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#1059560 - 11/23/04 10:26 AM Play above your level
james_cc Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/04/04
Posts: 99
Loc: Chino Hills, CA
Let's see if I have a beautiful piece that I love to play. I am curious to hear if I try to play something that is fairly well above my level, which is difficult and time consuming due to vast variety of multiple keys and movements, does one gain valuable skills from it, provided I have lots of patience and time?

Maybe it is obvious that one should gain lots of experience and raise the skill level. Want to hear any negative feedback, if any.

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#1059561 - 11/23/04 10:32 AM Re: Play above your level
divadeb Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/04
Posts: 677
Sure, as long as it's not the only thing you work on , it doesn't frustrate you too much, and you don't give in to the temptation to play it badly because you want to play it so badly \:\)

Just as long as you're working it correctly you are bound to get something out of stretching yourself.
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.


#1059562 - 11/23/04 11:24 AM Re: Play above your level
Cindysphinx Offline

Registered: 02/14/03
Posts: 6416
Loc: Washington D.C. Metro
Good question, James (and good answer, Divadeb).

I also tend to take on things above what I can play comfortably, largely due to impatience.

I think doing that is a mixed bag. I find that if something is way too hard, then I spend a lot of time just memorizing exactly where my fingers should go. It gets very mechanical, and once I can "play" the piece I don't really have anything that sounds good anyway. When I do this, I find that my sight reading skills take a nosedive because I haven't been reading -- I've been memorizing. Also, my fingers get slower, it seems.

That said, I also think it is a mistake to play things that are insufficiently challenging. I guess you need a balance.
Vote For Cindy!!


#1059563 - 11/23/04 01:01 PM Re: Play above your level
mound Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/10/04
Posts: 782
Loc: Rochester, NY
I agree -always strive for the next piece you tackle to be more challenging than anything you've done before.

A good idea is to sit down with a piece of paper, and list out all the pieces of piano repertoir you'd like to be able to play.. Don't worry if it's way out of grasp at the moment, if you love the piece and want to play it, write it down.. What you're doing here is putting together your "5 year plan".

Take this list to your teacher, and together put them in order of increasing difficulty, in an order that will allow you to gain from one, techniques needed for the next.

Now that you've mapped out the longer term plan, start working them.. Plan your work, don't obsess on any one piece, but generally follow your plan, re-evaluate every few months if you have to.

There is of course the problem of "playing badly" because it's just so far out of grasp that you are very much dealing with the execution rather than the expression.. If this is the case, you are perhaps jumping ahead of yourself, think of repertoir that it is still challening, but so far ahead that you are leaving valuable learning experiences behind. I'm not sure if this is a bad thing or not, I mean, over the years, assuming you don't abandon it all together, it will grow as you do..

"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer

#1059564 - 11/23/04 07:54 PM Re: Play above your level
Jerry Luke Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/15/04
Posts: 969
Loc: Tillamook, Oregon
Originally posted by divadeb:
don't give in to the temptation to play it badly because you want to play it so badly
Excellent play on words. Definitely the sign of a high IQ. \:\)
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#1059565 - 11/23/04 08:35 PM Re: Play above your level
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
if a piece can be learned in a week or 2 (assuming it has less than 3 pages), then it is well within your reach; otherwise, you'd spend too much time working on it because it's beyond your level. i don't know if it is worth it to play something well beyond your reach, because you might just have to give it up one day after working on it in weeks if not months without much progress. it's like my learning of Fur Elise at the beginning, i tried for a while to play the 2nd part of it but the first few bars frustrated me so much that i had to give it up. but i learned the 2nd part of it in a week several weeks back and don't even feel it's hard anymore.

it is good though to try something little beyond your current level so that you could learn something or some technique new and progress quicker.

#1059566 - 11/24/04 12:03 AM Re: Play above your level
AaronSF Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/07/04
Posts: 732
Loc: San Francisco
My teacher is always pushing me to play beyond my comfort zone, which isn't the same thing as my "level." I'm not the best judge right now of what my level is, and my teacher has a pretty good idea of how hard to push me.

He also has specific pedagogic aims for everything he asks me to take on -- learning hand coordination, learning to use the entire arm to play broken chords, learning to keep wrists flexible, learning to relax non-playing fingers, learning to relax period, learning to use the whole arm and shoulder, etc.

But he wants me to learn all this technique through learning pieces, because he knows how frustrating it can be not to learn any repertoire in the process. So I use the music I'm learning to advance specific technique, but at the same time learn valuable lessons in musicality simultaneously. There might be faster ways for me to learn technique at the sacrifice of repertoire, but I'm pretty sure my interest would soon flag.

I think my teacher believes it's better to learn some repertoire, even with less than ideal technique, and have some sense of accomplishment for someone like me who is returning to the piano after a long absence. As I progress through the repertoire he presents to me, I'll pick up more technique along the way and the whole process will improve -- maybe not as fast as with Bernhard's pedagogy faithfully followed -- but more enjoyable for me and with the same ultimate ends, just reached a little slower. It's a trade-off I'm willing to make at this point (especially with only one hour a day to practice). My teacher's pegagogic goals are so very similar to those expounded by people I've come to trust on this forum, that I know I've found my true mentor.

He tells me to play an "impossible" piece. I trust he either believes I can do it reasonably well (regardless of what I think) or he has some specific pedagogic purpose in mind, which I need to learn. What is the worst that can happen, he says to me frequently -- you fail, so! You took the risk. But more often the best happens and you succeed in ways you didn't dream possible. Risk taking is vital to the learning and the creative process...not to mention to the personal growth process!

#1059567 - 11/24/04 01:33 PM Re: Play above your level
james_cc Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/04/04
Posts: 99
Loc: Chino Hills, CA
Thanks everyone for great answers.

Here are some of the pieces I have been working on and off

Mozart Sonata in C
F. Chopin Nocturne Opus 9 2
Scott Joplin Entertainer( my daugher is learning this one also so I must complete it soon)
Mozart Rondo Alla Turca

Can someone rate them in terms of difficulty?

#1059568 - 11/24/04 01:45 PM Re: Play above your level
PhilipE Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/11/04
Posts: 37
Loc: U.K.
In most pieces that are too difficult for you, you can:

1. play certain sections at tempo

2. play the whole piece at a slower tempo

Therefore you can work productively on it.

Originally posted by Cindysphinx:
I also think it is a mistake to play things that are insufficiently challenging.[/b]
Surely you mean it is a mistake to only play pieces that are insufficiently challenging? I can't see a reason to do that, anyway.

#1059569 - 11/24/04 04:06 PM Re: Play above your level
ragtimebg Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/07/04
Posts: 180
Loc: California
Well I think the Joplin is harder than the Alla Turka....but I've never tried the others. At least if you're doing an unabridged "Entertainer"....
I have a new mistress. She's black and curvy and pretty and sounds great and has great legs. I call her "Petrof".


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