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It seems that I have trouble playing a piano that isn't either the one I have at home or the one I learn on at school. It's almost like it's a different instrument, with keys in the wrong place, the wrong size and things just not making sense. I don't have dyslexia and so this may be an unfair comparison, but it's the same kind of "nonsense" that sufferers of that sometimes describe as feeling.

I'm not sure if it's a case of digital vs analogue keys and feel, as I seem to do alright on the school's grand (although I mainly learn on a digital there). I don't think it's a matter of nerves as I can sometimes recreate the issue if I for eg change the lighting conditions or where my music score is placed. It's almost as if I play so robot-like that even a minute change in conditions is enough to throw me off.

Is this just a normal case of proficiency that will go away as I get better, or is there something in my learning method that is showing up by being so fragile? Perhaps too much brute force and no flexibility (or something)? Should I carry a tape measure to make sure my seat position is in precisely the right place?

FWIW I just took my grade 4 which went pretty badly even though I was well prepared, and have had a reasonable amount of success previously. When I do play well, it's pretty good I think.

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Hi spammy
My recommendation is that you make a concerted effort to play as many different pianos as you can find— local music stores, pianos in public places such as the library, community center, assisted living centers
Are there upright pianos at your music school? Different grands?

Do not measure your distance from the keys or bench height— just put it where it feels comfortable. Intentionally play with different lightings and slightly different score positions. Do the same thing with your home piano: change the lighting, pisno location, score placement.

This is all just a means of getting yourself comfortable with different playing conditions.


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It's not abnormal to feel disoriented when sitting down at a piano that's not one of one's "regulars." It can take time to get oriented to a different piano; the speed with which that happens will--should--improve with proficiency and with playing many other pianos under varying conditions.

For me, the biggest adjustment is often to the tone and state of tuning of the piano and not to where I'm sitting or the lighting--in other words, to what I hear rather than what I feel. It helps enormously to have the opportunity to do a few minutes of warmup on a different piano in order to give my ears the chance to adjust.

P.S. I don't actually run into that many opportunities to play on different pianos other than the ones at the college I take lessons at and of course my piano at home. If you're doing accompaniment or playing at various venues, then you could run into many, different pianos.


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In the beginning I started with a 61 keyboard. The transition to piano isn't easy. The feel of the keys is 1 issue but also looking at the keys visually. A 61 keyboard has 2 fewer octaves on the left. Even playing pieces that doesn't require the very low bass notes, still felt odd to play on a piano with 88.

After practicing on an 88 piano in church for a while, the issue isn't a big deal any more. Once I worked on the 1st movement of the Bach Italian Concerto in F on a home DP (with weighted keys). After 2 weeks played it on an old acoustic piano in a Christmas gathering without issues. The acoustic piano has a bit of bounce when a key hits the strings. A digital don't have the same kind of bounce since the keys don't hit the strings. Pressing a key all the way down feels like a hammer hitting a nail.

Weighted keys on a piano wouldn't feel the same as on a DP. Definitely play on as many keyboards as you can get your hands on. I take music lessons at a local conservatory and rent practice pianos (upright & grand) downstairs regularly.

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Thanks for the tips. My main concern is that it wasn't normal since in my engineering brain everything should be the same size. But I guess there's more to it than just the physicals. Playing around is probably a good plan (once COVID allows it).

>Do not measure your distance from the keys or bench height— just put it where it feels comfortable.

This is also a root cause I think - I don't know what "comfortable" means, or perhaps more accurately I don't know how to get from a position of discomfort (as evidenced by bad playing) and comfort. So I can sit and think I'm comfortable, only to be proven wrong in my playing... but then not know how to adjust. Is this kind of "body awareness" a component of proficiency too?

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There is the issue of playing on a cheap keyboard with light touch keys. Unless I'm playing easy songs or pop tunes, I'd avoid it for Classical pieces. I had the problem of fingers holding down notes longer than the required # beats since the keys are very light. Once you press a key, there is no resistance to come back up.

My last issue is practicing on a travel (folding / splicing) piano when I'm away from home. Being away for a few months during the pandemic, I had to rely on a cheap $100 keyboard for practicing a rather technical Bach piece. I recently walked into a piano store and played a section of it on a Boston upright by Steinway costing 100x more. Needed a few minutes warm-up to get the feel of the keys. There is no comparison with the feel of the keys & the sound quality.

A friend has an old Baldwin upright. I don't have problems playing a piece on it after practicing on the home keyboard. I tend to find some uprights with heavy keys hard to play than grand pianos that has a lighter touch.

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Spammy
Do you have a comfortable position on your home piano? If yes, sit at that position: reach out to the keys and observe how it feels, what your arms and fingers looks like. This is for the height as well as the distance

When playing a new piano, mimic the appearance and the feel.


"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
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That's interesting. I didn't think the feel of the keys would result in misplaying (ie missing keys). But I see now that it might as a component of a very complicated movement.

Unfortunately I'm not sure you get those few minutes warm up under exam conditions (could be wrong). The next time I find myself in a position like this I'll focus on some warm up first to see if it helps.

Originally Posted by dogperson
Spammy
Do you have a comfortable position on your home piano? If yes, sit at that position: reach out to the keys and observe how it feels, what your arms and fingers looks like. This is for the height as well as the distance

When playing a new piano, mimic the appearance and the feel.

I think I'm comfortable at home - at least I play well enough.

But to my post above, I don't know how to recreate it under alien conditions - anything feels comfortable really. I only know once I start playing (assuming it is position that's a cause). That's why I suggested using something more objective like a tape measure, which wasn't a serious suggestion but just to make my point that I can't seem to tell just by "feel".

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Originally Posted by spammy
Thanks for the tips. My main concern is that it wasn't normal since in my engineering brain everything should be the same size. But I guess there's more to it than just the physicals. Playing around is probably a good plan (once COVID allows it).

>Do not measure your distance from the keys or bench height— just put it where it feels comfortable.

This is also a root cause I think - I don't know what "comfortable" means, or perhaps more accurately I don't know how to get from a position of discomfort (as evidenced by bad playing) and comfort. So I can sit and think I'm comfortable, only to be proven wrong in my playing... but then not know how to adjust. Is this kind of "body awareness" a component of proficiency too?
I think the point of playing with your piano bench not at an optimum distance or height or not having good lighting is to practice playing under less than optimal conditions (which is often what one encounters). Placing your bench where it is 'comfortable' is good, but you should also take into consideration certain aspects of how that affects your posture and ability to play up and down the piano, i.e., you should be a certain range of distances from the piano and a height which gives you the best posture and flexibility at the piano.

If you are asking if you should be able to play well if you're physically comfortable, my answer would be that I don't think you can equate physical comfort with playing well. Physical comfort may be necessary, but not sufficient. You may be dealing with what we call performance anxiety, which is very common and there are many threads here that talk about it. It is more mental than physical and you are not alone in experiencing it. It does get better over time, but for many people never fully goes away.


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I did consider that it was performance anxiety/nerves, but ruled it out when I noticed the same issues while playing alone. Can you suffer from anxiety in isolation?

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Originally Posted by spammy
I did consider that it was performance anxiety/nerves, but ruled it out when I noticed the same issues while playing alone. Can you suffer from anxiety in isolation?


I would call it ‘anxious I may not play well
On a different piano’.

Treatment: play as many pianos as you can find.


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It's the same thing as getting in a car that isn't yours and driving it.
It will feel different, accelerate differently, brake differently.

But you can still drive it okay. You just have to get used to its "feel" to get comfortable with it.
Same thing with a keyboard. Just cozy up to it for an hour or two and soon you will be best friends.


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I'm definitely put off by differing lighting in various rooms. If it's too light, too dark, shadows coming from the wrong direction, etc., it really throws me off! I'm making it a point to set my RD-2000 up in various parts of the house with different lights to try to get used to it. I'll let you know if it helps ...


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Hi, spammy, and welcome to the forum!

When you practice piano, you are learning a specific skill, which in its narrowest sense, consists of playing the music on the exact piano you are practicing on. When you switch pianos, you are using a slightly higher order of intellectual function, specifically, generalization, to apply that very specific skill to a slightly different environment. The more the immediate learning environment differs from the immediate performance environment, the more difficult it is to generalize the skills you learned in the learning environment to the performance environment.

You can train yourself to do a better job of generalizing from your practice environment to performance environment by introducing frequent variations in your practice environment. This will cause you to learn the skill independently of a singular, constant practice environment. Thus, each day you will be practicing/performing in a different environment, making your learned skill less dependent on the same, consistent environment.

Try changing your piano environment daily. One day, stand a dictionary atop your music desk, the next day drape a towel or a strand of Christmas lights over the top of the piano so it hangs over the fallboard. Place/remove a light on the top of the piano, Stack/remove books from the piano top. Remove/replace the music stand, etc. Each day you are transferring yesterday's skills to a "new" environment. Just introduce a lot of variations in your practice environment, and you should soon become less dependent upon that one, always the same, environment, and have an easier time transferring your skills from one piano to the next.

Last edited by Ralphiano; 06/19/21 06:48 PM.

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Originally Posted by spammy
Thanks for the tips. My main concern is that it wasn't normal since in my engineering brain everything should be the same size. But I guess there's more to it than just the physicals. Playing around is probably a good plan (once COVID allows it).

>Do not measure your distance from the keys or bench height— just put it where it feels comfortable.

This is also a root cause I think - I don't know what "comfortable" means, or perhaps more accurately I don't know how to get from a position of discomfort (as evidenced by bad playing) and comfort. So I can sit and think I'm comfortable, only to be proven wrong in my playing... but then not know how to adjust. Is this kind of "body awareness" a component of proficiency too?

Yes, it is.

Most piano keyboards have essentially the same white-key width, and therefore the same octave stretch.

They vary some in how wide the black keys are, and in how far back (on the white keys) the ends of the black keys are.

They vary substantially in "key weight" (there are "light actions" and "heavy actions", and in the pedal-keyboard-music stand relationships.

As previously said, just play every piano you can get you fingers on. Digital, acoustic, whatever.

Playing a strange piano is like driving a rental car of a different brand than you own. There's a period of adjustment. Once you're over that, it's just another car.


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Originally Posted by spammy
It seems that I have trouble playing a piano that isn't either the one I have at home or the one I learn on at school. It's almost like it's a different instrument, with keys in the wrong place, the wrong size and things just not making sense. I don't have dyslexia and so this may be an unfair comparison, but it's the same kind of "nonsense" that sufferers of that sometimes describe as feeling.
.

I've always felt that way, even playing different digitals unless it's something I really know. I'm very easily thrown and can't hold a conversation whilst playing, like some can.
It looks so cool doing that!
Nor can I sight-read music to anything like a proficient standard.
I fully accept never to be able to now. Once I fondly thought I might . . .
But I sure can have fun on a piano!

Hope things improve for you.


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I have a hybrid (baby grand key action) and an upright. I have trouble switching between the two. At first I thought it was just seat height and lighting - and it was too. The problem (?) still existed in a lesser way after I adjusted them to match closely. Afterwards, it took about 2-3 minutes to get the "brain-hand-key" loop to orient when switching pianos. Now it doesn't bother me, it's like the brain knows what to do when switching.

@peterws, I feel the same way about conversations :-| I love to be able to say "hi" to my wife or daughter when they pass by when I am playing, or at least lift my head up a little bit and smile - I'm unable to do neither!

I have dropped the goal of sight-reading. It is just bleeding difficult and too lofty a goal to set and achieve, at least for me as an adult beginner. It also took time away from learning new material and working on skills/technique.


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I know that some people don't have a problem at all playing different pianos than their own, and most any piano at that.

But I'm in the same boat as you... I notice that my playing always seems to be better on my own pianos at home, and I have more than one.

On the other hand, when I play a different piano, it is usually in a setting where I'm playing in front of a small audience; for example, the Piano Buddies group I'm a part of. So, the nerves/stage freight/anxiety may also have something to do with it, other than just playing a different piano.

And, yes, all pianos, particularly acoustic pianos, are different, whether a little or a lot.

I agree with all the suggestions above. keep it up and make it a goal to try and get used to playing different pianos.

All the best!

Rick


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All pianists have some degree of problem playing a piano they're unfamiliar with. That's why even the greatest pianists are given practice time on the piano before a concert, sometimes many hours. Obviously, they aren't going to have problems to the degree the OP has, but they need time with the piano to perform their best. "Having a problem adjusting" is not a black and white issue.

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In order to get used to a new piano, I find that one of the best ways is to try to play really softly, then really loud, and everything in between. Josh Wright talks about generating 10 different levels of dynamics. I find that it really helps you figure out just how the keys respond.

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