Monday, April 14, 2008

What, I can't play this on a real piano? What gives?

Before last week's conference, I didn't have any delusions that spending a week in Las Vegas with the little roll-up keyboard would turn me into Vladimir Horowitz. But focusing just on the RH parts of the things I am working on (to wit, Good People and Little Brown Jug) was surprisingly easy. It led me to start turning pages in Alfred's, to see how easy the upcoming repertoire was. As it turned out, not hard at all. I was able to render recognizable versions of Auld Lang Syne, O Sole Mio, Greensleeves, Go Down Moses, Scarborough Fair(!), Raisins and Almonds (had some trouble with this one), He's Got the Whole World in His Hands (all three keys!), and even The Entertainer (gasp!). No lie.

Of course, this illusion of progress was only a mirage, playing RH only. But when seeming to make progress on these things, I have a way of neglecting the reality of the situation. Which meant when I returned this past Saturday afternoon, and eventually found my way back to our piano (which took until Sunday), I was mildly disappointed that I couldn't just bust out all (heck, any) of these in their full glory. It turns out that much of the complexity of these pieces lies on the left hand, not the right. While the RH is busy carrying off it's snappy little melody, the LH is doing some uncomfortable and unfamiliar things, like trying new chord transitions in the middle of syncopated RH notes. You know, real piano playing. So I've still got quite some ahead of me working on these.

But my time with the roll-up wasn't totally wasted. I now give myself about a B-minus on Good People, which is a big improvement on how I was doing before. Heck, I can even make it through Little Brown Jug, although it still has ways to before it's presentation worthy. (Not that I have presented anything yet, but if I had to show you something, it wouldn't be either of these...) My progress is fair enough to keep me encouraged. I admit I was starting to have some doubts, and to a certain (albeit lesser) extent, some of those remain.

Which leads me to my dear daughter Jillian. Go figure this... while I was gone, she didn't practice at all. I joked with her about this... "What, you don't want to play the piano unless you can kick me off first?" Ok, so that's not Simpson's-level material, but I expected at least a half-hearted courtesy chuckle. Instead, she actually started to get a little teary-eyed.

"Daddy, I am never going to be able to play those things in my new book. They're hard! They don't have any numbers, and my teacher didn't write any numbers on them! I don't know how to play any of those songs!"
She was really upset.

I did my best, saying that the things she played in her first book only sounded good when she had practiced them sufficiently. No luck. She called me out on this, saying that for the most part, she was able to play everything in that book pretty much right away. And, come to think of it, she's right about that. Eventually, we agreed that the problem was practice time. Now that she's in the Red Book (she uses the Schaum series, for those of you just joining us), everything is harder than before, and it's simply going to require some more practice time. I asked her if she felt like 10 minutes a day was enough (wink wink, yeah right)... "No, probably an hour." (Whoa... didn't expect that.) We settled on 30 minutes a day, and if she didn't notice a difference in a couple of weeks, we'd get some more advice from her teacher.

So I'll take any advice you piano parents / teachers might have for me... do you assign a particular time of the day as piano practice time, or do just leave it up to them to get their time in, and ask them about it near the end of the day? I could see benefits and drawbacks to both. She has a lesson today, and hasn't really made any progress in the week since her last lesson. It's too late to make much improvement before this afternoon, but hopefully next week, her practice time will allow her to experience some success.

Thing is, I went through this myself. I flew through her Green Book in about two weeks, and felt ready to conquer the world with my mad piano skillz. Even the first few pages in Alfred's were no challenge at all. So I took it pretty hard when it took me a week or so to complete seemingly easy pieces like Beautiful Brown Eyes, and later, Lavender's Blue. I was unprepared for the piano to push back on me. Jillian herself recalled how long it took me to be able to play Blow the Man Down... she has seen that some of this isn't coming easily for me.

Upshot... not that I needed any more motivation to get good at this, but if I did, I now have it: my daughter is watching me struggle, and watching me succeed. I need to be a good model here.

1 comment:

Michelle Himes said...

It's good for a kid to know that parents have to struggle to learn things too.

I'm having a tough time with the pieces in Alfred's - but then I struggled through the Bastien Primer that my granddaughter had too. In fact, I never finished it because I stopped when I hit the G position. The left hand was an octave lower than G position in Alfred's and it only confused me. Granddaughter finds all this amusing, since she could play by ear before she even started with lessons.