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#2300603 - 07/10/14 08:05 AM How do you measure progress?
BrianDX Online   content
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Registered: 04/14/14
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Loc: Lewes DE
During my Faber Graduates thread a poster named RPW brought up an interesting concept that I've thought about all night.

Here (with apologies to RPS) is the essence of one of his questions to me:

"Although it's not necessarily related to the Faber approach, at some point I started wondering if I'm really making progress or just spending more time on more difficult pieces. Since there are no well defined requirements, it's hard to measure progress in terms other than units and pages"

I think about this a lot. You spend a week or two learning to play certain pieces. Finally they are performed in front of a teacher, and you pass them. Then you move onto the next section and start the process all over again.

I know on an intrinsic basis that I learned something. A scale, a new interval, etc. I know darn well that in 11 months I've made progress.

But is there a tangible way to really measure this? I'm curious as to what other folks think.
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#2300604 - 07/10/14 08:14 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Morodiene Online   content
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You can try sight reading pieces from a different method book earlier on. If you are working in Faber, look at Hal Leonard, or you can also go into the kid's methods which may have some of the same music, but not all. Even going back and playing the old music you learned previously can give you some perspective on how easy those are now compared to how you felt when you learned them originally. Then there will be ones that you are impressed you learned at all because they seem so difficult!

One comment about your quote: "Spending more time on more difficult pieces". Isn't the fact that you are playing more difficult pieces a testimony to the fact you are progressing? You will spend more time on harder pieces because they are longer and more complicated. Rest assured that without the foundation you had previously, you would not be able to play these, or it would take twice as long to learn them with poor results.
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#2300615 - 07/10/14 08:35 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
malkin Offline
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Feedback regarding progress is certainly a feature of an exam system. I just wouldn't dare mention it over on the teachers' forum because the exam thread there right now is such a morass.
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#2300620 - 07/10/14 08:39 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: malkin]
Morodiene Online   content
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Originally Posted By: malkin
Feedback regarding progress is certainly a feature of an exam system. I just wouldn't dare mention it over on the teachers' forum because the exam thread there right now is such a morass.


LOL! This is helpful if the exam system you are going through gets quality judges. Once in a while you get a dud regardless, but it's good for students to experience that as well - as long as it's not all the time.
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#2300626 - 07/10/14 09:04 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: Morodiene]
BrianDX Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Morodiene
One comment about your quote: "Spending more time on more difficult pieces". Isn't the fact that you are playing more difficult pieces a testimony to the fact you are progressing? You will spend more time on harder pieces because they are longer and more complicated. Rest assured that without the foundation you had previously, you would not be able to play these, or it would take twice as long to learn them with poor results.

A fair comment. As I kind of implied earlier, every nerve ending in my brain tells me that I am progressing. It's just that when you finally learn a piece, move on, and then get all involved in the next hard piece, well, feelings take over and that's when the frustration starts.
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#2300627 - 07/10/14 09:09 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
earlofmar Offline
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Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1584
Loc: Australia
I guess I have four methods to measure progress:

1. I keep a piano diary which I am hoping will be "hilarious" reading in future years

2. I count the pieces I learn throughout the year, even if they are never polished or recorded

3. Every six months I review where I am at. When you don't have much of an expectation of what will improve or when, it often comes as a surprise how good even small improvements feel.

4. Record your work. I will usually record at that stage when all the notes are learned but there is no consistency. Then I will record when I start to feel it is consistent and again hopefully at the end of polishing (or maybe I never get there). Listening back is a good way to tell how a particular piece has matured but also how the complexity of the material has increased.

There is a fifth option which is to try to play something simpler than your normal. It can blow your mind when something in the piece seems familiar, a chord or a phrase and for once a piece isn't hard to learn.
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#2300632 - 07/10/14 09:19 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: earlofmar]
BrianDX Online   content
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Loc: Lewes DE
Hi Earlofmar,

Although I don't keep a formal diary, I do mark in detailed fashion all of the history of each piece (when it was assigned, how many weeks did I work on it, etc.). In addition, my teacher also writes detailed instructions, suggestions, etc. right in the book. I now have 160 pages of such notes spread over Faber Level 1 and 2, and it does give me a sense of accomplishment when I look back through these pages.

I have also recorded some of my work, although I generally don't do it for most pieces, and only when I have it 100%.
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#2300634 - 07/10/14 09:27 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Sand Tiger Online   content
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Registered: 03/25/12
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Loc: Southern California
I suggest to move your mind to other thoughts because short term progress can be difficult for the pianist to discern. Some indications are the number of pieces, level of difficulty. Most method books are gradual, so moving through a book is clear progress. Technical skills such as playing scales at a certain rate, play it with two octaves a bit faster, four octaves, parallel, contrary, in different keys.

The exam system provides a good framework if a person wants some objective measures. Exams have their flaws, but those on the forum that pass grade 4 or better, seem to be well rounded and decent pianists. As for the comment about judges being duds, preparing for the exam is the primary learning experience. Many students suffer from nerves during the actual exam and most judges compensate for that.

As for me, I like to record myself and the recordings are mile markers on my journey. Pieces that once were full of halts, now flow smoothly. The number of pieces I have memorized are another measure.


Edited by Sand Tiger (07/10/14 10:13 AM)
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#2300646 - 07/10/14 09:42 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
kurtie Offline
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Registered: 07/06/10
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How I measure progress? First I have to find it... it has to be hidden somewhere.

Jokes aside, as it has been said, progress tends to be very elusive and has to be measured over months, or even better years.

If you follow a book, progress can be measured by the chapters you are able to go through. If you have a teacher, she / he will say when to move on to new, more complicated things.

In my case, now that I don't follow books, methods or teachers at this point in time, can say that I am progressing because I am revisiting a piece that I tried to learn for the first time some years ago, and I couldn't... but now I am learning the last page and doing far better than the first time. That's progress...

In the end I think that progress is really hard to measure because so many things have to be measured: progress in playing scales? progress in playing at tempo? progress in playing complicated passages? progress in pedaling? progress in dynamics? progress in improvising solos? progress in making less mistakes? progress in being able to hide those mistakes? progress in learning new pieces? progress in playing combos? progress in playing by ear? progress in reading sheet music? and so on... there are a lot of different skills involved.

Regards,
Kurt.-

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#2300647 - 07/10/14 09:42 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: Sand Tiger]
BrianDX Online   content
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Loc: Lewes DE
Sand Tiger,

A great suggestion. Perhaps the measurement time frame should be more like every three or six months. Trying to judge something like this on a week-to-week or even month-to-month basis could be frustrating and even worse, inaccurate.

Thanks!
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#2300660 - 07/10/14 10:23 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Sand Tiger Online   content
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Originally Posted By: BrianDX
Sand Tiger,

A great suggestion. Perhaps the measurement time frame should be more like every three or six months. Trying to judge something like this on a week-to-week or even month-to-month basis could be frustrating and even worse, inaccurate.

Thanks!


The forum recitals are every quarter (3 months). A person that participates will have those recordings as a record of their progress.

To me, three months is a short time period. It might be appropriate for a person immersed in piano, doing two or more hours a day.

For most of us, piano is a long journey. Enjoy the journey. Let's imagine that there was some objective short term measure of progress, such as how many miles a person has have traveled on a long cross country hike. What would a person do with that information? Hike faster and harder and perhaps risk injury or burn out? Slack off? Change equipment? Give up?

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#2300738 - 07/10/14 01:41 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Sweet06 Offline
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[censored] after one year i think im finally able to identify notes on the grand staff without using landmark notes. I can just look and see what note it is. I even have some of the more common ledger lines memorized haha. finally!!!
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#2300749 - 07/10/14 02:06 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: Sand Tiger]
BrianDX Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Sand Tiger
For most of us, piano is a long journey. Enjoy the journey. Let's imagine that there was some objective short term measure of progress, such as how many miles a person has have traveled on a long cross country hike. What would a person do with that information? Hike faster and harder and perhaps risk injury or burn out? Slack off? Change equipment? Give up?

This is exactly correct. It is all about the journey, and the pleasures to be had along the way. First of all, I doubt anyone has some specific goal that once achieved they stop the learning process. Second, most folks I think have no idea what their ultimate potential might be. I sure don't. Finally, not to be moribund, but ultimately most folks don't even know when their journey here on Earth ends.

Whenever that old familiar feeling of "I can't wait to finish this piece, this level, this whatever, because once I do then oh boy I'm really going to start enjoying the process" I calmly smack myself in the a** shocked
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#2300773 - 07/10/14 03:07 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Sweet06 Offline
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@brianDX and sandtiger. I agree but disagree at the same time. Sometimes looking at progress can help motivate to keep going towards the future. I agree because you are correct, measuring the progress doesn't do a whole lot for you. But if it can motivate you like it can me, or even give some confidence, I'd argue its worth going back to your old pieces/books at least a few times in your journey smile.
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#2300785 - 07/10/14 03:39 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: Sweet06]
BrianDX Online   content
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Sweet06;

Actually I agree with everything you said. I believe that it is very important to feel progress as a main motivational tool.

What I wanted this thread to be about was how such progress can be measured (or at the very least felt), not whether or not it needs to be.
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#2300799 - 07/10/14 04:13 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Sweet06 Offline
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I see. In that case I have a few methods I use to remind myself I am making progress. Think back a year ago, what do you know now that you didn't know then? For me, especially since a year ago I didn't know ANY piano, thats quite substantial. Another method I use is to look at previous books/pieces. Sometimes I'll think "wow this is hard I did this?!" and sometimes I'll breeze thru it with a few stumbles. Another way is I will notice while learning new music, I learn is much quicker now as my practicing habits are better im SURE. I can pick up phrases in minutes now and hands together isn't nearly as daunting typically. That is until I move up to some more left hand intensive pieces.... like bach invention #4 i just started haha, thats taking me just as long to learn hands together as I remember some of my early hands together polyrhythm stuff took.
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#2300808 - 07/10/14 04:28 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: Sweet06]
JimF Offline
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IMO, it is entirely possible you will make more and faster progress if you do not try to measure it any way.
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#2300814 - 07/10/14 04:42 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
wouter79 Offline
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Good question.

A new scale, or new interval? In my book that really does not count as progress. Who cares if I can play a scale or interval? I want to hear music!

Someone suggested to check the pieces submitted to the recital. Now if I check those, did I make any progress? And, If I were asked right now, I can't play any of the recital pieces that I played then. If I hear my recordings of some of the stuff I played 3 years ago, it sounds amazingly good. Is there an improving line in my submissions? Many people here say yes. But I find it very hard to judge. My submissions were not all equal difficulty.

All this leads me to suggest that the only progress worthwile is to be able to play the music with better phrasing, more dynamic range, better flow, articulation, voicing etc. I think I made a little progress on that. Maybe this could be measured
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#2300819 - 07/10/14 05:00 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: JimF]
Purkoy Offline
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I knew I was making progress, at long last, when my teacher presented me with a new piece to work on, I saw all the notes splattered thick on the page, and I didn't feel as terrified any more.

One of my greatest difficulties turned out to be managing my expectations of progress, which she has been very good at, and I've been freed from the tyranny of expecting weekly gains. It's been a whole lot easier to generate the commitment and effort in the knowledge that something worth doing is sometimes just going to be hard.
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#2300834 - 07/10/14 05:32 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: Purkoy]
BrianDX Online   content
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I also believe that a good teacher can help manage the expectation process. She does it with me every week.

Sometimes I think you can want something so bad that it can become bad, or at the very least an impediment.
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#2300850 - 07/10/14 06:12 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
rnaple Offline

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#2300861 - 07/10/14 06:32 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: wouter79]
Sand Tiger Online   content
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Originally Posted By: wouter79
Good question.

A new scale, or new interval? In my book that really does not count as progress. Who cares if I can play a scale or interval? I want to hear music!

Someone suggested to check the pieces submitted to the recital. Now if I check those, did I make any progress? And, If I were asked right now, I can't play any of the recital pieces that I played then. If I hear my recordings of some of the stuff I played 3 years ago, it sounds amazingly good. Is there an improving line in my submissions? Many people here say yes. But I find it very hard to judge. My submissions were not all equal difficulty.

All this leads me to suggest that the only progress worthwile is to be able to play the music with better phrasing, more dynamic range, better flow, articulation, voicing etc. I think I made a little progress on that. Maybe this could be measured


Personally, I am not a big fan of scales. However, the exams, and many school auditions will test a pianist on scales. From what I have read here (I am only a low level beginner) I believe there is a good reason for including scales in exams and auditions besides tradition.

Perhaps scales are a quick way, for a judge to get a feel for the pianist's ability to keep an even tempo and even tone without a piece of music and all the biases that might come with a choice of music. If an intermediate pianist can't maintain an even tone and even tempo playing a basic four octave scale, perhaps there is something missing from their skill set. The exams also have sight reading, now solfege (ear training), theory, as well as required pieces.

Certainly, expert judges can and will grade a student's playing. If a person doesn't have a good teacher, it can be that much more difficult to discern for oneself. Not that many of us have gifted ears. I have a below average ear, with tinnitus to boot. If a person doesn't have a teacher and didn't spend a lot of time and energy training their ear, it will be hard to discern the quality.

Low resolution uploads are far from ideal for judging, and most on the beginner forum aren't trained enough to offer more than beginner opinions. Many beginner opinions are colored by personalities and piece choice. For instance if a person likes Bach, but dislikes most movie soundtrack music, those biases will tend to color their opinions.

To me, your piano goals seem narrow. Perhaps that is all you aspire to. Others might aspire to play with other musicians, or with a singer (often requiring the ability to transpose on the fly), to be able to sight read well, to play by ear well, to improvise easily and freely, and to compose. A person might be able to play a solo classical piece from sheet music rather well, with expression, flow, etc., after determined study, but have little skill at these many other piano related tasks.

As always, there is no right or wrong with a person's personal piano goals. Who am I, a lowly beginner to question someone else's goals? I do see that there are other roads, other things that may matter.

All of this makes progress that much more difficult to measure. For those few obsessed with measuring progress, the exams, as flawed as they are, provide a reasonable way to measure.
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#2300863 - 07/10/14 06:35 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
8 Octaves Offline

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Registered: 04/20/14
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Progress is not so obvious in the first few years. Back in late 2009, I set some ridiculous goals for progress for myself. Then I found my teacher who seriously readjusted my expectations when I thought I was moving much too slowly, but she kept saying that "you're cruising". Well, that was the first year anyway when things were easy. Second and third years for me felt like climbing up hill in the mud.

If you're like me starting in my 40's, your body simply cannot perform the things your mind believes you can. Breaking down old pathways in your brain to build new ones takes massive time and effort. Have you come across COBOL apps that need to be ported to run on a smartphone or be virtualized on AWS or OpenStack? Well, learning piano is much harder. Anyway, patience is needed if you want to learn things right.

If you have a teacher that won't let you put away a piece of music until you've mastered the goals within, then you should count every piece of music as a small accomplishment regardless of your level.

Oh, to answer your question directly, I mark my progress by participating in the RCM program. I began in preparatory level, then 1, 2.... It's a long but fun and rewarding journey. The exams are lessons in humility and a serious dose of respect for children especially with all the difficult written portions. In fact, RCM only serves to measure progress. It is neither the reason nor purpose of it.
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#2300932 - 07/10/14 11:35 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Sweet06 Offline
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Registered: 06/22/13
Posts: 408
I would imagine progress would be SUPER noticeable early on.... at least it is for me. In one year I think I've done a lot of easily measure-able progress. I suspect I'll hit a bit of a wall soon and it won't be as noticeable.
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#2301003 - 07/11/14 07:47 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Bamburg Offline
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Registered: 06/07/13
Posts: 82
I usually use feedback from my teacher to measure progress, I find it to be a decent metric since she's not afraid to let me know if she thinks I've been slacking.

My teacher also has a sheet that outlines the various technical exercises she assigns and writes the date in that I complete each one, so that's helpful.

Aside from that, I seem to be collecting a large library of sheet music that's way too difficult for me. Occasionally I'll pull out one of my favorite pieces that I have no business playing yet and see how I do just trying to get some of the notes under my fingers and make it sound like something recognizable. When I first started with my teacher almost a year ago it might have taken me an hour to be able to play 2 measures in a row, if I even knew what I was looking at. Now, those same pieces are starting to come a lot easier, and each time I mess around with them I generally feel like I'm moving toward the end goal of being able to play them.

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#2301090 - 07/11/14 11:38 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
carlos88 Online   content
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Registered: 01/18/13
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I have a set of pieces that I want to eventually be able to play, and periodically test them out to see if they're reachable.

This year, I finally was able to tackle the first of them, Liszt's Un Sospiro.

Three years ago, everything after the initial arpeggios was beyond me, but when I looked at it again this March, the jumps, runs and hand-over-hand parts seemed doable for the first time.
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#2301091 - 07/11/14 11:39 AM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
noobpianist90 Offline
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Registered: 07/23/13
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I don't.
I just play.
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#2301106 - 07/11/14 12:27 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
malkin Offline
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Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2540
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
Another non-measurer here.

Why would I measure my progress?

What would I do differently if I made excellent progress or poor progress?


If there were some reason to assess my progress, I suppose whatever the reason was would suggest an appropriate measurement.

I could see that my teacher might wish to assess my progress as a measure of his teaching effectiveness, but that's his issue, not mine! I think he does this already, although possibly not formally. He has a way better idea of what progress is than I do, so it is much easier for him anyway.

I guess that there is a theoretical point where my progress could be so limited as to make the process not fun, and if I were at that point I'd find something else to do. I'm slow but I have a great time, so why worry?
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#2301134 - 07/11/14 01:38 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Donzo Offline
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Loc: British Columbia

In my meagre experience with piano (just over a year) I have definitely had my moments of spirtual crisis "I'm not progressing". So I understand the desire to monitor progress.

However, I agree with earlier statements that the "noise" in any measurement of your piano condition will be substantial compared to the "signal". The only way to get an honest appraisal is to use a long time interval for comparison.

My view on this is kind of like trying to lose weight (which I do from time to time, with less success than piano :)). If I measure myself at different times of the day I'll see my weight bouncing around by several pounds. The only way to get an accurate trend is to compare to readings from weeks ago, rather than hours ago.

In other endeavors I personally have found measuring myself can be motivation defeating. For example, sometimes I decide I'm going to take up jogging (see above mention of sporadic weight loss). Jogging progress is very easy to measure, you just check your watch. When I first start, it is pretty easy to beat my old time every time I go out. But after a while it starts getting harder to beat your personal best. Does that mean its time to give up jogging? That is what I usually do smile

This is why I concentrate more now on convincing myself I'm progressing, rather than scientifically verifying said progress. I actually find that measuring progress can be more de-motivational for me, than the reverse.

However, if I was to measure my piano progress, I would probably do this through sight reading a piece I am unfamiliar with and recording the results, then repeat the process in 3 months. Something like that. I've heard several times that recording yourself is the best way to evaluate your current state (which seems to me to be the first step in evaluating change of state).

Good luck! I'm sure this doesn't help!

Don

ps: when I tried asking my teacher how my progress is, she goes into a "don't measure yourself, its about the journey, etc" which I translate to "man, you suck". So I don't ask her anymore smile

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#2301137 - 07/11/14 01:41 PM Re: How do you measure progress? [Re: BrianDX]
Morodiene Online   content
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I think 6 months to a year is a better measurement of progress. Progress in piano tends to be slow and pretty even (unless there's a break from practice). So it's more visible over longer periods of time.
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