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#520484 - 02/22/09 05:07 PM Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
toucanjunky Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/15/08
Posts: 95
Loc: London. UK
I have read quite a few posts giving the advice that you should generally avoid pieces way beyond your ability when choosing music to practice and play. This has always seemed extremely good sensible advice - I've always assumed the main concerns being the potential for serious injury and the loss of confidence and motivation arising from lack of progress.

I know there are quite a few on PW who extol the virtues of taking on "big", "difficult" pieces so my stance is nothing new, I just wanted to share some of my recent experiences.

The only reason I returned to the piano after many years was the download of 3 pieces of sheet music way beyond my ability, Chopin Op10 3 and 12 and Chopin Fantaisie Impromptu. Having practiced them sporadically over the last few years I made a small amount of progress from the grade 5/6 level I reached as a child.

About a year and a half ago I decided to take things more seriously and practice more regularly. I realised I needed to play some pieces that I might actually be able to play more competently - I added some Bach, Mozart and Beethoven to that end.

A year and a half on I am practicing more than ever, totally in love with playing and practicing the piano. The main driving force remains the same, playing pieces beyond my ability.

In the last year I have been "playing' and practicing the opening of the Liszt B Minor Sonata. The influence it has had on my playing has been immense. I remember the thread where the merits of the Sonata were discussed - it is definitely one of my all time favourites. The breadth of technique, experience and motivation I have gained from playing it cannot be over emphasised. Last week when I allowed myself to sight read/stumble through the magnificent "Grandioso" section I was so relieved to find there were no stretches beyond my capabilities.

Obviously I will never achieve "Argerich" type speed or contol but the knock on effect for the rest of my playing has been profound. Fantasie Impromptu is not far off, Op 10 No3 is coming on and the oscillating LH on the Pathetique Mov1 is showing signs of control.

I just feel that if I'd stuck to pieces clearly within my "ability" I would not be practicing as much or as keenly as I am now.

Chris

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#520485 - 02/22/09 05:49 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13706
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I only see two hazards:

1) drilling the piece into the ground with poor technique until you develop an injury

2) spending so much time on it that you neglect developing a usable, polished repertoire

As long as you can avoid those two things, I say go for it.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#520486 - 02/22/09 05:54 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
If you are a kid who has have never climbed a tree before, how scary does it get as you get nearer the top? Which is easier, getting up? Or getting down again? And, how high was the tree that you chose to climb in the first place? Bet it felt a lot bigger than it looked!

I asked my 12 year old son those questions some time in the late 1970's when he spent 30 days in traction in a hospital bed 30 miles from home. Did not get out of bed for 30 days for any reason. A magnificent shoulder injury!

Of course this is a physical outcome from a severe accident involving apple trees, and here we are talking about playing the piano above your head.

I've over exaggerated, yes. But, the comparison has some of the same credulity to it - over your head is over your head. Isn't that enough to make you consider not doing it?

This same young man went on as a teenager to like to take sunbaths on the peak of the roof - once or twice he got away with it.

He is our mountain goat, and the scaler of heights and adventures, he has built airplanes for Boeing as a profession since his early 20's.

So, some will attempt over their head piano playing anyway....and think it created no problem to do so. You'd be surprized the affect it may have had on you.

Some pianists learn best by keeping a steady pace over a long road, and others shoot for the incline. "Greased logging poles" for anyone?"

Each to his own.

Betty

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#520487 - 02/22/09 06:35 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
packa Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/05
Posts: 1397
Loc: Dallas, TX
For me, it isn't so much dangerous as it is a waste of time. There is so much challenging yet accessible repertoire for me that I just don't want to give up huge chunks of time to a single piece that is too far out there. My goal isn't a specific piece or class of pieces; it is the process of continual but efficient improvement.
_________________________
Paul Buchanan
Estonia L168 #1718

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#520488 - 02/22/09 06:41 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
Assessing a composition's difficulty is so subjective, given that everyone's background, areas of proficiency and goals are different. I think that it can be tough for musicians to judge our capabilities accurately, too, without overestimating our expertise or selling ourselves short.

So what are the real benchmarks for discerning our potential? How can we know if something represents a suitable challenge or an insurmountable barrier until we try it? And once we try, how do we gauge whether we're rising to the occasion or foundering?

I continue to adhere to the idea that, in theory, a modest venture beyond one's comfort zone makes more sense than an extravagant one. For everything in-between, for which the determination is unclear and the result unpredictable, I think the best measure of feasiblility is whether one makes measurable progress at a tolerable pace and benefits from the experience—but that's a subjective matter of personal opinion, too!

Oh dang, maybe it just comes down to "Whatever works." \:\)

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#520489 - 02/22/09 06:50 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19099
Loc: New York City
I think it's not a choice between dangerous or challenging. I think it is only rarely possible to harm oneself by trying pieces that are way too difficult. Challenging is OK, as long as the challenge is appropriate and reasonable in realtion to where one's playing level is now.

IMHO if one is struggling with the Pathetique or Chopin Op.10,No.3 then the Liszt Sonata is frankly silly. I would guess that maybe 1 in 1000 pianists(and I'm not one of them)will ever have the technique or the musicianship to perform this piece no matter how long they practice it. So what's the point?

I think there are fantastic works at almost every level that can be as motivating as some piece that is really not possible. The trouble may be that some people are not familiar with them.

I think time spent on pieces too far above one's level that one can really not hope to play even just passably well is wasted time that could be spent learning to play easier works that are still masterpieces. For me this approach is much more rewarding.

For example, there are some Chopin Preludes Waltzes, and Mazurkas and Brahms Intermezzi that I would guess are technically within the reach of good intermediate pianists. And these works are IMHO complete masterpieces.

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#520490 - 02/22/09 07:35 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
pianist.ame Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/18/07
Posts: 1164
Loc: Singapore
I think the pieces that I ever started learning that was beyond my ability: 1st op.10 no.4, followed by op.10 no.5 and finally op.10 no.8(2+yrs ago).
It happened when I just started ARCT for 6 months and my teacher decided that it was time for me to learn a chopin etude. She gave me easier options like: op.10 no.6& op.25 no.7. As well as others like: op.25 no.11 but i did'nt want any of those.
I struggled through op.10 no.8, it took me more then a year before I succeeded in playing it really well.

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#520491 - 02/22/09 07:43 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
Andromaque Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/08
Posts: 3885
Loc: New York
I agree with PLUS, as does my teacher. There is is so much to be learned from so-called "lesser" repertoire and so little time. It is not just about how developed one's technique is, since many pianists can be quite determined, and will eventually get through a difficult passage by the strength of their will. But it is about musicianship, fluency and exposure to a wide repertoire. Spending an entire year learning one piece is counterproductive IMHO, unless it is being polished for a recording or the equivalent.
I can hear Gyro marching in..

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#520492 - 02/23/09 12:51 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
lisztonian Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/29/07
Posts: 266
I had been playing piano for only a couple of months when i decided to learn Liszt's paganini etude 2 when i clearly wasnt ready. I think it was the right choice because it improved my technique greatly.
_________________________
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#520493 - 02/23/09 01:07 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
 Quote:
Originally posted by rinforzando:
I had been playing piano for only a couple of months when i decided to learn Liszt's paganini etude 2 when i clearly wasnt ready. I think it was the right choice because it improved my technique greatly. [/b]
Why do you say that you clearly weren't ready? If in retrospect you consider it was the right choice and believe it benefited you, doesn't that mean that you were ready for it after all?

As I suggested in my earlier post, I think the traditional yardsticks for readiness—whatever they are—should be questioned.

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#520494 - 02/23/09 01:52 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
Sometimes it is just problem solving.

You need to ask yourself why is this piece beyond my means? Or, why is it challenging? And take it from there. If you can figure out a way to achieve what you want by means of basic and logical techinique, ie, efficiency of movement, balance, expansion/contraction, relaxation, etc... really a challenging piece can teach you quite a bit. Even if you are not quite ready. Then again you may surprised and you may be able to accomplish what you thought was beyond your means. No harm in my opinion, you will know when you are ready or when you're not.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher,
member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation

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#520495 - 02/23/09 03:51 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7427
I've always played and been motivated by difficult and big pieces way beyond my ability. It's what I enjoyed doing and since I was not working towards a real performance, I don't see that it mattered. But slowly, the internet is changing my perspective, because I've realized that I can record something at home and upload it to share with people, without actually going through the trauma of playing live in front of people. That's intriguing, and so I've cut back a little on my speculative playing of pieces way beyond my reach, and am concentrating just a little more on things that are more reasonable for me. At least they seem more reasonable right now...we'll see how that works out.

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#520496 - 02/23/09 05:55 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
Mocheol Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/16/08
Posts: 527
Loc: Dublin, Ireland
You wont know your limitations until you go to the edge of whats possible.

If your going to fall over that edge get some help to stop you.

With a little help from your friends you might just be able to climb a little higher than you ever believed you could.

If you cant make it, relax, ease back down to some of the gentler slopes and enjoy, but always dream of one day scaling those distant peaks.
_________________________
vcz

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#520497 - 02/23/09 07:06 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11187
Loc: Canada
Pianobuff, wise words worth repeating:
 Quote:
You need to ask yourself why is this piece beyond my means? Or, why is it challenging? And take it from there. If you can figure out a way to achieve what you want by means of basic and logical techinique, ie, efficiency of movement, balance, expansion/contraction, relaxation, etc... really a challenging piece can teach you quite a bit. Even if you are not quite ready.
Betty, perhaps it's not a question of whether we should climb trees, but making sure that on the way up we also know the route back down. In other words, not blind climbing. The very act of taking up music is risk taking, and if we constantly cling cautiously to the railings of what we know and can already do, we won't go far.

I would rather think that it is a matter of balance and good judgement.

There was a powerful episode on one Treck. Captain Picard was ashamed of his foolish behaviour as a young man, and was given a chance to relive that episode in his life, fixing his mistake. As a young man he had foolishly confronted a creature of a race that had super-human strength, out of pride and indignation. He had an artificial heart because of this (It's Star Treck ;\) ). The captain is allowed to relive this incident. He is prudent and cautious, and gets to keep his natural heart. Then time goes on, and we see Picard, not a captain, always in subordinate positions, waiting to get noticed. He has the same potential and intelligence, of course, but he does not become a captain. Finally he begs to be allowed to have his present life back, mistakes, foolish youthful risk taking and all.

I read a saying, "Wisdom is what we earn through our mistakes." We just have to make sure those mistakes are not ones that cause irreversible harm. As before, it is a matter of balance.

Similarly, I was once given the task of translating a series of inspirational quotes from Plato to Churchill. Many of the greatest leaders in thought or deed cited *mistakes* and *failure* as a factor of their success. They climbed high so they fell often. The difference between these people and others is that they picked themselves up after falling and started climbing again.

Depending on the balance between adventure and wisdom, your son might have reached some interesting things in life. We also have to have a goal, and a way of getting there.

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#520498 - 02/23/09 07:41 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Keystring,

You're right that we need to learn from our mistakes. The first thing would be are we aware that we are making mistakes? Then, what to do about it? Providing one had the interest and stamina to do something about it.

The ego is a funny thing, it sometimes keeps things from us that we really need to know. We need to know when there is delusion and justification going on. With denial we can't make progress as we haven't admitted there is a problem.

I think one of the things we do in facing our mistakes is that we take charge of ourselves and we apply some discipline when needed and we learn to manage our work load and balance out with social and recreation to be well rounded.

Youth is a great opportunity to learn if we would take it. Elder years are our last opportunity to face the things we ignored or fell through the cracks on.

The reason why I used sports to show that we know when we make a mistake is that it is so visible, anyone seeing a stumble or incomplete move is going to "Ohhh!" with the defeat.

In piano playing we gloss over those things and keep moving on the keyboard through the song, and then turn the page to see what else is in the book. We like our spontaneity in music more than we live our discipline....as though it doesn't matter what we do, or how we do it.

A little attention to something could make a big difference and it might take 60 seconds or 5 minutes, but it would be well worth the time and effort.

If we could only be accountable to our best interests and the reward of reaching our goals.

If we work hard we should reward ourselves with something tangible to acknowledge that we stuck with it and did it and made progress.

My mother admonished me greatly in everything I did, be careful, think, think twice! So life has been kind of a game of looking at choices and obstacles to weigh the better way before I start off. I've really tried with that one, it's been such an influence with me, and probably the reason for my systems and strategies, attempts at organizing or prioritizing.

Learning has been a great adventure, and now learning what I don't know, is even more of a good adventure.

Betty

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#520499 - 02/23/09 07:58 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19099
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by rinforzando:
I had been playing piano for only a couple of months when i decided to learn Liszt's paganini etude 2 when i clearly wasnt ready. I think it was the right choice because it improved my technique greatly. [/b]
Are you talking about the E flat Etude beginning on page 13 of this link?
http://imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/0/...er_Paganini.pdf

If so, I frankly can't imagine anyone in the history of piano playing being able to play this after only two months.

What's up?

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#520500 - 02/23/09 08:00 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11187
Loc: Canada
Betty, to begin with, our goals as music students and teachers of these students, consists of getting underlying skills and knowledge. "The next piece in the book" is not a consideration at all. That would be a shallow attitude that I don't think is held by many people in PW who are students. Rather, we want to know what things we need to learn and we are aware that these things fit together.

The field behind my home got turned into 200 houses and I watched this "village" go up. An enormous amount of time was spent preparing the groundwork: leveling the ground, holes for basements, underground piping for sewage and gas lines perhaps. The foundations that would serve the structure of these houses took forever. The houses themselves sprang up like mushrooms. Our mastery of music is very much like that. The pieces are mere ornaments: a thing to practise with. I think most ABFers have this attitude, whatever particular approach they may take.

But there is a balance between daring to try new things, and carefulness. Your own recent posts reflect that. In one you addressed me about cautiousness. In another you addressed a student urging cautiousness. On the surface it is opposing advice, yet there is no contradiction. The truth is that there is a balance between two things. We must be ready to try new things, and venture into what we cannot yet do. If we only do what we can already do, we will not go anywhere. But if we do it foolishly, we learn wrongly, or hurt our progress.

Pianobuff's idea is to get at the underlying things: why is this difficult - what do I need to learn. At which point you are starting off where you need to start off. Essentially to me it seems to address this same balance. I think we're all saying the same thing.

KS

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#520501 - 02/23/09 08:36 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
Arabesque Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/16/05
Posts: 548
Loc: Japan
I've regularly knocked down difficult technical passages in many repertoire to my suprise. And then there are others like the Scriabin etudes that seem almost but not quite under me. I've left behind a few wrecks like Tausig Bach Toccatta and Fugue and his Schubert March Militaire. I'm not in a hurry to get back to them.

A lot of my relatively tough pieces such as Scriabin 5/12, Chopin 25/12, Chopin 12/10 Rach 5/23 are defective. And when I play them it is true that the technical hurdles trip me.
I practice them anyway but know I make hard work of some places. Then again, I am probably being too critical as I can play them quite fluently up to speed with score.

I also play the easier pieces that have earned me more praise such as Gershwin Prelude No 2 or Scriabin etude 2/1. What I percieve is that playing is more integrated, fingering, pedaling, co-ordinated and certain, movements are relaxed and even. I would have no hesitation in performing those tommorrow.

So I am trying to transfer the same assuredness I feel from easier repertoire into more difficult repertoire. This does work subliminally. Although piano teachers work a lot on explaining the ins and outs, most of our learning goes on unconsiously and this can be good thing. However, it can be a bad thing if one unconsciously absorbs a bad technique whilst playing away with abandon. So I would very strongly advise you not to run away with the excitement a piece offers. Etudes practiced with care are powerful technique builders even in sections which is why I have spent time on them. Revisit the easier repertoire to consolidate. Pieces like Mozart sonatas, Haydn, Mendelssohn song's Without Words.
_________________________
It don't mean a ting if it don't have dat swing

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#520502 - 02/23/09 10:49 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17671
Loc: Victoria, BC
There have been a few platitudes and some specious analogies written in this thread that, while they may underline some of the general principles of learning, seem to have only tenuous bearing on piano study and on the original question.

What can we learn from working on a piece that is so far beyond our ability that it takes months - if not years - to even begin to control the technical challenges? If the ultimate goal of working on a piece is to perform it and if we can't hope to perform a particular because of its extreme technical challenges, what is the point of spending an inordinate amount of time on it? Given that pieces of lesser difficulty will help develop our technique and skills in incremental stages and will, at the same time, add "completed" pieces to our repertoire, shouldn’t we stay within a reasonable grasp when we choose repertoire?

No one has yet addressed the question in this thread of sustainability. Has no one had the experience of unadvisably - but with boundless enthusiasm - tackling a work that is much beyond his ability only to find after several months of passionate but somewhat fruitless efforts that the work has lost its charm and appeal? If the work in question is so difficult that we eventually have to abandon it, it was not a wise choice in the first place. Yes, we may have, in the process, worked on some technique, but that could have been done with better results with a better choice of repertoire.

I don’t buy the argument that one has to work on a piece for some time to know whether or not it is within one’s grasp. A few play-throughs of a work should determine whether or not studying it will result in being able to play it within what one considers a reasonable amount of time. When life is so short and when there is so much repertoire available for our instrument, I just can't see the logic of spending an excessive amount of time in a struggle that won't yield musical results and the satisfaction of accomplishment.
_________________________
BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190 in satin ebony
Writing from Paris until 15 May, 2014

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#520503 - 02/23/09 11:01 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
Andromaque Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/08
Posts: 3885
Loc: New York
I think the key element to keep in mind is that piano playing and learning is a life long continuum. Playing the piano well is painstakingly incremental and there is no replacement for the time axis even in the case of highly talented "naturals". So attacking a piece that is well beyond one's limit may be possible but will tax one's resources (time, energy)and its benefits are not proportional to the effort required to achieve the task. Any positive kick one gets is bound to be short lived and, I would argue, not likely to hugely impact progress. For some, such a kick is motivating but I would keep it at a low dose.

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#520504 - 02/23/09 11:37 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
 Quote:
Originally posted by BruceD:
[...] I just can't see the logic of spending an excessive amount of time in a struggle that won't yield musical results and the satisfaction of accomplishment. [/b]
Bruce,

Your final sentence gives me pause because, ultimately, judgments concerning what's "excessive," "a struggle" and even "musical results" are relative and personal; surely it's taken for granted that the "satisfaction of accomplishment" is idiosyncratic.

I think we are all far too different as individuals to imagine that our own definitions of these terms should have relevance for others. "Different strokes" and "Whatever works" may be platitudes, but who would accept that satisfaction of accomplishment can be judged by anyone other than the agonist in an endeavor or the practitioner of an avocation?

I'm still interested in how one determines what's beyond one's ability if not by giving it a try. Can there be concrete criteria? Playing through a piece one or more times is not a satisfactory gauge for me because advanced repertoire frequently contains pianistic devices that defy prima vista performance; this doesn't mean that they can't be learned within a timeframe I consider reasonable, with minimal struggle, yielding results that are musical to my ears, and giving me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#520505 - 02/23/09 11:58 AM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Keystring,

Your analogy to building a house is very good.

Building a house or building a music piece takes the time it is going to take because the process is highly blueprinted, timed, ensembled, much in the way that in music something is drawn to represent the exact music the composer intended - an organization chart.

Also is the factor that it is organized systems building in construction of a home - first the foundation, then frame work, siding, insulation electrical, heating/ventilation/air-conditioning, windows, plumbing, sheet rock, interior work - painting, carpeting, to bring up to living standard, and finally a roof. When completed it is a finished, move in ready house.
(excuse the mess, I may be out of order here)

It took lots of manhours and special skills to accomplish this. It came at a high price (cost of housing) and it will require maintenance in it's long life.

Wouldn't you think that the path to being an accomplished piano player would take a long period of time too, after all it is the brain and the smaller digets of the body learning to work together in a highly trained way, with precision and accuracy.


Andromaque said it well: "......piano playing and learning is a life long continuum. Playing the piano well is painstakingly incremental and there is no replacement for the time axis even in the case of highly talented "naturals". So attacking a piece that is well beyond one's limit may be possible but will tax one's resources (time, energy) and its benefits are not proportional to the effort required to achieve the task."

What is so important is the sequence of using increasingly more difficult music while disciplining the body/brain/hand to handle the challenge. You can't play anything well if you haven't prepared well.

You might go above your head occasionally, but you should not be stunted in your approach to new music, uncertainty rears it's ugly head.

It must be mostly within your realm of skill to do musical work while learning a new piece. No stopping and starting while you figure it out and put it sorely into place with bandaids and ointment. Painful to watch, painful to listen to, it produces nothing but pain. Why go there?

Betty

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#520506 - 02/23/09 12:36 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
toucanjunky Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/15/08
Posts: 95
Loc: London. UK
Thanks for the many, varied and thought provoking responses.

I appreciate that my personal approach to the piano might irritate those who see a more efficient, methodical strategy as the way to go.

The discussion throws up all sorts of questions as to our ultimate goals - do we need to be able to perform ultimately, recorded or live? Is the practicing, learning and playing for yourself enough in it's own right? Is the dissection of a masterpiece to a slowed down study almost an affront to those who can really tackle it?

A simplistic view would be to do what makes you happy. In my case, like many, this is a highly complex equation. How much enjoyment comes from steady measurable improvement? Do I need my friends/family/PW members telling me I'm doing well to boost my ego? Maybe I don't play (so many) easier pieces because they wouldn't be up to some notional standard.

I am in no doubt that if I'm lucky enough to carry on playing regularly, my approach will evolve and my method will improve.

My very personal journey involves "playing" pieces my Dad used to play, I just hope he isn't turning in his grave. Somewhere deep down I believe I will be good enough one day to do some of these pieces justice. Even if I'm being totally deluded I love the way piano has become such a big part of my life.

Chris

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#520507 - 02/23/09 01:00 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 10771
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
There have been times when I've pulled out a piece way beyond my ability because I loved it. I didn't know it was beyond my ability, but I just tried it out. After some time when it became obvious that I wouldn't be able to get it up to speed, I would get disinterested and set it aside. Then when I woudl revisit it a year or two later, it would be much easier, and I would realize then that I was ready. I don't think this was harmful or a waste of time at all. I think every once in a while venturing outside of one's comfort zone to see just where that line is that is your "level" can be a good thing. I wouldn't recommend it all the time though. Because you won't progress that much, not as much as if you worked on several other pieces that could actually get you to be ready for that piece. Sure, you may learn a thing or two, but if you neglect the concept of being able to learn something by playing many different pieces at your level as opposed to one giant that is too hard, you will actually hamper your progress.

I give my students challenges every once in a while, and then we step back after that and work on things that are more at their level.
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#520508 - 02/23/09 01:04 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
babama Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/08
Posts: 800
Loc: Netherlands
I am in a somewhat similar situation (see http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/ubb/ultimatebb.php?/topic/2/20354.html).
Learning those (at the time) advanced pieces was a big challenge, but I am really happy that I did it. The hard work pays off in the end and I've learned so much from it.

If you have previous playing experience, I think you could try and see how far you can take it. Explore the limits of your (learning & playing) abilities and you will gradually find out what is doable and what is really too advanced.
If you feel you could eventually play a challenging piece on a decent level, and you don't mind studying on it for a long time, why not? As long as there is improvement, keep going!

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#520509 - 02/23/09 01:32 PM Re: Practicing pieces above your ability - dangerous or challenging?
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Kreisler sees two difficulties. This is one of them:

 Quote:
drilling the piece into the ground with poor technique until you develop an injury
I agree with this, and sometimes the difficulties aren't that apparent. A number of months ago I decided to learn Beethoven Opus 90. At first, both movements seemed well within my grasp, except for the ascending 10ths in the first movement. I got ahead of my teacher and started drilling these passages, and very shortly I was over stretching my thumb and my pinkie, and it was beginning to hurt. Shortly after my teacher taught me how to deal with the mechanics of these passages, relaxing my thumb and pinkie, and allowing a more flexible wrist to come into play. I'm now nearly up to tempo, and it is totally comfortable.

I bring it up because it looked easy to me, and actually, these two passages were beyond my technique, and I could have done real damage very easily.

I have worked on pieces previously that were well beyond me--and without a teacher--and I was able to drill them through to completion without injury. But I was lucky. It's a dicey thing to attempt, and I advise against it.

Tomasino
_________________________
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10


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