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perfect_pitch
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« on: January 31, 2013, 01:33:34 PM »

I wanted to ask other pianists out there in this forum about technical perfection in music. I was taught by amateur teachers for most of my life before university, who inundated me with a plethora of bad habits that my current teacher is doing well to eliminate. However, I wanted to ask how a pianist gains perfection in terms of his technical ability.

I'm currently learning the works in my signature, and a piano concerto that I hope to use in a piano competition next year, and as much I don't think I have any difficulty with the emotional aspect of playing and conveying beauty in a piece of music - the one thing I've had trouble with in the past is technical perfection. Right now, I'm in the early stages of practice - I'm hoping to get all these pieces (excluding the concerto) ready by March 2014. The concerto needs to be ready by about September 2014.

I want to ask about how someone ensures that they play with technical perfection in their playing. What mental disciplines do people tell themselves to try and rigorously keep their playing technically accurate? It seems too easy to accidentally just brush a extra note when playing chords, just miss a major jump by a couple of millimetres, or just play the note too soft that it doesn't sound - no matter how slow you sometimes practice.

Is there any major advice, mental, physical or psychological that people can offer to really help someone to stay on track???
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lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2013, 01:59:46 PM »

I want to ask about how someone ensures that they play with technical perfection in their playing.
I don't believe in perfection, you are always changing with music, it is like a living entity, it grows, shapes with you as you yourself change through life. There is mastery and when it comes to technique that means comfort and control. Sure you can play a series of notes but how comfortable can you make it, fingers like honey as Mozart might put it. I am constantly aiming for relaxation when I practice, I get agitated when I feel strain or being taxed of energy (but of course sometimes  pieces unavoidably cause it) but when faced with taxing passages it encourages me even more to make it more comfortable. If you are forced into being taxed you need to know where you can recover. This is also just as important as finding a more effortless touch.


What mental disciplines do people tell themselves to try and rigorously keep their playing technically accurate?
For me it comes from observing the best fingering for yourself and relaxation. Technique is fingering as Liszt might put it. But I am also very interested in ensuring that those fingerings are comfortably executed. Comfort is not necessarily a conscious logical statement (although we can put it into it although clumsy) but rather a feeling observation. I am observing the fingering vs notes and relating it to a feeling that I have encountered before, I relate this feeling to my muscular memory which is not really controlled by conscious thought other than do I know this feeling or is this feeling is unnatural for me. If the feeling is unnatural I will consciously consider the score and movement in more detail, this may involve things like  breaking up a bar into manageable parts, simplifying the score and then moving in stages to the final result, experimentation aiming to find the most relaxing movements (which often relates to fingering choices as well as movement).


It seems too easy to accidentally just brush a extra note when playing chords, just miss a major jump by a couple of millimetres, or just play the note too soft that it doesn't sound - no matter how slow you sometimes practice.
I never let these uncontrollable factors go until they are gone. Of course learning a long piece requires that we play it completely with the small mistakes and errors. But we must be meticulous when we go back and remove them, it is tempting to believe they will solve themselves in time and many of them do, but we must give effort to parts which evade this natural improvement and find out why it is stumping us. Stick with them and they will be solved, not everything will naturally solve itself, and certainly our progress can become inefficient if we leave too much to naturally solving itself.


Is there any major advice, mental, physical or psychological that people can offer to really help someone to stay on track???
Enjoy just investigating your own two hands, repeat small trouble passages over and over again as a meditation and then put them in context with the phrase. I just love spending time getting to know my own two hands on the keyboard when it has nothing to do with learning notes or improving expression. Just standing back while you play and observe the feelings and experiment and tinker with it just like a scientist might when exploring the unknown.



I might add that no performance is perfect, a missed note or added note here or there doesn't really matter, look at Horowitz and he is a piano hero!

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p2u_
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« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2013, 03:06:35 PM »

@ perfect_pitch

Ultimate perfection does not exist. I tend to emphasize the sound image + the corresponding movements to create it. This is usually the key to developing something of value.

Of course, there is also your attitude towards it all. If you think of pieces as "difficult", then that's most probably what they will sound like, and this goes against true art. Don't behave like a student; you're a master already with just a little less experience than the one that teaches you (your senior colleague).

Also, read a lot, appreciate other kinds of art, watch successful people doing their thing easily and confidently, and learn from that...

Paul
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pianoman53
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« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2013, 03:32:55 PM »

Technique is ultimately do be able to create what you want. What I ask both from me and my students is to always listen before playing.

If you constantly listen to what you want to achieve, you'll get there. Play small parts, but with the utmost focus. If you are happy with the way it sounded, make sure you can do it like 5 times. The day after you do the same, and sooner or later you'll have "the perfect technique".

When I have a problem in a fast passage, it's usually because of thinking. When I don't know what I want, I will never be happy with the result, and the result will vary a lot.


Obviously, this might sound like a really crappy teacher's advice, when she ran out of ideas, but it really makes sense if you practice like that for a while.

Also think like "What would my teacher tell me here". If you've studied with her for more than a year, you're probably able to figure it out.
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dcstudio
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« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2013, 03:39:32 PM »

@ perfect_pitch

Ultimate perfection does not exist. I tend to emphasize the sound image + the corresponding movements to create it. This is usually the key to developing something of value.

Of course, there is also your attitude towards it all. If you think of pieces as "difficult", then that's most probably what they will sound like, and this goes against true art. Don't behave like a student; you're a master already with just a little less experience than the one that teaches you (your senior colleague).

Also, read a lot, appreciate other kinds of art, watch successful people doing their thing easily and confidently, and learn from that...

Paul

Paul--why is it soooo hard to convince students of this concept?  They give me a "well, it's easy for you but I could never do that!"  response.    

I tell my students:

You own the piano--it does not own you.
You are the Master and it is YOUR servant.
A piano master makes it look easy---because it IS easy.  



I am so glad you joined our humble forum!!!  
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p2u_
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« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2013, 05:03:54 PM »

I am so glad you joined our humble forum!!!

Thank you. I'm a rather humble person myself, so I guess I belong here. Wink

Paul
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ruvidoetostinato
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« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2013, 10:40:13 PM »

Paul--why is it soooo hard to convince students of this concept?  They give me a "well, it's easy for you but I could never do that!"  response.    

I tell my students:

You own the piano--it does not own you.
You are the Master and it is YOUR servant.
A piano master makes it look easy---because it IS easy.  



I am so glad you joined our humble forum!!!  

My teacher liked to say that the piano is simply a tool.

Perfection doesn't exist.  Humans aren't perfect.

Always reaching for perfection is what creates the illusion of perfection.



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Rachmaninoff: Trio Elegiaque #2
Ginastera: Cello Sonata
Anderson & Roe: Carmen Fantasy
Schumann: Kreisleriana
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Liszt: Totentanz
pianoman53
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« Reply #7 on: February 01, 2013, 07:36:14 AM »

Yeah, maybe he could tell the competition jury that.

Come on, everyone knows that perfection doesn't exist, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't strive for it, and he now asked for a few advice on how to get there.. So how will it help with saying "It doesn't exist"?
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perfect_pitch
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« Reply #8 on: February 01, 2013, 08:59:10 AM »

I want to try and look at this aspect of piano, because I think it's all something we strive for. I want to look at the most minute physical aspects of playing that help us strive for playing the correct keys... I want to look at the psychological aspects that keep our minds focused on the music in front of us.

I look at people like Pollini and Ashkenazy, and Lisitsa as well and wonder what separates their practice regime from ours in general. Do they do something different from us? How do they look at a new piece of music? How do they attain that high level of precision when playing? Is it simply that they spend longer on practicing the pieces than we do, or is there something more?

I tell my students:

You own the piano--it does not own you.
You are the Master and it is YOUR servant.
A piano master makes it look easy---because it IS easy.  

Maybe... but how often would you say you have a performance that has had no errors in terms of the technical aspects. Have you managed to play a recital without making a single wrong note? I see many in piano competitions who seem to have the utmost uncanny ability to play with technical precision.

I understand there's no such thing as emotional perfection in playing as people will interpret the music in different ways. I'm not interested in trying to mimic someone elses playing... but at least think about the technical aspect.

I never let these uncontrollable factors go until they are gone. Of course learning a long piece requires that we play it completely with the small mistakes and errors. But we must be meticulous when we go back and remove them, it is tempting to believe they will solve themselves in time and many of them do, but we must give effort to parts which evade this natural improvement and find out why it is stumping us. Stick with them and they will be solved, not everything will naturally solve itself, and certainly our progress can become inefficient if we leave too much to naturally solving itself.

But even there... when is a mistake really solved? Even if you make the mistake once and spend an hour removing it - you'll be surprised to find that days, or even weeks later it will sometimes make an appearance.

I understand the difference between what I like to call practiced mistakes, and spontaneous mistakes. They two types are each in themselves annoying. Although we can take an incredible amount of effort to eliminate any practiced mistakes (like playing scalic passages with not enough evenness in rhythm), after a while I seem to play with small spontaneous mistakes. You blink, or even look away for a second and the brain loses its concentration for even a nanosecond and it can cause really annoying mistakes.

Take for instance a piece you know incredibly well - is it possible to say play it 3 times in a row without even the slightest technical mistake? Is it possible to train your brain to focus all your concentration on that one particular task and keep concentrating at the music at hand. Can you get to a point where you can ensure every single note is right, every movement of your hand is in ABSOLUTE COMPLETE control, and can you guarantee that the physical movements of your hands, arms and shoulders can control themselves to play that piece 3 times without any hesitation or change???

That's what I'd like to really delve into.

Perfection doesn't exist.  Humans aren't perfect.

No offense - but I'd say Pollini is the exception. His playing is PERFECT!!!   
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pianoman53
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« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2013, 09:06:17 AM »

Obviously it's all in how you practice. If you practice with focus, and playing every phrase perfect, or make it perfect, every time you practice, it will obviously be more and more secure that you wont make mistakes later.
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p2u_
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« Reply #10 on: February 01, 2013, 09:07:03 AM »

I look at people like Pollini and Ashkenazy, and Lisitsa as well and wonder what separates their practice regime from ours in general.

Good habits from early on with no detours or attempts at taking shortcuts.

Paul
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lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2013, 09:40:18 AM »

But even there... when is a mistake really solved?
How long is a thread of string? It is difficult to say a generalization. When you feel comfortable and have limited the chance of error to a tiny number, then a mistake is solved. When it comes to performance I would think that the chance for error is extremely small and if an error creeps in it is not noticeable enough to effect the presentation.

Even if you make the mistake once and spend an hour removing it - you'll be surprised to find that days, or even weeks later it will sometimes make an appearance.
This only occurs if you haven't really solved the issue, it is ok to sometimes happen but to occur every time you play the piece, this needs to be addressed.

I understand the difference between what I like to call practiced mistakes, and spontaneous mistakes. They two types are each in themselves annoying. Although we can take an incredible amount of effort to eliminate any practiced mistakes (like playing scalic passages with not enough evenness in rhythm), after a while I seem to play with small spontaneous mistakes. You blink, or even look away for a second and the brain loses its concentration for even a nanosecond and it can cause really annoying mistakes.
Those one off mistakes are nothing, ignore them, but those mistakes that occur because we are leaving our playing to chance and not completely controlling our playing, this needs to be focused on.

Take for instance a piece you know incredibly well - is it possible to say play it 3 times in a row without even the slightest technical mistake?
Yes certainly, there are countless numbers of lower grade pieces that I can do it just by sight reading. Pieces that are advanced but I have memorised for many years also fall under this category. It is not that I can play it 100% every single time but the chances that I do is very high because I know them so well. But is this necessary for performances? I don't think so, if it was a requirement then it would take years and years practice before a piece could be presented. It is more for ourselves, we should be interested in finding a more and more accurate and effortless technique, this doesn't always effect the sound but it is an investigation that we should enjoy for the long term.

Is it possible to train your brain to focus all your concentration on that one particular task and keep concentrating at the music at hand.
Listening to ones self while playing can set up this situation. Learning to listen to yourself rather than getting caught up over the notes. When I was younger and relied completely on muscular memory if I even started to consciously consider the notes I would make mistakes and forget what I was doing. We should however train ourselves to be able to consciously consider the notes now and then but at the same time maintain the muscular memory/feeling association which is a more efficient observation to control our playing.


Can you get to a point where you can ensure every single note is right, every movement of your hand is in ABSOLUTE COMPLETE control, and can you guarantee that the physical movements of your hands, arms and shoulders can control themselves to play that piece 3 times without any hesitation or change???
Yes, go play pieces lower than your current level and you can easily experience it. When you play pieces more at your level you question what elements cause you the issues and you solve them. You might be able to play a grade 5 piece in less than an hours practice and play it perfectly , but could you do that when you first started the piano? Of course you couldn't. Question why this is the case and what it means for your current level now.
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lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #12 on: February 01, 2013, 09:46:46 AM »

These days digital editing can make performances sound perfect, I am yet to see a live performance of high class difficult pieces with perfection.
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perfect_pitch
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« Reply #13 on: February 01, 2013, 10:13:32 AM »

These days digital editing can make performances sound perfect, I am yet to see a live performance of high class difficult pieces with perfection.

You know what - even with the older generation of performers I realised that a great deal still used editing to produce a practically perfect recording. Even Claudio Arrau's recording of his Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue has been edited. I noticed that recently - along with a few other pianists after getting the 100 Greatest Pianists of the 20th Century collection.

But then again - you watch the piano competitions - there's no chance to edit them there... and they have a REMARKABLE level of perfection in their playing.

You might be able to play a grade 5 piece in less than an hours practice and play it perfectly , but could you do that when you first started the piano? Of course you couldn't. Question why this is the case and what it means for your current level now.

Good point... Obviously the reason for this is that we've gotten to a level where Grade 5 pieces are technically easy and our minds can quickly sight-read the notes, while paying attention to the detail (articulation, dynamics, voicing etc). They are usually shorter as well which allows in the assisting of memorisation, learning and the minds ability to stay focused. It's like asking an adult times-tables questions... THE PROBLEM IS...

As we expect to enhance and develop our technique - pieces of music get longer and harder, some of course which are hard enough that they take months for even the greatest pianists in the world to master (despite the fact that nothing can really be mastered in the sense of music). These pieces are designed to stretch out minds and our physical bodies to the most extreme point of fatigue almost in the effort to determine our success as a pianist. We cant simply go through life though playing music that is technically beneath us, as we'll never enhance our skills if we do.
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dcstudio
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« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2013, 03:20:10 PM »



I look at people like Pollini and Ashkenazy, and Lisitsa as well and wonder what separates their practice regime from ours in general. Do they do something different from us? How do they look at a new piece of music? How do they attain that high level of precision when playing? Is it simply that they spend longer on practicing the pieces than we do, or is there something more?

 

I heard Valentina say that she would read books on chess and practice at the same time.  This sounds impossible...but have you ever tried it?   she never said exactly what she was practicing--she said she was only "pretending" to practice to keep her parents happy--and all the while she was focused on reading a book.  I have a theory that this played a bigger role in her development than she realizes.   

this is a different kind of practicing wouldn't you agree?  talk about your multi-taskers...lol Grin
 
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ruvidoetostinato
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« Reply #15 on: February 01, 2013, 11:54:00 PM »

Yeah, maybe he could tell the competition jury that.

Come on, everyone knows that perfection doesn't exist, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't strive for it, and he now asked for a few advice on how to get there.. So how will it help with saying "It doesn't exist"?

The piano is a tool.  Just like our mouth is a tool through which we produce sounds. 

"Always reaching for perfection is what creates the illusion of perfection."

I actually didn't mean he should stop striving for it.
My all time favorite quote is by the late Gyorgy Sebok.
"One has to accept that to be human is to be fallible, and then do the best one can and be captured by the music."

If one wants to get to as perfect as he/she can be, then of course it requires lots of reading, lots of experimentation with existing methods of playing to find out what works for the him/her the best for a given passage, hours of physical choreography in regards to the actual performance, so that these motions become so ingrained that they become second nature.  There's just an endless amount of things one must do to attain this so-called perfection.  And when that person does achieve it, he'll realize that there's even more.

In regards to international competition pianists, my friend gave me his opinion.  Personally, I don't believe it to be true, but maybe there's some out there.

Basically, he said these "perfect" performance on the stage is possible, because some of these pianists practice these pieces for years in preparation for the said competition. 

Just like we're so adept at walking (I don't remember ever forgetting how to walk, except for the occasional tripping[aleatoric events]).  (Exaggerated) If you meticulously practiced a piece and repeated every single detail you were unsure with a few hundred times, then the product will be pretty much perfect, except for those times when aleatoric events happen.
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"Practice makes not so imperfect."
Rachmaninoff: Trio Elegiaque #2
Ginastera: Cello Sonata
Anderson & Roe: Carmen Fantasy
Schumann: Kreisleriana
Scriabin: Sonata #2
Liszt: Totentanz
dcstudio
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« Reply #16 on: February 02, 2013, 02:37:42 PM »

there is a book called Effortless Mastery--by Kenny Werner... I think you would enjoy it -- I sure did. 
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lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #17 on: February 03, 2013, 12:02:50 AM »

This thread is quite relevant also
http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=24720.0
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perfect_pitch
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« Reply #18 on: February 03, 2013, 01:39:24 AM »

Damn... I remember that thread. It's been a while...

Thanks for all the comments, and I will check the book by Kenny Werner. Sound interesting.

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pianoman53
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« Reply #19 on: February 04, 2013, 11:48:27 AM »

If you have to read books about perfection, read "great pianists" by James Francis cooke. Interviews with pianists like busoni, bachhaus and de pachmann. They knew their perfection...
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perfect_pitch
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« Reply #20 on: February 04, 2013, 01:38:15 PM »

Cool... I need to do a bit of reading then...
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