Consistency - How to improve

Technique, methods and advice for learners

Postby 82-1180563307 » Wed May 30, 2007 4:48 pm

Hello Everyone!

I little background (I know boring but necessary :). I have been teaching myself to play Piano for a about a year and half. In some areas I have made a lot of progress, but in others almost none. For instance I can play all my Major and minor scales with both hands (individually & together). I know all the Triads of all the Major Keys (and some Minor), and I can read music though I don't really work much on developing sight reading skills since my goal is to always memorize the song so I can play it without Sheet Music. I'm no master when it comes to Music theory (####, not even a apprentice :), but I have spent quite a bit of time learning it so I can have a good foundation.
My goal is to accompany myself singing Pop and Rock songs on the Piano (though I have been working on Fur Elise pretty much since I started, love that song ;). I have some songs under my belt: John Lennon's - Imagine, Beatles - Let it Be, Most of Journey's - Open Arms and I've been working on Elton John's "Can you Feel the Love Tonight" for quite some time (still haven't gotten it down though).
I have several problems, but without a doubt the main one is consistency. No matter how many times I get a song right the odds are I'll screw it up big the next time around. It's extremely frustrating and has brought me to the edge of giving up on more then one occasion. You could say the only thing I'm consistent at is making mistakes :(. It seems no matter how much I practice a song it isn't getting any better. In some ways it is similar to my typing. I type at about 70 words a minute, with a lot of mistakes. So many that my Pinky and the Backspace key have become great buddies, there really bonded :).
My usual process for initially learning an exercise or song is to load the MIDI file into a program called MidiIllustrator 2 (for songs, I first memorize the Lyrics. It helps me to breakdown and remember the changes in the song. The exercises I use are usually adaptations of the Classical exercises developed by Jordan Rudess. He trained in Classical music for many years, but later moved to Rock). Using MidiIllustrator 2's Step-By-Step mode, looping 4 measures at a time I work on getting the notes and finger positions down (more on finger positions later). Then I start playing along at 30% the normal tempo, increasing it as a go until I can play it at 100%. Then I move onto the next section until I have the entire song or exercise roughly under hand. Then I start practicing the song, playing all the way through over and over. Oddly enough I seem to be more consistent playing exercises then songs. I would thing it would be the other way around, but not for me.

I'm hoping that someone might know some specific exercises or techniques that might help me improve my consistency?
The other question I have is about fingering positions. I have read books and used some computer programs that demonstrate different finger positions: middle C, C, G, and others, but I never been able to actually apply it to my playing (with the exception of the most basic pieces). I usually just workout finger positions that are the most comfortable and use those consistently. When I first started teaching myself Piano and heard about the hand positions I figured it was the way people were able to play without looking at the keyboard, but I can't seem to get it to work for me. I can play part of some songs without looking at the keyboard, but it usually means more mistakes.

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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu May 31, 2007 8:34 pm

Dear Chris,

Welcome to the Board, and thanks for introducing yourself and your concerns so fully. Your whole post will take a long time to answer, but for now I would like to say what I'm sure has occurred to most of the others who have read it: why don't you find a good teacher and take lessons at least long enough to get a handle on the basics? Piano is not a do-it-yourself kind of skill, and you certainly can't expect a lot after only a year and a half of trying to teach yourself.

It would be helpful to read the articles on PEP under "Learning", the fifth heading in the vertical index column on your left. Let us know what you think, and we'll take it from there.

Dr. Bill Leland.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
Dr. Bill Leland
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Postby jenscott90 » Tue Jun 05, 2007 6:49 am

First, I agree, you would be a wonderful student to have under a 'live' teacher. (Hopefully alive...there are some that are just going through the teaching motions and are not really living, sometimes, I think.) :) Just kidding. If you take to heart the value of practice the way it sounds and are open to suggestions like you have asked here, even every other week would do you a world of good! Without looking at what you are doing, not one of us can hope to help you very much, but I will make a couple of assumptions and see if that helps.

First, you are more comfortable with exercises and scales, as you have said. To me, I would associate that "success" with how comfortable you become with that pattern of movement. Taken in short spurts, you feel like you can do things well. You say that you take 4 measures or so and get those down and move on. Do you take those first four measures and then add the next 4 and make yourself a longer exercise of 8 bars, then? Instead of chopping all of the music up into little bitty pieces and then trying to put it all together, try going back and slipping some of those smaller puzzle pieces together in a larger block of 8 or 16 or even 32 measures once you get there, and then fit those large ones together for your song.

Just an observation and maybe you already do this. :)

In any case, I applaud your dedication and desire! Now, go out and get an experienced pair of eyes to really teach you, and you will progress SO much faster and better! Who knows what skills you are leaving out or just don't even know about that would make your playing actually easier!! :)

Good luck and keep in touch!

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Postby LK123 » Wed Jun 20, 2007 3:00 pm

Hi there!

Good for you for being so self motivated and learning on your own. I too would recommend getting a teacher to help guide your learning. In terms of consistency... do you always practice up to speed or do you take things really slow. I find that slow practice is best, and you are less likely to make mistakes. When you are playing the correct notes with correct fingering on a consistent basis, your muscle memory will develop and your fingers will be more sure of themselves!

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Jun 20, 2007 7:26 pm

When you play your exercises, are you looking at the keyboard? This could be why they are 'easier'. Do you play two or three octvave scales, arpeggios, octaves, up and down the piano? You need to feel comfortable with the keyboard and the more you play, the easier it will be for your fingers to 'find' the correct notes. Try playing some exercises with your eyes closed.

If you are not familiar with the keyboard, then it is going to take longer to look at the music and then find the notes on the piano.

Try playing some nursery rhymes or easy folk songs by ear. Put in some harmony.

Whatever you do, have fun!

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