Frustration and Learning

Posted by: Mark VC

Frustration and Learning - 12/03/12 04:14 PM

I'm an adult intermediate-level player, and I have a question that may have no answer - what do you do about frustration? More specifically, what do you after you've played through a piece for the third time? By that point, I just have to get up and walk away - it's not just that I'm so frustrated (though I often am) but at that point, just the fact of getting away from the piano and doing a turn around the apartment seems to improve the piece more than five more minutes of practice would have.

I enjoy having a piece in ready-to-play form, but man, getting there is torture, and memorization is the worst. I have the sense that this is not good - that somehow, I have to learn to enjoy the process of practicing. Any thoughts?
Posted by: casinitaly

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/03/12 04:34 PM

There are several things (I'm doing all of them this week!!!!!)
I'm feeling very cranky and frustrated!

1. have several pieces of different complexities on the go - when you have something nearing a decent level, start another - have 2-3 stages on the go.

2. stop worrying about memorizing (for now). In fact, working at reading and juggling between looking at the score and looking at your hands is a good techique to be able to use!

3. just be patient with yourself, and be as encouraging as you would to someone else who is getting discouraged.

4. give yourself a reality check: this is NOT easy, no one said it was (or if they did, they were fibbing! smile ) it takes a LONG TIME.

5. acknowledging n4, then decide that it is about the journey and make a conscious decision to enjoy every bar you get right. Delight in your baby steps!

6. acknowledging n.5, realize that getting a piece to "perfection" just isn't the best use of your time right now.

7. acknowledging n.6 - play a lot of different music, focusing on what each piece can teach you - be it how to analyze which fingers are best to use, how to improve dynamics, how to manage holding down 1 note with your thumb while playing others with 2,3,4 and 5 !

8. taking a break is an excellent idea.

The tough thing for us as adult learners is that we are able to do so many things, we think we should be able to learn to play the piano very quickly. However, it is multi-tasking at an ultra-refined level, and it is not easy to do!!!

No two people learn at the same speed - everyone has their own particular challenge to overcome - though there are certainly a lot of common areas for "ack, I can't do xyz!!!"....

Try putting dates on the materials you work on - record yourself, then play and record again in 3 weeks, 1 month, 2 months, and hear the difference.
It is important to learn how to observe where you are making progress, because the changes are often very small and very gradual.

C'mon over to the "Achievement of the Week" thread and chime in with your successful baby steps - we'll cheer you on!
Posted by: packa

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/03/12 05:14 PM

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "playing through a piece for the third time." But if you mean that you practice pieces by playing them through first to last several times, then one of my suggestions is to concentrate on developing some other practice routines.

Just playing a piece over and over is not how I was taught to practice. I was taught to identify specific problems and goals within a piece for each practice session, and then to devise exercises and techniques for improving those specific things. Sometimes I do just play for fun. But I seldom practice by just playing a piece through to see if something gets better. I try to approach practice with a series of conscious decisions about what problems I am trying to solve. Perhaps that's another way of trying to notice the baby steps to improvement.
Posted by: malkin

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/03/12 09:02 PM

Don't play through. Practice sections. Small sections, even two notes in a row until you can play them correctly a few times in a row. Once you get those two, then play three notes.

If you want to play pieces from start to finish without practicing the bits, then you need to find some easier pieces!
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/03/12 09:38 PM

Originally Posted By: packa
I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "playing through a piece for the third time." But if you mean that you practice pieces by playing them through first to last several times, then one of my suggestions is to concentrate on developing some other practice routines.

Just playing a piece over and over is not how I was taught to practice. I was taught to identify specific problems and goals within a piece for each practice session, and then to devise exercises and techniques for improving those specific things. Sometimes I do just play for fun. But I seldom practice by just playing a piece through to see if something gets better. I try to approach practice with a series of conscious decisions about what problems I am trying to solve. Perhaps that's another way of trying to notice the baby steps to improvement.


+1

Perhaps you can elaborate on how exactly you are practicing, and what you are trying to accomplish? If you are trying to get a piece from being able to play at performance level with the sheet to playing off-book, that is different from the early stages of learning a piece, for example.
Posted by: Michael_99

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/03/12 10:38 PM

It doesn't matter what age, or level of player. That you are committed to learning to play the piano is awesome and an important factor.

I am a beginner so I see the world differently than you do as an intermediate- level player. When I start a new piece:
1 If I can play the piece through once, great.
2 If I can't or don't think I can play it through because it is a challenging piece.
I look over the piece carefully. Is it challenging because of rhythms, doted notes, 16th or 32nd notes, notes above and below the staff, measures
3 It is here that I have to decide how to break down the piece to learn it. I am learning the John Thompson modern piano course of 5 books. I am in the book 1 so the pieces are a challenge but it is in a progressive way.
4 It helps if I take the book away from the piano, relax in a chair and study the piece and my usual method is to tackle it measure by measure. Critical for me is that I review, review all the time, as well as learning a new piece or the next piece in the book. My reasoning for reviewing the music I have learned is that, it is fingering, reading music, playing anything, helps me stay in shape. It is important to be awake, to be focused at all times. I walk away from the piano all the time, in spite of loving the piano, playing the piano but if I am not focused, tired, preoccupied with something, I just make lots of mistakes, sloppy playing. So I go for a walk around the block or blocks in fresh air, take nap, make some food, whatever. Sadly, we just can't play or work at a piece if you are not fit. If you push - it will result in frustration. If you work through measure by measure, then your frustration is small because frustration is only 1 measure long.

I review as I say. I have been playing about a year and know 60 pieces, remember 50 pieces in any book 1 of piano is only about 4 measures long for each piece. Over the week I play all the pieces over and over along with the new piece. It is 10, 20, 30 minutes at a time. I know when to stop - when I make errors. There is no room for errors in playing the piano. Errors mean I am playing too fast, playing too tired, playing in a bad mood.

As far as memory, I have no experience as I can only read and play without errors else I stop and figure out why I made an error. By from reading from others who post about memory, it sounds like you have to play the piece when you can see the music in your brain as you move through the piece.

Remember that I play everything I know day after day without errors for the most part and I don't know any of the pieces from memory. You have to love the process, "playing", and the "journey" because in the end of the day that is what it is.

Let me tell us this. When I was a young man I had struggle because I am dyslexic, slow learner. From grade 6 I knew what I wanted to be, so I worked grade 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, college 1, 2 - I worked for 9 years and started working at this job/profession after college. I remember within the first few days on the job thinking. Is this it? It was then I realized that it is the journey. I loved the job. Of course there are good days and bad days, but it really is the journey of the ups and downs

Another example, page 24, so this is the 24th piece in piano I learned: March of the Dwarfs, 16 measures, no sharps, no flats, only a few rests. It took me 3 or 4 months of playing the piece slowly and carefully day after day many times a day before I could play it without errors. Of course, now I can play the piece easily and wonder what all the fuss and agony was about.

Practice slowly and accurately and the speed will come.
Posted by: Bobpickle

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 02:15 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark VC
I have a question that may have no answer - what do you do about frustration?


You don't. That's because you don't get frustrated and play the piano or visa-versa. The two should always exist separately, lest we come to blame the piano for our follies.
Posted by: JimF

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 08:28 AM

When I get frustrated 99 percent of the time it is because I have failed to narrow my focus sufficiently. Even if I've narrowed it to one phrase or one measure, often times what is needed is to laser in on just a few notes.

Try this. For three or four days of practice you are not permitted to play more than one phrase from your piece each day...and you have to skip around, can't choose them in the order written. Only on day five are you allowed to play it through.

I'll bet that results in less frustration and more progress than what you are doing now.
Posted by: dmd

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 08:47 AM

Quote:
When I get frustrated 99 percent of the time it is because I have failed to narrow my focus sufficiently.



Quote:
For three or four days of practice you are not permitted to play more than one phrase from your piece each day...and you have to skip around, can't choose them in the order written. Only on day five are you allowed to play it through.



This great advice.

If I might attempt to emphasize this concept ...

Frustration is the result of you attempting to play something you are incapable of playing properly with any sort of consistency. You make one mistake or another most every time you play it. That causes you to play with apprehension and subsequent failure.

Instead of pushing yourself to the absolute limits of your ability, select small enough portions so you can absolutely play it pefectly EVERY TIME.

You will find that this frees your mind and body to the point where you can relax and enjoy it.

Once you have accomplished this, then select an adjoining phrase and perfect it also ...

Then combine the two and perfect it also ...

Etc ... Etc ...

Good Luck
Posted by: Ragdoll

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 09:46 AM

Quote:
Don't play through. Practice sections. Small sections, even two notes in a row until you can play them correctly a few times in a row. Once you get those two, then play three notes.

If you want to play pieces from start to finish without practicing the bits, then you need to find some easier pieces!


thumb I haven't ever had to practice two or three notes but have many, many times devoted my entire practice time to one or two measures. I used to want to play a song (especially a familiar one) through completely even if I played the mistakes over and over. I finally got over myself and now practice the measures or phrases that gave me trouble initially. I also consistantly bought music that was beyond my capabilities with piano to play. My ego is/was humongous. whistle ha
I'm sure I'll play them someday
Posted by: Mark VC

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 10:44 AM

All good advice, thanks very much. I do 'play through', not exclusively, but mostly. I'm lucky enough to have at least a couple hours a day to practice, and staying on a few phrases for that time would reduce me to madness. Instead I play through, look for where the trouble is today, and then go over those phrases a few times.

And then walk away, get a glass of water, pet the cat, whatever for a few minutes. When I return to the piano things are fixed. Clearly we learn away from the piano - I'm sure everyone's had the experience of finding that the piece is much better the next day.

I think my frustration arises from the feeling that, if I could just concentrate sufficiently, the problems would go away - so I get angry at myself and the little breaks allow me to calm down a bit, and also like I said get the advantage of the away-from-the-piano learning, whatever the mechanism of that is.
Posted by: Mark VC

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 10:46 AM

By the way I should have mentioned that what I'm working on is the Philip Glass piano etudes. Have #5 done and dusted, #6 is close, and I'm well into #1, with a start on #2.

One of the things about Glass is, even if you do play through, you're basically practicing one phrase over and over! (Sorry, I can say that because I love Philip Glass!)
Posted by: dmd

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 11:12 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark VC
All good advice, thanks very much. I do 'play through', not exclusively, but mostly. I'm lucky enough to have at least a couple hours a day to practice, and staying on a few phrases for that time would reduce me to madness.


I do not think anyone is suggesting that you stay on a few phrases for two hours.

Play some scales. Play some arpegios. Pick a different piece that you have almost ready and play through it.

However, when you are beginning to work on a new piece put it together piece by piece, initially. Then when you have mastered most of it (piece by piece) start putting the pieces together.

There are plenty of things to do to break the monotony of grinding on a few phrases in a two hour period.

You will figure it out.
Posted by: JeanieA

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 11:36 AM

Mark, thanks for asking this question - as a fellow adult student I also experience the frustrations you talk about. Us grownups, always think we should be able to do things perfectly first time through.

I've gleaned some valuable practice advice here too; thanks to all for the suggestions! smile
Posted by: Stubbie

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 12:56 PM

Originally Posted By: Mark VC
I'm an adult intermediate-level player, and I have a question that may have no answer - what do you do about frustration? More specifically, what do you after you've played through a piece for the third time? By that point, I just have to get up and walk away - it's not just that I'm so frustrated (though I often am) but at that point, just the fact of getting away from the piano and doing a turn around the apartment seems to improve the piece more than five more minutes of practice would have.

I enjoy having a piece in ready-to-play form, but man, getting there is torture, and memorization is the worst. I have the sense that this is not good - that somehow, I have to learn to enjoy the process of practicing. Any thoughts?



A lot of good advice so far about practicing. Learning to enjoy the process comes mostly from the inside. You must find that, on balance, the enjoyment of having a piece in ready-to-play form must outbalance the "torture" of practicing. Yes?

P.S. Taking frequent breaks is an excellent technique for learning. I have a short attention span and I am constantly popping up from the piano. By doing that, I can get in a lot of focused practice time.
Posted by: Mark VC

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 01:28 PM

Yes to all. One way I take breaks is to play pop tunes, which are super easy and sort of like a piece of candy!

Should also have mentioned above that my big project right now is the ten Philip Glass piano etudes, so, even through I'm playing through, I'm really just practicing one section over and over ;-)
Posted by: SwissMS

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 01:31 PM

Excellent advice has already been given. I think it is also about developing patience with yourself. We all want to advance as quickly as possible, and believe we should be able to do more than we seem to be able to do. What has helped me is to develop reasonable, measurable goals for my practice sessions, such as "get M25 -30 in tempo" or "learn trill M14". They end up being small milestones that show that I am learning something. We all easily fall into the trap of "learning a song" , while what it is important is "learning a technique or skill".
Posted by: Starr Keys

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 02:43 PM

Originally Posted By: SwissMS
What has helped me is to develop reasonable, measurable goals for my practice sessions, such as "get M25 -30 in tempo" or "learn trill M14". They end up being small milestones that show that I am learning something. We all easily fall into the trap of "learning a song" , while what it is important is "learning a technique or skill".


+1. Elaborating on this idea just a bit, I find it very helpful to circle in pencil the most difficult passages when I'm working from the sheet. These are the ones where I know I need the most work on the technique required to learn them. I sometimes even number them to priortize them in order of difficulty. That way, I spend the most time on those measures that need the most work. As I master them or they become easier and other parts are still relatively rough, I sometimes reverse numbers or erase the circled passages entirely. This method seems to serve me well in keeping all the plates I'm juggling balanced and in the air so that everything come out equally polished in the piece.
Posted by: Toastie

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 04:42 PM

Starr Keys - I LOVE this idea! Will be stealing it smile


Originally Posted By: Starr Keys
Originally Posted By: SwissMS
What has helped me is to develop reasonable, measurable goals for my practice sessions, such as "get M25 -30 in tempo" or "learn trill M14". They end up being small milestones that show that I am learning something. We all easily fall into the trap of "learning a song" , while what it is important is "learning a technique or skill".


+1. Elaborating on this idea just a bit, I find it very helpful to circle in pencil the most difficult passages when I'm working from the sheet. These are the ones where I know I need the most work on the technique required to learn them. I sometimes even number them to priortize them in order of difficulty. That way, I spend the most time on those measures that need the most work. As I master them or they become easier and other parts are still relatively rough, I sometimes reverse numbers or erase the circled passages entirely. This method seems to serve me well in keeping all the plates I'm juggling balanced and in the air so that everything come out equally polished in the piece.
Posted by: Bluoh

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/04/12 05:06 PM

Pattern-interrupt. Just get up and walk away, so something else for 5 - 10 minutes, and when you come back, you'll be refreshed, and even generate new ideas. Try it out; you'd be surprised. wink
Posted by: Starr Keys

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/05/12 03:32 AM

Originally Posted By: Toastie
Starr Keys - I LOVE this idea! Will be stealing it smile


Originally Posted By: Starr Keys
Originally Posted By: SwissMS
What has helped me is to develop reasonable, measurable goals for my practice sessions, such as "get M25 -30 in tempo" or "learn trill M14". They end up being small milestones that show that I am learning something. We all easily fall into the trap of "learning a song" , while what it is important is "learning a technique or skill".


+1. Elaborating on this idea just a bit, I find it very helpful to circle in pencil the most difficult passages when I'm working from the sheet. These are the ones where I know I need the most work on the technique required to learn them. I sometimes even number them to priortize them in order of difficulty. That way, I spend the most time on those measures that need the most work. As I master them or they become easier and other parts are still relatively rough, I sometimes reverse numbers or erase the circled passages entirely. This method seems to serve me well in keeping all the plates I'm juggling balanced and in the air so that everything come out equally polished in the piece.


At the risk of being accused of trying to get more comments on my idea, thanks for the feedback, I'm glad it was helpful. smile
Posted by: Bobpickle

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/05/12 03:53 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark VC
All good advice, thanks very much. I do 'play through', not exclusively, but mostly. I'm lucky enough to have at least a couple hours a day to practice, and staying on a few phrases for that time would reduce me to madness. Instead I play through, look for where the trouble is today, and then go over those phrases a few times.

And then walk away, get a glass of water, pet the cat, whatever for a few minutes. When I return to the piano things are fixed. Clearly we learn away from the piano - I'm sure everyone's had the experience of finding that the piece is much better the next day.

I think my frustration arises from the feeling that, if I could just concentrate sufficiently, the problems would go away - so I get angry at myself and the little breaks allow me to calm down a bit, and also like I said get the advantage of the away-from-the-piano learning, whatever the mechanism of that is.


The phenomenon is called Post Practice Improvement (PPI) and the better you can use it, the more efficient your learning can be in any and all aspects of playing piano (as well as in many other facets of life)

see here: http://www.pianofundamentals.com/book/en/1.II.15
Posted by: Kbeaumont

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/05/12 10:20 AM

I have found that practicing the same song over and over is not helpful! Its best to put about 15 minutes on a piece and then move on. Come back to it a few hours later.
My practice routine is about 20 minutes in the morning before going to work. About 15-20 minutes after coming home. And about 30 minutes before going to bed. (with headphones!)

Its amazing how many times what I struggled with before going to bed is fixed when I wake!
Posted by: dmd

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/05/12 10:31 AM

Originally Posted By: Kbeaumont
I have found that practicing the same song over and over is not helpful! Its best to put about 15 minutes on a piece and then move on. Come back to it a few hours later.
My practice routine is about 20 minutes in the morning before going to work. About 15-20 minutes after coming home. And about 30 minutes before going to bed. (with headphones!)

Its amazing how many times what I struggled with before going to bed is fixed when I wake!


What you are doing is a very effective practice methodology.

It bears pointing out again ... especially with just a short practice session ... that you do not spend the time making mistakes. It is imperative that you practice slowly enough so that you play as close to error free as possible. Then, the overnight phenomenom (PPI) has a chance to work with the "correct" notes.
Posted by: Mark VC

Re: Frustration and Learning - 12/05/12 11:09 AM

Fascinating business, however it works. If you've read Malcolm Gladwell, his idea (and it's also the idea of many others) is that our brain's processor power is not at all limited to what we consciously have access to. In fact, working on a problem consciously may actually be slower! This is why so often our first 'instinct' to an answer, the one you get after taking enough time to blink your eyes, is so often the right one. But it may also explain post-improvement learning. Certainly, the frustration of practicing is something the brain must experience as a problem to be solved, and it will resolve that by working on the problem 'on background'. Meaning while you're off petting the cat, or sleeping or whatever.

I think frustration may be analogous to the pain we experience at the gym. In that case, our physiology experiences the unusual physical demands of a workout as a problem, signals us about it with pain, and then for several days afterwards attempts modifications that will prevent such distress in the future.

Likewise, during the actual practice time we feel frustration that may be how neurons signal discomfort and distress at being forced to build new pathways. For several days afterwards they continue working on the issue, and when we sit down at the piano we're like, 'hey!'.