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Hello Ido, I have asked a similar question on these forums and the discussion may be of help to you

http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/3155483/1.html

I will also say from my own experience that it's possible your instructor overestimates your playing ability and gave you a piece too far above your level. Or maybe they estimated it properly but they really want to see you succeed with it. Either way, (and I could be wrong and invite discussion), I don't think spending six months on a single piece at any level below virtuosic is worth someone's time. I'm sure there's a discussion to be had there.

I had a similar experience. My teacher gave me a Tchaikovsky etude that was just far, far above my level. I banged my had against a wall for six months (probably upwards of 60 hours of work if I had to put a time on it...and the piece is only a minute and a half long) before I just decided to call it quits. By that point I could barely play it all at about 75% speed...but it was tough. Arpeggios everywhere (some of them split), fast runs with two hands, it was a beast of a piece. Looking back, I wish she hadn't assigned it. I worked on other little tunes in the meantime, but I believe my time would have been better spent learning pieces either at my level or just barely above, and learning them quickly over the span of a month or so. Since stopping piano lessons with her, this is exactly what I've done actually, and I feel like I'm making great progress. I just learned a grade seven piece (Albeniz Tango in D) over the course of two to three weeks, about 15 hours or so, and feel great about it.

My practice routine now consists of a timeline of four phases. Very short term (sightreading), short term (pieces i can learn in a week and hopefully keep in my repertoire, they tend to be two grade levels below me) medium term (3 to 4 weeks, right at or just slightly above my grade level) and long term (3 months+, a whole level above). I'm finding this is a good sweet spot for learning, PLAYING, (never neglect playing piano for the pleasure of it) and growing. I'm also adapting this practice routine to my students who are just a little farther along.


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If I have trouble sight reading a piece slowly, then it’s usually above the level I should be working at. That’s just my personal way of deciding. I mean sight reading really slowly hands together. This will usually occur due to a lot of accidentals, a key I’m not yet comfortable playing in, notes very high or low off the main staffs, etc.

Not to say that playing more difficult pieces isn’t a good idea sometimes! I’m just personally working on improving my reading skills, so jumping into pieces way above my skill set is no longer a thing with me, LOL.


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We all have to deal with this problem. I have abandoned temporarily set aside my share of pieces. I would say that 6 months is too long not to reach some sense of completion. At that point you should be able to play through it, at a steady tempo (but under tempo if necessary), with few errors.

The problem with pieces that are too hard is that we get discouraged and lose interest. And we aren't really getting any better - the time you spend butting your head against a wall should be spent making slow but steady progress with pieces at your level.

I have suggested this before, but the two reference books I use (books? remember those?) are:

Pianists Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature by Jane Magrath
Guide to the Pianist's Repertoire by Maurice Hinson

Magrath lists the Barcarolle as level 10 - since she is focussed just on pieces that are taught to students, the Barcarolle is at her highest level.

Hinson lists the Barcarolle as Moderately Difficult, the same level as Brahms Rhapsody op 79/2.

Sometimes teachers assign pieces that they have played themselves, that they are familiar with, that they feel confident teaching. Not always the best way to pick something at a student's level. By doing your own research you can take a more active part in the selection of pieces.

Sam


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Originally Posted by ebonyk
If I have trouble sight reading a piece slowly, then it’s usually above the level I should be working at. That’s just my personal way of deciding. I mean sight reading really slowly hands together. This will usually occur due to a lot of accidentals, a key I’m not yet comfortable playing in, notes very high or low off the main staffs, etc.
That's not always a good gauge. Some etudes are easy to sight read slowly but may be difficult to get up to tempo because of awkward shifts in position or other such things that are not apparent when going slow. On the other hand, some pieces are much harder to sight read relative to their grade level, like Bach for example.

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I really appreciate all the replies. Thank you.

dorfmouse - Thank you for describing your first hand experience.

I feel like I have a renewed interest in the piece. It is an opportunity to improve some of my weakest areas. I'll start it over with a different approach. If I don't see solid progress I'll put it aside.
I do work on some easier pieces in parallel (some Bach inventions). Romantic style is the hardest for me.


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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Originally Posted by ebonyk
If I have trouble sight reading a piece slowly, then it’s usually above the level I should be working at. That’s just my personal way of deciding. I mean sight reading really slowly hands together. This will usually occur due to a lot of accidentals, a key I’m not yet comfortable playing in, notes very high or low off the main staffs, etc.
That's not always a good gauge. Some etudes are easy to sight read slowly but may be difficult to get up to tempo because of awkward shifts in position or other such things that are not apparent when going slow. On the other hand, some pieces are much harder to sight read relative to their grade level, like Bach for example.
It’s a good gauge for me. Everyone has to figure this out for themselves.


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Originally Posted by ebonyk
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Originally Posted by ebonyk
If I have trouble sight reading a piece slowly, then it’s usually above the level I should be working at. That’s just my personal way of deciding. I mean sight reading really slowly hands together. This will usually occur due to a lot of accidentals, a key I’m not yet comfortable playing in, notes very high or low off the main staffs, etc.
That's not always a good gauge. Some etudes are easy to sight read slowly but may be difficult to get up to tempo because of awkward shifts in position or other such things that are not apparent when going slow. On the other hand, some pieces are much harder to sight read relative to their grade level, like Bach for example.
It’s a good gauge for me. Everyone has to figure this out for themselves.
If the notes or rhythm are hard to read, it does not mean the piece is hard to play.

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Hi Ido,

I actually have the same experience as you. My teacher gave me the June Barcarolle after maybe 2.5 years of experience (she was a new teacher for me at the time, maybe only a couple of months together), because I mentioned in passing that I like the piece. My previous teacher was focused on teaching from the ABRSM syllabi, while my current teacher was educated through the Tchaikovsky conservatory. Two very different approaches.

We worked on the piece for an extended period of time, perhaps around 6 months. At that time, I never got through the entire piece, but we focused on the appropriate phrasing and voicing for the chords through roughly the first half of the piece. My other piece at the time was bach invention #13 (a whole separate set of struggles on that one). However, after she was relatively happy with what I was able to do for those first forty bars or so, we moved on to other easier pieces, such as some of the more simple Grieg lyric pieces and the shorter Schumann pieces. I picked those up much more quickly, and was playing them with a much higher level of musicality just within the first couple of weeks working on them. Afterwards, we went back to the barcarolle, and I noticed that learning the notes was no longer an issue. There's still some difficulty in voicing and phrasing (Tchaikovsky writes so many notes!), but I began to see some reasoning for what I considered madness for those first few months. I plan to revisit it in another year, after some further refinement in my current skills.

At no point did I spend months stagnated, however. I don't think that would be an effective use of time.

I think one downside to this particular teaching style is that you don't really have a large repertoire at any point in time. But in my own experience, it seems like we're casting a much wider net and working on more skills simultaneously than perhaps I would gather from working on smaller, more level appropriate pieces. There have definitely been periods of frustration, but in hindsight it has been worth it (and really, seeing the payoff is the only reason I decided to give her my trust and follow through on the difficult pieces she assigns to me). I think you should have a conversation with your teacher about what her plans are for assigning that music. It may make sense over the longer term rather than the shorter term, but you should ultimately do what's best for you, and I think part of that is being able to stay in a mentally healthy place and have fun while you're practicing.

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Thanks Ghostnotes.

It's been only a few days but I already see a vast improvement in the piece, mostly due to a change in my approach and renewed enthusiasm to play it.
I'd say the area I have the most problem with is bars 7-10 - yeah, the slow part at the beginning - with the large chords. Since it's hard for me to even sound all the chord notes, I can't make them sound musical. The rest of the piece feels within reach (given enough practice time), but this specific part has remained an issue for a long time now. I probably need to use more arm weight there and sink naturally into the chords.

I think my teacher urged me to up the tempo way too soon and then was displeased with my interpretation, while I was still struggling to merely play the notes... he said it sounded like a funeral march in the slow tempo I was playing it, and that it lacked a proper flow (which is true).


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I wouldn't trust myself to comment on technique at any point. However, that's an interesting point about the tempo. As a generalized point, my teacher always mentions that tempo comes last, and naturally, after you've developed comfort with the other aspects of the piece, such as the phrasing, voicing, etc., though some pieces may be difficult to phrase effectively at a slow tempo. You don't have to play the whole piece at your teacher's intended speed, however. You can always practice the sections at different tempi, and focus on bringing the sections up-to-tempo asymmetrically. That way, you don't have to be gated in your progress on just one section. Your teacher should be provided you techniques to make those beginning chords more attainable (such as rolling them, which may be difficult in the beginning).

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If the notes or rhythm are hard to read, it does not mean the piece is hard to play.
It does to me. If I consistently do not know what the notes are in a piece because I’m not familiar with a particular key, especially if there are a lot of additional accidentals included, that’s a no-go for me. I know my own limitations. It doesn’t mean that I’ll never play that piece, it just means that right now I don’t have the reading ability to do it.


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Originally Posted by Ghostnotes
Hi Ido,

I actually have the same experience as you. My teacher gave me the June Barcarolle after maybe 2.5 years of experience (she was a new teacher for me at the time, maybe only a couple of months together), because I mentioned in passing that I like the piece. My previous teacher was focused on teaching from the ABRSM syllabi, while my current teacher was educated through the Tchaikovsky conservatory. Two very different approaches.

We worked on the piece for an extended period of time, perhaps around 6 months. At that time, I never got through the entire piece, but we focused on the appropriate phrasing and voicing for the chords through roughly the first half of the piece. My other piece at the time was bach invention #13 (a whole separate set of struggles on that one). However, after she was relatively happy with what I was able to do for those first forty bars or so, we moved on to other easier pieces, such as some of the more simple Grieg lyric pieces and the shorter Schumann pieces. I picked those up much more quickly, and was playing them with a much higher level of musicality just within the first couple of weeks working on them. Afterwards, we went back to the barcarolle, and I noticed that learning the notes was no longer an issue. There's still some difficulty in voicing and phrasing (Tchaikovsky writes so many notes!), but I began to see some reasoning for what I considered madness for those first few months. I plan to revisit it in another year, after some further refinement in my current skills.

At no point did I spend months stagnated, however. I don't think that would be an effective use of time.

I think one downside to this particular teaching style is that you don't really have a large repertoire at any point in time. But in my own experience, it seems like we're casting a much wider net and working on more skills simultaneously than perhaps I would gather from working on smaller, more level appropriate pieces. There have definitely been periods of frustration, but in hindsight it has been worth it (and really, seeing the payoff is the only reason I decided to give her my trust and follow through on the difficult pieces she assigns to me). I think you should have a conversation with your teacher about what her plans are for assigning that music. It may make sense over the longer term rather than the shorter term, but you should ultimately do what's best for you, and I think part of that is being able to stay in a mentally healthy place and have fun while you're practicing.
Your teacher gave you a grade 8 level piece after 2.5 years of playing piano? That's absolutely crazy to me lol


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Originally Posted by CodySean
Your teacher gave you a grade 8 level piece after 2.5 years of playing piano? That's absolutely crazy to me lol
I don’t understand why any teacher would do this, unless they were working with an obvious prodigy. It could be a recipe for disaster. At the very least, the student loses 6 months of relevant study.


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Originally Posted by Ido
It's been only a few days but I already see a vast improvement in the piece, mostly due to a change in my approach and renewed enthusiasm to play it.
I'd say the area I have the most problem with is bars 7-10 - yeah, the slow part at the beginning - with the large chords. Since it's hard for me to even sound all the chord notes, I can't make them sound musical.

To get to grips with bars 7-9 and to help them to sound musical please consider omitting the doubled low note from the right hand chord on the fourth beat. In bar 10 the fourth beat chord is easier. When I play this piece, having relatively small hands, omission of those notes helps to maintain the phrasing and tempo and you can always ask yourself does it make those bars sound much different.

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Originally Posted by keff
To get to grips with bars 7-9 and to help them to sound musical please consider omitting the doubled low note from the right hand chord on the fourth beat. In bar 10 the fourth beat chord is easier. When I play this piece, having relatively small hands, omission of those notes helps to maintain the phrasing and tempo and you can always ask yourself does it make those bars sound much different.

Thanks! I've considered that as well. I've been working in the past two days on rolling the chords, as suggested by both Ghostnotes and my teacher. It seems to help a bit.
My teacher has very small hands but somehow he plays these chords so effortlessly... I think what makes these chords awkward for me is that while they have a big span to that doubled note, the rest of the notes are cramped together and it's hard to separated them. Especially the little interval between fingers 3 and 4.

I've just realized there's another aspect of this piece which makes it challenging for me - it's length. Three pages is 50% more than what I'm used to, and there are many little variations and details, which take time to be engrained into memory. So many things to work on! But it will pay off, I think.


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Originally Posted by ebonyk
Originally Posted by CodySean
Your teacher gave you a grade 8 level piece after 2.5 years of playing piano? That's absolutely crazy to me lol
I don’t understand why any teacher would do this, unless they were working with an obvious prodigy. It could be a recipe for disaster. At the very least, the student loses 6 months of relevant study.
It seems grossly irresponsible. I have students who have played for three or four years and are still learning from Faber. A grade 8 piece at 2.5 years? Six months on 40 bars? Highly questionable.


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Originally Posted by CodySean
I have students who have played for three or four years and are still learning from Faber.
I find it hard to believe that someone is learning from Faber after four years with good instruction. It makes me question the quality of the teacher. Unless the student is putting in zero effort at home or not interested.

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Originally Posted by ranjit
I find it hard to believe that someone is learning from Faber after four years with good instruction. It makes me question the quality of the teacher. Unless the student is putting in zero effort at home or not interested.

Not taking any sides here, but I'm afraid such comments are not constructive, and can only detract from the conversation, which has been very helpful so far. Thanks.

Last edited by Ido; 11/06/21 06:01 PM.

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Originally Posted by Ido
... I think what makes these chords awkward for me is that while they have a big span to that doubled note, the rest of the notes are cramped together and it's hard to separated them. Especially the little interval between fingers 3 and 4.
If I attempt to play all four notes of the right hand chord in bars 7-10, I have most difficulty with bar 8, but I can get 1,2 3and 4 most easily on these notes if I slide all my fingers forward after playing the first chord. That way you can separate fingers 3 and 4.

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Originally Posted by ranjit
Originally Posted by CodySean
I have students who have played for three or four years and are still learning from Faber.
I find it hard to believe that someone is learning from Faber after four years with good instruction. It makes me question the quality of the teacher. Unless the student is putting in zero effort at home or not interested.
They are transfer students so it's hard to say. But doing a book about every six months seems about right.

And yes, many students do not practice as much as they should. Even my best student at this point we're in book 3A, and spend about two to three weeks per piece. She clearly practices, but piano is her second instrument after violin.

Last edited by CodySean; 11/06/21 06:28 PM.

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