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I'm not a teacher! But I need advice from a teacher.

One of my 10 year old daughter's friends comes over regularly and hops on the piano to practice her favourite songs she's learning on You Tube. No lessons, just passion and interest. She's also trying to learn to read music on her own. The negative things I first noticed were poor hand position and inconsistent fingering. I offered to help her learn her favourite piece the next time she comes over. But then I thought about the positives in her playing: smoothness and she seemed to view the music in large "blocks", not just a series of individual notes, giving it that grace and fluidity. So I stopped myself and thought about my own weaknesses, and decided to hold off before risking extinguishing her joy in playing. My method for learning new music has always been playing very slowly at first, learning it note by note, articulating well, and gradually increasing the tempo. My self-critique is ending up with too-slow of a tempo for a given piece of music (my tempo usually plateaus short of recommended tempo) and a heaviness or clunkiness, un-legato-ness (new word) in playing as I tend to think note by note rather than in larger groupings. Maybe too much thinking and not enough feeling.

Any views on another approach to learning? Maybe starting a new piece closer to recommended tempo, and working on small grouped passages adding another note or small grouping as the passage comes together? Also seems easier to memorize this way and more eye contact with the keys and less with the page. Of course the piece needs to correlate with the student's level.

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Originally Posted by Loon
My method for learning new music has always been playing very slowly at first, learning it note by note, articulating well, and gradually increasing the tempo. My self-critique is ending up with too-slow of a tempo for a given piece of music (my tempo usually plateaus short of recommended tempo) ...

Good question, I have the same problem. I've been told to practise slow and slower. Problems come when it's time to play at tempo. I can play moonlight sonata or slow ballad but not fast tempo. I'm learning Bach's Invention No. 8 and I will never be able to play the recommend tempo.

The piano Teachers Forum is not very active, you might want to post in the Adult Beginner Forum or Pianist Corner.



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Speed comes with technique, which in turn develops from dedicated practising: cultivating finger independence, fluency, agility and.......speed with accuracy.

There is a very good reason why scales and arpeggios are part & parcel of technique, so if you aren't already playing them, start. Don't waste time learning them all - just learn the straightforward ones with mostly white keys (C, G & F majors and their relative minors). If you can't play, say, the A minor scale and arpeggio fast & smoothly & evenly, you can't hope to play the Invention in A minor fast & smoothly & evenly.


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You should not need to be reading note-by-note. Yes, brush up on your scales and arpeggios, but also commit to playing. LOTS of music every week. When you start doing this, pattern/chord recognition will not be good, the more you play, you will recognize ceg, not as individual notes but as a c maj chord and your fingers will know where to go without conscious thought. You do not need to work on the music long enough to Polish it—- just play it.

When you are learning a new piece, all measures will not have equal difficulty— as some you will recognize and can quickly play because of the familiarity. Make the commitment and you’ll see improvement


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Originally Posted by dogperson
You should not need to be reading note-by-note. Yes, brush up on your scales and arpeggios, but also commit to playing. LOTS of music every week.

The child seems to have focused on, and succeeded at, the mysterious skill of fluency, something that many adults never achieve. Maybe most piano students struggle with.

Maybe it's possible to work on both.


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...daughter's friends comes over regularly and hops on the piano to practice her favourite songs she's learning on You Tube. No lessons, just passion and interest.
The passion and interest are definitely positives, but your daughter's friend will likely be limited by relying on YouTube for learning pieces, assuming she's playing by copying what she's seeing in the video. Kudos to the friend for trying to learn to read music.

Ideally, one doesn't do one extreme or the other--mimicking a video or playing note by note--but takes the best of both worlds and comes up with technique that will serve them well for the long term. I would be thinking in terms of phrases or motifs, rather than note-by-note (maybe this is what you mean by grouping passages). I would also not be striving for memorizing--this is often a crutch for not being able to read well.

When people say practice slowly, they mean really slowly, and then only when you've been working on the piece for a bit. Speed is said to be one of the higher level skills one achieves while learning to play. For myself, I have to be very, very sure of everything else before I achieve any kind of speed. Or, you may find that you are perfectly happy playing at something less than full tempo.


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If you don't want to practice slowly, work on easier music. You may still need to work slowly on small sections, but there will be less need if the music is easier.


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Loon, I'm not a music teacher, but I just wanted to compliment you on listening to that inner voice telling you not to interfere with her natural creativity and enjoyment.
I work daily with young children, and have witnessed what stepping in and trying to "fix" whatever activity they are enjoying with the correct method or a more efficient one can do. I've done it myself only to realise that I ended up squashing something. I'm careful now to be observant to this. I offer " you're doing amazing at that, let me know if you get stuck or have any questions."

Last edited by SuzyUpright; 12/27/21 05:24 AM.
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Is slow note-by-note practice the best way to learn?

I am not a teacher, but this is what I do. First I listen several times to the demonstration of the piece. Then I learn a piece note by note, non-legato, without any dynamics but with correct rhythm, hands separately. Then I start listening to my video-teacher's practice recommendations. They are all about horizontal thinking, even in phrases with non-legato or with staccato. She talks about moving forward and the destination of the phrase. When I practise like she tells me to, the notes become music.

I have tried (only a few times) to skip the step of learning the piece note by note first, but it is no use, because I cannot focus on (for instance) playing a smooth legato, or creating a crescendo, if I still struggle with playing the notes correctly.

I also end up playing most pieces a bit slow but I am not bothered by this, as long as I feel that I express the music well enough.

Edit: so, as an answer to your question, yes, as the very first phase of learning a piece, for me, this is the best way.

Last edited by Animisha; 12/27/21 06:18 AM.

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Suzy Upright -- I learned this lesson with my oldest, now 15. I would step in and try "fixing" too much and out went any enthusiasm, in came resistance. Children just learn very differently from adults, and are very sensitive to pressure/judgement. But I'd rather see someone having fun with music even though it's not perfect (even if learned from You Tube), instead of seeing someone shy away from it altogether out of an aversion to the drudgery of getting closer to some perfection goal. Also you have to really, really like music/sounds where, for example, you like listening to scales/arpeggios too, which I do, but my kids don't. So maybe for some kids a halfway (or 1/4 way) approach like You Tube is fine.

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Originally Posted by Animisha
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Is slow note-by-note practice the best way to learn?

. . . When I practise like she tells me to, the notes become music. .

That's a very fine recommendation ! It also says something about your quality as a student.<g>

The rule for drummers is:

. . . To play it fast, learn it slow.

"Slow" means "slowly enough so you don't make mistakes".

Quote
Two bowls, five beans --

Start with all beans in the left bowl.

For each perfect repetition, move a bean into the right bowl.

For each mistake, move _all_ the beans into the left bowl.

When all the beans are in the right bowl,

. . .you may increase the tempo slightly.

And if you can't do five perfect repetitions after a while, slow down your practice tempo.


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However, that very traditional approach doesn't seem to build the level of fluency the 10 year old taught herself in the OP.

Something is missing.


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Originally Posted by TimR
However, that very traditional approach doesn't seem to build the level of fluency the 10 year old taught herself in the OP.

Something is missing.

Yes, and I can't find good words to express it.

Perhaps Loon should try the child's method, and figure what skill she has, that he doesn't. "Playing by ear" sounds simple, until you try to teach it, or learn it.


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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
Originally Posted by TimR
However, that very traditional approach doesn't seem to build the level of fluency the 10 year old taught herself in the OP.

Something is missing.

Yes, and I can't find good words to express it.

Perhaps Loon should try the child's method, and figure what skill she has, that he doesn't. "Playing by ear" sounds simple, until you try to teach it, or learn it.

IMHO
Loon doesn’t have the fluency because he is not playing by recognizing patters, but reading note-by-note. You can’t be fluent if it is taking a long time to mentally process the score. Bennevis and I suggested some ways to approach this.


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Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
Originally Posted by TimR
However, that very traditional approach doesn't seem to build the level of fluency the 10 year old taught herself in the OP.

Something is missing.

Yes, and I can't find good words to express it.

Perhaps Loon should try the child's method, and figure what skill she has, that he doesn't. "Playing by ear" sounds simple, until you try to teach it, or learn it.

IMHO
Loon doesn’t have the fluency because he is not playing by recognizing patters, but reading note-by-note. You can’t be fluent if it is taking a long time to mentally process the score. Bennevis and I suggested some ways to approach this.

I'm not satisfied with that analysis.

I see that formulation is equivalent to saying: the standard traditional, incremental slow practice method is absolutely perfect. Loon (and most piano students) aren't fluent because they do it wrong.

The child in the OP is not doing it that way, and has fluency many more advanced students don't show. We should also ask if the method has something to do with it.

That child is not playing by ear, in my opinion. She is learning by rote, which is not the same thing. She's just learning the notes off a recording rather than sheet music.

I'm not sure why this is working. Here are a couple ideas. She is listening carefully to a fluent recording and internalizing what fluency sounds like. Maybe she can also hear it in her own playing. We all know children concentrating on the printed page and their own fingering cannot hear what they play. Secondly, she is doing a lot of playing in strict time, probably much of it at tempo.


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Originally Posted by TimR
Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
Originally Posted by TimR
However, that very traditional approach doesn't seem to build the level of fluency the 10 year old taught herself in the OP.

Something is missing.

Yes, and I can't find good words to express it.

Perhaps Loon should try the child's method, and figure what skill she has, that he doesn't. "Playing by ear" sounds simple, until you try to teach it, or learn it.

IMHO
Loon doesn’t have the fluency because he is not playing by recognizing patters, but reading note-by-note. You can’t be fluent if it is taking a long time to mentally process the score. Bennevis and I suggested some ways to approach this.

I'm not satisfied with that analysis.

I see that formulation is equivalent to saying: the standard traditional, incremental slow practice method is absolutely perfect. Loon (and most piano students) aren't fluent because they do it wrong.

The child in the OP is not doing it that way, and has fluency many more advanced students don't show. We should also ask if the method has something to do with it.

That child is not playing by ear, in my opinion. She is learning by rote, which is not the same thing. She's just learning the notes off a recording rather than sheet music.

I'm not sure why this is working. Here are a couple ideas. She is listening carefully to a fluent recording and internalizing what fluency sounds like. Maybe she can also hear it in her own playing. We all know children concentrating on the printed page and their own fingering cannot hear what they play. Secondly, she is doing a lot of playing in strict time, probably much of it at tempo.

I don’t think how the child is playing fluently is the question. Yo me, the question is why can’t the adult play fluidly? His OP was really about the problems he is having and asking how he can do better

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Originally Posted by TimR
Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
Originally Posted by TimR
However, that very traditional approach doesn't seem to build the level of fluency the 10 year old taught herself in the OP.

Something is missing.

Yes, and I can't find good words to express it.

Perhaps Loon should try the child's method, and figure what skill she has, that he doesn't. "Playing by ear" sounds simple, until you try to teach it, or learn it.

IMHO
Loon doesn’t have the fluency because he is not playing by recognizing patters, but reading note-by-note. You can’t be fluent if it is taking a long time to mentally process the score. Bennevis and I suggested some ways to approach this.

I'm not satisfied with that analysis.

I see that formulation is equivalent to saying: the standard traditional, incremental slow practice method is absolutely perfect. Loon (and most piano students) aren't fluent because they do it wrong.

The child in the OP is not doing it that way, and has fluency many more advanced students don't show. We should also ask if the method has something to do with it.

That child is not playing by ear, in my opinion. She is learning by rote, which is not the same thing. She's just learning the notes off a recording rather than sheet music.

I'm not sure why this is working. Here are a couple ideas. She is listening carefully to a fluent recording and internalizing what fluency sounds like. Maybe she can also hear it in her own playing. We all know children concentrating on the printed page and their own fingering cannot hear what they play. Secondly, she is doing a lot of playing in strict time, probably much of it at tempo.

I think you're reading more into the child's playing than is warranted by what the OP wrote. We have no idea how her fluency compares with "more advanced students" and whether she is playing in strict time or at tempo. We do know she came over to practice the pieces.

Originally Posted by Loon
One of my 10 year old daughter's friends comes over regularly and hops on the piano to practice her favourite songs she's learning on You Tube. No lessons, just just passion and interest. She's also trying to learn to read music on her own. The negative things I first noticed were poor hand position and inconsistent fingering. I offered to help her learn her favourite piece the next time she comes over. But then I thought about the positives in her playing: smoothness and she seemed to view the music in large "blocks"...


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The OP was really about the child and not ruining what she's getting right about playing using my "old school" methods. As for my own playing, I was perhaps too harsh in describing in where I now stand in my own very traditional journey. My biggest issue has been achieving fluency, playing with a light touch, and getting the right speed (Debussy is one of my favourites so tackling these issues have been far more important than say if I played Rock with repeating hammered left hand chords haha). I've made a lot of progress using the traditional methods described in most of these responses (slow practice, articulate well, gradually increase tempo, practice scales/arpeggios/Hanon/Czerny/etc., focus on phrasing, etc.). But it's taken a long time, and I noticed that if I've been playing something well and fast, it's very difficult for me to play it well/slow. And if I've been playing something well/slow, it's difficult to then play it well/fast. It's like you have to learn it twice (fast/slow), if not more times (slow/medium/fast). It seems that different neurological processes are involved in the different speeds and perhaps there's a better way to learn. I don't know, I just ask the question. I was wondering if there are better ways after watching this girl's natural fluency. Also many young students turn away from music when faced with the long uphill slog of traditional learning methods. I hit my son up with "old school" methods (and his Julliard teacher) and he turned away.

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Originally Posted by Loon
I've made a lot of progress using the traditional methods described in most of these responses (slow practice, articulate well, gradually increase tempo, practice scales/arpeggios/Hanon/Czerny/etc., focus on phrasing, etc.). But it's taken a long time, and I noticed that if I've been playing something well and fast, it's very difficult for me to play it well/slow. And if I've been playing something well/slow, it's difficult to then play it well/fast. It's like you have to learn it twice (fast/slow), if not more times (slow/medium/fast). It seems that different neurological processes are involved in the different speeds and perhaps there's a better way to learn. I don't know, I just ask the question. I was wondering if there are better ways after watching this girl's natural fluency. Also many young students turn away from music when faced with the long uphill slog of traditional learning methods. I hit my son up with "old school" methods (and his Julliard teacher) and he turned away.
Playing fast requires the development of fast movements and there comes a point when you don't think about it. You just play a sequence of well-practised movements. You will not be thinking 'which note am I playing next?'

That's the reason why traditional methods work in the long term and all concert pianists learn that way. They start playing slowly like everyone else, and gradually build up their technical skills, and with them, speed develops. Then they encounter fast sequences of notes in their music which they practise until perfect so that they can just play them without thinking. Scales & arpeggios, as someone suggested earlier are so important because classical music is full of them. You look at the outer sections of Debussy's Arabesque No.1 and they are basically just lots of arpeggios passing from one hand to the other. You practise those sequence of movements until they are fluent, and you stop thinking about every note. You see the familiar pattern on the score and you just play.

Just like you run and jump over obstacles in your path, but you don't think about each individual movement of your legs and body.

This has nothing to do with playing by ear. Children don't tend to over-think or subject themselves to analyses like adults do. Once they can do something after practising, they just do it and stop thinking.

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I keep reading about playing slowly, then gradually speed up. And - If you play slowly, eventually you'll get faster. I've been working with something I'll call "gestures" - and this also gets taught, but maybe not enough. You have the hand sweeping in a single motion and transporting the fingers in a cluster of notes that still need to be properly timed - but fast. It can even be "too fast, then slow down". Playing a passage isn't just about notes one finger at a time, but the movement of the hands in this way. I wish I had learned this part years ago. It seems to be both things. And I have not abandoned the "slow" (incl. painfully slow), or "slow, gradually faster" method.

Maybe the child inadvertently learned this "hand sweep" thing. We can't tell whether it's also accurate timing of the individual notes.

For the child; if she gets a teacher, then that teacher would know which things she is doing are good to keep and expand on; which things she didn't learn should be added, or whether what she is doing has bad components that need correcting. That is, an experienced and good teacher can best make the judgment call.

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