Incremental Instrumental Improvement

I realized the other day that I hadn’t really written very much about playing the piano.  The lack of posts however don’t reflect a lack of activity.  With the installation (b/c that’s what it seemed like) of our grand in September, I’ve certainly had every incentive to play.  So, I try to practice every day that I can.
What’s a normal practice?  There are really three parts to each practice. 

My piano teacher has me going through two books.  The first is a book of scales, chords, and arpeggios that I started earlier this year.   These are used for a) warming up and b) learning different key signatures.  I think a lot of people complain about scales, but I don’t mind doing them and enjoy rolling through them to get started.  I’ve picked up a new key about every other week and now am almost all the way around the all the keys.  Only two to go!

“Practice is the best of all instructors” — Publilius Syrus (Roman author, 1st century B.C.)

The next part is a “classic” instruction book (Alfred’s).  It’s set up in what seems to me a pretty straightforward way – easy keys and pieces first, adding in more complicated keys and mechanics as we progress.  Many of the later songs seem to build on the earlier ones.  I finished part 1 earlier this year and am now on part 2.  I have to say there are a lot of songs in here I don’t really like, but I recognize that learning rhythms (let’s just say I’m rhythmically challenged and leave it at that…) and styles I wouldn’t gravitate towards makes me a better player.  And isn’t that the whole point?  Sometimes I really get stuck on a piece and I get frustrated by slower progress.  Currently, Mr. Scott Joplin is kicking my butt.

“Practice?! We're talkin’ 'bout practice! Not the game! But, we’re talkin’ 'bout practice, man… Practice!” — Allen Iverson

Lastly, I get to finish up with my favorite part, which is running through pieces in my “repertoire” (such as it is…) – typically these are “easy” arrangements of classical pieces – Beethoven is heavily represented and my favorite piece right now is “DerLeiermann” from Schubert.  There is also a smattering of a few pieces from the first Alfred’s book that I liked enough to want to keep around.   This month, I’m subbing in some simple Christmas arrangements, as well.

So – it’s about 2/3 “work at it” time and 1/3 playing for fun most practices.  Sometimes I get that "Ohh… I'll never be any good at this!" feeling, but I can tell by looking back at the pieces I thought were "really hard" from earlier times, that I'm improving.  Just not fast enough!!!

“There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” –Johann Sebastian Bach

Uh huh — thanks JB – just for that, I think I’m leaving you out of the repertoire for a while.

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18 thoughts on “Incremental Instrumental Improvement

  1. I had piano lessons for seven years when I was a kid. Mum made me. All those scales, over and over. When I left home I stopped and now when I look at a piece of sheet music it's like reading another language – one you don't know. But I think if I sat down and had a mess around it'd still be in there somewhere.

  2. Too funny dude, they've been playing that Iverson quote over and over again here on the Detroit sports stations since he missed the Thanksgiving day practice with the pistons.

  3. Ah yes, Alfred's Bore Your Butt Off music. I learned with Alfred's too – you'll be glad you got through it. It's worth the effort. Have you heard of Joaquin Rodrigo? Those beginner books are really cool and fun.
    Joplin is hard. But worth it. Keep up the playin'!!

  4. I am guessing that being a scientist plays into your enjoyment of scales. They are very methodical. Once you have the pattern down you need only get the fingering right. That is sometimes easier said than done. You may also enjoy some Hanon exercises. They are designed to strengthen your weaker fingers. My kids' first teacher used to have Hanon races with her students. They would be assigned an exercise at the first lesson of the month and then at the last lesson they would be timed. The winner got a little prize.

  5. BTW: I told my daughter that you are a scientist and that on your header you have a shortened notation of HoHoHo. I said, "Geeky?" She grimaced and said, "That is very geeky." Takes one to know one. She proudly claims being a nerd.

  6. bec — interestingly, I did a couple of the beginning Hanon exercises early on, and my teacher and I have discussed that I should move into those one I work my way through all the scales. Probably start them in the new year. I doubt I'll get a prize though…. :(

  7. And why didn't we discuss this piano fascination over lunch???? You made a good choice with the Essex. It's about time Steinway & Sons made some headway into the "personal piano" market. The agreement with Pearl River three years ago to produce this line was also a sound one given that the plant in Guangzhou, China is the largest in the world and the Pearl River pianos are considered some of the best instruments on the market for the money. I should know…I have one. :-)

  8. rg — apparently we didn't have enough time at lunch — must have been the 10 minutes we sat at different tables… ;) — I centered in on the Essex b/c of reviews in Larry Fine's piano guide (settling in on several to try) and then going and trying them and seeing which one felt best. Sort of like buying a car.

  9. Hi – I applaud anyone who takes up music as an adult. I re-started piano lessons 9 months ago, after taking a 15-year hiatus. The experience has been enjoyable, challenging and frustrating, sometimes all at once. I'm still trying to get my fingers back to where they used to be – difficult when you only have 1 hr to practice/day. Currently, I'm working on J.S. Bach's Fantaise in G Minor, a Rachmaninoff prelude, and a couple of Chopin etudes.

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