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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » An unusual mental block -- a challenge for those who are interested...

   
Author Topic: An unusual mental block -- a challenge for those who are interested...
Raia
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Dear Hatrack,

Let me begin by apologizing for my prolonged absence. I know it seems that I only come back and turn to you when I need you for something... and you know what? That may be the case. My life has become increasingly busier and Hatrack no longer occupies the space that it once did. But it is nice to know that you are all here when I need help/advice/friends. [Smile] Even though most of you probably don't know me or remember me, hopefully some of you will.

I have a question for you. But first, some background.

I began studying piano at age four.

Now, I know what most of you are already thinking -- no four-year-old makes the decision to play a musical instrument. It was forced on me by my parents. The mental block mentioned in the title of this post must have something to do with a pushy stage mom atmosphere...

Well, no.

I actually announced to my parents -- at age four, yes -- that playing the piano was something I really wanted to do.

I began taking lessons, I practiced at home... everything you're supposed to do.

I was solidly in piano lessons until my third year of college. Or, age twenty-one. I studied piano for seventeen years.

As time went on, I began realizing each time I sat down at the piano that I had very little ability. I couldn't play anything, not from memory, not from sheet music, not by ear. I would get increasingly more and more frustrated by this, slowly building up a defiant, defensive antagonism towards the instrument that I had so loved and so admired that I HAD to know how to play it. (Now, I'm pretty sure this wasn't always the case -- I think that at some point, I WAS able to progress, I DID develop skills, I DID play real pieces... but something eventually blocked my progress, made those abilities go away. I feel that I am much worse now at the piano than I was when I was a kid.)

Now, it is not that I'm not musically inclined. For those of you who don't know, I was a vocal performance major in college. I have been taking voice lessons since I was fifteen; have performed in countless musicals/concerts/operas/recitals and the like; have sung in choirs and ensembles ranging from classical to light music to a capella; have performed in a variety of prestigious venues. At the moment, actually, I am receiving the most generous and enthusiastic responses to my singing that I have ever experienced. All in all, it is very fun, and I love it -- although I am, by profession, an English teacher, music really is the center of my life (I'm gearing up, in fact, to play Sgt. Sarah Brown in a production of Guys and Dolls, opening in May).

I also recently picked up the guitar, and have already had an easier time with that in a few short months than I did in seventeen years of piano.

This has been a heavy source of frustration over the years. I still have a very high appreciation for the piano, and really really really want to know how to play it -- I'm not saying I have to be a concert pianist, but I do have goals (namely being able to accompany myself when I sing, or pick up sheet music -- disney, broadway, something that I enjoy singing for fun -- and be able to play real NOTES). Right now I'm not bad at taking guitar chords and improvising something on top of them... I do have some knowledge of how to navigate the keyboard. But that's where it ends.

In the past two and a half months, I have been forced to stay home as the result of a severely injured foot. I haven't been working, I haven't been doing much outside my house at all... so I have resolved to try and solve my piano issues, and improve.

Now this isn't easy. I have built up so much frustration, poured in so much emotion, have so much invested in this instrument that I become a wreck every time I try (I've even shed a few bitter tears just writing about it). It's not that I want this any less -- I just don't know how to beat my mental issues with it. As my most recent piano teacher said, "I don't know what's wrong. [You're] clearly very intelligent, and exceedingly musical... [you] should be able to play this instrument. But something gets lost between the brain and the fingers."

It's to the point where I think this can't be solved solely by piano lessons. I think I need some therapy, some counseling, some...THING. I don't know what it is.

I get depressed almost every time I think about it. Even simple things, pieces for complete beginners, are beyond me now.

Thoughts? [Frown]

Best wishes to all. And thanks for reading...

Love,
~Raia

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rivka
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Hey, metukah. *hug* Long time no see!

Have you considered taking a break -- 6 or 12 months during which you don't even touch the piano? Whatever the issue is, it doesn't seem likely you'll succeed by trying to force it.

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Raia
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Same to you, rivka! Chag sameach! [Smile] *hug*

And yes... since the age of 21, I have pretty much... not touched it. Until very recently.

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rivka
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"Pretty much", huh? That sounds waffle-y. What does it actually mean, in this case? Because going back to it just often enough that you reinforced the notion of it not working would be worse, not better.
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Raia
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That's true. I don't honestly know. I haven't done much, that's for sure. But I don't know if it was too much or not...
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RivalOfTheRose
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Switch to the ukulele.
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SteveRogers
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Sounds like you have the yips for piano.
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JanitorBlade
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Being able to read sheet music is just something you either can or can't do. Some people eventually learn to just pick up sheet music and belt it out, but far more people experience something less than that. They can work their way through the song, with a varying amounts of glitches in there.

Singing with the piano is the same deal. You just have to learn to do it. One trick that helped me though with both guitar and piano is try singing gibberish (either true gibberish, or random words that don't mean anything together) while you play. Trying to remember lyrics is just one more thing that's going to fight with your memory of the notes to play, and how to sing for your brain's resources.

It sounds to me like you and I are fairly similar. You were a trained monkey on the piano, taught to play pieces. Unfortunately I've found that even if you play the pieces from time to time, eventually memory atrophy takes away what you have. Only regular playing keeps pieces in your mind perfectly, not playing the piano at all speeds that atrophy up.

What helped me get out of that funk was learning to write my own piano pieces. I basically felt like I had started over at level one again, even though I could play really awesome piano pieces at one time. It's a whole different ball game learning to write your own stuff. But it has always been very rewarding, and I've been doing it for years now.

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Armoth
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Totally being presumptuous here, but it's possible that you are TOO musically proficient for the Piano.

Let me explain: To use the voice, you have to be the least technically proficient. You can picture harmonies, chords, in your mind and if you have the voice, you can hit all those notes and be exactly who you want to be in the piece. Singing with others is most rewarding, and singing with instruments is incredible - you know your place in the song and you can actualize it.

The voice and mind live in the same body. They have all kinds of tools for conveying their intentions and limitations to one another. When you learn piano young, you are trying to become one with the piano, to have your mind speak directly to the piano, the fingers are the conduit. But once you've left and developed the voice and the musical mind, returning to the piano to tell it to do what you want to do is like trying to write a thesis through text messages on a touch-screen.

I'd recommend not allowing yourself to listen to any music. No radio. No CDs or MP3s. No singing. Force yourself to communicate music through the piano. When it's your only method of communication, you will force yourself to be patient and diligent. You will miss the sound of music so much that you will rush to the piano to tell it exactly what you want it to hear...

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Aros
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17 years of instruction . . . and you can't play beginner sheet music? My money is on something medical or psychiatric.

You say that you haven't played since the age of 21, but how long has it been? 2 weeks? 50 years?

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TomDavidson
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My brother is a professional pianist, and I've been playing for 30 years now and am pretty good at blues piano and show tunes (but lack the discipline for classical). My own talent plateaued about a decade ago, and has not improved since; I'm given to understand that this is typical.

But am I understanding you correctly, that you've had 17 years of lessons and can't play beginner-level sheet music (like Disney accompaniments and the like?) If so, what do you mean when you say you can't play it? Do your fingers hit the wrong notes, or move to the wrong rhythms? When you "fail" at a piece, how does it happen?

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Raia
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Aros, to answer your question, I am 25 now, so it's been about four years. And I'm also inclined to lean towards psychiatric, at this point.

It's not that I CAN'T sightread piano music. I can. It takes me forever to get my fingers to go to the right keys, and I frequently misplace them, but I can read it. I'm actually BETTER at sightreading than I am at playing something I've practiced and prepared ahead of time. This is part of the thing that makes me crazy. It seems that the more I practice a piece, the worse it gets.

Tom, I am fairly decent at playing hands separately... if I pick up something easy, my hands-separate technique is almost flawless. (Left hand is a bit harder for me, but that doesn't worry me -- as a soprano, I'm trained to read treble clef, and I think most people prefer one clef over the other.) As soon as I put them together, my head asplode...

As soon as I tackle something more difficult, I have problems all around. But it does seem to be more of a coordination issue, now that I think about it. Hmm.

Armoth, it's an interesting idea... I don't know if I can do that, though... the not singing part will be especially difficult for me. [Smile] Let me think on that.

And JanitorBlade, how did you start writing? I've tried once or twice, and not had much success... do you have any tips?

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Sean Monahan
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Raia, you might want to take a look at this online book called Fundamentals of Piano Practice. It might give you some insight into your problem, as it talks a great deal about mental play. However, it seems like you would benefit from seeing a professional.


A more recent edition of the book in pdf format is here.

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Raia
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Thanks Sean. [Smile] I will check it out!
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Raia
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Sean, I just want to say... I've only just started reading, but this seems like a wonderful resource. Thanks so much for the link, I have a feeling this may really help!
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Sean Monahan
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Great! I hope it helps.
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twinky
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Thanks for the link, Sean -- it might be useful for me, too. [Smile]

Raia, one thing that isn't clear to me from your post is what level of proficiency you reached when you were still doing formal training. Did you do Conservatory exams? If so, what grade did you reach? How far you got before you stopped makes a big difference in how easy it is to pick up again, I think.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by SteveRogers:
Sounds like you have the yips for piano.

I hit a wall with the classical guitar at about the age of 21, from which I never recovered. It's not uncommon. I have had friends who abandoned their instruments because of yips, or because of psychological disturbances caused by practice techniques or performance pressure. I got into composition, and didn't look back.

It's sad, but this does happen to people, and there is often little to be done. Switching teachers or even instruments ( ie: guitar for Viola da Gamba or Uke, or for me, piano) may help, and sometime should can go back. I've been going back now after a couple of years of not playing much. I never had yips, but something did start to happen to me at about 21 that convinced me that I would never be a professional guitarist. Could be nerves, temperament, or almost anyone that gives you pause.

Consider yourself lucky- sadly there are not a small number of people who complete masters in classical instruments and find that they are unable to continue. My composition teacher completed a masters in classical guitar, and was unable to take the pressure of maintaining the skill. I had a good friend who started a master's program, and was unable to play after her first semester without crying. She became a graphic designer. A soprano I knew became a teacher because every time she had to sing, she got violently ill. The body can do powerful and strange things, and music is a high pressure avocation.

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GinetteB
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Raia, you said something about it being a coordination issue, maybe. Could it be you have been working with the computer a lot? It could be some sort of an RSI problem. You could try using the mouse with your other hand for a while. It will take some time to get better, but you could try. (I've had something similar, coordination problems because of a mouse arm)
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Darth_Mauve
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I remember one episode of M*A*S*H where Major Winchester was addressing a Piano master who lost his hand in the war. He expressed his own shortcomings in ability to play the piano in one of the most eloquent scenes in that series. His fingers could dance on a patient, but could not work well with the piano despite a deep yearning to create that wonderful music.

That bit of laugh-track filled video might give you some comfort.

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Ael
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Raia,

I don't know whether you are still trying to figure this out. I'm a music teacher, but I don't teach your instrument, so take this with a grain of salt.

I have found that lessons are most successful when they are a partnership of teacher and student. That is, when technical difficulties are encountered, the teacher brings knowledge and outside perceptions to the table, whereas the student brings self-perception and analyticism.

If something isn't working, your first goal needs to be figuring out /why/ it isn't working. Because it's your body, and your mind, you have the information (and the power) to sort it out more efficiently than anyone else, if you can do it in a detached way. Note that if your first goal is to fix the problem, rather than to understand the problem, that will probably add more frustration than anything else.

The first step I would suggest to accomplish this goal would be to think back to the last time you sat to play something, and write down as much as you can remember about how you felt at the time (what you were trying to do, what worked, what didn't, how it didn't work, what thoughts ran through your mind--that sort of thing). And then to sit down again at the piano, play something, and watch yourself as you do to see if you missed something, or misremembered something, about the experience.

This is rather general, but I hope it is of some assistance.

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Teshi
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I agree that this is most likely a psychological issue more than anything else. You became frustrated at some point and started criticising yourself to the point where you became aware of every error to the point of collapse in any ability at all to play.

I don't feel I knew how to play the piano until I stopped taking lessons and started sitting down and playing for fun. I will never be a fluent pianist, but at least I can sight read basic music now.

And yes, it took quite a few years for me to practice sight reading to a level where I was competent. One thing I had to come to terms with was that I would never be note perfect and that in order to play in time I would inevitably make errors because I wouldn't be able to even take a split-second to pause. I need to stop hearing the song in my head while I'm learning it.

Also, beware of certain music accompaniaments. I have found it exceedingly hard to play some musical song accompianiaments. They are very difficult, some of them. What worked for me is playing things like hymns and Christmas Carols (although I appreciate those might be difficult to get your hands on!) because hymns are some of the most simple accompaniaments out there. I assume you aren't trying to sing while you play.

As for relating musical talent to being able to play the piano well, I don't see why being a very talented singer necessarily means you would be a proficient pianist. I was a singer in high school and ended up singing at a higher level than I was as a pianist within a few years(but I never felt required to be a good pianist).

Lastly, I envy you having a piano and guitar to play and music to be involved in. I do not.

*

You can still read music. You know where the notes are on the keyboard. You can read which fingers to use. Sit down at the piano, and play the left hand to an entire book of very simple music (chances are your left hand not cooperating was involved with your initial frustration). Let yourself hesitate and make mistakes as much as you need to. It doesn't matter!

Then find some nice easy songs that you know and plonk your way through them. It doesn't matter if you go slow, it doens't matter if you take dramatic pauses before the chords-- if you're singing in your head, just lengthen the note you're singing. Ignore everything except the notes, make liberal use of the pedal to cover your mistakes and make flowy songs sound flowy instead of plonky.

You will suck at first. If you've never sight-read successfully, you will not sightread successfully now. Stop expecting yourself to! You will have to play (not PRACTICE), play lots and lots to be able to make a connection between what the chords look like in black and white and what they feel like in your fingers.

Do NOT ever perform the piano, do not play for people and do not allow people to sing along. Try not to allow yourself to sing properly.

Stop dreaming of being a pianist and perhaps you will start learning to play a little.

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Raia
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*bump*

This problem has gotten worse and worse and WORSE over the last six months. I just came back to re-read the thread and see what I have forgotten, or what I need to be re-told from all the advice I got from you last time.

I've now added a very detrimental factor into the mix -- insane jealousy.

My boyfriend of 13 months is an amazing pianist. This didn't bother me at the beginning... he would play, I would sing (he also sings, very nicely, but piano is his main skill), and we'd have a really good time. In fact, we began doing that together long before we were actually dating, and it was the first hobby we shared.

Recently, my piano issues have gotten totally out of control -- I've lost all perspective. But some background about him:

In the spring we were in a production of Guys and Dolls together, in which I got the lead and he got cast as chorus. This was very difficult for him, a feeling I know extremely well from my days in college and the professional/competitive track, and so I was very supportive of course... and actually, my first instinct was to run away. I know so well how that feels that I didn't want him to experience it at all, so I told him I wouldn't do the show. He immediately told me to stop being ridiculous, and so I did, and we did the show together (he wasn't going to at first, I convinced him to), and he's in a much better place as a result. He auditioned for Hairspray last week without thinking he deserved the lead, which is how he went in at Guys and Dolls, and it was so much better/heathier for him, and he got a callback.

During the G&D run, there were a few rehearsals where the director needed a rehearsal pianist... so I immediately volunteered my boyfriend to play (he was too shy to do it himself, even though he's really good). Not only did he love it and flourish there, but a girl in the cast who went on to direct her own show hired him on the spot to be the performance pianist.

Since then (that show is over), he's gotten 3 job offers to play in pit orchestras for musicals all over the place, and now he's working on all 3 of them and having a ball.

Now, since he got the first one, I've suddenly felt all my frustration and pain with my compete lack of abilities on the piano come flooding back -- and not just back, but with a fierce vengeance. I know it was kind of my doing, I volunteered him, because he really is good and I wanted everyone to see that (though more importantly I wanted him to play because I knew he'd really enjoy it). I also know that regardless of my part played in the whole thing he would have found that niche eventually. But for some reason, the fact that he's so good and everyone knows he's so good and wants to hire him -- combined with the fact that I suck and can't seem to get better -- makes the whole situation really hard for me. And unlike me during Guys and Dolls, his instinct is to ignore it and do what he loves, because otherwise he'll start harboring resentment for me (an attitude that is a really good one, and I respect that very much, but still makes it harder for me when I know that he sees how much pain I'm in and it doesn't make the slightest difference).

Now, I'm a little backwards. It's not just petty competition because that should manifest in voice, not in piano... voice is the thing that I'm good at and should be competitive about, but it's not. I want him to succeed there and do well. And when he tells me about callbacks or doing well with his barbershop quartet, I'm nothing but thrilled for him. But as soon as he talks about the piano I start crying.

I'm pretty sure it started just as jealousy, but it's gotten way out of control at this point. Now I can't stop thinking about it, ever, and its made me run away screaming from music altogether (this is the first semester I haven't done a show since I've been in Israel, and I find that I don't even really want to sing at all, because of this whole piano business). I also know that this is really hard on him, because it's something that he's good at and excited about and I'm making it really hard for him to show any of that or talk about it, and I hate that. I burst into tears on a daily basis, just thinking about the piano. Every time I SEE a piano, I want to take an axe to it... very different from my LIFELONG dream of owning a grand piano and being able to play it (and incidentally, he bought a grand piano while I was in the States this summer, adding insult to injury... this was right after he had started rehearsing for his first hired gig, and right after I started feeling weird about it again. His piano is gorgeous, was cheap, and is everything I've dreamed of having in my house since age 4).

I'm seeing a therapist about this, and while I feel that it's really good for me and I have no intention of stopping, I so far have yet to see any kind of change in my reactions/feelings. The other day, my boyfriend was practicing for The Fantasticks, one of the shows he's playing, for two and a half hours... and for two and a half hours I sat and cried next to him. At one point I got up and left the room because I felt less lonely sitting outside in the dark hallway by myself than I did sitting in the room with him while he was playing.

I hate this and I want to enjoy his playing like I did at the beginning... he's so good. But I can't. I've come to hate music, my biggest passion. I really need help. [Frown]

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Teshi
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*hugs*

Raia, I disagree that your boyfriend should just ignore your distress or that is the best way of helping you. I don't think he should stop playing to appease you, but I find it very odd that he practiced the piano while you just cried beside him. That is a very strange picture to me.

Other people will have to also give their opinion, I don't think it should be regarded as acceptable or healthy in the slightest that he would be able to do this (play with you weeping for two and a half hours!) any more than you would want to stay in the room sitting beside him while he practiced (I would view him practicing as something he could do alone or on his own time, not in time you are spending together, even if you live together).

I think it's good you're seeing a therapist. Perhaps there's something more going on than meets the eye that has manifested in the piano?

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Raia
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He's actually been incredibly supportive... I think my description was a lot more heartless than I had intended. This situation is tough on both of us, neither of us knows quite how to handle it...
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Emreecheek
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"Being able to read sheet music is just something you either can or can't do. Some people eventually learn to just pick up sheet music and belt it out, but far more people experience something less than that. They can work their way through the song, with a varying amounts of glitches in there."

No no no no no no no. Sorry, but this (anecdotal) goes against all of my personal experience, and the experience of my students and peers. Learning to sight read is like learning a language. It's easier when you do it as a child, but you can learn it at any time. It's not something people just can or can't do.

I think that being able to improvise over guitar chords is of extraordinary importance with sight reading - It's all that enabled me to do it. As it stands, I'm still not a great sight-reader. But I *am* able to read much better than I did 4 years ago, and I *did* successfully learn how to do it at least proficiently, not because of a mysterious talent, but because of patience and hard work.

My personal advice to you, Raia, is to continue therapy. In the few years I've been teaching, I've never encountered something like this - But I know that my piano teachers have, and I vaguely remember one mentioning something similar in a pedagogy course I took. I'll email him for more ideas. But I really, really suspect that the block is mental.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
No no no no no no no. Sorry, but this (anecdotal) goes against all of my personal experience, and the experience of my students and peers. Learning to sight read is like learning a language. It's easier when you do it as a child, but you can learn it at any time. It's not something people just can or can't do.
I'll disagree with you using one 'no' and in far shorter a time frame.

I did not say, "You either can read, or you can't read a single note." I said in elaboration,

quote:
Some people eventually learn to just pick up sheet music and belt it out, but far more people experience something less than that. They can work their way through the song, with a varying amounts of glitches in there.
I don't know anybody who when they say, "I can sight read!" That that means they can literally pick up any piece and just play it. Sight reading is not just knowing what notes need to be played, but actually playing them. It's subservient to your technical skill in a way "learning a language" isn't remotely similar. In Chinese, once you learn all the individual sounds (and there aren't many) you just learn which words use which sound. In a piano piece it's a similar concept but the actual playing of the keys can be phenomenally difficult. Hence, some people do achieve a level where regardless of the piece, they can play it just by looking at it. But for many more people, they will encounter a piece and play through it with less than perfection, often very clunkily, until practice makes it perfect.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
quote:
No no no no no no no. Sorry, but this (anecdotal) goes against all of my personal experience, and the experience of my students and peers. Learning to sight read is like learning a language. It's easier when you do it as a child, but you can learn it at any time. It's not something people just can or can't do.
I'll disagree with you using one 'no' and in far shorter a time frame.

I did not say, "You either can read, or you can't read a single note." I said in elaboration,

quote:
Some people eventually learn to just pick up sheet music and belt it out, but far more people experience something less than that. They can work their way through the song, with a varying amounts of glitches in there.
I don't know anybody who when they say, "I can sight read!" That that means they can literally pick up any piece and just play it. Sight reading is not just knowing what notes need to be played, but actually playing them. It's subservient to your technical skill in a way "learning a language" isn't remotely similar. In Chinese, once you learn all the individual sounds (and there aren't many) you just learn which words use which sound. In a piano piece it's a similar concept but the actual playing of the keys can be phenomenally difficult. Hence, some people do achieve a level where regardless of the piece, they can play it just by looking at it. But for many more people, they will encounter a piece and play through it with less than perfection, often very clunkily, until practice makes it perfect.

95% of progress in technical skill has to do with the effectiveness of practice. You can become a better sight reader, and anyone can become a very fluent sight reader, with the correct combination of training and effective practice.

What you're describing is the majority situation, in which people have poor practice habits, and are not taught from the beginning to play through a piece at a speed and with an approach appropriate to their ability. So they always approach a piece in the same way, always make most of the same technical mistakes, and never get much better.

Just doing community theater, I can't tell you how many times I've seen people "in their process," repeating passages of music OVER AND OVER with the same mistakes, hoping somehow to improve, while they actually just reinforce the errors they are making. They never take the time to work through the problem in an effective way, and when you kindly try and guide them to a better process, people get *very* haughty about it. These days I do a little bit of work (not paid), in community theater, and part of that includes helping members learn music, though I don't have time to be the musical director, nor would I want the job. Amazing how people will listen to you if you're an expert in *anything* else, but when you ask them to pull their fingers out of their ears while singing in ensemble, or to please *not* practice in the way they are practicing, they simply won't listen.

(As a total aside, please know that if you sing in a chorus or choir and make a habit of shoving a finger in your ear, your musical director and I both hate you. Please stop doing it [Wink] ).

Ideally, a person is taught all they need to know to look over a piece first, identify the areas which will be difficult, and set a pace for learning the piece that will accomodate those challenges. This is really the only way of improving- you don't improve by repeating mistakes: you improve by repeating successes. What people usually do is rush through the easy bits and then stumble all over the hard parts, instead of having any effective engagement with them. This is where you get "choppy" read-throughs that take a great deal of time to improve- because the person learning the piece is not identifying problem areas and not doing anything effective about them. I myself am notoriously guilty of this- as I never had the discipline my guitar teacher had. He could sit down and read through a piece *without* playing it, and without having done anything physical, this would count as practice. He could "practice" while looking at music on the train, because he was tuned into the physicality of the music and knew all of the challenges and how to approach them properly. That wasn't ever something i had the patience for.

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
but when you ask them to pull their fingers out of their ears while singing in ensemble, or to please *not* practice in the way they are practicing, they simply won't listen.
How can they listen? They've got fingers in their ears!
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Orincoro
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My point exactly.
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rivka
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Shalom, metukah!

quote:
Originally posted by Raia:
I'm seeing a therapist about this

Good. [Smile]

quote:
Originally posted by Raia:
I so far have yet to see any kind of change in my reactions/feelings.

Therapy is not a magic bullet. And it can take time to dig down to the underlying issues, especially when dealing with such intense emotional responses.
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Geraine
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I actually know how you feel. I started on the piano and while I could play simple tunes, I couldn't read enough notes at once to play with both hands.

My grandfather was a concert pianist at a young age, and at the age of 8 performed with the LA Philharmonic. He was something of a prodigy. He was set to study at a music institute in Paris when he was 18, however a few weeks before he was set to leave, he woke up to find he had lost all tonality. He was completely tone deaf. His entire dream was shattered.

I had decided I wanted to play piano to try and give my granfather something he lost. I grew up listening to classical music. It was all my grandparents played in their home and car. Until the age of 18 the only musical cassettes and CD's I owned were classical.

I was very frustrated that I couldn't read piano music. I decided to give the cello a shot after attending a Yo-Yo Ma concert here in Las Vegas.

Surprisingly I can read cello music without a problem. I was always frustrated when I tried to play the piano, but with the cello I felt as if I were at "home."

I know that sometimes it just takes practice, but in my case I would spend hours trying to read eight to ten notes at a time and telling my hands to hit the appropriate keys. My mind simply couldn't see and process that many notes at once.

Maybe it was due to the reduced number of notes you have to keep track of at once, but I excelled at the cello. I had the priviledge of being a member of two city orchestras while I was still in high school. I just *got* the cello.

I've tried over the years to get back into the piano, but find I still have that same mental block I always did. I've come to terms with it, but I hope one day that it will finally click in my mind.

The point of all this is: It's not just you!! I know it is frustrating, but you aren't alone. And hey, if you do figure it out, please share how you overcame it, because I am in the same boat. Good luck!

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Lyrhawn
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Geraine -

What ended up happening with your grandfather?

*intrigued*

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Raia
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Wow, that's quite a story. My heart goes out to your grandfather! Thanks for all the support. I will keep you posted.
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steven
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Raia, it wouldn't surprise me, both as a musician and a student of human movement, if you have some kind of weird postural issue that suddenly shows up when you sit down in front of a piano.

If you already have some Alexander Technique training, which some singers do, you might be able to work it out on your own. Otherwise, I'd recommend a good Alexander Technique or Gokhale Method teacher as a way to get through this.

I'd say 80% or more of the sudden decreases in musical performance ability I've seen in people are extremely highly correlated with some kind of odd postural and/or movement pattern of some kind. Quite often this sort of thing only shows up during playing the instrument.

One nice trick I've used as a drummer is to watch really effortless drummers/percussionists play again and again, and "absorb" their technique. Monkey see, monkey do. There are plenty of good Youtube videos of really effortless piano players (who have good posture at the instrument, too) of all styles of music. I think if you watch one of those players enough, you can probably "absorb" their technique. That might also help.

So good luck. Enjoy the process, and it will go better, too.

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Raia
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How very interesting. That is something I've never heard before! I can tell you that I have messed up shoulder blades (they stick out instead of just pointing towards each other) and this has caused great pain when I've practiced for long periods of time in the past... also when I would sit next to a desktop computer and now I do all my laptopping from my bed.

I have some knowledge of Alexander, but it's very basic. Maybe I should try more because I've never connected those issues before!

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steven
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I don't know where you're located, but there may be some good local teachers near you. I recommend both the Gokhale method, which is based on the posture and movement of traditional tribes, and Alexander, which you're already familiar with.

I actually think Alexander is a little better for performing an instrument like the piano, but Gokhale is better for everyday tasks. Both are useful in both contexts, though, IME.

If there are no local teachers, or if money is an issue, there are plenty of good videos of Alexander work on Youtube. There are a few good videos of Esther Gokhale as well, though not as many.

You definitely will want to work with a mirror setup, or a video camera and TV/monitor setup, where you can see your own posture in real-time.

Also, I can't stress enough the usefulness of watching videos of people playing piano effortlessly with good posture. I've found this invaluable as a way to improve my drumming technique.

The Gokhale method has an excellent fix for shoulder problems called the "shoulder roll", it's demonstrated in some of those youtube videos. You may want to look at that.

Alexander and Gokhale treat the shoulders fairly differently. For things that require you to move against constant resistance, like carrying/moving a heavy weight, Gokhale is definitely superior. However, for musical performance, I use something more like Alexander.

You may also want to look into a couple of yoga postures for opening up the shoulders. I can suggest a couple, I used to have shoulder issues until I did a lot of this type of work.

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