Saturday, March 23, 2013

One Year and The Passage of Time (also many useful links)

New upload, The Passage of Time, link to audio from live performance:

It is my one year anniversary for piano keyboard. For the many true beginners, let me say that I thought I would be terrible at piano. I was weak at sight reading (still am), despite many years on other instruments. When I was in choir, I always wanted to sing the melody line, so did not like harmony. Coming from melody instruments, I didn't know how to play a single chord. Factor in chronic physical problems with hands, wrists, neck, and shoulder, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and it seems like long odds for an adult beginner.

Yet here I am at one year and counting with a modest digital piano, and enjoying the journey. I encourage other one year beginners, especially those that have been reading along for this whole year to post about their story, their journey.

This is a long post, the abstract version follows:
* I logged about 300 hours of time on the instrument, probably another 300 or more on tutorials, books, other online materials.
* I am comfortable with two cover pieces: Ashokan Farewell, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
* I have written or collaborated on ten original pieces, the tenth is The Passage of Time,
link to audio from live performance:

* Currently working on: Canon in D (level 1 arrangement)

Some useful tools or resources (some links at the bottom of this post):
* MuseScore composition software (free)
* free online Yale course on music appreciation
* book: The Musician's Way
* dozens upon dozens of Youtube tutorials and performances
* the Trillian archive
* And of course the Piano World forum, which led me to many of the resources above. I have no commercial interest or affiliation with any of the mentioned resources and only mention them because others may find them to be valuable. After all, someone else writing about them is is how I found many of them.

I started in March 2012 with a 61-key Yamaha NP11. I upgraded to a Casio PX-150 digital piano in January 2013. Other useful hardware includes a Sony Voice Recorder, headphones, external speakers, an Android tablet (Archos brand). I use the tablet for sheet music PDFs and tutorial videos. What got me interested, is a tablet app where you poke at a keyboard on screen. I had so much fun with that, I wanted more, and bought the 61-key Yamaha NP11. I have over 10 years on penny whistle and in songwriting, and over five years on Irish flute (though I am hack on flute). I can span an octave on the piano, but have to really stretch to get to an eighth.

Because of physical problems, I limit my practice time to about an hour a day, even when my schedule might allow for more. Cold packs, soaking in warm water, wearing gloves are all things I do to manage the physical problems. I limit my exposure to loud noises because of the tinnitus. I will not go to venues where they blast the music. During the fall, my schedule was busier and practice time was more like 20 minutes a day for three months, but I kept at it.

Comparisons can be discouraging or encouraging. Some people want to know where they are in relation to other beginners. I believe I am in the vast middle, below the top 20%, above the lower 20%, for those that have a similar 300 hours of time logged. I am fine with that. Some observers might tell me that I near the bottom in terms of technique for those sharing on the
latest Adult Beginners Forum recital, so how can I believe that I am in the middle? Well, I believe that those that share on the recital tend to be the top 10%, not the average beginners, so I don't let that discourage me.

I am sure that I would be further along if I had put in 900 hours (3 hours per day, six days per). Yes, there is process, how one practices, however I am sure I would have done less, had I put in only 100 hours (20 minutes a day) no matter how well I spent that time. While time and results are not linear, there tends to be a correlation for most people, especially the average person. Learning piano tends to be time intensive. I would rate piano easier than being an adult beginner on some other instruments such as flute. On flute and some other instruments it may take a year of dedicated practice just to get a decent sounding scale. On a piano, the average person can bang out a few notes, and get it to resemble a known song after a few weeks or a few months at the outside.

For a self-directed learner, practice habits and time, are the factors that a person can control. The Musician's Way book helped me structure my practice time. The book lists five zones: new material, developing material, performance material, technique, musicianship. I break it down to 40% on new material, 20% old material, 20% technique, 20% musicianship. This is a rough outline and I don't log the time, but I find it to be a useful guide. In addition to 300 practice hours, I probably spent another 300 hours, viewing tutorials, listening to performances, doing the Yale course, reading the Musician's Way book, attending live concerts, and that was time well spent. A more recent endeavor is reading the notes out loud from sheet music away from the piano.

The most useful tip from the forums is to slow it way down and practice accurately. Another important idea is that each person is different. Each person learns at their own pace, and they may learn in different ways. There are times when breakthroughs occur, and times that feel more like a short term plateaus or even a step back. There is visual (sheet music and watching another person demonstrate), aural (learning by ear), muscle memory (touch), and each person tends to have a combination of what works for them, and it will vary person to person. There are many roads to Rome.

I observe some of my strengths and weaknesses. Strengths include my willingness to performing in public and a slightly above average ear that serves me well when I write original music. Weaknesses include the physical problems that limit practice time, tinnitus, and poor aptitude for sight reading. I am good at breaking large tasks into many smaller ones. I tend to be organized, and have posted continually to the AOTW thread, even when my time was limited. The weekly posts help me gauge my progress and process the frustration when no progress seems to be occuring. The posts serve as a reminder that there are peaks and valleys, that when I get discouraged by the difficulty of learning something, that I have felt that way before and have overcome before. While not every hill on my road has been summited, the weekly journaling helps give me better perspective, and lets me decide if this particular hill is worth pushing to the top of it or not. It is supposed to be a hobby, so while effort is required, it is supposed to be fun, not a second or third job.

There are certainly times when I have been discouraged. I spent 14 weeks on Ashokan Farewell then crashed and burned during a public performance, unable to complete a single play through, even with the music in front of me. If a person is posting on the Adult Beginners Forum, the odds are high that music is a hobby. Again, hobbies are supposed to be fun. I just had a conversation today with another musician. He talked about those moments when playing music when time seems to stand still. There is a book, The Sweet Spot in Time, that mostly writes about athletes. However, I believe many musicians have also felt those moments. I certainly have, even with my limited skills on piano. Those moments are what keeps many of us going.

An analogy from another forum beginner, is that learning to play piano is like aspiring to climb Mount Everest. True beginners start at sea level. Many have some background or training so start higher. My background in songwriting and melody instruments gave me a head start. After a year, I feel like I have traveled a great distance. However, there remains an unimaginable amount to learn. The more I learn, the more I discern, so what used to be passable now sounds poor. There is another point, that not everyone wants to climb to the mountain top, or may have very different goals in mind.

I find joy in playing. I can sit and play even random notes or simple scales and find it satisfying at some level. I perform at the local Songmakers hoot every two months. That and the Adult Beginners Forum quarterly recitals give me a performance or recording date to focus on and that is a motivator.

My goal below is derived from a John Coltrane quote. It may sound all puffy to some, and probably won't make much sense to others. However, those that have felt those moments in music when time seems to stand still, will understand:
My music is a spiritual expression of who I am.

Some links follow, again I have no commercial interest in any:

Piano World adult beginners forum:

Songmakers a Southern California music group

Trillian tune archive. It can be an excellent resource for Christmas songs and folk tunes. ABC is popular in folk music, the site will produce sheet music PDFs, MIDI files and other formats.
MusesMuse songwriters forum

How Music Works (part 1 of many)

Tutorial on New age music

Tutorial on meditation music

Elton John writes music for an oven manual
(it illustrates the gap between the top pro songwriters and the rest of us)

I've viewed countless other Youtubes tutorials, movie clips, performances. There is a lot of chaff out there, but a lot of good information, and amazingly interesting stuff as well.

For those interested in composition I collected some tips on getting started in this thread:,%20advice%20for%20be.html#Post2034706
link to thread

fingering for 2 octave scales:

general practice tips

tips for adults:

sheet music library

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