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#1272679 - 09/22/09 12:14 PM Developing dynamic control
blackdog Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/06/08
Posts: 12
Loc: Louisiana
I am an intermediate adult student who hopes to mine your knowledge and expertise!
I am seriously trying to improve my level of musicality, and in doing so, I want to ask you about developing dynamic control. I am becoming frustrated at how I'm struggling with this! I hear in my head how I want my phrases to sound, and as I'm playing I try to graduate my sound and indeed think I am. When I listen to a recording of myself, though, I am so disappointed that I just can't seem to: 1.) Have as many different levels of sound 2.) Have them grow or fade away smoothly....it won't be even. I don't want my playing to sound like I'm speaking in a monotone! Or, alternately whispering or screaming. Help Help Help. I used to have a lot of harshness in my playing (and still catch myself making harsh sounds, but I am making good progress in that area.
How long do you find it takes someone to develop this control or ability? How do you develop it in your students?
Thank you for your thoughts.

Cheryl

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#1272760 - 09/22/09 02:14 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: blackdog]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3160
What kind of piano are you playing?
_________________________
Music teacher and piano player.

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#1272812 - 09/22/09 03:30 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: rocket88]
blackdog Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/06/08
Posts: 12
Loc: Louisiana
Alas, I wish I could blame it on my piano, but the fault is all mine. I am playing a Yamaha G series grand (i forget exactly what year, but it's 1980s). It is in very good condition and in tune.
Having said that, I started on a terrible upright. I hated the sound, so I got a new digital piano. I sure couldn't control dynamics on that, so I waited for a great piano I could afford.
Now I realize I need to develop and play with more finesse? Develop different touches or approaches? Improve my listening? I know I have NOT been a good listener. Why is it so hard to really hear oneself as one is playing?

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#1272833 - 09/22/09 03:55 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: rocket88]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
First, the term "dynamic control" is
meaningless. If you don't believe this,
then define it precisely. Can't?
Then how can you try to achieve something
that you don't even know the meaning of?

And it's not something to do with
producing "different levels of
sound" that "grow or fade away
smoothly." Or your "level of
musicality." Or how you
"graduate your sound." These are
all more meaningless terms that
you wouldn't be able to define
precisely. So you see the problem.
You can't achieve something when
you don't even know what that
something is.

But then you say you know "how
you want your phrases to sound,"
but when you listen to recordings
of your playing, you're disappointed.
This is starting to make sense.
You're apparently comparing your
playing to commercial recordings,
and you don't sound as good as the pros.
This is not at all unusual. The have
more strength, experience, and talent,
and what's more, the sound engineers
in the recording studio can give
them help, so of course they're going
to sound better than your
recordings. Moreover, you apparently
haven't been playing that long.

When you've gained more strength
and experience, you'll sound better.

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#1272862 - 09/22/09 04:42 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: blackdog]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Originally Posted By: blackdog
Why is it so hard to really hear oneself as one is playing?
Cause your kinda otherwise engaged.
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1272922 - 09/22/09 05:48 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: keyboardklutz]
blackdog Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/06/08
Posts: 12
Loc: Louisiana
After reading the above posts, I don't know if I feel encouraged or more frustrated!

Gyro:Why is "dynamic control" meaningless? I mean that I don't have the physical ability to control the softness and loudness of my playing to the degree I need. Yes, I can play loudly. I can play piano. But I cannot start a long phrase, crescendo and decrescendo smoothly and beautifully. It seems like this should not be hard once you have identified in your mind that is what you want to do with your phrase. It seem like it should be the simplest thing.
I have been playing about 4 years. I am working on Bach's Prelude in D Major (936). I have been working on it for about 2 months now, I know the notes very well. The phrasing is what I'm not happy with! I want it to sound beautiful.

And Keyboard Klutz: Does that mean this is common? Because I wonder if my ear is relatively hopeless!

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#1272940 - 09/22/09 06:11 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: blackdog]
daro Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/09/07
Posts: 168
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
First, please ignore Gyro's ridiculous and malicious rubbish.

Dynamics are an area in which using simple technical exercises like Hanon or scales can help you focus in on the problem, especially since you won't have to think about the notes. For example, try playing through a long exercise entirely pianissimo, or entirely forte or any other dynamic level and see how your hands and arms need to adjust to maintain a particular level. Then work on crescendos and diminuendos, maybe 8 bars at a time, and then 4 or whatever etc., again focusing on the changes that these require.

Systematic practice will go a long way towards solving this problem, but of course, it won't happen overnight.

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#1272949 - 09/22/09 06:24 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: keyboardklutz]
Martin C. Doege Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/19/09
Posts: 448
Loc: Hamburg, Germany
Originally Posted By: keyboardklutz
Originally Posted By: blackdog
Why is it so hard to really hear oneself as one is playing?
Cause your kinda otherwise engaged.


I think that's why memorizing is so important. It frees your mind so that you can intently listen to your own playing and really feel the music deep down inside, much as you would listen to a store-bought piano CD. I can always tell the difference between me just playing the keys sort of mechanically and the music really emanating from deep inside. I believe "flow" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)) is what psychologists call the latter mental state.

Of course first you need to develop an accurate mental image of what the piece is supposed to sound like, e.g. from an existing recording by somebody else. Then as you play, you try to match the sound you hear to your conception of what it should be. This does not mean you have to obsessively compare your own recordings to Horowitz, Kissin, or whoever it is, and try to match them exactly. They are just a starting point for your own interpretation. But your fingers can only realize what your mind has a clear image of, as in painting, sculpting, etc. So exposing your subconscious to lots of piano music with expertly handled dynamics might be a good first step to find out what it is you're after.

I think what I'm trying to say is that dynamics depend more on the emotional context and are less quantifiable than hitting the right pitch for the right duration. So your subconscious mind needs to be more involved in their production.


Edited by Martin C. Doege (09/22/09 06:35 PM)
_________________________
Yamaha P-85; Pianoteq Pleyel

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#1272950 - 09/22/09 06:24 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: blackdog]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
You generally don't play crescendos
and decrescendos exactly as
notated. They are not critical.
What is far more important is rubato.
The smaller time valued notes that divide
the beat into smaller units are typically
not played in strict time: 8th notes,
16th notes, triplets, etc.--
in particular, the ubiquitous
4-16th note figure that appears in
all kinds of music is a sign that
says "rubato required," that is, the
four notes are not supposed to be
played in strict time. This
is where you shine are a player,
by playing the divisions of the beat in
free time. Otherwise you'll sound like
a stamping press. That is how Bach
is played today, but that's incompetent:
Bach was a musician not a machine.

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#1272952 - 09/22/09 06:30 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: Gyro]
Martin C. Doege Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/19/09
Posts: 448
Loc: Hamburg, Germany
Originally Posted By: Gyro
That is how Bach
is played today, but that's incompetent:
Bach was a musician not a machine.


Yes, and Bach is also generally played much too fast these days. At the right tempo, with a bit of pedal, a slight rubato and nice dynamics Bach sounds much better. Mozart is the only composer I can think of whose music sounds crappy if you deviate at all from strict time.
_________________________
Yamaha P-85; Pianoteq Pleyel

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#1272956 - 09/22/09 06:40 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: Gyro]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
Daro, please spare us from more
just-play-the-notes-everyone-sound-
the-same playing.


Edited by Gyro (09/22/09 06:43 PM)

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#1272958 - 09/22/09 06:41 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: Gyro]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/09
Posts: 2464
Originally Posted By: Gyro
You generally don't play crescendos
and decrescendos exactly as
notated. They are not critical.


Neither is rubato played exactly as notated. Why should that make either crescendos or rubato any less critical? Just because the details of a real crescendo are more elaborate than what is notated does not make it unimportant. On the contrary, it makes it even more important to concentrate on how the notes relate to each other. Your argument is ludicrously illogical. If you do not think that dynamics and gradation of sounds across a phrase are of any importance, I'd urge you not to subject your playing to anyone.
_________________________
http://pianoscience.blogspot.com/

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#1272965 - 09/22/09 06:55 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: Gyro]
daro Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/09/07
Posts: 168
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Originally Posted By: Gyro
Daro, please spare us from more
just-play-the-notes-everyone-sound-
the-same playing.


Gyro, please spare us from your ignorance-sloppiness-incompetence-is-a-virtue playing. Expression is critical, but there are many hundreds if not thousands of pieces whose effect is actually directly derived from rhythmic precision. And if you ever get into the enormous non-solo repertoire, well, watching you "rubato" your way as accompanist for a ballet might make for some fascinating, if tragic performance art.

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#1273018 - 09/22/09 08:27 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: blackdog]
John v.d.Brook Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7368
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Originally Posted By: blackdog
I am an intermediate adult student who hopes to mine your knowledge and expertise!
I am seriously trying to improve my level of musicality, and in doing so, I want to ask you about developing dynamic control. I am becoming frustrated at how I'm struggling with this! I hear in my head how I want my phrases to sound, and as I'm playing I try to graduate my sound and indeed think I am. When I listen to a recording of myself, though, I am so disappointed that I just can't seem to: 1.) Have as many different levels of sound 2.) Have them grow or fade away smoothly....it won't be even. I don't want my playing to sound like I'm speaking in a monotone! Or, alternately whispering or screaming. Help Help Help. I used to have a lot of harshness in my playing (and still catch myself making harsh sounds, but I am making good progress in that area.
How long do you find it takes someone to develop this control or ability? How do you develop it in your students?
Thank you for your thoughts.

Cheryl


Cheryl, learning how to do what you are trying takes both a dedicated student and a teacher who can work with you. This is not something easily conveyed over the internet or in a printed book.

The key to effective dynamics (voicing) is control of your touch, and your touch is the summation of your fingers, hand, arch, wrists, forearms, upper arms, back, torso, posture, weight distribution on the bench, and foot placement.

While there are several different schools on how to approach this, in the end, the masters have learned to coordinate their entire playing mechanism to work with the piano, not to fight it.

You seem to have most of the ingredients. IMHO, what you lack is a sensitive teacher to help you develop this.

Good luck,

John
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#1273054 - 09/22/09 09:37 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: blackdog]
Barb860 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/09
Posts: 1646
Loc: northern California
Originally Posted By: blackdog
Alas, I wish I could blame it on my piano, but the fault is all mine. I am playing a Yamaha G series grand (i forget exactly what year, but it's 1980s). It is in very good condition and in tune.
Having said that, I started on a terrible upright. I hated the sound, so I got a new digital piano. I sure couldn't control dynamics on that, so I waited for a great piano I could afford.
Now I realize I need to develop and play with more finesse? Develop different touches or approaches? Improve my listening? I know I have NOT been a good listener. Why is it so hard to really hear oneself as one is playing?


First of all, I agree with John that your teacher must be sensitive to your playing and teach you to listen carefully.
You can listen to yourself playing more easily if you SLOW WAY DOWN and play hands separately to hear each voice clearly. Are you aware of when each phrase begins and ends?
If you know you "have not been a good listener", what does that mean exactly? That you know you can listen more carefully but are wondering how? What does your teacher tell you?
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#1273073 - 09/22/09 10:17 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: Barb860]
blackdog Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/06/08
Posts: 12
Loc: Louisiana
John...Yes Yes Yes! I think you are hitting on what it is I think I need. Control of touch. I have worked on all the areas you have mentioned, and have seen a good bit of progress. (Like, I can finally play Solfeggietto without tension.......MAJOR accomplishment. And I am not hitting notes with a harsh tone so much, and when I do, boy do I hear it)
I have read a good deal about piano technique, but this is my current major issue I am struggling with and I have not read anything specific to this "control" issue or how to develop it.

I appreciate the suggestions to memorize my pieces and to practice drills with varying dynamics. I have fiddled around with this while playing scales, but will now put serious effort into doing this; thanks, Daro and Martin.

Barb...I do have a teacher who is helping me. More than any other teacher I have ever had. So maybe I'll get there! Your point to slow way down...I am so guilty of bad, sloppy practice. Not intentionally, but just thinking if I played something over and over I would get better. WRONG. Now, I will do whatever it takes to take myself to the next level. Slowly, hands alone? You got it! ( It is just so tempting to play at a faster tempo, hands together. Sloppy practice = sloppy playing.) This is what I mean by being a bad listener: I focused on the notes, the rhythm, not the sounds I was producing. My teacher played the left hand of the Bach prelude for me and told me to listen....she sang it as she played it, she helped me to visualize the notes being connected and growing, gave me a metaphor, etc. I think she is doing all the right things (and it sounds beautiful when she plays it), but I get frustrated at practice when I play the phrase and can't get it to sound the way I want, or as good as when my teacher played it for me. So I really appreciate the practice tips from everyone.

You teachers have a hard job!!

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#1273098 - 09/22/09 11:13 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: blackdog]
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Listening to your playing requires slow motion and a step by step process if you are trying to compare the result you got to the intentions you had before you played the note.

I suggest to my students when working with dynamics and cresdendos/diminuendos that they have a "graduation" in mind for increasing or decreasing from the note they just played to the next one.

This brings to purpose one note played - play and listen. Then play the note again, listening, then with slow motion, start the thought to the next note to be played and connect them so that the next one is a volume increase from the first. Then start over with the first note, slowly add the second note, and then more slowly add the third note. Notice how your fingers are working separately and together to play the keys as the string of notes in the phrase gets longer. Are you expressing different sounds as you connect them.

Divorce yourself from playing every note with the same attack and release in your phrases. Think musically, emote, sing along and notice your breathing in singing and playing.

Where are the apexes? Play with crescendo from the low note to the highest note (the apex - highest note). If the line of notes are 8 1/8 notes and a 9th note ending on a quarter note, I often have my student count (ti ti's) to 9 as they play: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 with the sound increasing proportionately over the 9 notes. And it can be done in retrograde to make use of practicing diminishing.

I think finding nuances such as 2 and 3 note slurs is a good preparation for shaping sound. Scales are good exercises for dynamic ranges.

Don't undertake an entire piece and try to insert changes in touch or technique until you explore slowly how the music reacts in relationship to the note before and the note after.

In fact, I just worked tonight with these ideas with a girl in 5th grade and her older brother in 7th grade who are both in their third year of music with me. These things worked exceptionally well in their pieces tonight and resolved several issues that were present in the "under construction" part of the pieces not wanting to turn into to turn into flowing music.

We improved on a steady beat as well as shaping sound by working with 1/8 notes moving toward the quarter notes in (hers) Minuet in G (Bach), Melody (Schumann) and (his)Sonatina in C #36 (Clementi) and Soldier's March (Schumann)

You must make sure that fingering and rhythm is not an issue before you start the expressive interpretations.

I don't understand how piano students are able to memorize the music before having a clean concept of the composers intention. Playing music without understanding how it moves and how the pianist controls touch with technique that create the sounds needed are part of the study and discipline of musicianship. To get all the notes and then to concentrate on building the piece just doesn't seem efficient or effective to me. As you read the piece it is very important to be building the contours and details seen in the music. Fingerings, dynamics, rhythms, form is all adds up to the finished product.

Just thinking aloud, I guess. and hoping others find some thing relevant and understandable in this post that they can use.

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#1273108 - 09/22/09 11:41 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: blackdog]
Barb860 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/09
Posts: 1646
Loc: northern California
Is it safe to say that we all are guilty of "sloppy practice" at one time or another? My sloppy practice sessions are a complete waste of time and can also be damaging.
The fact that you know when your practice sessions are sloppy is the first step to getting those dynamics sounding the way you want them to. Slow, careful practice can be difficult to do, but truly relaxing and productive once you do it. Slow practice exposes many things. Practice very, very slowly without trying to "control" the dynamics. Once you dig in like this, the dynamics may come out quite naturally, and not forced.
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#1273123 - 09/23/09 12:05 AM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: Barb860]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Originally Posted By: Barb860
Is it safe to say that we all are guilty of "sloppy practice" at one time or another?
No.
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1273316 - 09/23/09 09:24 AM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: keyboardklutz]
John v.d.Brook Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7368
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Cheryl, two books which may help you a bit are:

With Your Own Two Hands: Self-Discovery Through Music by Seymour Bernstein currently available on Amazon used for $14.

Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing by Josef Lhevinne and Rosina Lhevinne also available on Amazon.

They discuss the player's mechanism, but translating this to musical playing is extremely difficult.

I notice that you use the term hitting the keys in your posts. I prefer to use the term "push" or "stroke" and generally watch to make sure my students have their fingers on the keys before pressing them. You will always have more control if the key stroke begins from the same position for each and every key you are playing.

BTW,any energy and motion a pianist uses after the key passes the escapement release point is wasted energy and contributes to the harsh sound you hear. Proper playing minimizes this wasted motion and insures that it's only part of the follow through motion.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#1273376 - 09/23/09 11:01 AM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: John v.d.Brook]
blackdog Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/06/08
Posts: 12
Loc: Louisiana
Thanks to everyone....I have read all your posts carefully. I am going to use ALL these resources. Can't wait to try them all out, I feel sure they will prove helpful.

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#1273421 - 09/23/09 12:01 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: blackdog]
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
I'm rereading the posts here this morning and John has provided exceptional resources for reading. Seymour Bernstein is the person I would credit for my improvements to expression in his books "With Your Own Two Hands" and "20 Lessons in Keyboard Choreography". This book is "the Basics of Physical Movements at the Piano".

As a teacher, I read his books avidly and reread them several times over many years - writing in the margine, underlining, highlighting, taking notes, going to the piano and working with his ideas until I owned them.

At my last reading of "hands" I realized that I had incorporated so many of his ideas from these 3 books into my piano lessons and that it happened so naturally that I had begun to think of them as my ideas and that I had always had these skills - but lo, he was the author and influence of much of my learning about expression. Everything I learned from him is well tracked in the books with black, blue, green, red ink as I changed the color of my pen to reflect another reading of the books.

He also has another book for students which the name of it is escaping me at the moment - it begins with an "M". Google his name and I'm sure this book will come up.

The right resources can do wonders for your growth and development as a learning musician.

And, to add a throught to "options" to "hitting the keys: I'd say investigate "melting like warm butter", "butterfly wings", "little froggies jumping around the keyboard looking for a warm rock to land on", "karate chops" or "slam" for heavy accents.

Another idea I didn't hear mentioned is "up strokes" and "down strokes". If that's not familiar to you, ask your teacher to demonstrate and mark them on your music when you are learning a new piece that asks for this technique. It's a simple line (|) with an arrow at the top pointing up; or an arrow at the bottom pointing down.

Enjoy your piano playing and reading!

Betty

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#1273458 - 09/23/09 12:50 PM Re: Developing dynamic control [Re: Betty Patnude]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4414
Loc: San Jose, CA
Thanks for posting this question, Cheryl.

There is a current thread about a lecture series Alfred Brendel is conducting, and conversation wandered to "what a terrible player he is." Gosh, what a dummy I am, I thought he was pretty good. So, since I'm reading a biography of Beethoven, I got out some CDs of Brendel's renderings of the sonatas, and put them on while I soaked up Beethoven's early life in Bonn.

AND... I was struck by the loveliness of his phrasing and sense of dynamics (anyway, he's a lot better than I'll ever be, and I can certainly learn from him). So, my suggestion, besides what you've heard already, is to listen to other performances of what you're working on; by several different artists, if you can. Following along in the score (or a copy of it) and marking it for phrasing and dynamics can be very helpful... especially if it helps you to hear better what you're playing, when you sit down to work on it.

Recording your performance is a very useful technique, if you allow for the difficulty of getting a good rendering on the machinery. Piano is notoriously difficult to record well.

Best of luck with working on this. Once we become aware of a problem, we're already 90% of the way to solving it--- it takes that much momentum to even know about it. So, I think the momentum is on your side here.
_________________________
Clef


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