Author Topic: Learning piano - help!  (Read 360 times)

FIRE 20/20

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Learning piano - help!
« on: July 11, 2019, 12:33:32 PM »
I'm trying to re-learn piano, but it's going more slowly than I anticipated.  If anyone has any tips for an adult with a solid music background trying to self-teach piano, please let me know!

First, some background.  I played from roughly ages 6-10, although "playing" is probably an overstatement.  I think I was mediocre at best when I stopped over 30 years ago, so I'm near ground zero.  However, I did get to be fairly proficient with french horn, electric bass, and tuba/sousaphone so I have a solid grounding in reading and playing music.  When I say fairly proficient, I mean that music was my life from about age 12-22.  I was often playing in 5 bands at once, including our high school's upper level symphonic band, jazz band, marching band, and a couple of rock and hip hop bands through early college.  I have a full-size electric keyboard with weighted keys that, according to the reviews I have seen, feels and sounds about as close to an acoustic piano as you can find for a reasonable price.  I do have the 3-pedal attachment.  I have a lot of books (about 30 or so) from relatives and from when I learned, mostly Keith Snell's Piano Repertoire levels 1-3.  For the past 6 weeks or so I've been practicing consistently 20-45 minutes each day, but I feel like my progress has markedly slowed.  I can play about 1/3 of the songs in each of Keith Snell's level 1 books (I have three different level 1 books from him). 

I'm not sure where to start with my questions.  I guess I'll just list a few and see if anyone responds.

How well should I learn each song I'm working on?  I feel like "perfecting" each song might just be drilling in muscle memory for that song, while I feel like getting to where I can play a song with just a few stumbles each time might accomplish most of the learning.  Or is it better to get to a point where I can consistently play each song without any mistakes?  I feel like half of the time is spent getting to "pretty good" and the other half is getting from there to "perfect", and that feels like a waste of time. 
Is it better to focus on a small number of songs in each practice session, or should I work on multiple songs at once?  I feel like I am making faster progress when I focus on just one, but it does make practice sessions less enjoyable. 
How much should I be working on scales and chords vs. songs?  I suspect I'm like most people in that I prefer to learn a song, but if that's slowing down my progress I could switch it up. 

Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome. 

eljefe-speaks

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Re: Learning piano - help!
« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2019, 02:01:01 PM »
I am a so-so guitar player. My advice would be to not over think it and make sure you're having fun.

PoutineLover

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Re: Learning piano - help!
« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2019, 02:27:18 PM »
I used to play piano when I was younger, but I haven't in about 10 years. My practices used to be structured with a warm up with a few scales/chords/arpeggios, then in depth practice of a couple bigger songs, where I would play them through multiple times, spend time on the parts I was having trouble with, and eventually get to the point where I could perform them. Finally some time on new songs, or sight reading, or seasonal/popular songs, that were not as challenging, or trying out new stuff that would eventually turn into my performance pieces. Once I felt I had mastered a song or gotten bored of it, I would move on. If I didn't like a song that much, I wouldn't pursue it. Not sure if that's helpful for you at all.
I think it would be helpful if you stated your goals - is it to perform, to get better, to improvise or compose songs, to join a band, or to have a repertoire of songs you know well enough to entertain a bit? Then you can structure your practice to meet those goals and forget about the stuff that doesn't matter as much.

Wrenchturner

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Re: Learning piano - help!
« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2019, 05:29:08 PM »
Start by learning the song in your mind.  You should know how it sounds and how it's articulated, the dynamics, the phrasing.  Then start playing it as slow as needed to be perfect.  Use a metronome.  Once it's comfortable at this speed you can slowly move the speed up.  This has a couple advantages: you stay comfortable for most of the session, you keep improving, and you don't make mistakes.

Alternatively you can try learning more casually and sloppily stumble through a piece but it feels like rolling the dice and I don't think you'll progress very quickly this way.

Hal Galper has a good message on this, although it might be jazz oriented.  I haven't watched it in a long time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_7DgCrziI8

happy

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Re: Learning piano - help!
« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2019, 07:11:21 PM »
I agree with PoutineLover, why are you re-learning piano? Your goal will define your practice.

If you want to perform at a reasonable technical level then you need to spend up to 30mins a day on scales, arpeggios and something like Hanon exercises. When I re-learned piano after a break of 10 years or so I was surprised how much my technique had deteriorated ( I previously played classical piano to performance level). If this seems like too much time at least try 10-15mins.

I agree with the others, after technical work, spend some time in depth on a couple of pieces. Work on the difficult parts,  work out any tricky fingering, play it over several times very slowly so that you make no mistakes and so on. Try to get them to a high standard. After that some more relaxed time on sight reading, playing some stuff purely for fun, trying out new pieces you'd like to learn, playing over things you've already learned  etc.

Just playing for fun, playing sloppily and mucking around  will be better than nothing but you won't progress beyond a certain point. Its the concentrated in depth work that helps you move forward.


GuitarStv

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Re: Learning piano - help!
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2019, 07:54:22 AM »
I play guitar, bass guitar, tenor guitar, mandolin, harmonica, and drums.  I figure that all instruments are the same at their core . . . but take any advice here with a grain of salt.  :P


Learning an instrument requires a lot of practice . . . but often people waste time practicing the wrong way, and this really impedes their ability to learn quickly.  A crappy practice regimen usually looks like this:
- half heartedly play through a few scales that someone once told you were useful to know that you've played a million times before
- bang out a song or two that you know . . . hear some rough spots where you're not quite hitting the right notes
- improv over a chord progression until you're bored
- spend 2-3 hours on this one day . . . and then ignore your instrument for the rest of the week

A good practice regimen requires pre-planning . . . and looks like this:
- All practice makes use of a metronome
- Spend 5-10 minutes practicing chords/scales/modes/arpeggios that are used in a song that you're learning
- 1-2 minute break doing something else
- Spend 5-10 minutes playing over the toughest parts of a song that you're learning, gradually increasing speed until it no longer sounds fluid/mistakes creep in, then reducing speed until it sounds perfect
- 1-2 minute break doing something else
- Spend 5-10 minutes improvising over a recorded track of the song you're learning, using the scales/modes that you practiced at the start
- 1-2 minute break doing something else
- Spend 10 minutes goofing around doing just making random sounds, playing songs you already know, or whatever other fun stuff you want on the instrument
- Do this routine every day for a week, and swap in different things for the first three 10 minute sections

General stuff to remember:
- Learn songs in small chunks.  It's better to perfect a few bars of a song than half-ass your way through the whole thing.  Once you've got the first bit just right, you can do the same with the next few bars . . . and so on.
- Don't spend too much time on any one thing.  After about ten minutes or so, your mind will start to wander.  You'll start to naturally lose focus.  That's OK.  Take a mini break, and then come back to start something new.  There's a limit to what you can accomplish in a day . . . but there's no limit to what consistency on your instrument will let you achieve.
- Don't learn scales or chords without understanding the theory behind them, and an application/use for them.  Same thing with songs.  If there's a cool part of a song that you're learning, spend some time to figure out why the notes played over the chords sound so good.
- Don't overdo it with technique exercises for the sake of technique exercises.  This can really rob the fun out of playing an instrument.  If it stops being fun you won't want to do it every day.  If you don't want to do it every day, you will not progress on the instrument which will make you more and more frustrated.
- Always leave time for goofing around.  It's fun!  If playing an instrument isn't (at least occasionally) fun, you're doing it wrong!
- Write down long term goals on the instrument, and review them when you're changing up the exercises you're playing to make sure that you're choosing stuff that will get you there in the long term.

talltexan

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Re: Learning piano - help!
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2019, 08:06:49 AM »
I actually signed up for a membership with HD Piano (online).

Learning to play songs from youtube videos or online has really worked out for me, and there are a lot of fun songs out there.

Better Change

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Re: Learning piano - help!
« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2019, 08:22:02 AM »
Timely post!  I am once again considering returning to the piano after I basically dumped it right before leaving for college....sixteen years ago.  Every time I think I'm going to commit to working back up to where I was (also solo classical piano performance level, as well as some jazz and chamber music), I get frustrated by the lack of strength in my fingers.  There's still a ton of muscle memory there - I can remember the chords and scales without actually recalling what the notes should be - but I'm sloppy as heck and have no speed.  I know that I'd have to drill drill drill and drill some more before I'd actually be able to tackle whole pieces again, and that seems super boring.  I'm stuck in this weird place where sure, playing a moody Beethoven prelude or some technical Copland show-stopper would be a great party trick, but I'm not convinced that's enough motivation to get me practicing every day.  I almost need the structure that regular lessons and recitals provide. 

If it's any help, my former teacher would always have me do two things before tackling a new piece head-on 1) work out and record the fingerings and then 2) learn each hand separately.  Smaller goals rather than the frustration of stumbling through the whole thing at first.

God, I used to practice for up to two hours a day seven days a week back in high school while balancing a ridiculous course load.  How did former me have so much energy and focus????

FIRE 20/20

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Re: Learning piano - help!
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2019, 10:27:44 AM »
Thanks for all the comments so far!

I think it would be helpful if you stated your goals - is it to perform, to get better, to improvise or compose songs, to join a band, or to have a repertoire of songs you know well enough to entertain a bit? Then you can structure your practice to meet those goals and forget about the stuff that doesn't matter as much.

Good point.  First, I have no interest in playing in a band or performing.  I get along well with people, but it's incredibly draining for me - especially if we're working towards a group goal.  That's one of the main reasons I FIREd - I would rather read a book at home than have to interact with people at work.  I never liked performing either.  I don't think there's much to Meyers-Briggs, but it does put me as far out on the introverted scale as possible, which is pretty accurate. 

The reason I am trying to learn is that I recently FIREd and I enjoyed playing music until moving for college and starting to work derailed that.  I'd like to be able to sit down and sight read low to medium complexity pieces and be able to learn medium to more complex pieces of music, but if no one else ever heard me play that would be ideal.  My greatest strength when I was playing was sight reading - I loved to be able to pick up my bass and play almost anything the first time I saw it, and I'd love to be able to do that on a piano.  I wrote a few songs when I was playing decades ago, but that's a secondary or tertiary goal for me.  I'm not going to be able to write something better than the great composers so I'd rather play great music than write my own crappy music. 

happy

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Re: Learning piano - help!
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2019, 05:47:43 PM »
God, I used to practice for up to two hours a day seven days a week back in high school while balancing a ridiculous course load.  How did former me have so much energy and focus????
I did 2 hours a day also, but I loved it. It was some sort of emotional release/expression so helped my well being. To move forward I needed to then do up to 3 hours a day...that was just too much so I stopped.