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Topic: playing below at or above one's level  (Read 4953 times)

Offline trance_dude

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playing below at or above one's level
on: March 28, 2017, 03:13:27 AM
Hello all,

I've recently taken up piano again after a 25 year hiatus; I had played classical for maybe 4-5 years when younger.  I'm currently choosing which pieces to learn and musical directions to go in.  When you guys choose your next piece, where in your playing "range" (in terms of difficulty) do you guys typically land?  Do you more often pick something "at" or slightly "above" your level in order to improve a bit incrementally while focusing on musicality, vs. choosing something more difficult (relatively speaking) to challenge yourself.

Obviously answers could be very different per situation and also for an established professional vs amateur etc.  As an amateur I have the luxury of playing whatever I want, whenever I want, or not at all, but still I want to improve and get the most out of it, so just wondering if you have any tips to share. 

My personal goals are to improve both technically and more importantly musically while having fun and playing interesting pieces, some of which might be played for others or in recitals.  Not necessarily interested in becoming a brilliant technician or being able to master the hardest Chopin out there.  I recently learned Schubert's Impromptu Op 90 #2 and am now learning #3.  #2 was probably near the top of my ability (at least when I started it) and so for a long time it was pretty sloppy.  I played it not so great at a recital.  On the other hand I improved immensely by learning and memorizing it (and also #3), and also by publicly performing it (which I have never done before)...  it is much better now.  And best of all I've really come to love the pieces.  Such great compositions... esp #3 which is one of my favorite pieces of music ever.

General question I know but just throwing it out there.  Thanks much!!

Offline bronnestam

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #1 on: March 28, 2017, 12:53:49 PM
I usually go for the "choose whatever I want" line. I think of a certain piece I like and then I try it. However, I go easy if I realize that it is very difficult, then I understand it will take some years ...  :P Some parts of the piece may seem to require certain skills that I don't feel I have at the moment and then I look for other pieces or exercises that can help me develop these skills. But as I play the piano for my own pleasure and personal development, I don't mind skipping the worst parts and just play the easier ones to begin with. As I am an amateur with very limited time to practice - sometimes no time at all - I have to accept that learning pieces takes many months or even years for me, and then I am not even talking about performance level, just a reasonable flow ...
When the work is overwhelming, I might put the piece on hold for a while.   

In order not to make the work TOO heavy I also try to mix the challenges with easier pieces. I get bored if I work too much with just one or two pieces, therefore I work with lots of pieces in parallel and let my whimsy lead me.

Actually I have no idea what "level" I am at, therefore I cannot say whether I normally play at my level or above it. Above it, I suppose. Challenges are fun. And I made I deal with myself some years ago never to say "this is too difficult for me" again. I say "this will take a lot of time" instead. Or even "I put this on hold for now".   :)

 

Offline dogperson

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #2 on: March 28, 2017, 01:08:15 PM
It sounds like you have a teacher?   What I do is bring in my 'wish repertoire' to my  lesson, so that I can get my teacher's feedback on 'yes' or 'not yet'. She is best able to judge what skills the work will help me develop. ... or whether it will be too much (right now)

I do try to include pieces that at are at or below my level as well....so that everything is not a lot of work.   And I learn from them, as well.  

Yes, I am an amateur--- but I personally find it demoralizing to work on something and just never get two or three measures correct.  If that doesn't bother you, then your standards for what you work on could be looser than mine. 

Offline outin

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #3 on: March 28, 2017, 03:50:45 PM
Not sure about my "level" either, but since every piece has big challenges I guess I tend to go above :)

Offline mjames

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #4 on: March 28, 2017, 05:02:59 PM
I do both. I pick pieces that further refine the skills I already have, and also go for pieces that introduce me to new stuff, which usually makes it a huge challenge.

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #5 on: March 28, 2017, 06:52:28 PM
Here's how I look at levels: If a piece is at or below your level, you can play ninety-percent of it within a few runs at it, and can get right down to details and interpretation. If a piece is above your level, you literally have to work through every measure on every page for hours on end ...

It also has to do with what you're trying to accomplish as a musician. If you're playing just for the sake of playing and enjoying music, by all means play the pieces you love, and as long as a kink here and there don't bother you, you're fine. But if you're a perfectionist, or are wanting to start playing for others to judge and critique, then stick to the stuff mentioned above that is within your level. After awhile, your skills will build on each other and that level should climb higher and higher, providing you keep working at music.

Is this an answer you were looking for?
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline thirtytwo2020

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #6 on: March 29, 2017, 11:38:26 AM
My personal goals are to improve both technically and more importantly musically while having fun and playing interesting pieces,

Considering that these are your goals I think that you should mainly look for things that are at or  slightly above your current level. And when you find something "interesting" which seems very challenging, you shouldn't be afraid of trying it, but maybe keep working parallelly on some easier pieces.

I like to work on several pieces at once, making sure that just one of these is a great technical challenge. Only working on something extremely difficult, that I think I might be able to play in a distant future, is simply too tedious and doesn't give enough musical satisfaction.

Offline visitor

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #7 on: March 29, 2017, 11:53:32 AM
Really disapointed
Saw this thread title and hoped and thought it was a discussion on seating height and the level adjustment of the piano bench for body positioning when playing...
 :'(

Offline louispodesta

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #8 on: March 30, 2017, 10:20:41 PM
Hello all,

I've recently taken up piano again after a 25 year hiatus; I had played classical for maybe 4-5 years when younger.  I'm currently choosing which pieces to learn and musical directions to go in.  When you guys choose your next piece, where in your playing "range" (in terms of difficulty) do you guys typically land?  Do you more often pick something "at" or slightly "above" your level in order to improve a bit incrementally while focusing on musicality, vs. choosing something more difficult (relatively speaking) to challenge yourself.

Obviously answers could be very different per situation and also for an established professional vs amateur etc.  As an amateur I have the luxury of playing whatever I want, whenever I want, or not at all, but still I want to improve and get the most out of it, so just wondering if you have any tips to share. 

My personal goals are to improve both technically and more importantly musically while having fun and playing interesting pieces, some of which might be played for others or in recitals.  Not necessarily interested in becoming a brilliant technician or being able to master the hardest Chopin out there.  I recently learned Schubert's Impromptu Op 90 #2 and am now learning #3.  #2 was probably near the top of my ability (at least when I started it) and so for a long time it was pretty sloppy.  I played it not so great at a recital.  On the other hand I improved immensely by learning and memorizing it (and also #3), and also by publicly performing it (which I have never done before)...  it is much better now.  And best of all I've really come to love the pieces.  Such great compositions... esp #3 which is one of my favorite pieces of music ever.

General question I know but just throwing it out there.  Thanks much!!


I need to know if you have a teacher before I can analytically respond.  And, my best wishes on your efforts.  I have lived this path.

Offline trance_dude

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #9 on: March 31, 2017, 04:13:28 PM
Thanks for all the responses guys. Very helpful. As several of you mentioned I am leaning towards working on a few pieces at once, some easier but still interesting, and maybe one which is more challenging to me. In many things I do, not just piano, I find a challenge motivates me and ultimately gives greater satisfaction, not to mention improving me more, not that that is necessarily the end goal in and of itself. Yes, I have a teacher.

Related question. At what point do you stop practicing something? Again very context dependent question of course. Some pieces I find myself wanting to practice to get them as perfect as possible, which I can never completely do, but the point being that other pieces I just get bored with and don't feel the need to keep practicing.  I guess the downside of that is that when I come back to it I don't truly know the piece.

Thanks all!

Offline Bob

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #10 on: March 31, 2017, 10:45:06 PM
Why not both?

More realistically, use a "monster" piece to push yourself in some direction, but don't plan on performing it.  Just "put it aside" for a while when you're done with it.

And for the easier pieces figure out what else could improve, unless you're sure you're playing it perfectly, exactly as the composer meant it to be played, and there's absolutely nothing else that could be improved about it.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline dogperson

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #11 on: March 31, 2017, 11:44:59 PM
Thanks for all the responses guys. Very helpful. As several of you mentioned I am leaning towards working on a few pieces at once, some easier but still interesting, and maybe one which is more challenging to me. In many things I do, not just piano, I find a challenge motivates me and ultimately gives greater satisfaction, not to mention improving me more, not that that is necessarily the end goal in and of itself. Yes, I have a teacher.

Related question. At what point do you stop practicing something? Again very context dependent question of course. Some pieces I find myself wanting to practice to get them as perfect as possible, which I can never completely do, but the point being that other pieces I just get bored with and don't feel the need to keep practicing.  I guess the downside of that is that when I come back to it I don't truly know the piece.

Thanks all!
 

I have asked my teacher this same question lately:
- If it a piece you are polishing, you may reach a point where 'it is as good as it can get now'. Put it aside and come back..   Yes, you will have a learning curve but it will not be as steep as the first time, and you will be approaching it with fresh eyes which will improve the performance as you polish again.   
- If it is a piece you are not polishing-- have you learned from it what you wanted to learn?  If yes, put it aside. 

Offline tinyhands

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #12 on: April 01, 2017, 01:58:54 PM
I kind of know what level I am at because of the ABRSM system in the Uk that sets 'grades' for pieces although I am not doing the exams themselves, but they do give me an idea of what is achievable for my level. They are good in the way the books cover Baroque, Classical , Romantic  and Modern pieces, so you pick up the various styles and skills needed for each genre.

I then do a bit of research on the internet for similar pieces. As an amateur adult my teacher lets me chose my own pieces, but she has commented that I always seem aware of choosing a piece for what I will gain from it. ( i.e. -Bach inventions to work on my hand independence, Mozart for a sparkling touch..) which she is impressed with.

I did chose one piece recently that was much harder than it first looked, it actually feels a little overwhelming as there is just so much to do with it, but then my teacher is quite strict on technique. It's good and passable just now, but it is too big a piece for me to ever fully master it at the level I am on. A bad habit of mine is you-tubing concert pianists and comparing myself to them, then feeling disillusioned  ;D

But as my teacher says you can play a grade 4 piece to a grade 8 standard and vice versa. She says you need the solid basics in order to progress.
I like to go back and look at pieces I did a few years ago..then I see the improvements and know I am getting better, so for me I am glad I am building up slowly and steadily, rather than tackling huge pieces and getting put off.

Offline temptar

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #13 on: April 02, 2017, 10:40:54 AM
Related question. At what point do you stop practicing something? Again very context dependent question of course. Some pieces I find myself wanting to practice to get them as perfect as possible, which I can never completely do, but the point being that other pieces I just get bored with and don't feel the need to keep practicing.  I guess the downside of that is that when I come back to it I don't truly know the piece.

Thanks all!

It depends on how you read this. There's a point at which you move from practising a piece to playing it. If you consider practice as playing it...where is the line between working on something and playing it for pleasure?

Offline mrcreosote

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Re: playing below at or above one's level
Reply #14 on: April 16, 2017, 07:53:11 AM
Interesting, the Schubert Op. 90 #2 Impromptu was one of my core pieces in my First Repertoire. (The entire rep was wiped out when I had no piano for 6 months due to family crisis.)

YOUR MEMORY LEVEL?

You didn't mention your memorizing ability.  Is it the least of your problems?  For me it is 90% of my problems.  Classical and Baroque are very easy to memorize but can be a bear to play.  In particular, Pires doing the Shu Op90 #1 is so heart wrenchingly sad, it literally brought tears to my eyes.

PIRES: PLAY #1 as #10:

You MUST check out Pires' on stage ready to perform a Mozart concerto.... and the orchestra starts playing the wrong one!  Since then I am a diehard Pires fan. And listening to her #1 confirms her genius.

Which leads to the point of playing a #1 grade at a #10 level.  The simplicity of the Shu #1 is trivial, but each note has it's own story.  What is nifty about a piece like that is if you can get it right, you will have anyone, anywhere eating out of the palm of your hand.  Further, I would say if you play below your level, find stuff like that.  Lots of pianissimo and rubato - perhaps focus on that for these types.

MODERN COMPLEX MUSIC:

Which leads to the Other Types:  Difficult technically and complex making memorization difficult.  It starts around Chopin and progresses to Rachmaninoff with Liszt wreaking havoc in the meantime.  Then if you head way out there, you get into Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Ravel, and eventually Ligeti.  That stuff is so wicked hard to play, understand (I'm joking right?), and lastly memorize.  In fact, a consensus is brewing about memorizing in general.  With the complex avant garde that is out there, memorizing beasts like Yuja Wang uses music.  Martha seems to be using more in her Old Ag3, but then she's Martha, and what Martha wants to do, Martha does - and we love her all the more.  (If you want to curse someone about memorizing, it appears Clara Schumann was the culprit as was Chopin for the recital.  I curse them both in that regard!  BTW, only Violinists and Pianists are expected to memorize. 

WHAT I'M DOING:

Which leads to what I'm doing: the exploration of modern complex music with my limited mental processing power.  Since it takes me forever to memorize something complex (Prok's Precipitato is over a year old for me and still my recall is "dropping frames"), I've throw caution to he wind and am embracing pieces that I'm crushing on.  The Prec was one - I memorized it in maybe 6 weeks which for me was record breaking, but it was an obsession.  Rach Etude-Tableaux #6 and Prok Toccata are massively difficult, and it will take years to get them anywhere playable, but then, that suits me fine.  The way I look at it, if I could play the Toccata, just that one piece, I would be content.

ACCURACY, SPEED, and EMOTION: (NOT in that order!)

I used to be obsessed with accuracy.  This is the least important of the three.  Emotion is #1 and so is speed because if you slow down, say Gershwin's Preludes to get he notes right, that is an epic fail.  You can practice accuracy and try to bring accurate speed along, but when you perform, you have to play it the way it must be, speed and emotion wise.

Remember what Beethoven said, Beethoven who some used the adjective "demonic" for his performances - and yes, he probably was playing with sheet music (!)  (I think Liszt was one of the first virtuosos that memorized.) 

Beethoven said to a student:  (It ain't the meat, it's the motion.) :)

"In the Variations dedicated to the Princess Odescalchi (Op. 34), I was obliged to repeat the last Adagio variations almost entirely seventeen times; yet he was still dissatisfied with the expression of the little cadenza, although I thought I played it as well as he.  On this day I had a lesson which lasted nearly two hours.  If I made a mistake in passages or missed notes and leaps which he frequently wanted emphasized he seldom said anything; but if I was faulty in expression, in crescendos, etc., or in the character of the music, he grew angry because, as he said, the former was accidental while the latter disclosed lack of knowledge, feeling, or attentiveness.  The former slips very frequently happened to him even when he was playing in public" (TF: 295; --

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