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#603839 - 08/14/05 09:55 PM Mental or technical difficulties?
Suz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/10/05
Posts: 269
Loc: Midwest
Hi everyone,
I've been thinking about this issue for some time now and I'd like your opinion and advice. After you reach a certain level of technical proficiency on an instrument, do you find the primary stumbling block that prevents you from making progress to be technical or mental?

A few years ago, I had an interesting experience learning the solo viola part to Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante. The last thing that is played is an E-flat major arpeggio and scale that spans 3 octaves. I couldn't get through this without messing up, until my teacher told me to divide it up mentally into specific groupings. After that, no problem! I didn't practice it harder, I just thought about that passage differently.

So that got me thinking about music in which I can work through the technical difficulties, but miss the overall concept of the piece. Like the 3rd Chopin Ballade (for just one example)--I can play through each section, but can't make this piece work as a whole. What is up with this? Is there any way to improve this, or am I stuck playing at my current level forever? Is this something that can be improved with more hours of practicing, or does it require a different mental approach (or both)?

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#603840 - 08/15/05 12:14 AM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5067
Loc: Philadelphia
 Quote:
I can play through each section, but can't make this piece work as a whole. What is up with this?

Is this something that can be improved with more hours of practicing, or does it require a different mental approach (or both)?
It'll require both. The likely reason is in something that happens during the transition from section to section, or something that happens throughout the piece (like a gradual tensing that works its way in over time).

Either way, you'll have to work it out, and I'm way too tired and way to hopped up on oreo cookies to comment much further, so I'll leave it for one of the teachers. ;\)
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#603841 - 08/15/05 04:39 AM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Ronel Augustyn Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/14/05
Posts: 527
Loc: Bloemfontein,SA
I think you can have a mental "block" over something, but actually you ARE able to do it.

For example, when I was like 9 or ten, I believed that I couldn't play anything fast pieces as well as staccato's - can you believe I had a hang-up over stupid staccato's!

Anyway, so every year when me and my teacher was selecting my pieces, I would immediately reject a fast or staccato piece.

I don't even remember when the change came - one day I just said, to hell with this and started doing other pieces - and discovered that it actually was not that hard!

Okay, maybe this is sort of a stupid example, but it just shows you - It's all in the mind...
_________________________
lallie

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#603842 - 08/15/05 08:06 AM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Antonius Hamus Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/24/05
Posts: 2230
You should have a clear concept about the piece of music that you play ("aural images" encompassing the whole piece). Then, all you need is the technique to realize the concept (certain hand positions and fingerings might be crucial in this). To have a clear concept of the piece, you need to know how to group the notes mentally, etc., but that's all in the sheet music*.

So, auralize the music in your mind, and let your hands and fingers do their job. But if you're not on that level yet, take some time to find the best hand positions and fingerings, and keep refining the physical movements until the sounds they produce match the mental sound-images in your mind (the concept you want to realize). You should also feel some emotions when you play a piece, because if your technique is at all decent, they unconsciously affect your touch, phrasing, and everything. You're actually never getting any real re-creation done if you have to concentrate on mechanical things, like making the physical movements so that the sound matches what you want to achieve . . . you should have a concept of the feelings inherent in the piece, and then feel the piece while playing it, and let your technique unconsciously do the job of producing the proper sounds.

*The notes should be perceived as such groups as the sheet music indicates (i.e. if the time is 6/8, there are six beats per bar that divide the notes into their proper "small groups", and the actual visual arrangement reveals the bigger groups that the composer had in mind when he noted down his musical ideas . . . but there may be some kind of exceptions, I suppose). Sometimes there is a ritardando to show the structure of the piece (like in the eight bar of Chopin's Op. 10 no. 9), but that's different...

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#603843 - 08/15/05 11:08 AM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
8ude Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 2050
I always believed that a large part of being able to play piano is being able to "play" a piece in your head. Obviously you need some technical aspects in the hands, but ultimately it's your brain that's running the show - so much of playing piano is mental. If you feel like you're stuck at your current level, then it sounds to me like a mental thing.

Have you mentioned this to your teacher? Does he/she have any advice? In my opinion, it might be a good idea to take a short break from playing and then come back to it with a different mindset. It's easier said than done, but what you've described doesn't sound like a technical problem to me.

Good luck.
_________________________
What you are is an accident of birth. What I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been a thousand princes and there will be a thousand more. There is one Beethoven.

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#603844 - 08/15/05 01:42 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
Suz,

As 8ude says, see if you can play the piece in your head. This helps because your hand will follow. The other thing that helps is to sing the music to yourself. If you hear it in your mind, you can follow that along, and project your mental playing and sound into your real piano playing. This in effect will help you play smoother because you will have heard the music already.

John
_________________________
Nothing.

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#603845 - 08/15/05 02:48 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19097
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by Suz:
The last thing that is played is an E-flat major arpeggio and scale that spans 3 octaves. I couldn't get through this without messing up, until my teacher told me to divide it up mentally into specific groupings. After that, no problem! I didn't practice it harder, I just thought about that passage differently.
[/b]
In a master class a few weeks ago at the Mannes IKI a student in Vladimir Shakin's class was struggling with the notoriously technically difficult part in the first movement Beethoven's Les Adieux Sonata (the part with lots of chords played rapidly in the right hand). Shakin made the same suggestion your teacher made about thinking of this passage as groups of several smaller passages. The student played it without much effort immediately!

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#603846 - 08/15/05 03:09 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
Pianoloverus says:
"In a master class a few weeks ago at the Mannes IKI a student in Vladimir Shakin's class was struggling with the notoriously technically difficult part in the first movement Beethoven's Les Adieux Sonata (the part with lots of chords played rapidly in the right hand). Shakin made the same suggestion your teacher made about thinking of this passage as groups of several smaller passages. The student played it without much effort immediately!"

This really does work! Once the problem is worked out, the section is probably the most solid in the whole piece.

I did a read through of that sonata the other day as I've been planning on working on it seriously at some point. That section, among others in the last movement, is not easy at all and does require the break up and chop apart method.

John
_________________________
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#603847 - 08/15/05 03:33 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
Sorry, but I am somewhat less than impressed
with that demonstration at the Mannes' master
class. The student already had the piece
in hand--would someone show up at one of those
classes without the piece in hand? This
is the old "second time through is always
better" parlor trick. The student plays it
through the first time and struggles a bit
in the most difficult section. The instructor
then seizes the opportunity to demonstrate
his "teaching prowess" and says a few words,
and then the student plays the difficult
section again, but of course this time--
the second time through--he'll play it
better. But it appears to the onlookers
that the instructor's words had an almost
magical effect on the student's playing.

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#603848 - 08/15/05 04:20 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
canaday Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/30/05
Posts: 328
Loc: Petaluma, CA
Would it make sense to doodle in the transitions? Explore what directions Chopin didn't take, and maybe that will help to clarify it.

I'm reading a very interesting book, The Perfect Wrong Note, by William Westney, that discusses the idea of finding the "negative space" in music.

He suggests there is enormous value in exploring what wasn't written; i.e., understanding what is not part of the piece is a way of understanding what is. He fully endorses the creative striking of wrong notes, wrong tempi and wrong dynamics in the engaged, exploratory way that small children learn. Perhaps this can be extended to a more macro understanding of the overall concept of the piece.

I am too much of a beginner myself to fully understand what he means by all this, but it's been very helpful for practicing and listening in a more engaged way.

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#603849 - 08/15/05 04:25 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Contrapunctus Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/08/05
Posts: 808
Loc: Whittier, California
Goodness, Gyro, I didn't know that teachers did that!!!!

Playing music is all in the brain. You should sing the piece in your head as you play. Your hands will automatically do what is in your head. Of course, if you get tense, you can have technical problems. Make sure the action on your piano is not too heavy. Also, remember that piano playing is all in your fingers. There's no good reason to tense up your hand or arm.
_________________________
I don't know what the meaning of life is- I'm too busy to figure it out.

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#603850 - 08/15/05 07:04 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
pianodevo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/29/02
Posts: 836
Hi Suz,

To comment on your original question, the further I go with piano, the more I find it is mental.

Of course "ya gotta have the chops," as one of my teachers put it. But my experience is that for someone of your level, working on the mental level will advance your playing the fastest.

That is, (a)Try to understand the * musical ideas* the composer wished to communicate in the score, especially with parts that give you trouble; for example, taking a bit of extra time within a passage might not only solve a technical problem, but also might be musically indicated; and (b) When practicing, use every possible device to overcome technical hurdles -- but realize it's the (subconscious) mind that will be playing the piece when you finish, so it is essential to know the piece mentally as well as possible.

A little example of (b): I am reviewing the B flat Prelude from Book I of Bach's WTC, a wonderful, joy-filled piece IMHO. Around the middle of the piece, the right hand accompaniment plays three fast note figures, something like "B-F#-B", then continues the accompaniment with many similar figures. I was having trouble until realizing that each three-note RH accompanimental pattern repeated,[/b] then a new three-note pattern ensued. That mental realization solved all of my technical problems with that section of the piece.
_________________________
pianodevo

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#603851 - 08/15/05 07:11 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19097
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by Gyro:
Sorry, but I am somewhat less than impressed
with that demonstration at the Mannes' master
class. The student already had the piece
in hand--would someone show up at one of those
classes without the piece in hand? This
is the old "second time through is always
better" parlor trick. The student plays it
through the first time and struggles a bit
in the most difficult section. The instructor
then seizes the opportunity to demonstrate
his "teaching prowess" and says a few words,
and then the student plays the difficult
section again, but of course this time--
the second time through--he'll play it
better. But it appears to the onlookers
that the instructor's words had an almost
magical effect on the student's playing. [/b]
I find these comments very cynical. Were you at this master class or are your comments speculation?

In fact many students at this particular two week long piano festival perform works in the master classes that are quite new to them and far from completely learned(although I don't know if this was the case in this class). Having attended more than 10 of Shakin's master classes, I am sure he has absolutely no interest in impressing anyone with his "teaching prowess". He is the most serious mucician and teacher imaginable.

And in this particular case, my very strong impression was that the student had *always* struggled with this paricular passage(as do many pianists)until she got this advice from Shakin, i.e. it was not a "second time through is always better parlour trick". I believe Shakin is a very great teacher and performer and your comments are unfairly insulting to him.

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#603852 - 08/15/05 09:23 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Suz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/10/05
Posts: 269
Loc: Midwest
Thanks for all your comments and suggestions. As I mentioned, I have been thinking about this quite a bit. Probably too much of the wrong kind of thinking and not enought practicing! But it's interesting (for me, anyway) to consider how people learn.

I've practiced mental visualization for short excerpts in the past with good success, but not too much with entire pieces. Something to work on.

 Quote:
Originally posted by Gyro:
Sorry, but I am somewhat less than impressed
with that demonstration at the Mannes' master
class. [/b]
Well, I can believe it because it happened to me! Of course, I still went home and practiced that passage like mad, and worried about it throughout the whole darned piece because it happens at the VERY END. :rolleyes: But it all came out ok, because I nailed it in the performance. \:D

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#603853 - 08/15/05 11:37 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Opus_Maximus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/27/04
Posts: 1458
 Quote:
Originally posted by Gyro:
Sorry, but I am somewhat less than impressed
with that demonstration at the Mannes' master
class. The student already had the piece
in hand--would someone show up at one of those
classes without the piece in hand? This
is the old "second time through is always
better" parlor trick. The student plays it
through the first time and struggles a bit
in the most difficult section. The instructor
then seizes the opportunity to demonstrate
his "teaching prowess" and says a few words,
and then the student plays the difficult
section again, but of course this time--
the second time through--he'll play it
better. But it appears to the onlookers
that the instructor's words had an almost
magical effect on the student's playing. [/b]
With all due respect, that's ludicrous.

It's true that we always perform better the second time through simply because we're more relaxed onstage by this point, but
I'm sure that the student struggled again with that part a second time because I happen to know that particular passage and how notoriously difficult it is, and he probably improved due to Shakins comments. Even if in fact he played it correctly the second time because he was more at ease, I can still assure you that it was not some little scheme that the professor had brewing up beforehand to make a good impression of himself.

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#603854 - 08/16/05 01:30 AM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
pianistcomposer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/12/05
Posts: 312
Loc: Baltimore, MD, USA
 Quote:
Originally posted by Contrapunctus:
Also, remember that piano playing is all in your fingers. [/b]
That's simply not true. That's like saying breathing is all in the face. It's the larger muscles that must do the brunt of the work (unless, of course, you *want* to exhaust yourself needlessly).
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#603855 - 08/17/05 04:41 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Contrapunctus Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/08/05
Posts: 808
Loc: Whittier, California
I think that Glenn Gould thought that pinao playing is in the fingers. So did his teacher. That's why they sat low; it put them in a perfect position to use their fingers more than arm dropping.
_________________________
I don't know what the meaning of life is- I'm too busy to figure it out.

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#603856 - 08/17/05 05:22 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Theodore Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/24/05
Posts: 335
Loc: San Antonio, Texas
I recommend that the actual music being written on with your own notes. Each difficult phrase should be "chorded" according to music theory, in more difficult passages, the theory is hard and the chord changes are not easy to see. After reading a score and making notations, the fluid flow of music begins to take shape, making it easier to visualize yourself playing the passage simply by reading it as literature, deciphering what it does. Perhaps this may make a case for the challenge as being more mental than physical. Which means, as you state, you already developed the skills and technique, it is a matter of application of the theory, the score into your playing. Merge is the word here, what you know, how you play, at the same time. With repetition becomes practice, then perfection.
_________________________
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Alamo Music Center
San Antonio,Texas

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#603857 - 08/17/05 06:01 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19097
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by Contrapunctus:
I think that Glenn Gould thought that pinao playing is in the fingers. So did his teacher. That's why they sat low; it put them in a perfect position to use their fingers more than arm dropping. [/b]
That method would only work for around 1% at most of pisnists IMHO. And I bet Gould used a lot more than fingers when he played La Valse.

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#603858 - 08/18/05 02:50 AM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Orlando Gibbons Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/14/01
Posts: 848
Loc: CA
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
 Quote:
Originally posted by Contrapunctus:
I think that Glenn Gould thought that pinao playing is in the fingers. So did his teacher. That's why they sat low; it put them in a perfect position to use their fingers more than arm dropping. [/b]
That method would only work for around 1% at most of pisnists IMHO. And I bet Gould used a lot more than fingers when he played La Valse. [/b]
Good point, pianoloverus. I remember Gould took flight from his chair quite a few times to gain leverage for the more physical passages of his La Valse transcription. At any rate, Gould used quite a good deal of elbow-->wrist action in his normal manner of playing.
_________________________
"See?! The Cliffs of Insanity!"

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#603859 - 08/18/05 07:15 AM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19097
Loc: New York City
I am curious if anyone knows if Gould's version of La Valse was his own or Ravel's(or someone else's)version?

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#603860 - 08/18/05 05:20 PM Re: Mental or technical difficulties?
Contrapunctus Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/08/05
Posts: 808
Loc: Whittier, California
It was his own version.
I don't think he could play the piano in anything else but his chair. If he did not have the chair, he knelt or used something like a wastebasket to sit on.
_________________________
I don't know what the meaning of life is- I'm too busy to figure it out.

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