I don't know where to start.

Technique, methods and advice for learners

Postby 83-1102043603 » Wed Jan 05, 2005 3:38 pm

Hi I'm new to the PEP boards, so hello everybody.

OK... I was first introduced to the piano at the tender age of 7 and had only a few lessons before my parents cancelled my lessons.
Back then I was an out-of-doors child (football and the like).

Now I'm almost 25 and work in the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, in London. I work on the front desk there, and have met a lot of really good pianists that are young bright and influentual. In the seven months I've been working at the GSMD I've fallen in love with the piano and would really love to be able to play the piano (well).

Now after over 100 hours sitting at the piano before and after work, I still can't play a piece from start to fininsh, Not even simplified scores.

My music reading skill is abysmal and my co-ordination is too. Although I have learned some parts of some pieces with both hands I am still having a lot of trouble with this.

The pieces I've been trying to play are...
Chopin - Etude No.3 (I heard this and thought I'd at least be able to learn the first few phases (if prases is the correct term) but even they are a lot more complicated than they sound)
Liszt - La Campanella (I only started this today and know I can at least go for a simplified version here but it is still hard)
Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue (I might just leave this to the professionals)
Richard Clayderman - Ballade pour Adeline (I can play the first part to this for about two minutes then I go wrong and don't know where to go.)

I like all the pieces I'm trying but I get frustrated at just not being able to find the next notes. (sorry I seem to be going on a bit.)

I've met a student at the school that has said she'll give me lessons but she's really busy with ensemble rehearsals.

What I'd really like to know is...

Where do I go from here? (or any advice would be great, cos I might not be asking the right question.)

Thanks and hello to you all.

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Postby Beckywy » Sun Jan 09, 2005 1:36 am

The pieces you have listed are all advanced pieces that most pianist wouldn't attempt until they have several years of tutelage under their belt. But, if you insist...Try dividing your piece into sections. Each section would be the start and end of 1 phrase. Number each section. Practice only 1 section at a time, hands seperately and listen to the voices. There's a slim possibility you would be able to play it well, but if you want to play the pieces for fun, go for it.
"The real purpose of studying music-to unite ourselves with our special gifts in such a way that one would add strength to the other" Seymour Bernstein
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sun Jan 09, 2005 11:37 am

Welcome, fellow piano lover.

"Where do I go from here"?? BACK! Beckywy's right, Squiffy, these are advanced pieces for a guy with only 100 hours of piano. Get a professional teacher, organize your study and practice routines, start at the beginning and develop a basic technique, listen to lots of good music to develop a sense of style, and--above all--accept the fact that if you'd really like to play well it's going to take time, patience, and hard work. But, I promise, the payoff is immeasurable.

Please keep us up to date on how you're doing.

Dr. Bill.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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Postby 83-1102043603 » Sun Jan 09, 2005 6:13 pm

Thanks for the replies.

I know, they are difficult pieces but I think I'm finding them easier to learn because I know (in my head) how they go, every note. It's I find it hard finding the tune on the piano. I can find sing notes just fine but I find it really hard to find chords. The thing that can frustrate me sometimes is that I find it really hard to seperate my hands. I just can't seem to operate them seperately.

I've recently spoken to a student at the school and he offered to teach me some theory. I don't have the money to pay for a professional teacher, so I'm lucky to have such talented, kind and bright students to help me out.

I will certainly choose a more simple piece. Any reccomendations would be very welcom too.

Thanks again for the replys.

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Postby 75-1095335090 » Sun Jan 09, 2005 7:39 pm

Michael.... are you trying to learn to play those pieces by ear?
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Postby 83-1102043603 » Mon Jan 10, 2005 8:12 pm

Yes I am trying to play these by ear, I have the sheet music but just can't make much sense of it.

I do have a lot to learn I admit and I know the way I'm going about trying to learn it, is not great (not even good) but I still feel I'm making progress and it's this progress that makes me smile (big smile sometimes too) while I'm sitting at a piano.

For instance today I made a big step with La Campenella not just by making the jumps but by getting the touch right too. (I've not even thought about adding the left hand yet)

Sometimes I well up (get teary eyed) hearing a piece played well. I want to make myself well up and smile and laugh whilst I "play" the piano.
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Postby 83-1102043603 » Sat Jan 22, 2005 5:58 am

I know this topic didn't fall out but I am eager to learn so I'm going to bump it.
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Postby 83-1102043603 » Sat Jun 04, 2005 4:48 pm

Hi everyone, I know it's been a while but I've been practicing hard and can play my first piece from start to finish without error and i feel also in a style of my own. the piece is Chopin's, Largo in Eb Major.

I have a very talented student at the Guildhall School for my teacher now. Ivan Kiwuwa, watch out for the name.

Can I post a midi file of me playing Largo in Eb Major?
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Postby presto » Fri Jul 01, 2005 12:41 pm

Wow, even after 8 YEARS of piano I haven't played "Rhapsody in Blue" yet! (But I might be advanced enough to try it out now, I guess.)

The point that I think the others were trying to make in commenting on how difficult your pieces are is that if you start with something simple, it will help you better your music reading skills and the other things you want to improve, and then of course you can gradually play more advanced pieces until your favorites come more easily to you.

But you also seem to be learning quite quickly. Good for you! It's all about the joy that comes from playing, isn't it? I never get over that myself. :)

Edited By presto on 1120243329
88 keys--
10 fingers--
No problem!
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Postby 83-1102043603 » Wed Jul 06, 2005 11:53 am

Yes I've realised that those pieces are too complex for me to be working on. My teacher has me learning Schumann's Melodie.

I've noticed as I progress with technique and focus, my improvisation gets better.

Thanks for your replys.

I'll keep the pep posted on how I'm doing.
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Postby Stretto » Wed Jul 06, 2005 1:37 pm

In trying to find repertoire for my students, I've always found it a catch 22 between too simple of music which provides no challenge or too difficult of music which is too frustrating.
A good teacher, as it sounds like you have, will help balance this.
Sometimes my students rise to the challenge of something a little harder and it boosts their skill level while other times they get really frustrated. I don't think there's anything wrong with trying more challenging music sometimes as long as you don't get frustrated. When I have done this, I've had to figure it out a measure at a time hands separately or even at times note by note. Of course, if you wait 'till you increase your skill level, you would be able to learn it less tediously.

One of my teachers once said, "it is better to be able to play a simpler piece well (proper technique, phrasing, rhythm, dynamics, etc.) than to play a difficult piece terribly."
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Postby 83-1102043603 » Wed Jul 13, 2005 12:01 pm

On paper, Schumann's Melodie seems so simple, 2 sometimes 3 keys together but for some reason I find Chopin's Largo in Eb Major much easier to play.

I think it maybe because Largo is almost always chords but Melodie is mainly finger work, and my left hand is about 4 months practice behind my right, so getting them to work together in such a piece is hard for me at the moment. Equally as hard is to sit down and practice with just my left hand.

So as my teacher is in Uganda until September and I was wondering if there is a piece which is good for a novice like myself to practice which would help my left hand catch up to my right?

Thanks for all your previous replys.
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Postby Stretto » Sun Jul 17, 2005 3:34 pm


I can't think of any specific pieces off the top of my head.
However, in general, when it comes to working out problems such as help with the left hand, or any other problems you might encounter, here's my 2 cents worth of insight. If you can identify any areas that need improvement in your playing, as it sounds like you are good at, your half-way to working them out. Being able to identify areas that need improvement is probably one of the biggest obstacles. Some of my students play in frustration or are oblivious to what needs work. Half of my work as a teacher is to get students to look at all the angles and ask themselves, "what could I improve on?" Then one can ask, "What can I do to solve the problem?" Looking back, prior to college (where I absorbed several tips) no one ever showed me how to practice. Even in college no professor ever sat down and strictly helped me with my technique alone except in conjunction with specific passages in the pieces I was learning. From the beginning, I've always invented a bunch of my own ways to practice. Some ideas I come up with help, some don't but I just always try to think of every which way I can to practice something I have problems with. As it turns out, a lot of the things I "invented" for myself are the same things everyone else does. Everyone thinks more alike than any of us would care to admit - like when you think you have a great original idea and everyone else has already thought of it. If I was in your shoes and was trying to make-up some way to help my left hand, I might try something to get started like:

1. practice all the R.H. parts I like and know well with my L.H.
2. play favorite simple melodies with my L.H. and even on blank score paper write out melodies in the Bass Clef and sight-read them with my L.H.

It just dawned on me, the main idea in this whole post is variety, variety, variety. Anything to keep from practicing the same old way.

I also just got to thinking, if you are having trouble with your L.H. being further behind than your right, you may be practicing the right hand parts in what your learning way more than the L.H. Be sure and practice the L.H. at least once, maybe twice for everytime you practice the R.H. on something. You may try making yourself learn the L.H. first in a piece before even trying the R.H. Make getting to learn the R.H. a reward for learning the L.H. first. Also when you put hands together in a piece, instead of trying to make your L.H. catch up to your R.H., reverse it and make your R.H. slow down to your L.H. speed until you can play correctly at that speed and then gradually build up speed. I would guess what may be happening is that you are trying to play way too fast.

I ran across some really good practice tips somewhere on this site but I can't find it now. However, if you do a search on the Piano Education Page you will find an endless amount of information on practice tips so I won't take the time to make a list of conventional practice tips here.

Finally, if it were me I would be tapping into the wealth of walking information from the pianists you are meeting where you work. Whenever I had the chance, I would be trying to strike up conversations with them about how they go about learning their pieces. For example, I might say, "By the way, what practice techniques do you use to strengthen your L.H.?

Hope all this helps. I admire your pursuit in trying to get your playing right instead of just playing without worrying about it. It sounds like you're really doing well.
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Postby Stretto » Tue Jul 26, 2005 12:21 pm

I found the practice tips I read about. Some of my teachers have shown me some of the same ideas or similar as well as the list I found giving me a lot of new ideas. The ideas I have used before so far really work! It is nice to see a compiled list of ideas rather than trying to remember what a person picks up a little here and a little there. Perhaps we should all make our own practice tip lists as we learn them - otherwise if you're like me you forget! I have made some simple practice tip lists for my students to give them some ideas. Otherwise they will just practice by playing the song over and over. I found the tips under the list of educational links from the Piano Education Page: Piano Practicing Principles and Methods by Dr. Brent Hugh, Assistant Professor of Piano, Missouri Western State College, Dept. of Music.

Squiffy, How are things going? If you come up with any good practice tips that help you let us all know - I would like some more tips that might help me in playing or I could use to help my students that someone else has found helps them.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Jul 26, 2005 3:05 pm

One of the first things I always say to a serious student is, "Look, I can't teach you to play, I can only teach you to practice; then you have to teach yourself to play." It sounds a little oversimplified, but it's true of ANY activity. You can be told how to hold the tennis racket, how to face, how to move your feet, how to stroke, and to watch the ball all the way into the racket--but only you can put all that together into a rhythmic movement that feels right inside and can be honed into accuracy.

Squiffy's left hand problems remind me that, when trying to solve a technical problem, the very first thing that has to happen is DIAGNOSIS. I can't tell you how often I've heard students willingly hammering away repeatedly on some passage in a manner that only irons in a bad habit or movement. If you walked into your doctor's office and he said hello and then immediately handed you some pills, you'd say, "Wait a minute! Aren't you going to examine me and find out what's wrong?" And you'd find another doctor.

A teacher has to show that when we play the piano we're to some extent using our hands in ways that have no counterpart in everyday life, and new coordination patterns have to be established. A lot of it is learning what NOT to do.
The way to solve a technical problem is not to beat it to death but to become intimate with it.

Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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