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#2305610 - 07/22/14 08:24 PM That last 10%
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4795
Loc: Seattle area, WA
I opened this topic some time ago and it got side-tracked so I'm trying again.

What does one have to do to make our music stand out and sound polished and beautiful? What skills does a professional pianist have that a gifted amateur does not? How do we attain that last 10% that makes the music so wonderful. What steps do we need to take to achieve this level of playing?

I am looking for helpful answers beyond the obvious: "practice".
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#2305614 - 07/22/14 08:39 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
faulty_Damper Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/14
Posts: 69
There are many ways to answer this question, which in itself, is very vague to begin with.

I believe the difference is two part:
1. knowing what you want
2. being able to achieve what you want

If you don't know what you want, then you won't get it.
If you know what you want, but don't know how to achieve it, then you won't get it.
If you know what you want, and know how to achieve it, then you will get it.

In practice, this means having sensitive hearing, both auditory and inner hearing. The auditory just provides feedback but it's the inner ear that directs that sound. What takes direction from the inner ear is the playing apparatus' movements at the keyboard. If the coordination is poor or isn't used efficiently, then the results will be poor. Only when the coordination is excellent that the body and mind is freed from its arduous task and inner hearing can be concentrated upon.

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#2305616 - 07/22/14 08:49 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
I'm convinced that the "last n% of work" doesn't actually exist, and that it's a false (or arbitrary) dichotomy dividing "what is done" and "what is not done".

Proficiency here can be thought of as an asymptote, and that no matter what level of skill you achieve, you will always feel that there is some "10%" that you have yet to finish. This is exactly the sensation that the artist or athlete or professional or person undergoes when they feel that they are never really finished or never really satisfied.

The better entry point here is "I am not aware of things that need improvement" which brings us to the question "What does need improvement?" Afterwhich you ask "How do I improve these things?"

It sounds like you just have some vague notion that there is more to do, and there always is, and this is fine, but without knowing the nuanced details and subtleties that need improvement, it's difficult to get anywhere; you are asking the broad question "how do I improve?", to which the similarly broad answer is "practice".

Strong, detailed answers require strong, detailed questions.
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2305617 - 07/22/14 08:58 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: Atrys]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4795
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Originally Posted By: Atrys
It sounds like you just have some vague notion that there is more to do, ..."how do I improve?",
I'm talking about polish. Let's say I can play a piece proficiently - up to tempo, with appropriate expression and phrasing, solid rhythm, good musical understanding and good technique. Educated listeners say it's quite good, yet, it doesn't have that final something that makes it sound great. Something isn't quite there. To me, there seems to be a indescribable something that separates an amateur from a professional, (beyond editing of recordings.) How does one get from quite good to great?

I recently participated in a master class led by a former professional concert pianist. We adult students sounded "quite good" at the piano. When she sat down and played the same music,something magical happened. What is it?
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#2305622 - 07/22/14 09:05 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
Originally Posted By: gooddog

I'm talking about polish. Let's say I can play a piece proficiently - up to tempo, with appropriate expression and phrasing, solid rhythm, good musical understanding and good technique, yet, it doesn't have that final something that makes it sound professional. Something is missing. To me, there seems to be a indescribable something that separates an amateur from a professional, (beyond editing of recordings.) How does one get from good to great?

First question, since this will help triangulate the problem area(s): Can you hear the lack of "polish" whilst playing, or only after hearing a recording of yourself?

Additionally, can you feel the lack of "polish" whilst playing (in the fingers/hand/mind separate from hearing)?
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2305623 - 07/22/14 09:06 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
Originally Posted By: gooddog
We adult students sounded "quite good" at the piano. When she sat down and began to play, something magical happened.

Ha! I've experienced the same thing! Most strikingly in a masterclass with Lisitsa, but it is experienced to lesser degrees with others as well.
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2305625 - 07/22/14 09:06 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4795
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Yes, I can hear it and feel it. What I can't do is identify what is making the pianist I mentioned above turn music into magic.
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#2305627 - 07/22/14 09:13 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4787
Loc: USA
I doubt Atrys, the one who asked about playing with arm weight, is a credible source of advice regarding anything piano playing related.

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#2305629 - 07/22/14 09:16 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
Originally Posted By: gooddog
Yes, I can hear it and feel it. What I can't do is identify what is making the pianist I mentioned above turn music into magic.

The first thing is remember that piano play is a finite, non-magical system. There is nothing that anyone can do outside of pressing keys at particular moments at particular velocities for particular amounts of time.

Anyways:

You say that you can not only hear the lack of "polish", but you can feel it while playing. This is actually a good thing; you would be in a much worse position if you could hear but not feel. Knowing through touch that the product isn't going ship at its finest means certain motor substrates in your brain are firing when your executive function wants something else to fire.

This is difficult to pinpoint top-down, so let's try bottom-up.

You can feel and hear the lack of "polish"; when reciting the piece, are there particular moments when your inner monologue says "there! damnit!" or is it harder to say exactly where (not what) these frustrations take place?
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2305630 - 07/22/14 09:19 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: JoelW]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
Originally Posted By: JoelW
I doubt Atrys is a credible source of advice regarding anything piano playing related.

I doubt JoelW has a sound, functioning brain to give advice regarding anything at all: http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/1912383/OCD_or_normal?.html#Post1912383
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2305633 - 07/22/14 09:21 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4787
Loc: USA
Funny, actually. I like playing small and large works now. Isn't that weird?

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#2305635 - 07/22/14 09:24 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: JoelW]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
Originally Posted By: JoelW
Funny, actually. I like playing small and large works now. Isn't that weird?

Funny, actually. I understand the arm weight school is nonsense now, and am having no troubles anymore. Isn't that weird?
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2305637 - 07/22/14 09:27 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5154
I've heard many amateurs as well as professionals (and would-be professionals), and what strikes me as the biggest difference (apart from the more polished and finished product of the latter, in the main) is that amateurs play for themselves, whereas professionals play for the audience. Or, to put it another way, amateurs often believe that if they play with passion, that passion will be conveyed to the listener - whereas the professional knows that it's not enough just to play with passion - the audience also has to feel, and believe, in that passion.

Another way of putting it is that many amateurs just don't project (sufficiently) what it is they want to convey about the music to the listener: they think that if they feel it, the audience will too. (I read many such posts from PW members here). Which is not the case - the audience cannot get inside the mind of the performer. They can only hear what they hear, and if the playing sounds insipid to their ears, the playing is insipid.

Whereas the professional knows what to do to convey the message of the music to the audience. It matters not a jot whether he actually sincerely feels the passion - as long as he is able to convey it convincingly to the audience. It doesn't even matter whether he thinks the music is totally rubbish, as long as he doesn't play it like it's rubbish. The audience cannot read his mind, after all.

When you listen to a concert pianist performing close-up, you realize: 1) the huge dynamic and tonal range he employs - which can even sound exaggerated to an amateur, and 2) he is not playing for himself, nor is he in private communion with the composer - he is projecting the music for an audience, who may be listening at the far end of the large concert hall.

Here is a classic example of what I mean: http://youtu.be/o8J1kc6tp1E
Does the phrasing, the rubato, and not least, the 'extreme' voicing sound exaggerated?

I often find that amateurs don't sufficiently bring the melody (and counter-melody, if any) out of the accompaniment, nor phrase it strongly, or individually enough. The cultivation of a beautiful tone, beautifully phrased, is often what separates a professional from an amateur. It's not enough that you hear the melody clearly and beautifully - the audience needs to hear it too.

Hear the variety of tone and articulation (and rubato) in this:
http://youtu.be/k0Axnmi2Qn4
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#2305639 - 07/22/14 09:29 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: Atrys]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4787
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: Atrys
Originally Posted By: JoelW
Funny, actually. I like playing small and large works now. Isn't that weird?

Funny, actually. I understand the arm weight school is nonsense now, and am having no troubles anymore. Isn't that weird?

Depends.

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#2305640 - 07/22/14 09:32 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
@bennevis
She can hear the lack of "polish" whilst playing, so we can rule out the typical "untrained ear under motor load" diagnosis that starters have.
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2305641 - 07/22/14 09:33 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
Damon Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/22/06
Posts: 6149
Loc: St. Louis area
Originally Posted By: gooddog

What does one have to do to make our music stand out and sound polished and beautiful?


Don't let the accompaniment define the melody. Find the long line and subordinate everything else.
_________________________
It's been scientifically proven that Horowitz sucks.

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#2305642 - 07/22/14 09:37 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: faulty_Damper]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4787
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: faulty_Damper
There are many ways to answer this question, which in itself, is very vague to begin with.

I believe the difference is two part:
1. knowing what you want
2. being able to achieve what you want

If you don't know what you want, then you won't get it.
If you know what you want, but don't know how to achieve it, then you won't get it.
If you know what you want, and know how to achieve it, then you will get it.

In practice, this means having sensitive hearing, both auditory and inner hearing. The auditory just provides feedback but it's the inner ear that directs that sound. What takes direction from the inner ear is the playing apparatus' movements at the keyboard. If the coordination is poor or isn't used efficiently, then the results will be poor. Only when the coordination is excellent that the body and mind is freed from its arduous task and inner hearing can be concentrated upon.

Great post.

gooddog,

If your ideals are to sound as polished as a concert pianist, that might be a problem. If not, please define what you mean by polished. Regardless, I'm afraid the answer simply is... practice (attentively).

...and have a good teacher. That's a given.

PS:

Damon,

Best signature on the site! ha

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#2305648 - 07/22/14 09:52 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
hreichgott Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/13
Posts: 1032
Loc: western MA, USA
About a million highly specific details in the service of one big picture smile
When I'm hearing a great interpretation it's like everything is in 3D and I've been used to looking at 2D normally. Every detail is carefully brought out, in a specific way, for a good reason.

(That's the part of the work that takes 10 hours a day. 10 hours a day is the advantage the professionals have.)
_________________________
Heather W. Reichgott, piano http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com
Sounding the depths of small pieces: Beethoven Op. 33
Daily attempts at 16th notes: Chopin Op. 10 no. 4, Pischna
Totally loving Fauré/Barcarolles and Ravel/Tombeau de Couperin
I love Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and new music

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#2305653 - 07/22/14 10:09 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
Parks Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/05/14
Posts: 440
Loc: Northern CA
Many musician's don't take enough care of the ends of notes. When they do, they have a large variety of articulation that sets them apart from an unpolished sounds.

Another thing is the endurance of the ear: to hear long term. Measure to measure is a good start. This anecdote will be hard to tell in writing, but: I watched a master class, and the teacher narrated while he played. Phrase by phrase he would say, 'now I'm hearing the F; now I'm hearing the E,' etc. Those said E's and F's were announced a measure - sometimes a full two measures - ahead of time. It was a wonderful musical effect. The line had so much continuity - direction, if you will. This is a technique that would separate the men from the boys, if you know what I mean.

More importantly than hearing what you're playing, can you hear what you're not playing? "Heard melodies are sweet, but unheard melodies sweeter."
_________________________
Michael

"Genius is nothing more than an extraordinary capacity for patience."
Leonardo da Vinci

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#2305654 - 07/22/14 10:10 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
joonsang Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/24/13
Posts: 66
This is what you need to do.

Record yourself playing.

listen to how it sounds, i guarantee immediately you will know if you like your sound or not.

listen for the parts where you know it is too obviously not how you want it to sound.

you will find for certain parts, you may have to adjust your motions/position entirely.

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#2305685 - 07/23/14 12:02 AM Re: That last 10% [Re: Parks]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4795
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Originally Posted By: bennevis
I've heard ... the biggest difference ... is that amateurs play for themselves, whereas professionals play for the audience. ...Another way of putting it is that many amateurs just don't project (sufficiently) what it is they want to convey about the music to the listener: they think that if they feel it, the audience will too. ...Whereas the professional knows what to do to convey the message of the music to the audience. ...I often find that amateurs don't sufficiently bring the melody (and counter-melody, if any) out of the accompaniment, nor phrase it strongly, or individually enough. The cultivation of a beautiful tone, beautifully phrased, is often what separates a professional from an amateur. It's not enough that you hear the melody clearly and beautifully - the audience needs to hear it too...When you listen to a concert pianist performing close-up, you realize: 1) the huge dynamic and tonal range he employs - which can even sound exaggerated to an amateur, and 2) he is not playing for himself, nor is he in private communion with the composer - he is projecting the music for an audience, who may be listening at the far end of the large concert hall.
Very interesting post. I very recently participated in a discussion of how to convey the music for the audience vs. the pianist wallowing in the sentimentality of the music without projecting it. I think your comment about huge dynamic range and tonal range is spot on. My own teacher is a concert pianist and I have heard him do this and have been stunned by the beauty of it. During a lesson, I often think I am projecting and he keeps saying "You need more." I always seem to hear myself answer back "Really, even more? I thought I was projecting." So, indeed, it seems that part of what I am looking for is learning how to communicate with an audience and also how not to shy away from dramatic tonal and dynamic shifts.

Originally Posted By: Damon
Don't let the accompaniment define the melody. Find the long line and subordinate everything else.
Yes, thank you Damon. My teacher has made a point of this also.
Originally Posted By: Parks
Many musician's don't take enough care of the ends of notes. When they do, they have a large variety of articulation that sets them apart from an unpolished sounds.

Another thing is the endurance of the ear: to hear long term. Measure to measure is a good start.


I'm guilty of both. I forget to listen to the ends of notes and I get absorbed in the details rather than the big picture, the larger sweeping phrases.

So far, this thread is giving me what I was seeking. Please continue.
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#2305689 - 07/23/14 12:15 AM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4795
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Oh, this brings to mind something I just learned at the VCM Summer Piano Academy. I was listening to Evgeny Kissen on YouTube playing Liszt's "Funeraille". His bass notes are positively frightening. He produces a sense of dread and inevitability that sounds like death approaching. I asked how Kissen was producing that feeling; was he playing the notes late? She told me about this subtle difference: you can play 1. right on the center of the beat, 2. in tempo but a smidge before the center of the beat and 3. in tempo but a smidge after the center of the beat. Kissen was playing after the center of the beat which produced the sense that time is unstoppable and death is inescapable. I'm learning Funeraille and trying mightily to do this. I guess we can add this to the list of techniques that separate us mortals from the immortals. Talk about hard!
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#2305695 - 07/23/14 12:51 AM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
outo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/12
Posts: 696
Loc: Finland
This website has some interesting insights on what it is that actually makes a great interpretation:

The Craft of Musical Communication


Edited by outo (07/23/14 12:52 AM)

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#2305764 - 07/23/14 06:01 AM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5154
Originally Posted By: gooddog
Kissen was producing that feeling; was he playing the notes late? She told me about this subtle difference: you can play 1. right on the center of the beat, 2. in tempo but a smidge before the center of the beat and 3. in tempo but a smidge after the center of the beat. Kissen was playing after the center of the beat which produced the sense that time is unstoppable and death is inescapable. I'm learning Funeraille and trying mightily to do this. I guess we can add this to the list of techniques that separate us mortals from the immortals. Talk about hard!

An acute sense of rhythm (as well as tone color and dynamic gradation mentioned earlier) is definitely another distinguishing factor separating (some) professionals from amateurs, and the best professionals from the run-of-the-mill.

A great pianist doesn't play with rhythmic rigidity - you can't set a metronome to his playing even measure by measure, let alone over the whole piece. A minute delay ('agogic hesitation') - which may not even be perceptible to the listener - can alter the character of a phrase, by pointing up a climax, or a change of harmony, or a twist in the melodic line. Another 'trick' that is used - consciously or unconsciously - is actually to speed up slightly in passages with rapid runs, which heighten the sense of urgency and excitement.

Mikhail Pletnev is a master at manipulating rhythm - listen to his playing of Chopin's Funeral March, and note how he heightens the sense of foreboding and unease in the march rhythm by almost, but not quite, double-dotting it.

Another trick that's used is to slow down passages to convey relaxation - hear Rubinstein's playing of the triplets in the Scherzo's trio of Brahms's Piano Quintet: he broadens them out to convey a feeling of gemütlich, an oasis of calm in between the storm of the Scherzo proper.

Amateurs, on the other hand, are more likely to play strictly in rhythm (except when they encounter technical problems wink ), too afraid to push and pull for expressive ends.
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#2305815 - 07/23/14 09:08 AM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
TwoSnowflakes Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1231
One thing I always like when I hear it is when a musician has a great sense of a "live" voice.

There's tons of talk about how to make a piano "sing" but there's a specific thing sometimes that happens that reminds me so much of a voice. It's when there's a climax note and the pianist hesitates ever so slightly and reeeeaaaaaches for it. Now, the note is not geographically very far away. Nothing really is on a piano. I can push the highest and then the lowest note with no problem. But that's not how a voice works. It can't just do that. So it changes register more slowly. So that little hesitation and "preparation" for that note reminds me of a voice taking a breath and preparing for that note.

Anything, in a melodic line, that makes me feel as if there's a phrasing that corresponds to a breath or a voice, usually...speaks to me. (Pun intended). It's not often that I'm at the level of mastery of a piece where I can start thinking about those really subtle things, but when I am I like to really think about the phrasing in terms of integrating it with my body's own rhythms.

Or, when there are overlapping melodic lines, the ebb and flow of that really is wonderful to work on. I marked up my Brahms the first day on how I want the voicing/phrasing to go and because I'm not yet totally note steady on it, it's just killing me to not be able to work on that yet! It's also killing me that I'm not good enough yet anyway to do everything I hear in my head--or even most of it--but I can't dwell too much on that. I guess it'll come if I keep working hard.
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2305831 - 07/23/14 09:49 AM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
neuralfirings Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/13
Posts: 174
This reminds me of a TED talk I heard a while back: http://youtu.be/r9LCwI5iErE?t=1m15s



Benjamin Zander goes through the difference between age groups, also of beginners vs. intermediate vs. advanced players. He discusses what he perceives as the main differences.

Oh, it's also very interesting how he interprets this seemingly simple Chopin piece. He really gives insight into how he interprets and how he crafts the emotional story behind his performance.

The entire talk is great too. Highly recommended.


Edited by neuralfirings (07/23/14 09:56 AM)

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#2305864 - 07/23/14 10:41 AM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
the nosy ape Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/10/08
Posts: 712
Loc: Westford, MA
In my experience, most amateurs do not have a good understanding of the musical structure of a piece. For example, when taking a repeat it should never sound the same as when it was played the first time. How it is varied is a matter of interpretation, but it should be done in a way that is fits in with the overall interpretation. When I was a child most of the pieces that I learned were for competitions. Most, if not all, competitions required that no repeats be taken so that all the competitors could play in a reasonable amount of time. As a result, I was never taught how to treat repeats. This deficiency is also manifested within phrases. Rarely do you hear amateurs create nuanced phrasing, e.g., slight variations in volume, tempo, and touch that really fit with the line.

I suggest you listen to recordings of, say, Kissin when he was a child and compare them to ones of him playing the same piece when he was an adult. I think this may illustrate things for you.

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#2305869 - 07/23/14 10:46 AM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
MikeN Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/10
Posts: 579
Loc: Ohio
*sigh* So many things come into play. So many that it seems almost impossible to articulate it all.

First off, one needs an excellently developed mechanism, at least if they are going to play the large scale masterworks. If one doesn't have true physical ease and comfort with the instrument, it's nearly impossible to perform reliably.

Secondly, one needs an excellent technique. "Isn't this the same as number one?" Well, not in my reckoning. While number one might have to deal with the physical comfort and reliability of the pianist, this is entirely a matter of sound. One needs to be able to create whatever sound necessary to fulfill ones interpretative vision. So, this requires an incredible understanding of exactly what the instrument can do tonally. To me, this is why someone like Horowitz is incredible. No, he might not have had the physical ease that a lot of young pianist have today(or maybe he did, but was so focused on creating the sound he wanted that he'd compromise on number one in certain ways), but his understanding of timbre and textural balance and his application of them is something I've never heard duplicated. I'll also extend this to the realm of the "ear" which encompasses the ability to hear the most minute differences in tone.

Next off, is understanding of structure, form, and aesthetics. For me this encompasses the entire intellectual element of music. Theory, harmony, form, structure, history, performance practice, modern and past aesthetics, and anything else I might have forgotten. Like any other language, one must have an understanding of it before it can be spoken. The greater the understanding, the greater the level of excellence that can be achieved in speaking and in expressing through it.

For the sake of brevity, I'll end with vision. Here, one needs to be able to pull everything together to create something that is coherent, convincing, and compelling. Here things aren't so black and white. What exactly is compelling? Well, that's entirely subjective. Really, one mostly only has what they like to use as a steering well. Even with what input you get, there's also the issue of whether you can assimilate it and make it convincing to yourself and everyone else.

You know, I remember talking to someone who was around Argerich when she was practicing. She asked this person about certain passages and ideas. Mind you this isn't someone who would consider themselves of the same caliber, and certainly not of the same fame, but she would listen to the opinions and she would practice accordingly. There is, or was a clip on YouTube of her doing the exact same thing before a performance of Mozart 20th Piano Concerto, so I'd wager this is a common thing for her. To me that's amazing. Unbelievable! That one can constantly be taking in all of these ideas and understand and apply them at the drop of a hat. It's almost beyond belief.

I also recall two clips. One of Hamelin. One of Lisitsa. I'm sure some of you have seen them. Hamelin was practicing the Debussy Prelude General Levine, and he's having no apparent physical trouble. But yet, he playing passages over. Something isn't quite right. The left hand just isn't secco enough. Such small details! But yet he can adjust to get them to sound as fits his vision, and he go out night after night and consistently play the piece pretty much exactly as he wanted and in the process possibly discover something new. What incredible mechanical control that he can do it with apparent ease, but what an incredible ear, technique, and sense of vision that he can hear these small details realize that it doesn't fit his vision and then find the sound that does and consistently reproduce it.

Lisitsa does something very similar in a video where she's taking about Bosendorfers, and she comments about all of these really minute small differences that she finds she can better express to fit her vision. They aren't the largest of changes, yet they make all the difference between a polished interpretation and one that's just "meh".

There are other things that can be added or discussed more in depth(nerves for example) but for me this is a good start.

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#2305925 - 07/23/14 12:29 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: gooddog]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19366
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: goodog
I'm talking about polish. Let's say I can play a piece proficiently - up to tempo, with appropriate expression and phrasing, solid rhythm, good musical understanding and good technique. Educated listeners say it's quite good, yet, it doesn't have that final something that makes it sound great. Something isn't quite there. To me, there seems to be a indescribable something that separates an amateur from a professional, (beyond editing of recordings.) How does one get from quite good to great?
In general for amateurs I think it's a question of not even knowing what's wrong in their playing. This also applies to most "educated listeners". So their definition of "proficient" or "quite good" is far from a great professional's definition.

I've seen hundreds of masterclasses at Mannes and these have always been for conservatory students (and not necessarily undergrad conservatory students). In masterclasses, very often they are shown to have many specific to the piece and also more general problems in their playing THAT THEY WERE TOTALLY UNAWARE OF.

I saw one of the best masterclasses I have ever seen yesterday where the student played the Schumann Fantasy. The student was about to enter a doctoral program in piano performance. But the master class giver, the phenomenal Alexandre Moutouzkine, showed(in a very nice way) that there were an almost endless list of things the student was doing wrong. Of course, the student was not aware of these problems even though her playing was far beyond 99+% of amateurs.

So besides the obvious difference in technical ability between most amateurs vs. top professionals(and these differences can be apparent in relatively easy works), there is a degree of musical understanding that is far wider than most realize.

Technical problems are more obvious. If one cannot play the notes up to speed or with the sound one wants it is obvious to the person doing the playing. Musical deficiences are much less obvious because it's a case of not knowing what's wrong.


Edited by pianoloverus (07/23/14 12:38 PM)

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#2305927 - 07/23/14 12:34 PM Re: That last 10% [Re: pianoloverus]
MikeN Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/10
Posts: 579
Loc: Ohio
Are we talking objectively wrong or subjectively wrong though?

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