Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lessons, continued

I had my first lesson on the school's 9-foot grand yesterday -- MUCH better. (I wonder how they got hold of such a thing? Donated, perhaps?) Though the ideal is to be able to make any piano sound good, it's hard to learn how to do it when the instrument is fighting you, and particularly when it's out of tune.

As for continuing the lessons, even though this teacher isn't exactly the right one for me (or doesn't feel that way, anyway), I decided that the best course of action given the circumstances is simply to go and get what I can out of them. Really, the most important aspect of playing is how, what, and how much one practices.

The real problem I'm having is my atavistic tendency to let things slide. I am wasting practice time flailing about, playing too fast, and so on, so when I get to the lessons, it seems I can hardly play a thing. It's something along the lines of my sleepwalking brain going, "Okay, what do I need to get done? Oh, right, we talked about that one section of the Beethoven, so that's all I need to practice." What I need to do instead, both to gain the most benefit from going to all this trouble to take lessons and to continue to progress in my playing, is to practice at least as well as I have been practicing all along while keeping in mind the ideas presented at the lessons. This may not be the most efficient way to go about it, but maybe there is no efficient way.

Not that my prelesson practice was exactly efficient in the sense of producing quick results. I have been learning in slow increments, hearing improvement only over many months of nibbling away at a piece. I don't know if learning quickly is a proper goal anyway. It's like losing weight: Anyone can crash-diet a lot of pounds off, but because this way of eating is unnatural and unsustainable, they generally come right back on when one starts eating normally again. Another analogy: cramming for a test. We've all brute-force memorized key facts or formulae at the last minute and regurgitated them well enough to pass, but a week or a month later, all is forgotten. In the same way, it's possible to woodshed one's way through a piece of music enough to be able to play it at a lesson or a concert, but my experience has always been that it's gone from my fingers in the same amount of time I spent learning it. On the other hand, slow, steady, careful, relaxed practice sticks a lot longer.

To her credit, this teacher is not saying I need to master everything in an instant. To the contrary, I feel I'm in the adult student ghetto, where much latitude is given and few results are expected. We're all supposed to be doing it "for fun." In a way, of course, that's right. But in another way, if we wanted pure fun we'd spend our free time riding roller coasters (I personally hate roller coasters, but you know what I mean). Or playing EZ arrangements that take 5 minutes to learn.

What bothers me most of all is that playing the piano is starting to seem overwhelmingly impossible. Yes, I would like to have a better touch and tone, but I'd like more to keep playing and not get bogged down in perfectionism. Is it an either/or proposition? Or is there such a thing as just a little perfectionism, now and then, when it adds value? Okay, that's a rhetorical question, because as I'm thinking about it now, that's EXACTLY how it should work. No one can be perfect; instead, one aims for the illusion of perfection, or what makes the art seem to be perfect, and gradually, over time, these areas of high achievement spread and overlap.

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