Advice on learning : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

By way of background, I have been studying piano for about 8 months on my own. I am working to find a good teacher, which is just a little bit difficult in my small town. I practice on a good electronic keyboard and plan to do so for a little while longer and then upgrade hopefully to an electronic or acoustic piano.

I have been working very hard on my ability to read music and then translate it to an actual hand movement. Progress is going ok but it does not seem to be getting much easier. I have an especially hard time when I am required to move to new hand positions during a piece, and this leads up to my question.

When I read music, the obvious thing to do is to look at a note and think, "the next note is a C" or whatever the note happens to be. I notice though that when I take the time to actually register in my brain what the note is, I often end up confusing myself and some times it's just easier to recognize the interval between the particular notes and play accordingly. Its like my mind can figure out on its own the distance between the notes and translate that into what finger needs to play next. But if I try to actually think about each note as it is played then it just does not work out very well.

Now you experienced players are probably laughing your heads off at this point but I want you to pick your brains for a second. When you are playing, do you actually look at each individual note, acknowledge what it is, and then play it, or do you just look at the interval between the notes and play accordingly?

The only thing I can relate this to is typing. When I touch type I don't really think of the individual letters, rather I just think of the words and then my mind sorts out the individual letters to type. If I had to think of each letter, like when I type a tough word that has to be sounded out, my typing slows to a crawl. I keep thinking there must be some parallel to playing piano but I don't know what it is. Oh yeah, do they make a spell checker for piano's?

I have to say, I love learning to play and I'm looking forward to working with a teacher soon. It is an exciting and wonderful thing to learn to make music and well worth the effort so far.

Any feedback you guys have would be appreciated.


-- Kirk Roberts (, April 03, 2003


Kirk, I am sure a teacher will answer you to the effect that you are doing exactly right, playing by recognizing intervals, but I must tell you how lucky you are to have discovered this yourself, and find it the esiest way to proceed - a lot of us have to work hard at learning to recognize intervals! To read each note as you go along is the hard way. I envy you!

-- Shirley Gibson (, April 04, 2003.

Kirk, You are doing just what you need, playing by interval. Of course, you need to know the note letters, to find your starting place, or to play a larger interval that is not easily recognizable. But for the smaller intevals, keep thinking like you're thinking (definitely anything up to a 5th. Perhaps 6th, 7th, and octaves too, although these are less commonly used, therefore not as instantly recognized). I require all my students to transpose pieces occassionally, so obviously to do that, one must think in terms of intervals and not specific letter names. And of course, as the music becomes more difficult, and several notes are being played at a time, one can't possibly take the time to think of 5 or 6 letters for the notes of a chord. The harmonic intervals (or the overall chord) must be recognized as a single entity for good sight-reading. Your analogy to typing is a good one--one I hadn't actually thought of before. I do often analogize playing piano to reading a book, though. One can't read fluently until he can read words and phrases as a "package deal." IOW, he can't still be thinking in terms of individual letters. You said you have a hard time when you have to move your hand. Let me encourage you to really work hard on teaching your hand to find it's way around the keyboard without looking down!! You'll cripple your sightreading skills if you rely on your eyes. Even practicing 5-finger patterns in various keys, moving around from one to another (without ever looking!!!) will be very helpful. Use the feel of the black key combinations (2 versus 3) to know where you are. Also, you said "Its like my mind can figure out on its own the distance between the notes and translate that into what finger needs to play next." That is fine for now, but be aware that in more difficult music, a third interval, for example, may not necessarily be a skip in the fingers. It may well be a finger 1 to finger 2, depending on the rest of the phrase. This is why you will gradually read by phrases, but don't worry too much about that yet. If you find a teacher, s/he will help you through all that. BTW, an interesting fact is that approx 70% of all music is movement by a step, skip, or repeat, so playing by intervals like you're doing will get you through most of it! What books are you currently studying from--perhaps we can give you some additional specific advice. Best wishes, annie

-- annie (, April 05, 2003.

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