the point of playing if I don't play well?" To the first question, I would say: you can't stop wanting, but we can take a look at what that wanting is causing you to do, and change that. To the second, I would say: this is worth asking! If you are a beginner, you will NOT play well, so you really should have some other motivation for playing, if you want to be motivated in the long-term.


These hold up for me.

Last edited by Whizbang; 01/14/18 09:58 PM.

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#2704991 - 01/15/18 12:47 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: MichaelJK]  
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Responding to the response. smile
Originally Posted by MichaelJK
My model is more complex than that (and it's not set in stone):

I have a model of how to play the piano.
I have a model of how to learn to play the piano.
I have a set of exercises for learning.
Based on observing common difficulties with these exercises (both my own difficulties and those of others), I have a model of why students struggle with the exercises. Yes, this tends to be psychological in nature.

I can relate to your skepticism of anyone telling you to just let go and not worry. First of all, it's not very obvious how to just "stop worrying". And second, even if you could, how will that get you to play piano better? It won't, because you aren't actually learning anything. You need to also engage in activities that do show you exactly what you need to know.

That works for me. I imagine that you have models inside the models to suit every student and occasion as well. smile The thing when presenting anything in limited space like forums, is that we can only present a few ideas at a time, and they may appear to be the whole of a person's concept. Of course teaching is more complex than that. When you first wrote, my impressions kept going toward emotion and emotion and I didn't feel comfortable with that, but I also suspected that there had to be more sides.

In regards to this:
Quote
I can relate to your skepticism of anyone telling you to just let go and not worry.

What I tried to express before was not skepticism, but rather that different things can be happening with different students at different times. If the person is not worrying, then that's a thing that isn't there. If the person has a technical problem because it's a technical problem, and there is no worry, then ditto, and please let's get at the technical difficulty. If worry causes a technical problem, then please address the worry (there's the expression "paralyzed with fear"). But if a technical problem makes a person feel bad, then fixing that problem will also change the bad feeling. If I have a flat tire and my car can't move, you'll make me happier changing my tire, than commiserating. wink Of course, problems and worry can coexist. If this is clearer, that's what I meant.
Quote
My experience is that tension often masquerades as lack of skill. Yet almost invariably, when I give an exercise to correct the problem of physical miscoordination, the anxiety shows its head. This has led me to the conclusion that there is generally anxiety at the core of physical problems, serving as some kind of protective mechanism.

There is definitely food for thought there. I prefer not to have any one conclusion, however. I'd rather say that different things can cause something, and one canbe open to all possibilities, and maybe shuttle among them.
Quote
Let me try to understand what you are saying. You are saying that you never felt upset with your playing as a child, and didn't become upset until you realized later on that what you learned was limiting you. I can imagine that it must have been disappointing to realize that you would have to backtrack and relearn everything, and you may have felt frustrated or angry that no one had set you on the right path to begin with. Am I understanding this correctly?

Sorry for the confusion. At that point I was talking about the new instrument, not piano which I returned to later. To keep it simple it's better to leave that part out, I'm thinking.
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If I am, how do you feel about the suggestion that the tension you experienced may have been exacerbated by the frustration from not being able to play well?

Talking about piano, ofc. What I felt, felt normal, familiar, what I had always known. Except I was no longer 12 - I was 62 - and the body is less forgiving of poor movement. But then, when I was 12 I could not hear what I now hear, since I did have some musical training by then, and I wanted to grow past what I had done then, and how I had done it. The emotions are fascination, delight, need for patience and wishing there were more time. There is a lifetime of things one can grow into, and I no longer have a lifetime left. Obligations of work eats more into it.

Last edited by keystring; 01/15/18 01:39 AM. Reason: simplified
#2705018 - 01/15/18 04:02 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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I just woke up and realized what has been feeling off for me personally this whole time, as well as what has been effective for me.

The number one element is this: focus .... on something.
It must be simple and clear enough.
That's it, in a nutshell.

This sound, to the next sound, from this moment to the next moment. This action to the next action. And I need to know somewhere in my mind or body or being what that thing is that I'm focusing on. It also relates to being in the moment and being present in the manner that this pertains to music making.

These matters of emotion, I've been down that road before with a teacher here and there. I can't do anything with that. Trying to be tranquil, to be focused, to feel fine - nope. BUT when I focus on a simple thing, an intent in my playing in this moment, as I act and focus, this also takes care of the emotion. Mention was made of meditation somewhere. Well, what's the first stage in learning to meditate in yoga for example? It's not to try to feel peace or a higher state - it's to focus on your breathing and stay present to it.

Everything I've learned these last 10 years since things in music started to change for me has this one element in it.

#2705076 - 01/15/18 10:19 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: keystring]  
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MichaelJK Online content
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Originally Posted by keystring

The number one element is this: focus .... on something.
It must be simple and clear enough.
That's it, in a nutshell.


Yes.

Originally Posted by keystring

These matters of emotion, I've been down that road before with a teacher here and there. I can't do anything with that. Trying to be tranquil, to be focused, to feel fine - nope.


Right, you can't do anything with that. You can watch your emotions if you happen to notice them, but trying to be something is a recipe for frustration.

Originally Posted by keystring

BUT when I focus on a simple thing, an intent in my playing in this moment, as I act and focus, this also takes care of the emotion. Mention was made of meditation somewhere. Well, what's the first stage in learning to meditate in yoga for example? It's not to try to feel peace or a higher state - it's to focus on your breathing and stay present to it.


Keep walking down this path, and it will take you exactly where you need to go. Try focusing 100% on your breathing while you play. Just notice what tries to distract you. No need to fix anything.

#2705103 - 01/15/18 11:33 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: Whizbang]  
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BTW, I also totally feel like I have hijacked this thread. I don't mean to step on any toes.

Originally Posted by Whizbang

I'm in the class that 'lacks the skills, feels it, and struggles'. Now, I work very hard on accepting that the inner critic is there and making peace with him, but he's there.


He will always be there, I suspect. Your task is only to notice how he affects your playing.

Originally Posted by Whizbang

Originally Posted by MichaelJK

My goal is to provide a path whereby students:

[1] Can achieve with ease any musical result they desire.


Point 1 I think is the main point that doesn't necessarily come through in your blog. But there is a hard truth in there that I think you may evade. Or is "desire" the variable in the equation?


I know it doesn't come through, because I haven't written much about it yet.

Perhaps I also take it for granted that readers assume that if I am teaching piano, then I at least think I have an approach that takes that into account smile

What do you think I'm evading? My attitude as a teacher is: you tell me what musical result you desire, and I will set you on a path toward understanding either how to achieve that result, or toward seeing why that result isn't the one you're really after. Either way, you are satisfied, right?

Originally Posted by Whizbang

Originally Posted by MichaelJK

My point is that sometimes our efforts to play well actually get in the way of playing well. I have nothing against wanting to sound good. If you know how to sound good, then do it! (but then, why take lessons?) It's only when that "wanting" starts to interfere that I urge you to reexamine it.


This paragraph took some untangling. I think it comes down to the last sentence. What do you consider to be the possibilities of such a reexamination?


The possibilities depend completely on what the wanting is interfering with. In my own case, I can play faster, more accurately, with more control, more connection to the music, more enjoyment, more comfort. I can sight-read better, follow a conductor better, recover from mistakes better, pay better attention to ensemble partners, memorize better. It's a pretty long list.

#2705114 - 01/15/18 11:50 AM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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Thank you, Michael. The topic of emotion that you originally brought into this topic, and that I took note of first, is indeed a thing not to be unaware of. If something makes me anxious, I can tense my body, hold my breath, hunch up my shoulders, or hesitate between two opposing actions, all of which will have a physical effect. With extreme anxiety your mind can also go blank, as you withdraw to a safe place - such as if abuse happened around the activity (which unfortunately can happen in some music learning situations). So what you brought out was very important.

But then there is the question of what to do with it. Your blog actually does mention meditation and I think concentrating on certain things. As you explained yesterday, your teaching consists of many different facets, and this is only one (important) side of it.

Way back, there was a teacher on a site - it might have been here - who wrote of positive attitude, positive thoughts, good concentration or focus. What happened next is that a bunch of students tied themselves into knots trying to be mindful, or focused, as a state of mind. They became anxious about not being focused and not knowing how to be so --- and they were trying to focus on being focused. I had forgotten all about that! The only way to really get focus, is to have something to focus ON - and it should be real enough. And to focus TOWARD. It should be simple enough and concrete enough that you can reach it, and don't have to hunt for what it is.

Quote
Just notice what tries to distract you.

I'd tweak this a little bit. If I notice what tries to distract me, I'll start paying attention to that. If my goal happens to be easy breathing (because I hold my breath), then I should have a feeling of what easy breathing feels like - I notice when I'm holding my breath - and immediately turn my focus back to easy breathing, getting that going again. ...... Also, if I'm holding my breath for fear of missing the upcoming F# with the 4th finger, there is strategy. Practise that F# with 4. Practise 3 notes leading into that F# with 4, including how that feels easier. Practise the same thing, going into the F# and two notes beyond. Eventually practise up to 3 measures before that F#, which now is in your body as "that black key over there which 4 wants to touch". Since you are now certain about it, you also won't be "holding your breath with worry".

This also goes to simplicity - how much you can actually handle. A complicated passage with F# and 4 is too much to handle. Pressing a black key with 4 as a single first gesture can be done by a small child.

#2705127 - 01/15/18 12:40 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: keystring]  
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Originally Posted by keystring


Way back, there was a teacher on a site - it might have been here - who wrote of positive attitude, positive thoughts, good concentration or focus. What happened next is that a bunch of students tied themselves into knots trying to be mindful, or focused, as a state of mind. They became anxious about not being focused and not knowing how to be so --- and they were trying to focus on being focused. I had forgotten all about that!


It's what I see as overthinking the situation, there can be a case of too much awareness and analysis leads to paralysis ... leading to worry and then some forget, first and foremost, do I enjoy what I do, then a lot will follow more naturally, it's not life and death after all.

Exercise helps a lot I find to free the mind before playing the piano, I feel relaxed in body and mind after a good cycle, filling up those lungs with fresh O2. I've been fighting a chest infection over the Xmas so I have not been able to get out on the bike for a good while now, I hate it, and I feel the difference. My fitness is draining, my focus is draining because of it, I feel weaker, often times when playing I feel it, compared to how it used to be month and half ago or more, but I am on the recovery slope now thank goodness.

Originally Posted by keystring

The only way to really get focus, is to have something to focus ON - and it should be real enough. And to focus TOWARD. It should be simple enough and concrete enough that you can reach it, and don't have to hunt for what it is


I like the thought o' that smile


Selftaught since June 2014.
Books: Barratt classic piano course bk 1,2,3. Humphries Piano handbook, various...
Casio AP450 & software.
[Linked Image] 12x ABF recitals.
My struggles: https://soundcloud.com/alexander-borro
#2705139 - 01/15/18 01:12 PM Re: Post on starting up as an absolute beginner [Re: squidbot]  
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This thread took a much different course than I expected laugh


Instruments: Yamaha CLP-685, Kawai ES110
Pieces In Progress:
  • Chopin Waltz in A minor Poshumous (almost performance ready)
  • Chopin Mazurka in B flat Major Op 7 (very much W.I.P.)
  • Beethoven "Easy Sonata" 20 No. 2 (just started)
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