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Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get (Read 479 times)

Offline helveticat

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Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
« on: March 29, 2020, 08:37:16 AM »
I've been lurking here for a week or two and thought I'd see what some of you might have to say about my present predicament. I'm primarily hoping for suggestions about what to practice but will take anything you're willing to throw at me.

I'm approaching 50 and have played guitar for 35 years [not classical guitar]. Recently I had to give up the instrument due to tendonitis and I've taken up piano instead.

I already have some relevant skills: I can read, have a reasonable ear, know theory well (I've done quite a lot of traditional composing), and know more or less what I want out of the whole thing. So although I'm not a novice in *music*, I'm an absolute rank beginner at the keyboard. This is awkward as I'm constantly frustrated about making "slow" progress.

I'm mostly interested in improvisation, so while I do want to learn and study pieces I've no illusions about playing them in front of anyone. The idiom I'm most attracted to is 20th century classical music, which I've listened to since I was a teenager. So one problem is that I know most of the composers whose music excites me are very far away from me technically (Debussy, Schoenberg, Messiaen, Scriabin etc).

I've owned a decent digital piano for about 4 months. I work on major scales, seventh arpeggios and chromatic and whole-tone scales. I have a lot of work to do there, but I more or less know how to improve that. I've also been playing along with jazz / pop records by ear because that's fun to do. My timetable varies but I can practice a couple of hours a day almost every day.

But I'm struggling a bit for repertoire. I do want to play some C20 music to absorb the language and how it translates onto the keyboard.

I've been working through Book 1 of Mikrokosmos and am enjoying the crunchy sounds. They are at about my level: the early pieces are an easy sight-read but I've hit the final third of the book and am going much more slowly now that the hands need to do different things.

I've got Bergmuller, and again the level is about right for me but my ear doesn't love the language. These feel more like "homework" to me than the Bartoks, even though in many way's they're more substantial.

I'd like to try the Bach 2-part Inventions or Stravinsky's Les Cinq Doigts but both look a bit scary to me at this point. Maybe in a couple of months' time?

Does anyone have suggestions or other sage advice for someone in my position? Or encouraging stories of folks who've trodden the same path I'm just starting on?

Online outin

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #1 on: March 29, 2020, 10:19:01 AM »
Welcome to Pianostreet! I know exactly how you feel, since I also started as a mature adult and found it difficult to find suitable easy music.

Check out:
Kabalevsky op 27, op 39 and op 89
Shostakovich op 69
Prokofiev op 65
Casella op 35
Dello Joio Suite for the young
Bartok (there's too much to list)
Stravinsky Les cinq doigts
Satie has some rather simple (although not necessary easy) pieces
Alexander Tansman (lots of beginner music)

And get this book, I promise you won't be disappointed:
http://www.amazon.com/Pianists-Standard-Teaching-Performance-Literature/dp/0882846558


Offline helveticat

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #2 on: March 29, 2020, 12:30:38 PM »
Welcome to Pianostreet! I know exactly how you feel, since I also started as a mature adult and found it difficult to find suitable easy music.

Check out:
Kabalevsky op 27, op 39 and op 89
Shostakovich op 69
Prokofiev op 65
Casella op 35
Dello Joio Suite for the young
Bartok (there's too much to list)
Stravinsky Les cinq doigts
Satie has some rather simple (although not necessary easy) pieces
Alexander Tansman (lots of beginner music)

And get this book, I promise you won't be disappointed:
http://www.amazon.com/Pianists-Standard-Teaching-Performance-Literature/dp/0882846558

Lovely, thank you! I'll look these out. I did have a look at the first Gymnopedie the other day, but only in passing and it was obvious I wasn't going to be able to just "knock it out" in a few sessions. I put it aside for later but maybe I should spend some more time with it. Tansman is a bit of a find -- I've never heard of him before but I like what I hear.

Online outin

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #3 on: March 29, 2020, 01:32:07 PM »
BTW. I would forget about the inventions and Bach in general for now. They can be extremely frustrating even if simple looking and most won't start on them until a few years study experience. So much is about finding good fingering and you need to know your hands and be experienced to do it well.

Offline j_tour

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #4 on: March 29, 2020, 03:06:14 PM »
BTW. I would forget about the inventions and Bach in general for now. They can be extremely frustrating even if simple looking and most won't start on them until a few years study experience. So much is about finding good fingering and you need to know your hands and be experienced to do it well.

Yeah, maybe. 

I would say 99% of my time reading Bach is spent figuring out which hand is going to cover which part.  It's very slow, methodical work, but it does get easier.

But for an ear player like the OP, with an interest in improvisation, that doesn't seem so bad.  Probably well within the realm of reason to take, say, everybody's favorites like the C maj or D min inventions. 
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline helveticat

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #5 on: March 29, 2020, 06:16:50 PM »
Probably well within the realm of reason to take, say, everybody's favorites like the C maj or D min inventions.

I just had a look at the Dmin and it seems within reach if I take my time and learn the two hands separately. I'd forgotten how great Bach is even in tiny little pieces; I think I'll be quite happy working it out for a while.

I've also had a chance to look at the first pieces in the Stravinsky and Kabalevsky Op 27 and those look ideal too. It's nice to have a change from Bartok's foot-stomping peasant folk.

Nice to be able to take baby steps without playing things called "Dance of the Baby Elephants" and "Teddy Bears' Teatime"  ;D

Offline ranjit

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #6 on: March 30, 2020, 01:01:45 AM »
But for an ear player like the OP, with an interest in improvisation, that doesn't seem so bad.  Probably well within the realm of reason to take, say, everybody's favorites like the C maj or D min inventions.

This made me think about how I started playing. Playing by ear definitely improves your sense of fingering! I've never had too many problems with fingering (and I was playing by ear since day 1), while I've seen people who have been playing for years and who can play really well get terribly stuck over fingering.

If the OP is anything like what I was, I would expect the fingering in the right hand to be a breeze, but to get slightly confused with the fingering in the left hand (in most contemporary contexts, the left hand plays the role of the accompaniment), and absolutely bamboozled when trying to coordinate both hands. ;D Still worth a shot though, I'd say. Worst case, you'll come back to it after a few months or a year. These abilities have a way of magically improving over time. Six months from now, you'll be playing things without thinking better than you can right now when you are at your best. It's still worth it.

Actually, I tried to play Bach Invention 13 a year after starting to play the piano. While playing the notes was hard but manageable, committing that thing to memory was absolute torture. I left it after finishing half a page.

Given what the OP has said, I think easy Bach such as the C major prelude should be manageable.

Offline j_tour

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #7 on: March 30, 2020, 03:29:13 AM »
Actually, I tried to play Bach Invention 13 a year after starting to play the piano. While playing the notes was hard but manageable, committing that thing to memory was absolute torture. I left it after finishing half a page.

Well, sure.  If there's anything more difficult to memorize than Bach, except for maybe Schoenberg, I'm not aware of it. 

At least with the inventions or some of the similar pieces from the dance suites with two voices you can always fall back on singing the parts in your mind or out loud.

Quote from: helviticat
Nice to be able to take baby steps without playing things called "Dance of the Baby Elephants" and "Teddy Bears' Teatime"  ;D

Heh.  Good to hear you're keeping a sense of humor about the whole endeavor!

I wouldn't rule out "Jimbo's Lullaby" from Debussy, though!  (Supposedly inspired by a captive elephant in Paris on exhibition!) Probably not to everyone's taste, but I like it!  The notes are pretty simple, but the piece has its own challenges, especially to keep the rhythm going while not balking at the partial chord voicings using the major second interval.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #8 on: March 30, 2020, 05:16:53 AM »
Well, sure.  If there's anything more difficult to memorize than Bach, except for maybe Schoenberg, I'm not aware of it. 

How 'bout Sorabji? ;D

Offline j_tour

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #9 on: March 30, 2020, 07:43:41 AM »
How 'bout Sorabji? ;D

I remain completely agnostic! 

And, no I'm not opening up that kettle of snakes!

ETA, yeah I want to amplify a bit on Bach.  No, I'm not an authority, and I'm not even a very good pianist.  I mean, sure, I can play a bit, not doing the false modesty thing, but I'm not kidding anybody that I'm some big deal pianist, nor even a big deal musician.  I do all right, but I'm not going to pretend I'm anywhere near some the real players who pull down more than a few bills per session..  Dig, there's Bach and then there's Bach. 

Anything with three or more voices in the contrapunctal style:  yes, absolutely.  That's what I mean when I'm talking about spending LOTS of time working out hand movements, fingering, and making the voices clear.

But there's plenty of Bach that can just be read off the page pretty easily.  Like, say, the Air from the E minor keyboard partita. Or whatever. 

The D minor invention is another excellent choice.  Maybe the long-ish trill in the LH could be a problem, but, there's no rule that says you can't just omit it, or get a similar effect somehow and still finish out the piece.  A nice benefit is what I think as kind of a companion piece to that, another invention, this time called a "sonata" (it's a two-part invention, really) by Scarlatti, K.1.  Very accessible, I would say. 

BUT there's the deceptive Bach.

Look at, from WTCI, the Bb minor fugue.  I think most editions have that at two pages, right?  And, sure, kind of slow tempo, not too many notes.  Yeah, most anyone can read that off the page. Unfortunately IME it sounds like dogsh**!  At least when I do it.  Yeah, when I read it at the keyboard, probably most people would say, "Hey, that sounds neat!  I didn't hear a wrong note anywhere."  But that doesn't mean I played it the way it should be played.

Or from the same book, the A minor fugue.  Eh, yeah, sure, it's kind of pretty long, but it doesn't have too many notes, right?  How hard can it be?  Er....well....yeah.

Well, there's a lot of different things in Bach.  Is my only point.  Some of it?  Absolutely!  Others of it, yeah, probably the royal road to frustration.  A good bit of Bach's music is stuff I'll still spend time copying out the parts by hand or in notation software.  I'll be honest, it can take a lot of time and it may not be worth it to you to spend a year breaking down a score that, probably most of your audience would just say, "Hey, that's neat!  Do you know that 'song' from the cartoon with the cat and the mouse?"

But maybe a saving grace is for some of the Toccatas or Fantasies:  a lot of that stuff you can just kind of read the structure off the page, and, well, fake it a bit.  A whole lot of JS's stuff is more or less improvisational, similar to some of in Mozart.  "All right, dig, give me sixteen bars on the tonic, a few flourishes, then hit me with the diminished chord, and hit the theme again!  Go!"
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline helveticat

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #10 on: March 30, 2020, 09:54:58 PM »
If the OP is anything like what I was, I would expect the fingering in the right hand to be a breeze, but to get slightly confused with the fingering in the left hand (in most contemporary contexts, the left hand plays the role of the accompaniment), and absolutely bamboozled when trying to coordinate both hands. ;D

Yeah this is about it. I need to walk before I try to break into a jog I think. The easier stuff listed above -- e.g. Kabalevsky -- is going to be enough of a challenge for me to do smoothly with hands together for the next couple of months.

But Bach is just so damn nice to play! There's something inevitable about it that feels great in your hands. I used to do some transcriptions of Bach for clarinet when I tinkered with that for a few years and just making an attempt at it reminded me what a pleasure it is. No rush, I guess I'll get there...

BTW I happened to try the first Szymanowsky prelude today, which I might persist with for a while. And I'm going to have to try that Debussy piece, it looks surprisingly tricky...

Offline davelongmusic

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Re: Adult beginner seeking any advice I can get
«Reply #11 on: May 17, 2020, 09:06:26 PM »
Hey,

If you are looking at the Bach inventions, I would order the Alfred edition to start.  It has a lot of fingering suggestions, possible ornament interpretations are written out for you, and the introduction is really helpful.  A few of the inventions are easier, such as No. 1 in C maj. and No. 8 in F major.

https://www.amazon.com/Bach-Two-Part-Inventions-Masterwork/dp/0739036971

https://www.amazon.com/Bach-Inventions-Sinfonias-Part-Masterwork/dp/0739036866/ref=sr_1_6?dchild=1&keywords=bach+alfred&qid=1589749088&s=books&sr=1-6

Something like this might be a better starting point, though -

https://www.amazon.com/Bach-First-Lessons-Alfred-Masterwork/dp/0739013505/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=bach+alfred&qid=1589749088&s=books&sr=1-2

For something more more modern, you might enjoy reading through Debussy prelude No. 6 from book 1, footprints in the snow.
dave long

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