Define "getting better"

Posted by: CebuKid

Define "getting better" - 05/26/12 06:59 PM

I know this is sort of an open-ended question/survey, but I just wanted to see what you guys consider getting better.

Also, I wanted to assess my own adult piano career of almost 4 years, and see what others consider "getting better". I have my own thoughts on this, but would like others' insights. smile

For example is getting better: taking on and successfully playing harder pieces, being able to play more musically, reading or sight-reading music at a faster rate, being able to play faster when appropriate, etc.?
Posted by: Rickster

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/26/12 07:22 PM

Well, I wish I was "getting better"... when I go back and take a look at some of my older YouTube music videos from a few years ago, it seems like I could play better back then. smile

Don't know what happened... I thought I was suppose to "get better" as opposed to "getting worse". Of course, I'm still having fun, if that means anything. smile

Posted by: mr_super-hunky

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/26/12 08:37 PM

"Getting better" will obviously mean different things to different people. For some it means becoming more comfortable playing in front of others while for others it may mean not playing as many mistakes as often.

My biggest challenge has been two things.

1.) Slowly becoming 'better' at locating and reproducing the wild melodies in my head. [I wish I could just plug some speakers into my head and have these melodies come out without having to find them and reproduce them]

2.) 'Performing' these melodies and not just 'playing' them with as much meaning and emotion as possible. That means hitting each individual note with complete control over...well everything.

The problem is I struggle a bit with each. I am however "getting better" at them albeit slowly. The reason I am getting better is because I want to. I REALLY want to. I put a lot of effort into what I am doing and try to pay as much attention to details as I can. I realize that improving ones piano playing skills is a two step forward, one step backwards type of progression but that's okay because if it were so easy, everyone and their pets would be doing it.

Learn to work on the things you are bad at most of the time but also reward yourself with the fun stuff on a regular basis as well. Also, realize that you really DO get out of something what you put into it. Slackers never reach the podium.
Posted by: Brian Lucas

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/26/12 09:22 PM

Originally Posted By: Rickster
Well, I wish I was "getting better"... when I go back and take a look at some of my older YouTube music videos from a few years ago, it seems like I could play better back then. smile
I think we all feel that way sometimes.

For me, I think getting better is when something is easier to do, or you understand something better and can "see it" on the keys. You might pull out something old and not remember it so well, but it'll take less time than the first time to recreate the end product. Problem is, there are so many aspects of music, if you don't practice something for a while (for example, sight-reading) you tend to forget how to do it. Good news though, it comes back faster than you think.

What about you though CebuKid? What were your goals 4 years ago and are you closer to them now?
Posted by: Andy Platt

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/26/12 11:01 PM

Play your ABF recital from a year ago and your last recital. Compare. That's been "getting better" to me.
Posted by: BenPiano

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/27/12 01:06 AM

Originally Posted By: CebuKid
see what others consider "getting better".

Formerly to me, "better" = "easier" - but not so much anymore.

I've pushed myself to get "better" by trying more difficult pieces, but they certainly didn't come "easier", and often , didn't result in much but a waste of practice time.

Recently, I've scaled back my ambitions and have been trying to learn new material in a somewhat attainable range - it still isn't easier. Achievable, yes - but not easier.

I've hit a wall lately, sort of, and your question really comes at a perfect time for me as I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

So, recently I've been thinking that "better" = "more comfortable"


- the keys fall naturally under your fingers without having to think about them

- brain power is better spent on how to hit the keys than what keys to hit

- new music is relatively familiar, but just slightly different - small adjustments make it very comfortable

- dinner plans are easily arranged mentally while one plays

Gosh, it just looked like a patch of bare earth when I first started, but I've realized I jumped into a pit of quicksand without realizing how deep or wide it extends. Still flailing for the perimeter. f
Posted by: SwissMS

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/27/12 01:37 AM

"Getting Better" to me means how do I answer the following questions.

1. Am I playing more competently? I measure this in how many mistakes I make now versus in the past. This is a measure both of physical skill and the mental ability to focus.

2. Am I playing more comfortably? I measure this by how easily the keys fall under my fingers and how relaxed I am while playing.

3. Am I playing more confidently? The above two questions have to be answered yes for me to have the confidence to play well. This is a belief in oneself that is gained through the hours and hours of practice.

I record each of my pieces several times as I progress with it, and so when I start feeling defeated I just listen to the recording from a few weeks before. Usually there is a marked improvement. I also keep a practice log. I go back and read what I was struggling with in the past, that now is easy. Sometimes progress seems painfully slow, but if you look it is there.
Posted by: FarmGirl

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/27/12 04:09 AM

I have certain ideals for playing. When I feel like I am approaching to my ideal, I feel like getting better. When I see a score, I hear the music in the way I would like it to sound. I am only 10% toward my goal. If I can make the sound and music, in the way I want, I think I will say I got better.
Posted by: casinitaly

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/27/12 05:16 AM

I agree with a lot of these points.

I want to be better with consistent accuracy, with fluidity, with being able to pick up a piece and play through it roughly fairly quickly to get a feel for it.
I want to improve my ability to give voice and feeling to pieces.

I feel like I've just arrived at the point where I have enough skills that I can start to work on making them better. Up until very recently I've been so busy just getting the very basic skills, practically every month has seen some level of improvement.

Andy is so right.... we need benchmarks and the recitals are great (especially for people like me who were starting without any history on the piano).

I recently listented to my early recital pieces and think...oh my! (and not in a good way!)

At the time of recording them, I thought I sounded good smile And in fact, "for my level at that time, and the amount of playing under my fingertips" I wasn't too bad. But my recent pieces, well, I'm proud of them. They are pleasant to listen to. This is concrete evidence of getting better.

Posted by: PianoStudent88

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/27/12 07:25 AM

In answer to the questions in the OP: Yes.
Posted by: CebuKid

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/27/12 09:41 PM

Thanks for your insights, guys! I never really gave much thought to "feeling comfortable" as BenPiano describes, and I can relate to what Mr. S-H says about ironing out little details.

Also, I agree 100% of listening to old material vs. current. That's an excellent barometer for assessing one's progress, and kudos to us who participate in ABF recitals and put our playing out there.

My main concept of getting better was ability to take on "hard material", or material that's a grade level or 2 than what you're used to. For me, for 4 years, I've been stuck at *this level*...not a bad thing, really, because there's so much music (a lifetime, really) within my playing level. I'm not complaining, though, because I'm getting what I put in. I do see myself "graduating" to that next level one day, and taking on *that piece* (I have a few in mind). One member (forgot their name) has the right idea by actually taking graded exams - I think said member just posted he/she just passed grade 7. Kudos for doing that. For now, like BenPiano, I'd like to choose more pieces at my current playing level, and...try to play them musically.
Posted by: Stubbie

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/27/12 09:59 PM

Here's another aspect of "getting better." When you start a new piece, you don't need the "training wheels" of having suggested fingering. You have enough music under your belt that the fingering falls into place without having to work at it too hard.
Posted by: krzyzowski

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/28/12 11:34 AM

Getting better. Go back and play "Twinkle Twinkle.." The learning process always takes on new and more difficult challenges. So it seems like your going nowhere. Actually, it is just different directions. Like when you speak perfect english, then attempt another language.
Posted by: wouter79

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/28/12 04:47 PM

1. To understand the music better
2. To convert that into better phrasing, articulation, technique etc
3. To learn to play more robust (less hickups/flubs)
4. To learn harder music
4. To do all above faster
Posted by: WiseBuff

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/28/12 07:57 PM

My wish list is fairly simple since I've scaled back my ambitions to play at the advanced level. There's a lot of good music in the intermediate late intermediate category. Getting better at the moment is faster without tension. If I can do that so much music opens up for me. Well...I guess that's not all. I want to enjoy performing for others (and of course have others enjoy my music). May we all get better in whatever way is significant to us...
Posted by: SoundThumb

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/28/12 09:11 PM

For me, getting better is to sometimes actually find myself listening to the music rather than just being intently focused on hitting the right keys in the right order. Interesting that you should ask the question because just in the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking, "I may be getting better!"
Posted by: Sand Tiger

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/28/12 09:19 PM

Each person has different kinds of goals. Exams are certainly an objective way to measure progress. Even if a person isn't interested in taking the exams classical musicians might find it interesting to see the piece requirements for the various levels. Most know there are also requirements in theory, listening and response, working with rhythms.

Advanced musicians might enter into competitions. For them, awards or honors, or just competing might be ways to measure getting better. Some might think about commercial success, as in paid gigs, or music sales. Even though commercial success may not correlate with piano skill, those kinds of measurements are important to some.

Another category not mentioned so far, is performing with other people, such as accompanying a singer, or working in a group of other musicians. The raw piano skills may not be as great. However, better musicians can play and still pick up the signals and subtle cues from the others. More experienced musicians can often accompany others in a casual setting or even a performance with very little preparation.

On the subject of speed, the music director at my church often goes in cold each Sunday. He gets the sheet music around 8:30 am, does one or two walk throughs with the singer, and then goes live with the singer at 9:10 am. That kind of speed and accuracy is quite something. Studio musicians are often expected to do similar, sit down with new sheet music and be ready to do a recording in a few minutes. Many other church musicians want the sheet music a week in advance so they can practice, and still don't get near the level of performance. Obviously these tend to popular songs, not complicated classical masterpieces, but the level of sight reading skill, and performing skill is extremely high.

Like I said, each person might have their own goals, their own ways of measuring. For many hobbyists, the journey is its own reward, and having fun tends to be high on the list of goals.

For myself, I mostly play original music, so composition is an important component. For original material, the best metric tends to be an emotional connection with live audiences. A songwriter may think their new piece is amazing and audiences do not agree. The opposite occasionally happens, a piece written on a lark, a throw away, might be turn out to be very entertaining, or catch a single moment just right and get a big response.
Posted by: T'sMom

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/28/12 09:42 PM

This is a great question, especially since you and I "rebegan" around the same time.

For me, getting better means having a better quality sound. It's a hard thing to explain but I know it when I hear it. In my case much of it is about balance, between right and left hands and within each hand's chords, especially the left. I agree with the person who said that there is a lot of great music at the late intrmediate level. I expect to stay here for a long time, because with a career and family I just can't practice more than a certain amount.
Posted by: CebuKid

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/28/12 10:21 PM

Originally Posted By: T'sMom
This is a great question, especially since you and I "rebegan" around the same time.

For me, getting better means having a better quality sound. It's a hard thing to explain but I know it when I hear it. In my case much of it is about balance, between right and left hands and within each hand's chords, especially the left. I agree with the person who said that there is a lot of great music at the late intrmediate level. I expect to stay here for a long time, because with a career and family I just can't practice more than a certain amount.

T'sMom, great point! I think my musicality is one area that improved a little. I know what you mean - it's hard to describe but my fingers 4 years later impart a "cleaner and smoother" sound to the piano....less rough-sounding.

I also understand about our busy lifestyles. At this moment, I can no longer commit to hours a day of practice - it's been reduced to a few hours a week due to work, family, and other non-piano pursuits and goals that I've taken on recently. I'm fine finding repertoire within my current playing level.
Posted by: Forstergirl

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/29/12 05:39 PM

Getting better means getting out a piece that one couldn't make musical a year ago and realising that one can now play it, indeed start interpreting it.

And the best part is not being able to remember why it seemed so darned hard.......

Posted by: PianogrlNW

Re: Define "getting better" - 05/29/12 10:59 PM

If you have a teacher, they can give you specific feedback about your progress. Also, I found it useful to record my pieces and listen to them critically. The pieces I play sound differently at the keyboard and recorded.

I think that polishing pieces adds to a feeling of accomplishment. It's important to "reach" and tackle more difficult pieces but also choose pieces that you can play well.