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Thread: Have I hit an insurmountable wall?

  1. #1
    Senior Member clavichorder's Avatar
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    Default Have I hit an insurmountable wall?

    Are things like subtle control over dynamics, well placed rubato, and other elements that make piano performance musical very learnable? Also, how can I become more physically relaxed? I am a very tense pianist...

    I first learned the basics when I was 8 and didn't make much progress for a few years, then quit. I started again at 17 and taught myself for a while, to play pieces of a much higher level. Then I got some loose teaching. At 21, I finally started taking from a teacher at my community college, and now I'm 22. I'm wondering just how far I can get. I just feel kind of uncertain of my potential and stuck. I managed to perform Scriabin op 16 no. 1 for a piano jury very musically and got an outstanding jury, but its not a hard piece. It was my first successful romantic era piece performance. I can also play the 1st movement of Mozart sonata k 279 though not to my satisfaction.

    My teacher is pushing me and tells me I am a gem in the rough, that I need to work on learning to hear myself while I play, and hear horizontal lines. I have been trying to understand how to do this for a whole year now, since I started taking lessons with him...

    Just a little discouraged.

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  3. #2
    Senior Member hreichgott's Avatar
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    The one year mark with a teacher can be hard, because you have started to understand what the teacher wants and how you're falling short, but you haven't yet figured out how to practice it and do it.

    I'm also being pushed to listen more while I play so I might not be the best one to give advice, but the most successful thing for me so far is recording myself. And then listening back not the same day, but a couple of weeks later.

    Also trying to impersonate someone else's sound. Sometimes I get complacent about my own sound, i.e. "this is just how I play forte." Trying to imitate my teacher's forte or Richard Goode's or Murray Perahia's forte gets me listening for different things.

    For horizontal lines and rubato the best thing imho is tons of melody alone practice.
    Last edited by hreichgott; Apr-07-2014 at 03:00.
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Pardon me one little bit while I mention that from your other posts, I am not startled at either your anxiety or a sort of whipping yourself frame of mind.

    Now. Give yourself and that teacher a break, guy. You walk in the door, more advanced than many, with years (whether you were practicing all the time or not) of accumulated bad habits, and in other areas none where you should have habits.

    The entire year is to be considered as 'you are a piano student completely revising technique.' O.K.? You are not, I hope, expecting to be a world-class career concert pianist within the next few years. The rest of how far you get is only a matter of time.

    You have far more equipment to bring to that table than many, with theory and some comping under your belt, your ear far better trained than many, too (including your choral activities.)

    For someone with a mind often far too busy and "all up in yourself," for both mental and physical relaxation as useful to you at and away from the instrument, I strongly suggest looking into the Feldenkrais relaxation techniques. They have been a boon for many performers for generations, and with great success help eliminate problems with posture, hand positioning, and all sort of other physical barriers to playing. They also work in getting you into a good frame of mind when performing. They work physically, from the outside in. [I'm convinced most westerners can not truly "Think Of Nothing," so the more eastern stamped meditation techniques I believe are of less or no value to many of 'us.']

    You compose. You sing in a choir. Think horizontal, then! Apply that in practice to not just 'melody' but any aspect of the alto, tenor, bass, even if the piece is wildly homophonic and vertical. Make a line even if there is not one. Isolate those elements, practice them, sing any one of the absent parts (as best you can, in any register.) There is nothing quite like singing, where you actually have to breath, support the line, and take breaths to additionally shape a phrase. This preps the mind into thinking and hearing in that manner more constantly.
    You are operating, after all, a percussion instrument. Legato, line, all is a sort of illusion to get across. The singing helps enormously.

    For an additional boost to aid a sense of line and all of your playing, concentrate on the smallest duration note value as a constant (do not count them all), i.e. any one note at a time going to the next.

    The biggest bit of helpful advice for some and all of what ails your playing right now turns right back to the fact the piano is a percussion instrument. Pay very close attention and listen hard to the sound of each note you make after it has been struck / depressed. This will better tell you about the touch / dynamic required and should, I think, contribute to an overall sense of line, flow, momentum; it will certainly link your ears more directly to the physical commands of touch to better dynamically contour any and all phrases.

    And DO RECORD YOUR PLAYING... this is at least as valuable as a lesson with a fine teacher. If you are "all up in yourself" and thinking or obsessing too much, wait one or two weeks to listen to it. First just listen, then listen while following the score. I never had to wait two weeks, but the distance apart between recording and checking yourself is very good advice.

    One year when starting afresh, and that being truly a year of heavy revision, is nothing at all. I think you can expect within another year a progress which you find much more satisfactory.
    Last edited by PetrB; Apr-07-2014 at 06:53.

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    Senior Member Headphone Hermit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by clavichorder View Post

    My teacher is pushing me and tells me ..... that I need to work on learning to hear myself while I play...
    As PetrB says: Relax!

    Be clear what you want to say to the listener. Great performers communicate to us - so you need to be clear what you want to communicate and then use the notes as part of the process. Listen to what you are communicating whilst you are playing.

    oh ..... and enjoy it!
    "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." Berlioz, 1856

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    And to add that it's lots more than just playing the notes on the page ... one must feel those notes being played from their heart and soul. One must be an integral part of their instrument, live with it, breathe with it, become one with the instrument and then it all becomes delightful to the listener.

    How far you go with this talent depends upon only yourself ... nobody else can 'make you' a fine pianist ... the artist/player makes it happen themselves.

    I have a little placard on the organ console at church:

    Amateurs practice until they get it right ... Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong

    Kh ♫

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    I would add, with a goodly amount of levity, and with purpose to put this past year in good proportion and perspective:

    Since you have but returned to earnest and regular piano lessons just within and for the length of one year, you haven't even been at it long enough to reach one of those 'frustrating plateaux' -- where it seems to you nothing is going forward, all staying the same for some length of months, until one day you think / look over your shoulder and realize you have progressed. It may seem odd to mention that, but I truly wish you continue until you reach the first of those, get through and over it, because then you will have forever a bit more faith in long-term work eventually producing results :-)

    What you've been through of late is somewhat similar. A certain degree of both faith and faithfully applied work, like a dumb unthinking duty, really is part and parcel of progress with anything as complex and nuanced as music performance; the benefit of so proceeding does, ultimately, come clear to you and 'shows.' It may feel like Waiting for Godot, but in this type of circumstance, more often than not, Godot actually does show up :-)
    Last edited by PetrB; Apr-09-2014 at 11:44.

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    Well I felt like you some months ago.
    My story is completely different, but I can understand what you are saying.
    It seems that you are going backwards instead of forward.
    Because you played better before than now. You could even have the feeling of uncertainty.
    So my advice, is that you should record yourself and listen carefully this "horizontal lines"
    Try to judge your work objectively. Don´t lie to yourself, it does not help.
    Now you should ask to yourself "How good my teacher is?" Is is often to have a bad teacher in this matter. (I am not saying that he/she is bad, but there are a lot of teachers that don´t know how to teach or don´t to explain.
    I hope this helps you.

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    Ambition may be the problem. Musicianship is all about just wanting to play the music and have it mean something to you. No matter what the piece you need to feel it physically and emotionally.
    Last edited by treeza; May-08-2014 at 00:52.

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    Your question about learning to relax when you play especially struck me, since that was something I struggled with when I was taking lessons in high school and college. There are a lot of relaxation techniques out there--but here's something extremely simple you can try, and you don't have to research any complicated methods in order to do it. Before you play a note, lift your arm up, then bring it down and play the key. It doesn't have to be an extremely exaggerated motion, but the point is to take the tension out of your fingers and allow your arms to do the work when you play. If you've ever played tennis, it's similar to swinging the tennis racket. You want to get your power from your arms, not your fingers or wrists. So, just lift your arm up, then down--and play the keys on that downward stroke. It takes some getting used to, but it will definitely help to give you a more relaxed practicing habit!

    With regards to feeling discouraged, I hear you. It is SO easy to get discouraged with practicing, and with music lessons in general. Don't give up! Focus on the things about your music/instrument that you enjoy. Try to be patient with the things you don't enjoy. I can guarantee that if you quit now, you will most likely regret it. If you continue for the next two years, for example, you will look back over just that short span of time and realize how much you've grown. By the way, the fact that you were able to perform a Scriabin piece for a jury means you are getting somewhere--that is very respectable and you should commend yourself for that effort! Take heart and don't give up!

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