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#2037672 - 02/22/13 06:40 PM Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem?
Okanagan Musician Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 25
Loc: British Columbia, Canada
A little context for this question:

I received a BMus and BEd a few years ago and have been teaching piano privately since my teenage years - piano education fascinates me! How the brain works, best ways to approach and learn different styles and pieces...it's a never ending journey of self-improvement as a teacher!

I am trying to compile a list of questions/problems that are most common in adult beginners (or even intermediates). My goal is to find out exactly what issues are most prevalent and find a way to research and solve those questions or problems specifically.

I'd like to keep this as broad as possible - so go ahead and shoot with your question no matter how stupid you think it may be!

It could be something really general (ie how to learn a song by ear) or something specific (ie how to strengthen the 4th and 5th fingers) - it doesn't matter!

So to summarize:

What is your number one question when it comes to learning piano?


Edited by Okanagan Musician (02/22/13 06:41 PM)
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#2037679 - 02/22/13 06:59 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
rocket88 Offline
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Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3160
As a teacher of many beginners, including adults, I would say that the #1 issue is learning how to correctly practice.

Common practice problems:

* Going too fast.
* Playing something over and over, which is not practicing...it is playing.
* Over-practicing the same thing, mistakes and all.
* Taking on too much without letting the brain absorb (during sleep).
* Going too fast.
* Not building a foundation of technique so the hands work in a relaxed way.
* Going too fast. laugh


ps...I love your interest in how the brain learns, different styles of learning, etc. That is a big focus of my teaching and study, and is crucial. There is no one size fits all.

Good post!


Edited by rocket88 (02/22/13 07:07 PM)
Edit Reason: clarity
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#2037691 - 02/22/13 07:14 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: rocket88]
malkin Offline
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Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2542
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
Originally Posted By: rocket88
As a teacher of many beginners, including adults, I would say that the #1 issue is learning how to correctly practice.

Common practice problems:

* Going too fast.
* Playing something over and over, which is not practicing...it is playing.
* Over-practicing the same thing, mistakes and all.
* Taking on too much without letting the brain absorb (during sleep).
* Going too fast.
* Not building a foundation of technique so the hands work in a relaxed way.
* Going too fast. laugh


ps...I love your interest in how the brain learns, different styles of learning, etc. That is a big focus of my teaching and study, and is crucial. There is no one size fits all.

Good post!


+1 to all of that.

Right now I'm wondering about this one especially:
Originally Posted By: rocket88
* Taking on too much without letting the brain absorb (during sleep).

What is the best chunk size? or Does the chunk size depend on the content of the chunk? How many chunks can my little brain manage? and how can I figure out the answers to these questions?
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#2037703 - 02/22/13 07:50 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
rocket88 Offline
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Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3160
There was a recent post somewhere on these PW forums by forum member "Jazzwee" which is an excellent writing on this from his Blog.

I don't know where the post is, but here is the link to this article on his Blog:

http://jazzwee-blog.blogspot.com/2010/12/practice-secret-accept-that-daily.html
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#2037706 - 02/22/13 07:55 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
Sand Tiger Online   content
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Registered: 03/25/12
Posts: 1046
Loc: Southern California
The questions beginners ask tend be different from the issues that most beginners have.

Some common questions that come up all the time:

How do I find a teacher?

What piano should I buy?

Help with sight reading.

Help with memorization.

Help with stage fright.

Help with coordinating both hands (hand independence or interdependence).

Many new beginners want to know how long it will be before they can play such-and-such piece of music.

I am leaving out the pie-in-the-sky questions, which are common, but probably can't be helped. Questions which often boil down to: how can I learn much faster than everyone else is able to?


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#2037717 - 02/22/13 08:53 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: rocket88]
scorpio Offline
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Registered: 11/30/12
Posts: 521
Loc: Connecticut, USA
Originally Posted By: rocket88

Common practice problems:

* Going too fast.
* Playing something over and over, which is not practicing...it is playing.
* Over-practicing the same thing, mistakes and all.
* Taking on too much without letting the brain absorb (during sleep).
* Going too fast.
* Not building a foundation of technique so the hands work in a relaxed way.
* Going too fast. laugh


All issues I am currently dealing with ... and trying to address.
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#2037723 - 02/22/13 09:04 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
newest student Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/26/12
Posts: 23
Loc: Eastern PA
My No. 1 question:

Why cant I learn faster?

And No 2: If I can learn faster, then how?

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#2037742 - 02/22/13 10:01 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: rocket88]
hamlet cat Offline
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Registered: 01/01/13
Posts: 103
Loc: Mojave Desert
Originally Posted By: rocket88


* Going too fast.

* Going too fast.

* Going too fast. laugh


I'd like hear more on your thoughts about practice speed. When is a person going too fast? What is an appropriate speed? Is too slow, better than too fast? From your emphasis, I take it this is the number one issue leading to poor practice, and if I may extrapolate, wasted effort.

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#2037744 - 02/22/13 10:07 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
hamlet cat Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/13
Posts: 103
Loc: Mojave Desert
Originally Posted By: Okanagan Musician

What is your number one question when it comes to learning piano?


Will I ever really have that crazy popular hit single that wakes me up in the middle of the night? And in doing so, usher in a new era of dance/snyth pop like it was the 80's all over again?

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#2037745 - 02/22/13 10:10 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: rocket88]
keystring Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11675
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: rocket88
As a teacher of many beginners, including adults, I would say that the #1 issue is learning how to correctly practice.


What types of things would you want students to learn in learning how to correctly practice, other than playing slower (which obviously is the answer to "going too fast")?

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#2037753 - 02/22/13 10:23 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: keystring]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3160
Originally Posted By: keystring
Originally Posted By: rocket88
As a teacher of many beginners, including adults, I would say that the #1 issue is learning how to correctly practice.


What types of things would you want students to learn in learning how to correctly practice, other than playing slower (which obviously is the answer to "going too fast")?


Keystring, thanks for your question.

Basically, Jazzwee's blog to which I supplied the link in my earlier post (and below) is an excellent description that sums up what constitutes very effective practice.

It basically boils down to understanding how the brain learns piano, and then disciplining oneself to a regimen that accomodates that learning style.

Its like someone who is overweight and out of shape...they can't just run around the block a few times, and drink some diet soda and expect good results.

There has to be a plan that meshes with an understanding of how the body works, and how diet and exercise works. These concepts are much better understood now that in years before.

Take that concept and apply it to how the brain learns piano. We know a lot more about that than before.

Practicing correctly involves understanding those concepts, and disciplining oneself to apply them.

Jazzwee's blog is a very good explanation of that. What he explains is essentially what I explain to all my students.

Here is the link again:

http://jazzwee-blog.blogspot.com/2010/12/practice-secret-accept-that-daily.html

In its essence, it involves:

1. Practicing a small chunk very precisely and perfectly= Slow!

2. Do that just a few times, 3-5 times.

3. Stop, and don't come back to it until you have slept overnight.

4. Do that with more than one phrase in the music.

Of course there is more to it, such as "do you learn better by hearing, or by reading". But what is in that blog is the essentials.

ps...As I repeatedly noted, playing everything way too fast is a universal problem, and should not to be overlooked simply because "going slower" is the obvious answer. For some reason, many people seem to be unable to go slower.

I have seen people go the same fast pace, or actually go faster after I say "go slower". I think this is because they are so busy trying to play that the tempo is overlooked. Or perhaps it is because they have practiced it too fast (back to practicing incorrectly), and that faster tempo is now a hard to break habit.

But, if students would just go slower with everything, scales, repertoire, their learning would be a lot better. So playing too fast is a big problem, one of the major ones.


Edited by rocket88 (02/23/13 07:42 PM)
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#2037774 - 02/22/13 11:33 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
Okanagan Musician Offline
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Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 25
Loc: British Columbia, Canada
Some great questions so far, keep them coming!


Edited by Okanagan Musician (02/22/13 11:36 PM)
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#2037776 - 02/22/13 11:57 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
Michael_99 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/12
Posts: 935
Loc: Canada Alberta
As a beginner or beginner adult, you must learn hands/fingers position. Open to page 1 of Book 1 of learning piano, your choice of many book methods. First play and say the letter-names of the notes of the measure and continue on through exercise 1 going so slowly that you make no mistakes. Repeat that exercise everyday, day after day, week after week, month after month. It is that simple. You must review and review without mistakes. Repeat everyday what you have learned the day before. So effectively you just keep reviewing everthing you have ever learned from day one and never stop reviewing after adding new exercises always trying to make everything you play the best that you can. Always listen to what you play and soon you will hear the difference when you play everytime you play the piano. It will probably take anywhere from 6 months to a year to learn book 1 consisting of about 50 pages of Book 1. Repeat everyday what you have learned the day before. Critical is to always look at your music and never look at your hands. If you are looking at your hands instead of your music it means you must go even more slowly because there is never a reason to ever look at your hands/fingers but it is always important to look at your music when you play. When you are not at the piano, you should be able to look at the next piece you are going to learn and be able to say the notes without hesitation as you read through the measures of the piece.


Edited by Michael_99 (02/23/13 12:01 AM)

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#2037849 - 02/23/13 08:25 AM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
Tech 5 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/27/12
Posts: 194
Loc: South Carolina
#One problem: Distinguishing tempo from rhythm from timing...

We are advised to practice slowly, even in "slow motion", but how does one give appropriate "time" to an eighth note compared to a quarter note when going in slow motion?
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#2037854 - 02/23/13 08:42 AM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
fizikisto Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/13/12
Posts: 509
Loc: Hernando, MS
Tech 5
That's a really good question. My advice would be "don't try". This is my opinion, and others may differ, but I think slow practice should be primarily about coordinating the motion of the hands with the notes. When I do slow practice, I don't worry about rhythm, or dynamics. What I focus on is simply moving my hands to the correct notes and playing them in the correct way. You might call it No-tempo practice. And when I say playing the notes in the correct way, I mean playing them with the least amount of extraneous tension that I can manage. For example, some beginners have a tendency to raise their shoulders up when they're playing (or "wing" their elbows outward, or lift up their unused fingers, etc...) which is a source of unnecessary tension. For any kind of athletic endeavor, improper tension is the enemy of peak performance. So when I do slow practice I focus on breathing, relaxing, and coordinating the motions. When I have rehearsed the motions enough to play them in a relaxed manner (and with good posture and structure) then I start to bring the piece up to tempo, adding in rhythm and dynamics and rubato or whatever the piece calls for.
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#2037857 - 02/23/13 08:46 AM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
fizikisto Offline
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Registered: 02/13/12
Posts: 509
Loc: Hernando, MS
This is a really great thread. I think one of the hardest questions, especially for beginners is "How do I set realistic goals" which is related to some variation on the theme of "How long will it take me to get good?" I wonder sometimes if it is a challenge for piano teachers to manage their students' expectations.
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#2037860 - 02/23/13 08:55 AM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Tech 5]
scorpio Offline
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Registered: 11/30/12
Posts: 521
Loc: Connecticut, USA
When I practice slow, every note is played relative to the slower tempo. So, two eighth notes still equal a quarter note; same time and space, just slower. I think of it in terms of beats; you still need to get two eighth notes in on one beat (assuming x/4 time signature).

I have read some theories that you need to get to the correct tempo as soon as possible to avoid timing issues and bad habits. I am curious what others have to say about this.

From my limited experience, practicing slow and only a few measures at a time has increased my rate of improvement, dramatically. But I still fall into the trap (less often) of repeatedly playing through a song, warts and all. And again from my experience, the improvement is little to none with that method.
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#2037864 - 02/23/13 08:59 AM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Tech 5]
musdan Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/05/05
Posts: 1165
Originally Posted By: Tech 5
#One problem: Distinguishing tempo from rhythm from timing...

We are advised to practice slowly, even in "slow motion", but how does one give appropriate "time" to an eighth note compared to a quarter note when going in slow motion?



Correct tempo, rhythm and timing are difficult for me. Using a metrome should help, but what bpm do you set it for - "tis a puzzelment."

My teacher did say it was coming along - music is tempo, rhythm and timing. smile

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#2037873 - 02/23/13 09:42 AM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: scorpio]
SwissMS Online   content
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Registered: 01/09/11
Posts: 737
Loc: Switzerland
Originally Posted By: scorpio
When I practice slow, every note is played relative to the slower tempo. So, two eighth notes still equal a quarter note; same time and space, just slower. I think of it in terms of beats; you still need to get two eighth notes in on one beat (assuming x/4 time signature).


This is what I was taught to do as well. The overall choreography is slow, but the rhythm and dynamics are the same as the end product.

I guess my number one question/problem is - am I really practicing effectively? I do chunking, slow playing, etc., but it still often seems to take a long time for things to sink in. Being the impatient soul that I am, I am continuing to look for ways to learn a new piece more quickly.
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#2037882 - 02/23/13 10:03 AM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: SwissMS]
Saranoya Offline
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Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 620
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: SwissMS
I guess my number one question/problem is - am I really practicing effectively? I do chunking, slow playing, etc., but it still often seems to take a long time for things to sink in. Being the impatient soul that I am, I am continuing to look for ways to learn a new piece more quickly.


This!

Although, I differ a bit from SwissMS, in that I *know* my practice isn't very efficient. I also know, for the most part, what I should be doing about it, but don't always stick to the plan. I guess I get lost in the music, most of the time. I want to play it the way it sounds in my head, which naturally leads to faster playing, start to finish.

Although if there are any tips beyond slow playing and chunking things up that could help, I'm all ears.
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#2037945 - 02/23/13 12:17 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: fizikisto]
jotur Online   blank
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Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 5529
Loc: Santa Fe, NM
Originally Posted By: fizikisto
Tech 5
That's a really good question. . . What I focus on is simply moving my hands to the correct notes and playing them in the correct way. . . And when I say playing the notes in the correct way, I mean playing them with the least amount of extraneous tension that I can manage. For example, some beginners have a tendency to raise their shoulders up when they're playing (or "wing" their elbows outward, or lift up their unused fingers, etc...) which is a source of unnecessary tension. For any kind of athletic endeavor, improper tension is the enemy of peak performance. So when I do slow practice I focus on breathing, relaxing, and coordinating the motions. When I have rehearsed the motions enough to play them in a relaxed manner (and with good posture and structure) then I start to bring the piece up to tempo, . ..


This, in spades. Except I do as others do and play in rhythm, and dynamics and phrasing, from the beginning. But the "no improper tension" is key for me for making anything musical, or playing at tempo, and being able to play for long periods of time - a 3-hour contra dance (not that we play all the time) or someother long gig - with no injuries or fatigue.

Cathy
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#2037947 - 02/23/13 12:22 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
Mark... Offline
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Registered: 11/27/06
Posts: 4378
Loc: Jersey Shore
In regard to slow playing:

I believe playing music gives us some type of endorphin or other brain chemical release that we crave. Playing slow seems to diminish that release causing people to want to play fast, even if they are not ready for the proper speed.

Just a theory of mine...

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#2037960 - 02/23/13 12:38 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Mark...]
malkin Offline
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Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2542
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
Originally Posted By: Mark...
In regard to slow playing:

I believe playing music gives us some type of endorphin or other brain chemical release that we crave. Playing slow seems to diminish that release causing people to want to play fast, even if they are not ready for the proper speed.

Just a theory of mine...


Interesting thought.
There must be some intrinsic value to playing too fast, because we keep doing it even though it certainly isn't improving our skills.
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#2037990 - 02/23/13 01:33 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Mark...]
Emissary52 Offline
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Registered: 10/17/09
Posts: 318
Loc: Monroe, NC USA
Originally Posted By: Mark...
In regard to slow playing:

I believe playing music gives us some type of endorphin or other brain chemical release that we crave. Playing slow seems to diminish that release causing people to want to play fast, even if they are not ready for the proper speed.

Just a theory of mine...


Mark... I agree! Sometimes, it's a treat to play perhaps, just a few measures of some music you really want to perform, even if played badly. It just feels so right! Occasionally, you will learn something useful at the same time, that you can apply to a piece you're currently "enduring". It also involves hearing and attempting to play it at the "tempo" and style that you have internalized. Conversely, it can lead to somwhat sloppy playing, as I'm finding out from just starting with a teacher after three years of self-instruction. But that little shot of endorphins serves to motivate at some lean musical times! thumb
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#2037993 - 02/23/13 01:43 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: malkin]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1383
Loc: Cameron Park, California
Originally Posted By: malkin
Originally Posted By: Mark...
In regard to slow playing:

I believe playing music gives us some type of endorphin or other brain chemical release that we crave. Playing slow seems to diminish that release causing people to want to play fast, even if they are not ready for the proper speed.

Just a theory of mine...


Interesting thought.
There must be some intrinsic value to playing too fast, because we keep doing it even though it certainly isn't improving our skills.


My teacher says this is all about wanting to prove to your ego that you can. Feeding our egos - while most certainly tempting - does very little to benefit us in the long run; in fact, in this case and most others, giving in to your ego actually works to our detriment.

edit: this is why humility (the arch nemesis of the ego) is said to be the most important attribute for a musician


Edited by Bobpickle (02/23/13 01:44 PM)

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#2038002 - 02/23/13 02:06 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
malkin Offline
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Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2542
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
I still like the brain chemicals hypothesis. I think my ego notices how bad it sounds too fast and with so many errors.
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#2038005 - 02/23/13 02:11 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: malkin]
Mark... Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/27/06
Posts: 4378
Loc: Jersey Shore
Originally Posted By: malkin
I still like the brain chemicals hypothesis. I think my ego notices how bad it sounds too fast and with so many errors.


My ego is always in check..he knows he's a hack... smile

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#2038014 - 02/23/13 02:26 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Okanagan Musician]
fizikisto Offline
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Registered: 02/13/12
Posts: 509
Loc: Hernando, MS
I think there is something to be said for playing a piece faster than normal tempo too. NOT when you're beginning a piece of course, but when you know a piece pretty well, and want to polish it, sometimes playing it well at a "too fast" tempo makes it much easier to play properly and smoothly when you slow it down to the normal tempo. Also, sometimes I make more mistakes playing slowly than I do playing quickly. If I'm frustrated and making the same mistake over and over, sometimes playing a phrase (or bar, or whatever) as quickly as I can a few times makes my brain get out of the way and allows my fingers to just do their jobs. Sometimes when you're going too slowly you over-think things.

More often than not, the reverse is true, If I don't know the piece well enough to practice it at normal or above normal tempo, slowing down is what I need. But every once in awhile fast practice helps me get over a sticking point. Slow practice and fast practice are both tools, and in my opinion they both have their place.
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#2038025 - 02/23/13 02:42 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Bobpickle]
Emissary52 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/09
Posts: 318
Loc: Monroe, NC USA
Originally Posted By: Bobpickle
Originally Posted By: malkin
Originally Posted By: Mark...
In regard to slow playing:

I believe playing music gives us some type of endorphin or other brain chemical release that we crave. Playing slow seems to diminish that release causing people to want to play fast, even if they are not ready for the proper speed.

Just a theory of mine...


Interesting thought.
There must be some intrinsic value to playing too fast, because we keep doing it even though it certainly isn't improving our skills.


My teacher says this is all about wanting to prove to your ego that you can. Feeding our egos - while most certainly tempting - does very little to benefit us in the long run; in fact, in this case and most others, giving in to your ego actually works to our detriment.

edit: this is why humility (the arch nemesis of the ego) is said to be the most important attribute for a musician


Bob - It sounds like your piano teacher is a bit too much of a Freudian devotee! But in the Freudian realm, a little ego may be necessary to counterbalance the self-doubt imposed by society (the Super-Ego) e.g. "You really can't do it!" ..."You have no talent." Lastly, Freud was a man of little humility, but intense curiousity! He recommended Heroin to his Morphine-addicted medical colleague, who died from that sterling medical advice. Always check the quality of advice ...no matter how well-intentioned! grin


Edited by Emissary52 (02/23/13 02:45 PM)
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#2038030 - 02/23/13 02:52 PM Re: Adult beginners - what is your number one question/problem? [Re: Tech 5]
Michael_99 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/12
Posts: 935
Loc: Canada Alberta
We are advised to practice slowly, even in "slow motion", but how does one give appropriate "time" to an eighth note compared to a quarter note when going in slow motion?

As a beginner you will soon learn that you can play at any speed but the note values are relative to each other so quarter notes take four to make a hole note so note values never change.

It is like going around a corner on a bike. The corner never changes, but the speed that you take the corner means you lean more or less as you take the same corner everytime at the slow or fast speed.


Edited by Michael_99 (02/24/13 01:39 AM)

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