Cutting Loose, Mistakes and All

Posted by: Brent H

Cutting Loose, Mistakes and All - 11/07/12 12:45 PM

Unless it's for a recital or special occasion type of thing, I do not generally work on a piece of music until I can play it perfectly time after time. I'd rather play a wide variety of tunes just for the hearing than slow down and spend weeks trying to get one song Just Right.

So naturally that means keeping tempos on the slow side and sticking to arrangements well within my ability level. And it means accepting the odd wrong note although with time I'm getting better at just leaving out passing notes or even playing just a bass note and melody for a beat or two if I feel like I'm about to stumble. I'm also getting better at keeping steady without those annoying pauses and hesitations that make beginner playing so frustrating to listen to!

Anyway, last night I sat down to play some of my favorite Preston Keys arrangements. I'd had a pretty stressful day, the house was full of dust from the renovations that we're having done, all in all I was in a terrible mood. But sometimes playing the piano for a while will take my mind off things.

For some reason, by the time I'd played a couple of tunes I found myself playing much louder and with a rather exaggerated sense of dynamics and phrasing. By my standards, really pounding out the notes even on tunes I'd usually play a bit more delicately. And for once I wasn't even noticing the occasional bad note. Just charge ahead with the melody, try to keep the right (approximate) chords in the left hand and fit in the harmony parts in between whenever possible. It was wonderful!

I need to get more of that into my usual playing. Yeah, it was a little sloppier than my usual. And the dynamic and phrasing choices were a bit hit or miss. But man, it had some life to it. And it felt good to go ahead and lean into the keys a little instead of concentrating on smoothness and "prettiness".

It reminds me of a conversation when the piano dealer came to set up our new piano last year. I played a couple of my tunes and said it sounded nice. By that point he had heard me play the piano in the showroom over and over many time. He said "I've just gotta ask, do you ever play like this" and sat down to really cut loose with some loud, rollicking Christmas tunes. Like five times as loud as I was playing.

I told him no, not really. I don't ever play like that. He kind of shrugged and said "Well if you ever want to try it you're not going to hurt the piano!".
Posted by: casinitaly

Re: Cutting Loose, Mistakes and All - 11/07/12 01:08 PM

Brent,that sounds like a very rewarding session!

I tend not to play very loudly either.....I'd like to "let loose" but the embarrassment factor kicks in too quickly as I imagine my neighbours listening to every little error (not to mention the big ones!)

I should take a leaf from your book and just do it!!!
Posted by: Toastie

Re: Cutting Loose, Mistakes and All - 11/07/12 01:12 PM

Haha, love the story about the piano dealer. I think I am guilty of playing like I'm gonna break the piano if I'm not *really* careful. I shall try playing with carefree abandon for a change!

I always keep practising pieces until I can get them right - its in my nature to do that though, as i have to get things right or I get cross with myself. Perfectionist! My teacher commented on this a few weeks ago... She said something along the lines of "you obviously like to perfect your pieces, but whenever you get to the point that they're comfortable you should try practising something that you haven't seen before" and gave me a whole other book for this purpose. I think this was a nice way of saying a criticism, but I was surprised, as i thought surely everyone does that - I wouldn't dream of going back there without having done everything set to the highest possible standard. I'd be embarrassed if i had to show something less than this.

So now I'm driving myself crazy trying to perfect my homework pieces and also perfect some additional pieces in the other book, even though these don't have to be perfect, as I genuinely can't leave it until it's at a reasonable standard and even then there's always so much more I could do. *sigh*
Posted by: Brent H

Re: Cutting Loose, Mistakes and All - 11/07/12 02:11 PM

A couple times a year I go ahead and practice a piece into "nigh perfect" shape just because I figure it's a good skill to have. And it's kind of fun to start fresh, break down all the fingerings and so forth.

But the rest of the time I just like hearing a beautiful tune. The nice thing about piano versus other instruments is that as long as you play with any touch and technique at all the sound will be so wonderful. Unlike say a fiddle where if you're not an expert the sound is To Die From (instead of To Die For).
Posted by: malkin

Re: Cutting Loose, Mistakes and All - 11/07/12 09:23 PM

Love this discussion!

When I'm just barely working out hands together I think it helps to play lightly and quietly (It probably doesn't really help); I barely tiptoe through the piece. Once I did this at a lesson and my teacher asked if I thought perhaps a big monster might jump out of the piano and eat us up if I played at a proper intensity.

Probably it is more likely to be a troll than a monster.
Remember the Three Billy Goats Gruff!
Posted by: Michael_99

Re: Cutting Loose, Mistakes and All - 11/08/12 02:51 AM

Nice thread. I was surprised that many posters play quietly/softly - because I know that I do. There is nothing worse for me than to play a note and there is no sound - it bothers me more than a wrong note. In fact when you realize you have played a wrong note, you can quickly fix the problem, but a "silent note" is a huge void.

I guess I could call it "cutting loose" when I can play piano book 1 from cover to cover, 62 tunes, flipping page after page but the reality is the slower and more musically I play the little tunes, the better the experience for my ears and my self satisfaction.

Book 1 piano was Fletcher which was relatively easy and fun but when I went to book 2, something was wrong and I didn't exactly know what.

I broke open John Thompson First Grade Book. I was a little scare for the first 2 or 3 tunes but I took it nice and slow. The surprise for me was the tunes sounded great - meaning the tunes were nicely written. I am up to page 15 and it has been a joy. I ran the metronome at 60 and it was okay, but I won't do that again until I get the pieces a little more under my belt.

The next book, JT Second Grade Book on page 6 has a Bach Menuet - will be my first classical piece and I suppose I will try "Cutting Loose" on the piece in celebration of beginning my classical journey. If it is a nice Menuet, I might even consider opening "lid" of the grand.
Posted by: JeanieA

Re: Cutting Loose, Mistakes and All - 11/08/12 08:44 PM

Funny that I'm reading about playing too softly. Not just me, huh? My teacher is constantly telling me to play louder! wink

It IS fun to cut loose, but I only go there if there's no one else (human) home - the dog has to fend for herself!
Posted by: slpianoproject

Re: Cutting Loose, Mistakes and All - 11/09/12 12:08 AM

Here personally i've been playing on a DP for like 5-6 years and as i start my piano classes like 1 year ago, my teacher tells me he feels like i'm pushing the notes instead of using gravity and hit them. I had no power whatsoever. I got an acoustic like 6 months ago with kinda heavy touch and now when I go back to my old digital it feels like im gonna actually break it... I have to agree there is nothing like playing those fff passages... it reliefs stress!

I also have the luxury of being home alone about 10 hours a week. Sometimes it just feels great to sit down at the piano and play this half-learned piece super loud not worrying about the errors and the wrong dynamics and stuff.

Originally Posted By: Toastie
Haha, love the story about the piano dealer. I think I am guilty of playing like I'm gonna break the piano if I'm not *really* careful. I shall try playing with carefree abandon for a change!

I always keep practising pieces until I can get them right - its in my nature to do that though, as i have to get things right or I get cross with myself. Perfectionist! My teacher commented on this a few weeks ago... She said something along the lines of "you obviously like to perfect your pieces, but whenever you get to the point that they're comfortable you should try practising something that you haven't seen before" and gave me a whole other book for this purpose. I think this was a nice way of saying a criticism, but I was surprised, as i thought surely everyone does that - I wouldn't dream of going back there without having done everything set to the highest possible standard. I'd be embarrassed if i had to show something less than this.

So now I'm driving myself crazy trying to perfect my homework pieces and also perfect some additional pieces in the other book, even though these don't have to be perfect, as I genuinely can't leave it until it's at a reasonable standard and even then there's always so much more I could do. *sigh*


I'm kinda like you and i think what your teacher is trying to tell you (mine tells me the same thing... and i finally understand) there is a point in a piece where you cant really go further in terms of performance with the skills you have at the moment. At some point it even becomes counter-productive spending hours doing baby steps. Might as well go on and work on something else. As you progress and come back to that piece a year later for example, you realize how easier it is to perfect it.

Personally i cant remember how many pieces i've half-learned, abandoned, or totally butchered because i was not ready. A good example of that is i learned Chopin's Nocturne Op 9 no.2 like 7 years ago. I've worked on it for like 4-5 months. I'ld like to hear a recording of that to listen how terrible my performance prolly was. I even had to adjust some measures cause i wasnt able to play it properly. I've spend so much time on this and finally I abandonned it. Today i guess i could prolly learn it in 3 weeks and play it properly if not very well. I think the moral of the story is knowing your limits on the piano and trying to push it further while being aware when you are overdoing it.