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#3173027 11/24/21 02:21 PM
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I've been an off and on player for over a decade but have only been able to play fairly regularly for the past three years. What really got me into the piano was very virtuosic music. The first time I heard Liszt's Transcendental Etudes was an overwhelming experience for me that instantly changed what I thought was possible in music. Likewise for the 1st time I heard Chopin's Op. 48 no. 1. Since then I've come to love a lot of music like Ravel, Scriabin, Szymanowski, Busoni, Feinberg, and Sorabji that makes extraordinary demands on the pianist. These are among the things I would love to play, my pianistic bucket list, as unreasonable as some of them are.

I seem to be making very slow progress. Just over a year ago I was at level 4 or so. I could play a Bach Invention, not to a great standard, after a couple of weeks of practice, or an easier Field Nocturne. Now I seem to be somewhere in level 5 or so. Easier Scriabin Op. 11 preludes are no problem, as well as easier repertoire in general. And I'm learning my first Chopin Nocturnes, although there are little technical hurdles to overcome in each of them. I feel such a long way off, however, from playing the kinds of things that really inspire me, and sometimes I doubt how much further I can advance.

Part of the frustration is due to my left hand. Last year when I was working on level 4 music, I realized how much tension was in my right hand. So I tried to keep the things I worked on relatively easy (a lot of simplistic sightreading works), and to work on developing a relaxed hand and body, which required a lot of effort and practice. My left hand didn't suffer the same amount of tension, so to stave off a boredom of stasis I went through a lot of left hand exercises and repertoire (Bonamici, Philipp, Wittgenstein, Scriabin, Fumagalli, the left hand portion of Sorabji works, two Godowsky Waltz-Poems) and did a lot of playing around where I'd play things written for the right hand with my left hand. My left hand really took to the challenge and developed rapidly over virtually every aspect of technique. I can do things now like rough run-throughs of some Godowsky Etudes for the left hand, but now I'm focusing more on refinement and precision of tone quality, rather than just sounding notes at the right time, so it'll probably be at least a year before I try any Godowsky in earnest other than the Op. 10 no.3 transcription. But despite this stunning advance for me, my right hand still struggles with basic techniques like ornaments, runs, octaves, arpeggios, etc. to such an extent that it sometimes feels unimaginable that it'll ever come close to what my left hand can do. Progress-wise my left hand wants to skyrocket and my right hand is moving slug-like, with almost unnoticeably small advances and long periods of consolidation. I've learned to practice patiently and with care, to not force issues but aim for relaxation and control, but I feel so far from playing a lot of things I love.

That said, I guess I should take stock of where I am. I'm currently working on Chopin's c minor posthumous Nocturne. I remember when I first started playing, after learning Bach's c major prelude, I tried to learn this very Nocturne. It seemed so impossible, starting with a left hand leap that seemed so huge, an awkward thumb under switch after the first two melody notes, while it seemed at the time that the left hand would have to stretch to its limits to play every note of the arpeggio. The dotted rhythm itself was challenging when I had to do it over the steady pulse of the accompaniment, making me feel as if I needed two brains. It felt as if there were way too many things to coordinate, and after two days I stuffed the sheet music away with some amount of embarrassment. It was all too much for me. And now those sorts of things are all second nature. So I guess while I'm not up to Ravel's Miroirs much less a Feinberg sonata, I'm still working on things that were once aspirational (and impossible) to me. So maybe were I to skip ahead to ten further years into the future the Scriabin Etudes that I cautiously tried out last week to see how far away my technique is from performing them will be as second nature as how the beginning of this nocturne is to me now.

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Are you left handed? I would just pick pieces that work on right hand and stop doing left hand exercises. I think everyone else struggles with left hand and since most music is right hand dominant eventually you may right hand catching up. I spent a huge effort to improve left hand
also Chopin nocturne is significantly harder than the others around grade 7. The e major scales runs at the end are just very hard and the part I still struggle with to get such high speed.

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I'm right handed, but because my right hand was so plagued by tension, I decided to spend a year not playing anything difficult or fast in the right hand, for the most part, and did a lot of things to lessen tension instead. But it meant I was really taking a step back. My left hand wasn't having the same issues, so I kept working on technique with it. I'm obsessed with left hand solo work and have studied a great number of scores of the genre and even have some composition projects for the left hand alone. My right hand is mostly working on slow improvement--I don't want it to lapse back into tension by straining too hard too quickly on things that are difficult.

Is the Nocturne you're talking about the C# minor one? I'll probably work on Op. 15 no. 3 next then that one. I tried learning it earlier in the year, but my runs were really clunky or tense when I tried to max out speed. But I've been practicing them several times a week, and they're getting a bit better. With the ratings, I was using Henle's grades of the Nocturnes from my edition, which seem to be lower. 7 sounds more impressive!

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Well it's not a mystery then. You've been obsessively playing left hand music. Playing chopin and field nocturne, whilst nice, will do absolutely nothing to help with this problem. You need to get a teacher too look at your right hand and to play right handed music. Maybe something classical period will help right hand. Good luck.


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A lot of people get into piano playing with specific pieces in mind. Usually difficult ones. And there is nothing wrong with having certain objectives. But on the other hand it shouldnt be the main driver. As a hobby, it should primarily bring you satisfaction every day, irrespective of what you play. I think the question is if you knew today that you will never be able to play the pieces you like, would you continue to practice or would you drop ?

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You're flailing around, trying to fix problems that you don't really understand, in ways that may or may not work. And you're stuck. Get some advice from someone who's been over the territory before.

. . . Find a teacher.


. Charles
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Originally Posted by Sidokar
A lot of people get into piano playing with specific pieces in mind. Usually difficult ones. And there is nothing wrong with having certain objectives. But on the other hand it shouldnt be the main driver. As a hobby, it should primarily bring you satisfaction every day, irrespective of what you play. I think the question is if you knew today that you will never be able to play the pieces you like, would you continue to practice or would you drop ?

I agree. I know we all have our individual goals… but I don’t think it’s healthy or helpful to have your main motivator be the idea that you will one day be able to play virtuosic pieces. They are for virtuosos, and most of us will never reach that level. Rather, enjoy the process. Enjoy that YOU are making music. Find pieces that move and inspire you which are at your level or close to it. The great thing about the piano is that the repertoire is so vast. If you can’t find these pieces… look harder, I guess. If the only piano music you find appealing is virtuosic stuff, I think that’s a big problem.

Also, it does sound like you would benefit from a teacher, if you don’t already have one.

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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
You're flailing around, trying to fix problems that you don't really understand, in ways that may or may not work. And you're stuck. Get some advice from someone who's been over the territory before.

. . . Find a teacher.
Guidance is absolutely needed in this situation. 👍


Lisa
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Unfortunately, a teacher is untenable at this time for me. My workload is too intense for pretty much any kind of regularly scheduled appointments, and I do a lot of traveling (several times a month, generally). It's something I really want that I can't do for the time being. I really liked it in the past. I had a Taubman teacher who let me pick my repertoire, so I was playing things like Scriabin and Mompou which really engaged me. Depending on a lot of things, I may have time next year to take lessons, which is exciting. What I think a teacher would help with would be for me to avoid plateauing, since I've gotten really comfortable with a certain class of compositions (lento-andantino works or fast works that focus on the left hand with a simpler right hand), and while I'm slowly creeping towards greater complexity, I don't have a good roadmap on what will lead me to higher levels, with the biggest deficiencies (while keeping in mind that my full right hand technique needs development and refining) being right hand faster playing and denser textures, which aren't second nature yet for things quicker than chorales. I have a large musical library, so there's plenty of works for the latter sort for me to practice that I'm enthusiastic about, but I don't think I'm ready for much faster work that isn't quite simplistic, unless I work on something relatively small over the course of a month or two. Maybe it would be a good idea to do so--a kind of low-stress, longer term goal of pushing me in that direction. Most of the quicker stuff I have played has been classical era music or works written for the young, neither of which engage me personally enough to do dedicated nuanced work on.

Virtuosic music is a kind of horizon of desire for me. But for me my immediate goals are suppleness, nuance, and fluidity. A sense of flow and ease. Even for the works I've learned I wouldn't estimate myself as achieving that yet. I've made graduated lists of a great many composers I admire. So there are plenty of works to choose from my favorite composers (Mazurkas by Szymanowski, the Pavane and Waltzes by Ravel, Griffes works, Chopin Preludes, works by Faure, etc.) that seem doable in the next couple of years. I guess the problem is to a great extent a lack of having a teacher to guide me upwards, efficiently address issues, and provide me with shorter term goals, and potentially some technical work for my right hand to improve, since in my conscientiousness to reduce tension in my right hand, I've been a little spooked to approach things that cause my mechanism to exert itself more, so I've only done very light and generally slow technical work for the past year and a half.

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I don't often recommend YouTube channels, but this teacher is excellent.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6tpkZhNpJiTnlUgoiUe9QQ

So is Dr. Mortensen's playlist. Lots of great info from these two teachers.

https://www.youtube.com/user/cedarvillemusic/playlists


Lisa
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Thanks, ebonyk. I hadn't heard of the first link before. Dr. Mortensen, along with Josh Wright, is what helped me get rid of (for the most part) my flying pinky problem and a lot of tension that I had been holding in my hands.

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Originally Posted by lautreamont
Thanks, ebonyk. I hadn't heard of the first link before. Dr. Mortensen, along with Josh Wright, is what helped me get rid of (for the most part) my flying pinky problem and a lot of tension that I had been holding in my hands.
Jazer Lee is an excellent teacher, I follow him myself and I always love his patience in explaining things. He’s extremely down to earth and very helpful! 🙂


Lisa
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Lautremont - quite honestly, from the description of your work and life, I would cut yourself some slack. From how you describe your work, it sounds like you may not have a lot of time to practice. Especially if that is the case, I would not get hung up on the progress you feel you aren’t making. Sure, you could be making more progress if you had more time and you had a teacher. But at the moment, this is not in the cards. Enjoy the time you do have at the piano. Keep on working on things that are ‘simpler,’ that you can achieve on your own in a timeframe that you are comfortable with. And just enjoy yourself. Banish the Lack of Progress blues. Bring in the Makin’ Whoopie (at the piano) swing.

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Okay, when I first glanced at the title of the thread, I thought the OP, lautreamont, was speaking of a lack of progress playing the Blues. But now that I see they were talking about a feeling of "got the Blues" about their piano playing progress in general.

I was going to try and share a word of encouragement regarding playing "the Blues", but since the thread is more about having the "Blues" due to what they consider a lack of piano playing progress regarding their favorite genre of music, well, I'll share a word of encouragement anyway. smile

Just keep plugging away at it, doing what you enjoy doing. If you hit a snag, or a slow spell, step back and just practice what you already know. Nothing wrong with a little "review" rehearsal of the progress of days gone by. New progress and a renewed enthusiasm for learning to play will follow.

My progress at the piano has always been slow, except when I get the lack of progress Blues, I'll just play a little Blues to help me overcome my lack of progress Blues.... smile

In fact, some of the lyrics to one of my original Blues songs says, "Ain't no need to have the Blues all the time". Okay, there's another one that has some lyrics, "I've had the Blues for so long, seems like nothing is wrong". smile

Not sure I've been of any help, but I hope I have.

All the best!

Rick


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My advice would be to mirror the movements you have in your left hand, in your right. Take a passage which you can play with your left hand, and play the mirror image with your right hand, then play them together and try to use the same movements in each hand.

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Thanks everybody. Ranjit, I've had the same idea. With the left hand repertoire I went through a lot of exercises (Philipp and Wittgenstein notably) that were basically transpositions of figures from things like Chopin Preludes. So I could try the originals. A lot of the exercises were more advanced and double notes focused, which I don't think I'm quite ready for quite yet.

This thread inspired me to push myself a bit more with my right hand. I've had such bad tension and gone through such a long period of work trying to reestablish a new foundation of relaxed playing that I've been afraid to approach faster works for the right hand. But yesterday I practiced Chopin Op. 28 no. 10 a bit. It was only half speed, and I focused on relaxation. The thought was that maybe I could gradually get it up to speed. It was a breeze to memorize, and the fast figures are only for two bars at a time, which makes it more manageable for me. I just tried it again (hands separate) and I'm probably comfortably at 3/4 speed without forcing the issue, which is an encouraging sign that maybe I just might be able to play faster things with relaxation, which is exciting and a little unexpected. Unfortunately I won't have access to a piano for a month next month, but I feel inspired that I can tackle the sorts of works that I've been avoiding ever since I decided I had to go back to square one. Like maybe it's feasible in the new year to tackle something like a Schubert Impromptu. And maybe the barrier I felt so keenly in my playing is psychological. My practice habits are completely different now than they were a few years ago when I worked on harder repertoire but had such bad tension issues (I was unaware of the problem at the time). It used to be that I tried to practice everything at tempo, but it seems like focusing on relaxation, tone control, and ease might be a better tactic for me at this juncture.


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