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Beginner frustrations – don’t really know how I should be practicing(r/piano)
A Rant and Thoughts on Cross-Instrumental Pedagogy
Well, you’re in a world of double suck for several reasons. First of all, most people who have previous instrumental experience have an even harder time with piano rather than any easier one. Why? Because they want to jump in the deep end immediately and ignore their fundamentals. It’s like saying, “I can drive a car… so flying this plane can’t be that much different… let me take over the controls mid flight!” Sure, you understand the basic concept of using transportation to get get form point A to point B and the idea of not running into obstacles, but that doesn’t make you any better at knowing how to control planes, trains, and boats.
Even if you have a deep understanding of a lot of things, the technical work still has to be done for every instrument you pick up. If you end up picking up even more instruments, you can generally get better at the process by understanding it, but you just can’t skip the fundamentals.
What makes this problem worse is asking for help from pianists. It seems logical, but they tend to exacerbate the problem. Most of them started as children. They have no background in music education and they take for granted so many of the skills they picked up as a kid. Their advice is about the equivalent of handing someone a guitar and telling them just to go transcribe Steve Vai solos to get better when they can’t even play a single chord. It’s a serious issue in the piano world. Having trouble with and independence? Can’t play Mary Had a Little Lamb out of your beginner book with both hands? Just practice this and you’ll be fine.
The reality is that you’re just going to have to spend a lot of time on basic stuff and likely put the jazz stuff on hold for quite some time until you get more basic concepts under your fingers. I-IV-V, sure. ii-V-I, not so much. On guitar most chords have a similar difficulty. Heck, I’d argue that most of the moveable jazz chord shapes are easier than some of the triads because they require less barring and tend to cover less strings.
The other advantage on guitar is that if you learn how to play chord, or even a progression, you’ve pretty much learned it in every key. You don’t even have to think about how to play that progression in another key. The physicality of a ii-V-I on guitar is enough that you just need to know which fret to start you ii on and the rest falls into place. Sure, you can learn several variations and voicings of various chords, but the principle still holds. If you want to do something cool like put a 13 on a G7 chord, you just learn the shape. You don’t need to know that the 13 of G is E. You sure as hell don’t need to know what it is for every other key. You just think, “Well, if I play this on the 7th fret I get C13.”
That’s probably why piano seems overwhelming. I assure you it does get better and there is a certain amount of similarity in that over time progressions feel the same in every key believe it or not. The thing is, if you learn them in every key, you realize the motion is the same. The voice leading is the same. You’re just navigating white and black keys more. But if you spend time practicing scales and actually know you key signatures and such, you start to feel home and instinctively get that same feeling of same-shapeness that guitar has. Though obviously on guitar you can learn a single scale shape and play it in every key.
Although, I think guitarists often get the better deal by playing scales modally from different positions where as classically trained musicians on pretty much every other instrument think every scale begins and ends at the octave and really aren’t as fluent in their use unless it fits that mold. Ask most people to play their E major scale starting on B or C# and they’ll likely run into problems. Guitarists often have less trouble with that due to the physicality of the instrument.
You probably won’t like all of these and might be afraid they don’t fit your goals, but hear me out.
Alfred – You really should start getting used to reading music on the piano. I don’t know what your reading background is and I don’t care if you think you can skip this step. It really will help. Virtually every resource you use will use notation. Investing in reading now will pay off immensely in the long run just saving you time and headaches when you want to digest new material and all the resources are written in standard notation. Additionally, playing a lot of the concepts in context will help a lot. And if you don’t have reading experience now, learning on piano and then maybe going back and applying it to guitar might be a fun thing for you. Spend a little time in this book daily.
- Practice slowly and accurately.
- When you’ve gotten a piece pretty much down, move on to the next, but review your previous pieces each time. Maybe when you’re 10 tunes in, you can start culling the the very first exercises and just reviewing the last 5-10, but don’t just complete a piece and scratch it off never to return.
- As you get things under your fingers and are reviewing, you can start doing things like trying to look at the page rather than your fingers and making sure you’re associating what you’re playing with what’s on the page.
Scales, etc. – This book has scales, arpeggios, and cadences in every key cleanly written out with recommended fingerings.
Start with scales. Just learn the hands together scales in every major key first. You’ll probably have to spend lots of time playing each hand individually to make sure it’s under your fingers and then put them together agonizingly slowly where you’re literally bouncing your brain from hand to hand trying to think which finger comes next. Do it. Eventually it will be like breathing.
Pick a nice comfortable tempo that you feel decent at with hands together and then move on. I’d suggest getting to about 60 bpm.
Review old scales daily at your target tempo. Do NOT waste practice time trying to speed up old scales. This likely won’t be a problem for you, but the tendency of most non-guitarists is to work on the speed of something like C major trying to get it just a little faster while they can barely blunder their way through F#. I guess it’s similar to being able to blaze your root position pentatonic on guitar, but not being able to play majors, minors, or other modal shapes because you spent all of you time on the velocity of the easy scale. Just get everything to 60 or so before you even think about speed.
Continue reviewing once you have all 12 keys and maybe try to raise the tempo on review. So maybe aim for 65 with everything. Not 120 with C and 65 with everything else. If you can’t play B major at 65, you shouldn’t try playing C any faster. Eventually they will all be pretty solid. Over time you’ll find that you’ll be able to review all 12 major scales over 2 octaves in under 5 minutes. Speed will come with time and accurate repetition rather than fighting the metronome for gainz. #scalegoals
While reviewing scales, move on to cadences. Same approach. Add a key every time you can and review all previous keys at a comfortable tempo.
While reviewing both of the above, move on to major arpeggios. Same deal as above.
Now you might want to dabble with minors taking the same approach. You’ll find that due to your previous experience, they will move by much more quickly. Many of them share the same “shapes” the way guitar chords do, but they aren’t related. For example, doing arpeggios, C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, and A minor all feel the same. So do C# major, Eb major, F# minor, and Ab major. You get the idea.
Many of these technical concepts will be reinforced and put into practical perspective in the Alfred book.
From here there are tons of directions to go for jazz stuff. My go-to recommendation is this one for getting the basics of how to think about, use and apply jazz concepts for those starting out.
There are tons of other resources that might fit your goals better. A purely technical approach approach is this one, but I’d still recommend the Mark Harrison book first. There are also much deeper jazz texts, though I’m not sure it’s even worth recommending them at this moment since you’re likely months or years away from being able to approach any of that material.