Is it really true that there have been no new members since 2016, or is it just that nobody introduces themselves anymore?
Nevertheless I though I would introduce myself. My name is Alan
When I was 5 my father went out and bought a new "Knight" upright piano. I think he had achieved Grade 8 as a boy but hadn't played for a while and this was a present to himself after he had bought my mother a new washing machine. He started to teach me, but soon realised it was better if I had a proper teacher and so I took weekly lessons until I was 10. I NEVER practiced, and so at age 10 I just scraped a Grade 3 (I felt at the time that my piano teacher had influence which is why I passed at all, but rethinking it now I guess it was on merit).
Fast forward to 1990, and I inherited (not because of death but because of lack of use at home) the piano, where it sat in our Dining Room unused by me. My younger daughter did learn on it and passed Grade 4 before teenage years and boys took over. Every year we paid for a piano tuner to tune our unused piano until in May 2017, with my daughter grown up, married and moved into a large property she inherited the piano from me.
Last September (2017) at age 66 (and a half, but whose counting) I suddenly had the urge to play again and after a quick examination of acoustic and digital piano prices, bought my self a Casio AP-460 and started to learn the 1st Movement of Moonlight Sonata. I also realised I will need a teacher, so after a couple of false starts found one who comes to me for an hour once a fortnight.
After a trip one weekend to see my daughter and an opportunity to play the upright with new fingers, I realised the Casio action was not up to scratch - particularly there are places in the Moonlight Sonata where in order to reach all the notes I need to play near the back of the keys which I was finding impossibly hard. After some measurements with weights on the keys I realised that the Casio was weighted more like 70gms as opposed to the 50gms on the upright and the key pivot point was just behind the backboard. So I took a trip back to the piano shop and managed to negotiate a reasonable upgrade to a Kawai CA67. Which I must say I am delighted with. Action is still slightly harder than the upright, but I tried a true acoustic grand in the shop and it seems very similar to that.
There are some things that are really surprising me:-
- I absolutely love practicing. To master the Moonlight Sonata I have had to concentrate on some small sections of a few notes long, and was easily able to spend 30 minutes or so on those few notes trying to get them right. In fact its addictive, when I am near the piano, I seem to need to go and have a quick play every couple of hours. Last night I said I would have a quick play before bed at 11:30 pm, and ended up going to bed at 1:00 am.
- The music theory I must have picked up in those early 5 years is invaluable - I was quickly able to get back up to speed (I am still a terrible sight reader - more on that below) reading music, and I automatically knew key signatures for C, G, D, A, E and F major.
- Technique of actually playing the notes seems good - baked into my muscle memory. Having looked at John Mortensen videos, I found I was automatically doing much of what he said. One of the things my teacher said to me when we first met was that she liked and read both "The Inner Game of Tennis" and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", both books I had also read in my 30s and felt told a truth. In playing the piano I am able to see my inner self controlling my fingers.
- I seem to be way more advanced than Grade 3. Following completion on Moonlight Sonata, I have started on the 2nd Movement (Adagio Cantabile) of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata and can pretty well play it completely through without mistakes and with the correct dynamics and peddling. Its taken a couple of months (since mid December) and I am sure my teacher will find more issues at my next lesson (we spend the last lesson getting the two grace note sections in bars 21 and 22 absolutely perfect), but the basics is all there.
- The harder the music, the better I seem to memorise it. I know both the Moonlight Sonata and Pathetique 2nd Movement without reference to the music (I can play it in my head, mentally hearing the sound and seeing which keys I press to make that sound), but I also re-learnt Minuet In G (Pretzold/Bach) - I can tell I must have been learning it before because my score is covered in green ink; something my old piano teacher did - and have learnt Chopin Prelude No 4. Neither of these two pieces can I play without the score.
One thing that I thought was holding me back was sight reading - so I decided to do something about it. Having a digital piano I discovered Piano Marvel (www.pianomarvel.com) and signed up there, where I can take a sight reading test every day. You connect the piano via a usb cable to a laptop (I have a Macbook) and a program on the web site monitors your playing against the correct note at the correct time. I have now done a sight reading day ever since the beginning of December (bar when I was away over Christmas) and seem to be getting better. You play progressively harder pieces, but get a strike when you get less than 80% correct. Three strikes and the test ends. You get a score based on the complexity of the piece and the percentage you got correct. When I started I was in the low 300s (Beginner), but I am consistently in the 400's now and have broken 500 once.
But its not just Sight Reading, there are "Technique" and "Method" sections that get progressively harder as you progress. I am just finishing off level 4 on both Method and Technique - where I don't move on until I can score 100% on the current exercise. Again I find the thing addictive. In January I put in over 2600 hours - and for those of you who don't know Piano Marvel only counts the time you are actually playing an exercise and the blue cursor is moving along the music - so that's a lot of hours of elapsed time.