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Topic: Piano Performance: How Far Can Average Skills Take You?  (Read 363 times)

Offline anthonythompson

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I’ve been pondering a question about the piano and the extent to which someone with “average” abilities can excel in it. In chess, for example, there’s the ELO rating system to gauge a player’s skill. An average person, despite lifelong training, might reach an ELO of around 1800-2000, while those with exceptional memory and pattern recognition might become grandmasters, reaching 2700+. Similarly, in sports, an average individual, no matter how much they train, may never reach the prowess of top athletes.

I’m curious if this concept applies to piano as well. Are there pieces that are simply beyond the reach of those without special talents, or can dedicated practice enable anyone to master complex works? For example, Beethoven’s “Pathetique,” the third movement of the “Moonlight Sonata,” or Liszt’s “La Campanella” seems challenging (at least in the eyes of a beginner). Can an average person, with no special talent but also no particular difficulties, learn to play these pieces proficiently with enough practice? Or are there compositions that an average-skilled individual might never be able to play, regardless of practice?
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Offline brogers70

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Re: Piano Performance: How Far Can Average Skills Take You?
Reply #1 on: May 09, 2024, 10:46:44 AM
I do not think that there is a useful answer to that question. In practice, the question an individual person faces is "If I practice enough will I be able to play the music that I want to play?" And the only way to answer that question is to go ahead and try it and see. Even if someone could tell you, for example, "We've conducted large, carefully controlled studies and found that someone with average talent (measured in some carefully researched, objective way) will be able to play the third movement of the Moonlight Sonata, or some Chopin Etude, or whatever else you like, satisfactorily (where satisfaction is defined in some objective way) if they practice diligently for X hours over Y years with the help of a skilled teacher (where "skilled teacher" is defined objectively),....even if someone could tell you all that, you'd still have to try it yourself to see if it would work in your own case.

If you work with a good teacher for several years and they watch your progress, they may be able to give you a reasonable estimate of how far you could get if you kept at it. And even then, they might be wrong, and the only way to know is to just keep working at it.

So I think the question that usually underlies your general question is a specific question about the individual asking it. And the only way to find out the answer is by trying.

Offline pianistavt

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Re: Piano Performance: How Far Can Average Skills Take You?
Reply #2 on: May 09, 2024, 11:40:28 AM
A certain core set of skills is needed before you can explore music widely, and get something out of it.  I recall piano teachers talking about students "destroying" a piece of music.  It was beyond their reach - certainly they learned something on some level, but the result was a mess, time could have been better spent on a more attainable choice.

People come here asking if they are "ready" for a specific piece.  Sometimes they provide a background - how many years studying, what they've been studying, with or without a teacher.  And the pianists and teachers here try to answer their question.  The more detail in the background the poster provides, the better responders can answer the question.  Posting a video of their playing helps a lot!  Asking this question without providing a background is almost useless.

The Pathetique and Moonlight 3rd are not as difficult as they sound.  Some talented students attempt them after a few years of lessons (+  diligent practice).  La Campanella is in a different category, but after enough years of study, it can be undertaken by any hard-working "piano student".  Once you're an advanced pianist, you can explore most any piece of music and get something out of it, though you may not play it like the recordings by concert pianists.

Playing most any advanced piece (like the ones you mentioned) like the professionals, the concert pianists, is something the avg student will not attain, because it takes years and years of work, focus on the finer aspects of playing.  There are exceptions of course - due to natural talent.  So it's generally recommend that people undertake pieces for the enjoyment of it - the challenge, and being able to "master" a piece for self-satisfaction.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Piano Performance: How Far Can Average Skills Take You?
Reply #3 on: May 09, 2024, 05:31:32 PM
I'm sure there is something similar. Whenever you have levels of difficulty, talent is bound to have an effect.

That said comparing it specifically to chess:

I don't think playing piano requires as much pattern recognition ability. It requires some, but being able to notice chords and inversions,  motifs etc., many aspects of musicality and so on is something that can definitely be learned well at any age imo. It's difficult but not the incredible level of pattern recognition ability required for chess. Maybe high level composition gets closer, but even that doesn't seem to require nearly as much pattern recognition as chess does.

You need a good memory for piano too, but it doesn't seem to be as important as it is in chess. Magnus Carlsen reportedly remembers every chess game he's ever played. That is pretty much savant-level memory. While I'm sure it might be useful to a degree, pianists do vary in how long they take to learn pieces. Some take 2 days to learn a concerto while others take 2 months, and it's all good.
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