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IWTL How to improve piano technique (Read 648 times)

Offline umiedotre9

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IWTL How to improve piano technique
« on: July 09, 2020, 10:00:28 AM »
So I have a limited piano background; took a semester class in uni followed by a year of private lessons. Now Iím just playing on my own, trying to learn Beethovenís 14th sonata.

Itís really rewarding and a great way to unwind after a busy day, but Iím feeling limited by my technique. I donít expect to ever play at a high level, but I would like to practice efficiently and put in work where it is most needed!

I was thinking, some of yíall must have practiced for years and suffered through loads of technique practice! Are there specific exercises you could recommend? Specific books?

Just as an example of what Iíd like to improve, I struggle especially on fast-paced sections. Despite knowing the notes my fingers will slip, miss notes, or hit the keys so the notes sound mushy instead of distinct. This last thing is my absolute least favorite because I donít know exactly what Iím doing wrong, just that it doesnít sound right.

On a different level, itís so hard to play music, and not just notes! To play the rich/grand sound of a bell and not empty tinkle of a wind chime. As Chopin says, ĒOne needs only to study a certain positioning of the hand in relation to the keys to obtain with ease the most beautiful sounds... to [attain] certain unlimited dexterity.Ē

I donít know if thereís any way to learn that without hours of daily practice. But I do think itís possible for anyone to get better with work and time! Any advice/suggested resources would be very very helpful, thank you!!

Offline j_tour

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Re: IWTL How to improve piano technique
«Reply #1 on: July 10, 2020, 04:26:38 AM »
I donít know if thereís any way to learn that without hours of daily practice.

Probably not.

But, here's an analogy:  a while ago I decided that, since I've been playing for a long time, transcribing to paper from recordings, sight reading, sight singing, I should be able to breeze through the Edlund Modus novus and Modus vetus books, no problem, right?

No, not really.

I would say, nel mezzo del cammin, very humbling experience. 

Yes, but you can approach it the same way I did as a small child:  observe and think to oneself, "I want to do that!"  There may not be a teacher around, aside from a record player, or some live players you can sit behind while they play, but you can still do it.  You'll get blisters on your fingers, but you can do it.
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Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: IWTL How to improve piano technique
«Reply #2 on: July 10, 2020, 04:55:53 AM »
I donít expect to ever play at a high level, but I would like to practice efficiently and put in work where it is most needed!
Strong sight readers will tell you to improve your reading to a high level because it allows you to learn pieces much faster (many can be immediatley played with mastery) and gain access to studying more difficult repertoire efficiently, this however unavoidably requires a lot of training. Someone who just wants to play particular pieces will probably be satisfied with being able to progress through their chosen pieces without too many plateus in their improvement on the way.

I was thinking, some of yíall must have practiced for years and suffered through loads of technique practice!
I see my musical ability like tending to a giant field of fruiting trees. You need to put in consitent work and tend to them, develop good tools to work with them and care for them. When the weather changes you adapt and adjust. It is a living entity for us who treat music as a part of our lives. Sure you can tend to a single tree but some trees do take years to actually fruit and forcing fruiting often gives substandard produce and a farmer with little idea how to grow much else.

Just as an example of what Iíd like to improve, I struggle especially on fast-paced sections. Despite knowing the notes my fingers will slip, miss notes, or hit the keys so the notes sound mushy instead of distinct. This last thing is my absolute least favorite because I donít know exactly what Iím doing wrong, just that it doesnít sound right.
Give specific pieces, specific bars, show us your fingering solutions then the discussion will be more relevant.

I donít know if thereís any way to learn that without hours of daily practice.
You don't need to practice hours a day for good improvement but how to use your time efficiently is not an easy question to solve on your own.
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Offline lowk-_-y

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Re: IWTL How to improve piano technique
«Reply #3 on: August 06, 2020, 12:51:04 AM »
Interesting topic.

To be frank I would say the fastest and most effective (and safe) way to improve both technically and musically is to find a decent teacher. But even if this isn't an option you're in luck because there has never been such a breadth of resources available (mostly for free!) for you to explore.

In terms of technical books, one search of the names Czerny or Hanon on this forum will show way too many pages worth of arguments from both sides which in my opinion is more entertaining than productive. Whether you use exercises from a book or create your own exercises from a piece you're working on (in this case Moonlight Sonata) the important thing is not "what" you're practicing but "how".

I would say the most useful thing for you is to explore piano videos on youtube. Because moonlight sonata is very popular there will be no shortage of insights into that specifically, but more importantly for piano technique and musicality in general, two channels that I really like are 'Josh Wright' and 'Cedarvillemusic'. Also for musicality, masterclasses are a great way to observe an unpacking of how an interpretation is built and how it can change. Both of these are things that are hard to decipher simply by watching/listening to a performance. Different masterclasses for the same piece could give you insights into how interpretations can be very different but both tasteful and musical. After a while of doing this exploration, you will (by some kind of osmosis) absorb many different methods for solving your main issue: as you said you don't know what you are doing wrong, you only know that it's not right at the moment. You will now have the means to diagnose the problem (somewhat).

As you might know, musicality grows much quicker than technique so it'll be no surprise if you find yourself fully aware of what you want from your music and you know what you have to do to achieve it but your fingers just wont work like you want them to.

This leads me to your question of efficient practice.

An important thing to point out is that yes many of us have put countless hours into practice but many of these hours could have meant absolutely nothing towards our progress. Time put in doesn't necessarily equate to progress made. I could spend a year practicing, but if I'm practicing in the wrong way, then much of that year has been potentially lovely in a 'I'm playing the music I like' kind of way but useless in terms of progress. This is why in my opinion one of the most important things for efficient practice is to have a goal in mind before you touch the first key. Even if it's a tiny goal like 'in the next 20 minutes I am going to search for the ideal sound colour for the opening of this piece' or 'I am going to find a fingering for this bar that is comfortable for my hand'. At least this way, by the end of each practice session you know for sure that you have made progress.

Let me give you some examples of less efficient practice methods:
- Repeating a passage with no purpose
- Playing through a piece over and over in hopes it'll eventually get better
- Practicing an exercise for extended periods of time with tension
- Practicing with frustration - try and create a distance between you and your playing so you can assess what's going on objectively

The list could go on...

In terms of your trouble with playing 'fast-paced sections' this is very hard to answer without more details about your background and/specific moments in the piece that are especially difficult for you. It might be worth considering whether it'd be more beneficial to come back to it later because if it is the 3rd Mvt of Moonlight that we're talking about then there are many aspects that could be stopping you from playing fluently here. It's quite different from simply a  brisk scalic passage in Mozart. It could be your finger action or the flexibility (or lack) of your wrist amongst many other things. It's a hard call to make but I can't count the number of times I have left a piece that troubles me and maybe a few months later I come back and I find it hard to believe I had any trouble in the first place (assuming you use that break practicing another piece, not just being lazy :p). If you feel you do still want to pursue this mvt then this brings me onto my next point.

Another crucial thing for you, if you don't have a teacher, is to record yourself, both video and audio. This will be hard to do because you mentioned noticing some notes sounding mushy which shows that you are aware of any errors that occur while you play. These errors are somewhat sugarcoated with the aural ideal that you have in your head. A recording will give you none of this sugarcoating, making it easily one of the things that will allow to you to progress the fastest (engage the objective distancing as mentioned above when listening). Video will allow you to really see what's going on physically in the same way a teacher would when watching you. This way you can notice bad habits such as posture, tension etc and you can observe from a third person perspective how the movements you're making look.

Take what I say next with the upmost grain of salt as there are probably exceptions. Usually if a motion looks easy it's because it is easy and when it looks hard it's because it is hard. Fast motions are simply a series of easy slow motions sped up, opposed to a series of fast awkward motions. Nothing awkward is easy.

Yes, that Chopin quote is very nice, easier said than done but definitely useful in presenting the idea that technique and musicality are not two separate things. Technique is just a means for a musical result.

So long story short  ;D yes, you definitely can progress with far less hours than some pianists love to boast. Explore the resources you can find (this forum being a good one too!) and practice consistently in a goal-oriented way and it will be impossible for you not to progress.

Hope this was a little helpful.

Sorry for the wall of text... :(

Offline jlmap

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Re: IWTL How to improve piano technique
«Reply #4 on: August 21, 2020, 08:44:25 PM »
My recomendation would be:

1) Scales, arpeggios and octaves. Play ALL major and minor scales from about 90 to 120 bpm regularly (about 4 major and 4 minor per day). Play ALL arpeggios from 90 to 108bpm. Play ALL octaves at 60 to 84 bpm. Spend about 25 minutes a day on this if you can. This will make a huge difference.

2) Practice ear-training and learn basic theory. Much of what some people think is lack of technique is, in fact, lack of basic understanding of music. As you know what you are playing, and can listen to it as grades of the scale, your hand can relax a lot more, and music will flow much easier. If you count only on your muscular memory, your hands can't relax, and your technique will be much limited by this.