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#1924280 - 07/08/12 04:38 PM Questions about teachers
PianoStudent88 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 2987
Loc: Maine
For those of you who have (or have had) a teacher, how did you find your teacher? What criteria were important?

What is a lesson like with your teacher? What kinds of things are you learning from your teacher?

If you have had previous teachers, what did you learn from them? Why did you leave them?
_________________________
Ebaug(maj7)

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#1924313 - 07/08/12 06:06 PM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: PianoStudent88]
ZoeCalgary Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/01/11
Posts: 748
Loc: Calgary Alberta
Hi. I found my teacher via an online list of registered music teachers here in my province. I contacted several, and only a couple replied. I met with two of them after exchanging some emails. One had responded very well to emails, the other more 'cut and dry'. I thought for sure I would go with teacher A who had detailed responses to my questions but ended up goin with teacher B as I felt she was actually listening to me and what I said. Both teachers were highly qualified. One was twice as expensive as the other.

I have taken lessons for one year with my current teacher. I feel we are just getting to know each other. We typically start with warmups, scales, studies, repertoire and ear training, sight reading. My lessons were 30 minutes for most of the year but started extending to 45 minutes over time. Now they are 45 minutes.

After I did my grade 4 exam I needed/wanted a break from scales, etc. So I just focused on pieces ranging from easy to hard (well at my level of Grade 5). After a long break due to personal reasons I had my first lesson last week and I just played pieces. I liked all the feedback I got on each piece and enjoyed myself immensely. I like this format better but I have to be careful to not learn mistakes as they are so hard to undo later!!

For me it was important that my teacher had good credentials, had a strong musical background, could play whatever I bring them, is a good listener, could help me through RCM exams. Also allowing for some flexibility in scheduling when needing to deal with lifes emergencies is nice too! (not expected but really appreciated!)

I feel I'm just at the point that things are getting hard. Like I'm at a critical stages between levels. I also feel that my teacher hAs a really good feel for my strengths and weaknesses. We are just at the point that we are focusing on musicality in all the things I play whether easy or hard. Where I can really try to apply different touch and dynamics to really make each piece sing!

I am working hard to not be nervous at lessons and just do what I can. These are the lessons that are most enjoyable and where I can play how I normally play at home and how I know I can play.

We've added theory to my 'homework' but haven't spent any lesson time on this yet.
_________________________
Preparing Grade 6 RCM.


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#1924315 - 07/08/12 06:10 PM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: ZoeCalgary]
Exalted Wombat Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 1183
Loc: London UK
Sounds good, Zoe! Get back to those scales though. They really do enable everything else.

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#1924410 - 07/08/12 10:18 PM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: PianoStudent88]
ZoeCalgary Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/01/11
Posts: 748
Loc: Calgary Alberta
Exalted - you are right. I do need to get back to scales. I don't mind doing them really just wanted a break. Actually all day today I was saying to myself get back to that technique book! Ahh but all these other pieces kept jumping in front on the music rack!!

I am pretty happy with my lessons. There is so much to cover that we could easily go over an hour I'm sure. I'll stick with 45 minutes for now though.

I should add that some days I feel my lesson was a waste (not my teachers fault but my own!) I have had days when I couldn't count to 4 properly and just go increasingly frustrated in the lesson and of course get nowhere! It's a focus thing. My teacher knows this and I just try to laugh it off and get on with it!

To PS88 - what prompted your question? Looking for a teacher or looking to change teachers? Just curious!
_________________________
Preparing Grade 6 RCM.


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#1924424 - 07/08/12 10:53 PM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: PianoStudent88]
albynism Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 320
Credentials. And a bit of trial and error. I have had bad teachers in the past, And just recently encountered two great teachers. one had to move away which led me to my current teacher. I heard one good way to find a prospective teacher is to attend their students recitals.

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#1924432 - 07/08/12 11:20 PM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: PianoStudent88]
PianoStudent88 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 2987
Loc: Maine
albynism, in what way were the bad teachers bad? How did you come to know they were bad (and not, say, thinking that's just how lessons are)? In what ways were the good teachers good?

I'm glad you're with a good teacher now.

Zoe Calgary, I am moving with glacial slowness towards finding a new teacher.
_________________________
Ebaug(maj7)

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#1924455 - 07/09/12 12:43 AM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: PianoStudent88]
albynism Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 320
I did think that's how lessons are before I had the good teacher to compare them to. The bad ones never corrected my mistakes, fingerings, dynamics, phrasing, explaining the differences in musical styles, etc.. This lead me to being careless when was practicing, I would just learn all the notes and slur all my mistakes. I thought that dynamic signs are optional. A good teacher is very thorough, she pointed the troubling passages and suggest exercises to overcome them. Overall this lead to careful practice at home.
Also, my parent picked the bad teachers for me when I was a child. they picked them from newspaper ad and I imagine they don't have any credentials as they were very cheap. One of them was teaching on an old rickety upright with her husband in a wifebeater shirt roaming around the house. Scared the heck out of me as a kid! I didn't find the good teachers until later as a returning adult and searched for them myself. I hope my post doesn't deter you from finding a teacher! I'm sure any teacher with a credential is better than the teacher I had in the past, they were extreme cases.

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#1924460 - 07/09/12 01:24 AM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: PianoStudent88]
ZoeCalgary Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/01/11
Posts: 748
Loc: Calgary Alberta
Hi. Why are you looking for a new teacher? Is something not right with your current one?

Start with a registered list of teachers. Look at your local university or college to see if they have music teachers who teach privately as well. Also check your local conservatory if you have one.

Basically I find that the harder I work the more my teacher can help me with. I sometimes wish we could do something really advanced and hard as a challenge to me but she prefers to take the day to day and step by step approach. You can't really rush piano she says. You have to just put in the time. And let your head and your hands adjust to doing new things. I know this to be true for me and I dont want to spends forever on one piece as there is so much other music I could be learning and playing.

May I ask if you have talked with your current teacher about whatever is on your mind? It may clear up any uncertainties about your goals and how you'd like your lessons to go.

Though I'd call my teacher a by the book (maybe even old fashioned) person in her teaching it's when we do all those things we sometimes dread that I see my greatest improvements. And though I pretty much enjoy it all I do take breaks from things. You may have already read that I took a break in the middle of preparing for my exam to do Christmas music. She was great about my break and doing other pieces really helped me to and gave me the fun and break I needed. I'm on another break now and again she's good with that. She knows I'll eventually get back to scales and stuff. When I'm ready for some serious work I know she'll be ready for me.
_________________________
Preparing Grade 6 RCM.


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#1924587 - 07/09/12 09:59 AM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: PianoStudent88]
zrtf90 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 2238
Loc: Ireland (ex England)
Originally Posted By: albynism
A good teacher is very thorough...

Here you have it. We all know that a mistake unchecked becomes harder to fix the longer it's left.

If you want to be a better player you must play your pieces better.

The difference between good players and poor players is evident in the easiest pieces. Yes, good players CAN play more demanding pieces but thay DO play easier pieces better. Listen to Lisitsa playing Für Elise, for example. Your teacher should be pointing out all the things you need to be doing to make your playing sound the same - or at least closer.

Watch the Barenboim masterclasses on YouTube. After they've played the piece at the beginning the players barely get the chance to play more than a couple of phrases without interruption. Your teacher should be the same, pointing out EVERYTHING that the music holds in every phrase, things that you overlook because of inexperience, things that you can and should realise - not immediately at that lesson perhaps, but things you can go home and practise.

You're an adult. Your teacher shouldn't be waiting for you to mature nor to develop a better tone and stronger muscles. You should already have everything you need, other than direction, to play your current pieces closer to how a professional would.

If your teacher can't provide that direction, you need to look elsewhere.
_________________________
Richard

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#1924606 - 07/09/12 10:44 AM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: zrtf90]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11206
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: zrtf90

If your teacher can't provide that direction, you need to look elsewhere.

This is the one thing I would agree with - the key word being "direction". A good teacher has an idea of where he will bring a student, and how to get there, while having the knowledge and resulting flexibility to do this while adapting to the student. Really good teachers are also rare treasures (I've been told often).

If you're a beginner, then the teacher is shaping your technique, your ability to read, how you approach music, how you perceive approaching music - in basic ways. Even if you are not a beginner: if you were self-taught, or taught by another teacher and stopped (were there problems with that) these same things apply. In the latter case the teacher is also looking at strengths as well as weaknesses, and the cause behind both. This teacher will probably have an idea of what teaching is about, what he deems important. If you say "My dream is to be able to do suchandsuch." he will have an idea of how to reach suchandsuch. Reaching it includes what abilities (the things I've listed) you need.

- I do not agree that a good teacher must be very thorough. A good teacher has to be able to discern which things to emphasize, and which things to ignore. Some things have to develop under the teacher's watchful eye. A student needs to concentrate on key things, and concentrating on everything doesn't work. It helps if the teacher knows how people generally develop, and what kinds of skills lie underneath other skills. Everything in music is balance - even teaching.

Originally Posted By: zrtf90
The difference between good players and poor players is evident in the easiest pieces.

The easiest pieces are the hardest to play well, because they require great control over simple things like timing, touch, phrasing. A loud fast piece may be easier than it seems, and can hide such weaknesses. The person who makes easy pieces sound great probably has a good understanding of how to practice, how to control things like timing, dynamics, and touch. These develop in time.

Originally Posted By: zrtf90
Your teacher should be the same, pointing out EVERYTHING that the music holds in every phrase, ...

I'm afraid that I disagree with this as well. What a student is expected to do must be commensurate with what the student is capable of reaching toward. Some things may be pointed out for the future, since an adult is capable of thinking into the future and this may even be motivational, ("I want to work on my basic skill of xx, so that in the future I can add this to my pieces and this piece in particular.") It depends on where the student is at.

Quote:
You're an adult. Your teacher shouldn't be waiting for you to mature nor to develop a better tone and stronger muscles. You should already have everything you need ...

I think that you are implying that a child is still developing while an adult is fully developed. Yes, as human beings were are fully developed, but not necessarily as musicians. In addition, children usually have natural ways of using their bodies which as adults we often manage to distort. Good playing of any instrument arises out of these natural movements which a teacher can take advantage of and shape further.

Several of the things that we learn from good teachers are technique and musicianship. Technique means effective ways of using the body on the instrument in order to produce the sounds we want to produce. We do not automatically have these abilities. If we are simply told what final effects should be produced in a piece of music, and to whit in detail, without having the means of doing so, that can lead to frustration and a feeling of failure - both totally preventable with a good guiding teacher and a student willing to work consistently. When we have that physical guidance, then we will also have those strengths you are writing about. Again it depends where a student starts. And some students have actually been handicapped by what they were first taught or what they reached on their own.

Musicianship, meanwhile, involves an understanding of how music works, and not all of that can be gotten from books, because it works hand in hand with technique and quirks of any particular instrument.

Quote:
Watch the Barenboim masterclasses on YouTube.

Barenboim is giving masterclasses to musicians who have basically finished their training. If technique and what I call musicianship can be likened to boxes of tools, then the pianists can dig into their tools in order to create whatever it is that Barenboim suggests. Take a simple example: If someone tells you to play measures 252 - 260 softer swelling into a crescendo with good pulse, then you have to be able to instantly find that measure 252, probably be a good reader, and also know how to keep a pulse, and how to effectively produce dynamics. These are each skills.

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#1924627 - 07/09/12 11:41 AM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: PianoStudent88]
zrtf90 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 2238
Loc: Ireland (ex England)
A better thought out response than mine, keystring, and I'm in wholehearted agreement. My compliments. smile

With the Barenboim masterclasses I was thinking of the format more than specifics. After I'd played a piece my teacher got me to go phrase by phrase and she kept at it until I showed signs of understanding what she was driving at before she let it go. Barenboim reminded me of that aspect of my lessons.
_________________________
Richard

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#1924649 - 07/09/12 12:55 PM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: PianoStudent88]
ZoeCalgary Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/01/11
Posts: 748
Loc: Calgary Alberta
I have to say as I've gone along in my lessons my teacher has given more and different things to think about and work on. First I need to learn the notes and the timing. Then sometimes memorization. Then improve touch, dynamics, balance of the sound between the hands,'pedaling, etc. I wish I could say I could focus on all of this at the same time but I can't. My goal is to have as many of these things ready for each piece for each lesson. Then just when you think there is not more to do....there is! Better phrasing, more dynamics, different touch, timing, etc.

I believe the teacher needs to know when you are ready to add the next area if focus and when to build on what you already know. Without that you can flounder in information overload.
_________________________
Preparing Grade 6 RCM.


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#1924650 - 07/09/12 12:57 PM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: ZoeCalgary]
PianoStudent88 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 2987
Loc: Maine
(cross-posted)

Originally Posted By: ZoeCalgary
Hi. Why are you looking for a new teacher? Is something not right with your current one?

May I ask if you have talked with your current teacher about whatever is on your mind? It may clear up any uncertainties about your goals and how you'd like your lessons to go.


Zoe Calgary, it's hard for me to articulate what frustrates me in my lessons. I was hoping to hear what other people's lessons are like and that would help me find words for what I want in my own lessons. Also, whatever words I find, I then end up wondering if it's really me, or not really an issue, or appropriate to my level.

One thing is that I'm more analytical than she is. So I'd like a plan of what skills I need to learn, and pieces and exercises that would be important for me to learn those skills. I'd like more guidance in how to practice and how to resolve difficult sections. I wish she taught memorization. I wish she were more up on Baroque performance practice: eager to take an urtext and identify ways to play it and ornament it. I wish she'd offer instruction on playing ornaments, and on playing scales. This is sort of a grab bag all over the map, and I don't know how to boil it down succinctly (and this isn't even my whole list).

She's very nice, very gentle, never makes me feel bad about my playing, and I like all these things about her.

So I don't even know if my list of frustrations form the right set of questions to ask a prospective new teacher. Maybe the right thing to say with a new teacher would be: you come very highly recommended, what would be your recommendations/plan for how lessons to go? And I don't know if I should be looking for someone who ticks the checkboxes of answering my frustrations, because maybe those aren't what I need most for my piano education.

I dance Argentine tango and there is a particular family of skills I'd really like to have, but when I have a private lesson although I may mention that, what I always say to the teacher is: I want to work on whatever you think is most important for me. At my last lesson we worked on something that is absolutely basic to the dance, and yet I think only my 20 years of dancing and seeking prepared me to (a) understand its importance and (b) be able to do it and (c) recognize the excellence of my teacher in being able to identify and teach this skill.

By comparison, what do I know about piano playing? My teacher does give me lots of musical suggestions that otherwise I would not figure out (another point in her favour.). I'm self-taught 10 years as a child, and lessons 1 year as an adult.

I wish there were an easy way to sample lessons with lots of teachers. Even so, am I at a stage where I could recognize excellence? Or, taking into account that different teachers may fit better for different students, can I recognize excellence for me at my particular stage?

It doesn't seem to be the done thing to call up several teachers and say "I'm trying to find out what else is possible in the realm of piano teaching/learning, could I take a few lessons with you to experience your approach, and I'm doing this with several teachers before I make a decision?"

It's easy in the world of Argentine tango to do this. There's no expectation of student/teacher exclusivity, and different teachers are always coming through giving workshops and classes, so it's easy over time to sample a lot of teaching and start to find out who you really gravitate to.

I've been talking by PM with a few people about aspects of this and the conclusion is that a new teacher is probably in order, but I'm still filled with angst.

I have started the step of collecting names, and am (this thread is part of it) trying to envisage what is the next step.



Edited by PianoStudent88 (07/09/12 04:05 PM)
_________________________
Ebaug(maj7)

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#1924666 - 07/09/12 01:38 PM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: zrtf90]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11206
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: zrtf90
A better thought out response than mine, keystring, and I'm in wholehearted agreement. My compliments. smile

Thanks. You wouldn't want the t-shirt that got me there. whome
Quote:

With the Barenboim masterclasses I was thinking of the format more than specifics. After I'd played a piece my teacher got me to go phrase by phrase and she kept at it until I showed signs of understanding what she was driving at before she let it go. Barenboim reminded me of that aspect of my lessons.

That sounds like a good memory. And if it is a good memory then it must also have been done in a good way that suited you, because your teacher knew where you were. It sounds like you have a good teacher and good communication.

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#1924670 - 07/09/12 01:43 PM Re: Questions about teachersBbb [Re: ZoeCalgary]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11206
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: ZoeCalgary
I have to say as I've gone along in my lessons my teacher has given more and different things to think about and work on. First I need to learn the notes and the timing. Then sometimes memorization. Then improve touch, dynamics, balance of the sound between the hands,'pedaling, etc. I wish I could say I could focus on all of this at the same time but I can't. My goal is to have as many of these things ready for each piece for each lesson. Then just when you think there is not more to do....there is! Better phrasing, more dynamics, different touch, timing, etc.

ZoeCalgary, there are also ways of approaching these things. Some teachers teach it but many don't. I mean an order to your practicing each day and also from day to day. There is a maxim that we can only focus on one new thing at a time. A lot of musicians "layer" what they work on in a piece. Of course if they already have those skills then it's also different than when we try to acquire them.

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#1924675 - 07/09/12 01:58 PM Re: Questions about teachers [Re: PianoStudent88]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11206
Loc: Canada
Piano88, what about telling prospective teachers your goal, which would be something like wanting to get the proper skills for playing music well or something along that line, and then asking the teacher for his or her own teaching philosophies. What does s/he like to bring out in students / value / want from a student ... dunno, something along that line. Meanwhile they are always talking about attending recitals or talking to students of the teacher. I think that if I talked to students I would not just want to know if they like or dislike their teacher, but why. I would also want to feel out what values they have. For example, if somebody likes a teacher because he gives easy music, or says you can pass 8 grades in 3 years, then those might not be values that you have. (Off the top of my head).

Has anyone done trial lessons, and if so, did that work?

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#1924713 - 07/09/12 03:56 PM Re: Questions about teachers [Re: PianoStudent88]
PianoStudent88 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 2987
Loc: Maine
keystring, I'm thinking about your questions.

Zoe Calgary, I didn't yet answer the part about "have I talked about this with my teacher." Here's my thoughts on that: I've talked to her obliquely on some, but some of them I don't know that I could talk to her about them.

Some of them I've asked about, and gotten answers that didn't seem helpful or give me any more than I knew already. Some of them I'm hesitant to ask because the only way I know to ask them would directly challenge her knowledge, and I don't want to do that. Sometimes I feel annoyed that I should be the one bringing questions to shape our lessons -- who am I to decide what I should be learning, shouldn't I be able to rely on her expertise? But there's the rub, I've come to doubt her expertise in some areas, and I don't know if there's any way to heal that.

The one thing I think I could ask her at our next lesson is to say: "I'm frustrated because as you know I'm very analytical, and I would like to know what skills I should be learning for the kind of music I want to be able to play, and a plan for what pieces and/or technical exercises we'll be using over time so I can learn those skills." What I expect she'll say is "just play a variety of pieces over time and the skills will be built." And then I'll be left only half-believing her, and still unsatisfied and half-doubting that something important will be left out. But I'll run the experiment and ask her at my next lesson.

I have a hard time making decisions sometimes, and a hard time making decisions without complete information, and this seems to be a situation that hits both of those problems of mine full on.

I'm trying not to seem whiny and arrogant, and I'm afraid I'm failing.
_________________________
Ebaug(maj7)

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#1924899 - 07/10/12 01:06 AM Re: Questions about teachers [Re: PianoStudent88]
ZoeCalgary Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/01/11
Posts: 748
Loc: Calgary Alberta
Hi PS88 - I can see you are putting Alot of thought into this. I can understand you as I feel the same way sometimes!

I too am highly analytical in nature and like to have a plan (or roadmap) to work from. I find the RCM exam requirements provide that. It may not be perfect but it sure covers a lot of ground. When I first started lessons I was just going from piece to piece from some Faber books. The real work started when I indicated I wanted to prepare for an RCM exam. My teacher was thrilled because I think she just then realized my dedication to the piano. (she knows adults have dreams of playing but often simply can't put in the time). As we went along she also saw more and more of my work ethic. Again it helped her in assigning weekly tasks and things. And I believe I progressed much farther following this than in just jumping from piece to piece.

I asked her once for a challenge piece I could work on for fun but she never provided one. I see some people get assigned pieces from their teacher and I wonder why she too doesn't do that. But then again I know that if it was a piece I didn't like I'd really have to force myself through it. So I don't pursue this too much. I've come to realize through the exam materials I really like Baroque and Classical/romantic but not so much the newer repertoire. She knows this and I struggle to find pieces I like in the last category for exams. Where I usually pick my own favorites I'll ask her to pick something for me if I'm struggling or ask her what the focus of certain pieces are to see if I'm willing to take them on.

In the end I know all the work on scales, chords, etc really helps me (even if not noticeable right away!) and so I continue following the RCM roadmap. And as long as I'm enjoying the pieces I'm learning and my playing is progressing (sometimes much slower than I want!!) I will continue.

By the way you don't sound whiny or petty! There are 3 of us taking lessons now so this is expensive! There is nothing wrong with trying to find a great teacher and be sure it works for you! This is a hobby and is supposed to be fun right!! Do whatever it takes to keep it that way.

If you have started to lose trust in her though it may be hard to get passed that. Why don't you suggest a break through the summer stating you're not sure if you want to continue in the fall? This way she will not be shocked if you choose not to come back and it will give you some time to sort things out no matter what you decide.

As I said earlier I am much like you and know how you feel! What I say to myself is I'll use my analytical side to create my practice plan, process, look for new pieces that might interest me, search for a better piano, etc. But the learning of piano seems to be more an art once you get some basic techniques so to that I have to put my trust in my teacher! Because I know when I play the same thing she does sometimes it sounds night and day different and I have a lot to learn! Little by little seems to be the way.
_________________________
Preparing Grade 6 RCM.


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