Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Frustrations of an Old Dog

I decided to give myself a month before making any judgment on my new round of piano lessons. Unfortunately I am suffering the same sort of frustration I usually encounter when trying to learn a sport. You know that feeling of remembering eye on the ball, full swing without picking your head up, and good follow-through. Or racquet back, step into the ball, good follow-through.

In the case of piano, it’s things like move your hand and arm, not only your fingers, to strike every note; sit on the edge of the bench; involve your shoulders, your back, and even your sitz bones when playing; play louder by a quicker attack; etc.

I had expectations of going in and wowing my new teacher with my piano ability, but instead I am constantly unhappy with what I hear as I play for her, wondering why I could play a piece so beautifully at home and then so abysmally for her. Or was it just my imagination that it was better at home?

I have learned a ton of music theory in 4 weeks, but have not mastered two pages of the Beethoven Pathetique sonata in that time period. I consider that totally unacceptably sucky!

I have always been able with practice on my part to incorporate the suggestions of teachers in most everything non-athletic. And I do practice at least an hour every day. But it never seems to show when I go in to play for this new teacher.

I can’t figure out how to get beyond my current frustration – whether to ask her to suggest music I am more likely to succeed at playing, whether to just put my nose to the grindstone and get it right this time, or whether to revert back to my teacherless, oblivious-to-my-mistakes, status.

I always intended for music to be a source of pleasure and not one of frustration. I keep hoping that I can get beyond whatever barrier I seem to be up against and see just a little progress. That’s all it would take to encourage me to keep going!

Is there a time beyond which teaching an old dog new tricks is impossible?


Blogger Richard said...

It may well be that these lessons are not suitable for you.

One thing I have noticed is that people are prescriptive, prescribing form and confusing it with substance. It may well be that, although the lessons seem fine on the surface, in reality, they are not working for you.

Different people learn in different ways. I learn by asking questions, by being allowed to explore. If I am introduced to a new piece of equipment, I will accept instruction on its use. I will even try it out in the prescribed way. Then I will start pushing its limits and exploring variations and permutations on its operation.

It may also be a question of unlearning some bad habits, or it may be that you are too focused on matching the expected form that you begin exaggerating and overcompensating. A common example is threading a needle. A fairly difficult task, but the more you concentrate on it, the harder you work on trying to thread it, the harder it becomes. This occurs because you start consciously overcompensating when making minor corrections.

You can always try another teacher whose style may be more in tune with yours. Jason's original piano teacher was completely frustrated with him because JJ has a tendency to want to play instead of practice. His current teacher (we were told a strict Russian piano teacher) actually gets him to work on his stuff and he seems to enjoy it more.

It is better to find people who are compatible with you, rather than trying to adapt them or yourself.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

Sometimes when you are learning something, you have to ask yourself why you are learning it. For example, are you learning the big hairy classical piece because you love it, or because you think you should.

I had many piano teachers as a child and youngster, they all wanted me to play classical piano. finally I got a teacher who said that I was clearly capable of playing classical, but maybe that wasn't what I wanted to learn to play and he was right. I spent a couple of happy years learning to play lounge music by sight. I have always been happy that we made that choice together!

If it really is the big, hairy, classical piece, then giving yourself permission to take it slow and enjoy the process could be important too!

4:00 PM  

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