Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An actual piano-related post

I apologize to those of you who are disinterested in the job search updates. I can tell from the lack of emails and comments that this is not quite so interesting for you. We'll resume regular programming once this is all behind us. That said, I have a piano question.

Those who know me know that, when it comes to computers, I am NOT a mouse person. In 7 years of doing documentation, QA, and development for SAP, I never used a mouse. Since joining IBM 3 years ago, I never used a mouse. Strictly a laptop guy, content to use the keyboard whenever and however possible. This past Christmas, I got a wireless keyboard / mouse to use with my laptop. Here we are 6 weeks later, and the mouse no longer works. I will probably replace it*, but in the meantime, I am not perturbed. Reason? I knows my keyboard shortcuts.

* - Partly because sometimes it's nice to have a mouse, and partly because the keyboard rocks, and it would be silly to keep it, but not the mouse.

It took awhile to learn them. Among my favorites? Shift-F3 to toggle between capitalization cases in Microsoft documents.* Try it. Click on (or in) a word, hit Shift-F3 and watch it go from "word" to "WORD" to "Word" to...

* - Funny thing... I didn't actually know the shortcut was Shift-F3... I had to open a Word document, type a word, cycle through the cases, then observe what I did to do that. Which brings me, finally, to my point...

Piano, to me, feels like I am executing keyboard shortcuts. Even things I come to know well... say, Ombre or The Entertainer... it feels like my fingers are executing series of pre-programmed steps. Sometimes, I may need to glance at the music just for a mental cue on which sequence is coming next. For something I have played a lot, like I Due Fiumi, even this isn't (or, until recently, wasn't*) totally necessary. I know each sequence, and I know the sequence of the sequences.

* - The problem now with IDF is that, as I mentioned before, the sequence I had ingrained into myself was not, shall we say, orthodox. And learning a new finger pattern is MUCH harder than I thought it would be. I may as well be learning a new piece, even though the notes are the same.

"So, Aw2pp, what's the problem?" Problem is, it doesn't feel like I am making music. It doesn't feel that different, in fact, from typing on my laptop. It's a choreagraphed finger exercise. Acquiring new music a very time-consuming exercise this way. Increasingly so, as the music (and hence, keyboard sequences) become more varied and complicated.

So my questions: this is natural, isn't it? Is this all part of the process? Is that the point of scales and arps, so that those pre-programmed steps become natural, and when you come across them in music, they aren't unfamiliar? Does any of this make sense?

- Aw2pp, a starting middle blocker for Chicago Coast North, hitting .111 on the year.


sellerofdreams said...

A common way of memorising music is through muscle memory (much like typing, as you mentioned). It is a natural consequence of repeating an action a large number of times. However, I don't like to rely exclusively on muscle memory to memorise a piece as it is unreliable (I've made many strange mistakes when I'm nervous during a performance!). In Chaun C. Chang's book "Fundamentals of Piano Practice" ( he outlines a method of memorising the notes of a piece before or while you practise it. I've found that learning pieces this way makes it seem less like a choreographed set of steps.

It is definitely easier to learn a new piece of music containing sequences that have been encountered before but old habits die hard and the same sequence with even the slightest change in fingering can seem like a completely new sequence. Even though I hate them, I admit that scales and arpeggios are important as they are frequently encountered in many pieces of music.

Hope I helped :)

M.A. said...

Your whole family is reading your blogs all the time so keep talking to us on all topics! MOM