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Topic: Piano Tips

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  1. #1

    Piano Tips?

    Let me give some background briefly. I am trained as a guitarist. I learned jazz theory and improvisation through private instruction. My classical background is through self study. I have worked through Harmony, Counterpoint and some Orchestration but do not claim to be an expert. I have always written out every thing I composed so that I am comfortable reading, at least in bass and treble clefs. I have a digital piano with weighted keys and have noodled with it throughout the years. I have set about to get a bit more serious about my piano playing so that I can use the instrument to play and edit the ideas I conceive rather than having to rely on software; and also so I can play through some of the repertoire to enhance my understanding of form. I have no aspirations to be a concert pianist-believe me. As I said I am comfortable reading and I know all the notes on the piano very well. Finding the notes is not the problem-doing so at tempo is. Because of my training as a guitarist I am right at home with the notion of a theory/technique of fingering and through some books and just plain reasoning I am getting of sense of what it means to come up with the best fingerings for any given passage. Right now I am writing out original counterpoint and then reading it for sight reading and, having exhausted it for that use, memorizing it for technique/muscle memory. I am also practicing conceiving ideas at the piano. I have some studies but do not do them daily but I stjil do something daily to work on technique. And I try to daily set aside time to work with a metronome.

    Having set out that rather long winded preface I am interested in any suggestions pianists might have. Taking lessons is not an option at this point in my life and the insights of those who have far more experience than I can, I am sure, be invaluable and save me some mistakes and heartache. Thanks.

  2. #2
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Re: Piano Tips

    Well, I think it was Camille St. Saens whose recommendation was "scales, scales, scales". Great advice. I find it very helpful to play all major and minor scales daily, parallel and contrary motion, carrying all scales over the full range of the keyboard.This is followed by arpeggios. I find that diminished sevenths give a good workout evenly to all fingers. I sometimes use a metronome to get a strong impression of a specific tempo. I never use it when playing.

    You may find the Bastien lesson books helpful. They publish an adult series. Also useful are the Bach 2 & 3 part inventions. The 2 part inventions are not so difficult. Bach provided some very interesting comments about their purpose.

    Also very useful is Schumann's "Album for the Young"

    For learning to play pieces with wide hand displacement, try target practice -- close you eyes and play chords widely spaced.

    Very difficult: listen to yourself critically as you play, the whole package, and the parts individually. When playing think primarily in terms of the over all piece, and in phrases. Don't concentrate too heavily on individual notes or chords. If a few notes or chords are troublesome, practice them separately until you have them under control.

    Regular practice is essential. A few minutes daily is much better that an hour once weekly.

    Richard

  3. #3

    Re: Piano Tips

    Thank you for that. Great advice. I like the idea of something routine like scales to drill each day-especially the idea of parallel and contrary motion. Target practice also sounds like a good idea to incorporate into a routine. I have been making use of my local library and have some Bach-which I am crawling through. I think I also noticed Schumann's "Album for Young" on the shelf. I will take that out. One thing I am most grateful for in my guitar studies is that my teacher-and this was many years ago-not only taught me guitar but he taught me how to learn as well.

  4. #4

    Re: Piano Tips

    For what you want, I'd say studies are probably a waste of time, and scales too to a certain extent. They have enormous use for those who do want to be concert pianists - I quite often sit for hours at a time playing exercises to improve one motion or another - but it is too easy to switch off your brain and forget what notes you're playing, so that no link is being made ot notation. If finding the notes at tempo is your first target then I'd say constant sight reading is the way to go. The Bach 2 parts are indeed brilliant, as they limit what you need to find to one note per hand, meaning you don't need to think ahead about hand shapes so much (although you do need to be confident of using all fingers quite equally).
    David

  5. #5

    Re: Piano Tips

    Thank you for your suggestion. I am reading a lot.Found some Bach in my library but can't seem to find the 2 part inventions. I did find Album For The Young and that seems very useful. I am trying to work at it every day for a considerable period of time. I have a long way to go and I feel like a student again. But it's ok because I am going back to fundamentals in composition and the exercises I compose provide great material for learning piano technique. What I am discovering is each passage I write presents a unique problem to be solved-be it fingering or motion or what have you. The process feels synergistic.

  6. #6

    Re: Piano Tips

    Hi RichardMc,

    Great advice already from Richard and David so just a few suggestions from me.

    A really helpful series of books (5 in all) is the Alfred series called "Technical Skills" by Jane Magrath. Each level has a warm up section, a study section and a section of technical exercises. There are helpful practicing tips before each section.

    I also really like using Czerny's studies as well . I can especially recommend his op. 261. these are short technical studies but melodious and enjoyable to play. They don't feel like "work", at least not to me. Most of my students who don't like practicing scales will play these.

    If you are after music to play and study, the Petrucci public domain library is excellent. The music is in public domain and is free to download. You'll find the Czerny studies as well as the Bach inventions there, plus tons of other composer's music. The link is below.

    http://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page


    (One last thing, the one area I have to work on with self taught students who decide they need help and come for lessons is relaxation. Without fail, every self taught piano student plays with tension. Check that your shoulders don't rise when you play and let gravity help you play through the notes. No tense wrists or shoulders. Relaxed hands but firm first finger knuckles. Sink through the keys and don't strike or stab into them and remember to breathe.)

    Hope this helps and best of luck!
    yjoh

    Music... A Joy For Life.

  7. #7
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Re: Piano Tips

    Quote Originally Posted by yjoh View Post

    (One last thing, the one area I have to work on with self taught students who decide they need help and come for lessons is relaxation. Without fail, every self taught piano student plays with tension. Check that your shoulders don't rise when you play and let gravity help you play through the notes. No tense wrists or shoulders. Relaxed hands but firm first finger knuckles. Sink through the keys and don't strike or stab into them and remember to breathe.)

    I am so glad you mention this. I had intended to do so, but forgot. It is indeed EXTREMELY important and not often enough mentioned or emphasized.

    Richard

  8. #8

    Re: Piano Tips

    Thank you both. I will pay attention to whether I am relaxed or not. I suspect I am not as I am ordinarily tense in any event and I bring a lot of concentration to my piano work. Until you both mentioned this I had not thought to be on the lookout for it. Also it looks like I am making another trip to my library because I noticed Czerny on the shelf and the way you have described it sounds like it could be perfect. Short technical studies that I could hopefully learn and fold into a daily routine. Thank you. I am really receiving some great information.

  9. #9

    Re: Piano Tips

    My approach right now is to conceive a passage or section and notate the fingerings immediately. I practice the passage/section at slow tempo trying to use the same motions each and every time. I am then able to play through the section/passage perfectly....at a slow tempo. I am in control pretty much of the movements. I am reading the music and not looking at my hands. However, when I try to bring it up to tempo there is a complete disconnect. It's as if a different part of my brain takes over. I guess what I am asking is if anyone has any strategies for bringing the music up to tempo or is it just a matter of enough repetitions at a slow enough tempo.

  10. #10
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Re: Piano Tips

    I suspect that the problem is that you become too tense when you try to speed up. Relax and BREATHE. Think of the phrase, not the details. Be concerned with overall accuracy and expression, and you may be surprised at the results. It is also possible that your piano skills may need some further development, and that the problem is not restricted to a particular passage.

    I am presently fighting my own piano problem. My left eye was by far the better eye, the right eye being essentially blind without a lens. Then cataracts made their presence obvious, as did macular degeneration, worse in the left eye. I had cataract surgery last year, and with the intra-ocular lens implants, vision is now good in both eyes, but vastly superior in the right eye, now better without glasses than previously with. Reading music with the left eye is very difficult. Also, since the lens can not be focused, it is necessary to move the object being viewed, or move my eyes closer to the object. Using my right eye, music notations is quite clear, clearer than ever in my life. Finding the right position for the music desk, the right distance and height of my piano bench, and right position of my lamp is quite a task, now nearly solved. It is much like a right handed person being suddenly compelled to become left handed, using the left hand as smoothly and effortlessly as the right. Many days I have been on the brink of giving up the piano and confining my musical activity to composing. But now, I think the problem is quite close to solution. I don't know what this has to do with your problem except to demonstrate the value of perseverance.

    Richard

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