I am not dead

January 13, 2010

I just wanted to check in and let everyone know what I’ve been up to. I logged in today and realized that people still read this blog XD. So, thanks for that.

I have not stopped playing. I only got lazy about updating. If you go to my youtube account you can see all my videos (and I’ll just post it again: http://www.youtube.com/user/Op1012in2years ). After the last update in this blog (oh my god, a year ago! time flies) I finished up Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata Mvt 1. I kind of slowed down after that and went away for a while, and then during the summer I was out of the country and without a piano. (Actually, I started another blog to document my adventures (with pictures!), which is up at: http://chroniclesofawesome.wordpress.com/ I tried to keep it current during the summer but lost that battle maybe two weeks in. At that point life overwhelmed me and I was too busy having fun to keep an online journal–I’ll try to go back and retroactively fill the rest in.)

In the fall I returned in earnest and got back into the swing of things. I polished up Adagio Cantabile from Sonata Pathetique, but never got around to recording it. Then I learned and recorded Chopin’s second Nocturne. After that I have been working on Clair de Lune, and after the new year I started working on a Chopin Waltz (64-2) concurrently.

The two pieces I’m working on right now are faster. I think Clair de Lune is more difficult than the waltz. It has a middle section (bars 28-46. Actually the section goes on for a few more bars after that, but it slows down and there isn’t a clear division between the fast stuff and the slow stuff. 28-46 comprise the middle 2 pages in the sheet music I have, so that works for me) which is quite fast. I timed this section on various recordings, and they all clock at 1:00 exactly. I would say that is a pretty good consensus on how fast I need to play it. It is quite difficult. I can play it error free in probably something like 1:30. I can play it with a few errors at 1:15 (let’s say a 5% error rate). I tried to play it at 1:07 and this resulted in something close to a 50% error rate. As you can see there seems to be an “event horizon.” As I push closer to the 1:00 mark things go bad very quickly.

I can describe the feeling of playing this section quite accurately for you. It is like falling off a horse. You start off okay–a series of arpeggios, the horse is galloping along. Then your finger slips off the black keys (because your roommate is King McGreasester of Greasetopia, who bathes in a tub of lard)–just one slip, but you’ve fallen off the horse, or at best you’re hanging off the side with a tenuous grasp, and it’s not long before you fall off completely and the horse races on leaving you paralyzed from the neck down in the dust. That is exactly what it feels like.

Anyway, hopefully I can update soon with a video.

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Week 16/97: Cavatina

January 22, 2009

This is the theme from the Movie The Deer Hunter, which features a surprisingly young Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep. Anyway, it was originally composed for the guitar. I started with a piano transcription but didn’t like it. The version here is a more faithful transcription, in that the notes are the same as those played in the guitar version (except for the parts where I possibly misread it… some parts don’t sound quite right…).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioDT45Nch0U

I would like to try to do a piece a week if at all possible. Next up is a Bach.

Week 15/97: Chopin Prelude Op 28 No 20

January 17, 2009

I hadn’t originally planned on starting a Chopin piece yet, but I started playing around with this piece and couldn’t stop. So, here we are…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5H3Sv7FSPd8

The slight pause at the end of bar 8 is because I’m obsessed with getting some unacorda action into the last phrase of this piece…

I’ve figured out how to record directly to the laptop, bypassing the microphone and all of it’s noises. However, the audio from the program my webcam uses for recording is not as good as the audio from Audacity. Compare the video with this MP3. There is some kind of weird rolling sound underneath the music in the video. So I don’t know what the deal is with that, but I think it’s an improvement.

K545 still proves to be tres difficile. I am working on Cavatina instead. I didn’t think I was ready for this but it’s actually not so bad once you get into it. Arpeggios are harder than scales but 16th notes are more harder than 8th notes.

Week 11/100: Impertinence

November 30, 2008


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTEMuSGow7s

It is true what people say. While I am making excellent progress, I am going to need to practice a lot more if I am to make my goal in time. Life has a bad habit of getting in the way of piano practice, though.

k545_1

k545_2

I’ve got the first section of K545 memorized, but that doesn’t mean I can play it up to speed. Still, progress is tangible.

I’ve started adding some structure to the pieces I learn. I try to always have 2 pieces, a long term project (something that’ll take a few weeks–right now K545), and a short term project (something that can be learned in a week or so). On top of that I always practice my scales (I now have 12!) and try to do something from Alfred’s if I’m not too tired. An Alfred piece can be learned over the course of a day, but I usually don’t spend that much time on it because I dislike them.

Handel’s Impertinence was my last short term project. So now I’m looking for a new one. I think… something from anime…

Week 9/100: Progress is Made in Spurts

November 16, 2008

This week I was busy working on the paper. I knew that something had to be sacrificed, and something turned out to be Piano time. But here’s something I recorded earlier in the week:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9h2v-eMhRI

So we’re almost 1/10th of the way to the deadline. I’m clearly making progress, but I wonder if it is too slow. I am beginning to comprehend the scope of the project I have undertaken. When you have no idea how difficult a challenge is, it is easy to have faith in your abilities to overcome it.

Hours spent on music so far:
Week 0: 11
Week 1: 13
Week 3: 21
Week 4: 17
Week 5: 15
Week 6: 4
Week 7: 15
Week 8: 14
Week 9: 1

I have now started the 2nd book in the Alfred’s series. It’s kind of boring, though, so I spend most of my time playing songs I like from other sources.

Currently working on: K545
I have obtained: All the major sharp keys, F major
Goals for this year: Probably just finish K545

Week 5/100: The Pitfalls of Using Digital

October 17, 2008

About midway through week 4 I finished learning Minuet in G, but was too lazy to make a blog post about it.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSSrV0UVtzA

So on Wednesday I saw my teacher again and played for him the pieces I’ve learnt and am learning. I made a lot more mistakes than at home as usual, but this time not because I’m nervous to play in front of a real person. Rather, I noticed that the real piano we used felt different than my Yamaha. He explained that this is because each piano differs slightly in the widths of the keys, the gaps between the keys, the length of the black keys, etc., so you have to adjust to new pianos. This is kind of annoying. It would be nice if there were a standard gauge, you know, much like the railway.

The other problem is, everything I played came out really loud. This is because I am a good neighbor/roommate (unlike someone I know, ahem ahem) and turn down the volume on the Yamaha when I play. And because I am a creature of habit, I turn down the volume a uniform amount each time, so the set of forces I’m learning for each dynamic level is actually (much) greater than they should be. Having figured this out, I have since started practicing with the volume on full blast, and try to play softly with the softness of my motion rather than by turning down the volume. It’s actually really difficult, especially when playing not slowly.

So, the main task at hand is to develop my piano (pianissimo seems impossible even at slow speeds–sometimes the note just dies because I’m pressing too softly; I cannot resolve where the threshold is). I can kind of do it with the right hand, but the left hand has much less control. This is unfortunate, because the left hand is usually the accompaniment, and the melody should be louder. Thus, when the music calls for piano, LH should actually play even softer. Right now I’m compensating simply by playing the RH louder than whatever the minimum threshold for LH is.

It makes me wonder if there exists left handed pianos for the left handed weirdos, much like how left handed guitars exist. Playing a left handed piano would solve another problem–in the Moonlight Sonata Mvt 1, there is a place that calls for an octave+1 span. My RH spans one octave only, but my LH spans octave+1…

Week 3/100: Back from Holiday!

September 29, 2008

For your viewing pleasure, here is Prelude #1 from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1. I recorded this with the webcam from my laptop, haha.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3K8wyis5Tg

I actually lost 4 weeks from my trip to the motherland, since I also spent some time in NJ. So, there are 97 weeks remaining. When I got back, the first time playing through this piece I needed to look at the sheet music–I couldn’t remember anything. But it came back quickly enough. It probably still needs a lot of work, but I need to move on.

For want of a suitable next piece, I started working on Minuet in G dur again… There are some pieces that seem like they’re at my level, but the problem is, they’re in some ridiculous key. That is, mechanically speaking, I should have all the skills necessary to play them. But, for pieces that are not in a key I know, it takes way too long for me to search for the notes, and as a result the time to learn the piece is too long. I have come to realize that this is actually a huge problem, as this means it is uneconomic to learn the piece. It is more efficient, I believe, to start with some retardedly simple pieces in a key and work your way up–because I have been learning such retardedly simple pieces with Alfred’s, and I can see that it is actually effective. The key to quick progress is to decompose a complex task into its irreducible factors, and to solve each simple part separately before putting it back together.

Anyway, my roommate has started noodling with Moonlight Sonata (Mvt 1), so I am to race him with Minuet and… the theme from Forest Gump XD I think I could be in trouble because he really loves that piece and spends a lot of time at the piano.

Goals for Week 3:
Minuet + Forest Gump
Finish Alfred’s??? I have something like 4 pieces (that I want to play) left, and a whole bunch that needs polishing.

Week 2/104: What Shall I Do on My Vacation?

August 26, 2008

Went to have my lesson today, finally. Confirmed my suspicions about why I’m having wrist and forearm pains, because it felt a lot more natural to play at a real piano. Upon coming home, I put some more cushioning on my chair, and thereafter was able to play without any discomfort of the forearm for an hour and half, although my wrist is sometimes weird because it sometimes needs to make wide turns. Still, it feels much better. HOWEVER! My back is much more tired. I was sitting up straight the whole time so I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is because the cushioning slides around on the chair and I use the muscles in the lower back to stay in place. I amn’t sure.

I made a lot more mistakes in front of the instructor than in the comfort of my home, and I wasn’t even nervous. This makes me wonder how I will do performing for a real audience. Of course, if I were actually performing, I would know the piece COLD, not lukewarm like with Alfred’s. Instructor asked me to polish a few pieces for our next session, so I’ve started doing that today. Each piece I played through 10 times and stopped (except for the last couple, where I got tire), and so pretty much have memorized. Since I’m going to be polishing them, I figured I might as well record them. So I’ll put them online sometime.

Instructor found a few problems with my playing. One is that, on parts where the left hand is playing repeated notes (and therefore unable to play legato (continuously) because the hand must lift off the note before striking it again–actually, he told me the mechanism by which advanced players can play legato even when repeating a note, but that’s too hard for me right now…) the right hand also stops playing legato, because the natural instinct is to sync both hands. I am to work to stop that.

Also, I haven’t been working on my crescendos at all, because they felt too hard the first time I tried it. Additionally, I completely glossed over the marking on a piece where I was to play the melody in the RH fairly loudly but the accompaniment softer. So I am to put in more dynamics in general. This can’t really happen until I am fairly familiar with a piece, so I suppose that’s why I’m polishing up these songs.

He also told me to depress the pedal after the first note in the pedal bracket has been played (probably to make it easier for later, when I’ll need to pedal successively). It’s funny–when I was at the lesson, he told me that I was doing that already, and asked me why, because he was going to tell me to do that later, and most people hit the pedal before they start playing the note. I told him it was because I cannot process everything at once. I start playing the note, then my brain thinks, oh shit, I need to pedal here, so then I pedal. And I know that I can start pedaling any time after the note has been hit and before the finger lifts off it and it will still sound the same, so I don’t make an effort when practicing to start pedaling earlier. The funny thing is, now that I’ve practiced my pieces and start to memorize them (playing them 10 times in a row makes me MUCH more familiar with them than playing 3 times in a row, as I usually do) and can play at speed, I’ve started hitting the pedal the instant I hit the note, and must now train myself to put in the delay.

I think by the end of the week, I will have worked my way to the end of the book, and will have polished quite a lot of the songs. It might take another week to polish all of them. By that time I should also have Prelude to performance grade. The problem is, I’m leaving for NJ on Saturday and shan’t return until the start of Fall quarter. I hope it hasn’t all decayed by then.

I wanted to stop the countdown clock for while I am on vacation, since I wouldn’t be practicing at all, but my roommate wouldn’t allow it. I was going to construct an argument, but I’m too lazy. Right now we’re on week 2/104. What I’m going to do is, on the weeks where I am vacationing and not practicing, rather than increasing the first number, I will decrease the second number. That way, the first number always denotes how much practice I’ve had. The second number is variable and will denote how much total practice time I will have had until the end of the bet, which will always be August 14, 2010. So for example, when I come back on 9.25, it will be week 3/101 (I actually lose 3.5 weeks, but whatever, no system is perfect).

I also think that, to gauge my progress, I shall have a mini-recital once every 3 months (quarterly), by which I just mean record a few pieces and put them on youtube. By the time week 9 rolls around, I should be able to play some real, non-Alfred pieces. I’ll announce the program when I have a better idea of what kind of stuff I’ll be capable of by then.

Goals:
Prelude & Alfred’s: finish by Week 3

Week 1/104: Almost done with Alfred 1

August 24, 2008

Progress with Prelude is slow and with Cavatina, almost non-existent. But, I am pretty far in Alfred’s–pg 73. I stopped here today because the next page is a new concept (a new key). There’s only 20 pages left and I think I could probably finish it in a week.

I think this is actually a good thing. Using the method book gives faster progress because it breaks down the complicated tasks into simpler substeps, which are individually mastered quicker. I feel like after I finish this book, I could actually manage Minuet in G–the thing I was having the most trouble with, the different cadence in the LH and RH, Alfred’s addresses at several points. If I had spent a whole week working on nothing but Minuet, I might also be able to play it, but then I would also not be able to play anything else. As stupid as these toy pieces in Alfred’s sound, I feel vaguely satisfied that I can play them.

When I say that I’m on pg 73, I don’t mean that every piece up to 73 has been polished to performance grade. Rather, the pieces are at varying degrees of polish. However, for any given piece, I could probably work it up to performance quality in a few hours or so. I don’t bother because there are so many of them that it would be uneconomic to do so, when you don’t need to be able to play flawlessly to learn the concepts within.

At the beginning of this week I just practiced haphazardly out of my various sources, but gradually I’ve figured out a system. At the beginning I spend about 5 minutes warming up–towards the beginning of the week, with 5 finger exercises; now, with scales (I have 2 out of 24–I discovered that as a result of my failed attempt at learning Minuet, I already knew the G major scale, so it wasn’t totally useless). Then I just go through Alfred’s, playing every piece a few times, skipping the ones I think are stupid (like happy birthday). I am still not very good at sight reading–the first time I’ll need to look for the keys if it’s a newish piece. I thought that interesting, actually. The first run through within a session, it’s almost as if I’m playing it for the first time. But by the second or the third run, the practice from the days before activates and I’m able to play faster and with less mistakes. In other words, if we think of our memory during one practice session as a cache, then it seems like yesterday’s practice’s main effect is to decrease the load time–what’s in the cache is still lost from session to session. Of course, if you’ve played it regularly for a long period of time, then some of it still stays in the cache.

Anyway, so after some time I’ll finish all the songs I’ve learned, and then I’ll start working on new ones. I play through them maybe 5 times or so, until I learn the basic movements and can get the cadence within the phrases (switching phrases may be halting). Blow the Man Down gave me a lot of trouble, because the beat in the LH goes 2-2-2 and the RH goes 3-1-2. So what I did was to play that rhythm at a stupidly slow rate, like 1 second per 8th note, until the hands understand the rhythm, and then repeated that bar, gradually increasing the speed.

So it’s like a layering process. Each time I refresh everything I’ve learnt up to now, then add some more, moving on before I’ve mastered a concept. This should be more effective than trying to master a concept completely before moving on, because a lot of the learning happens after the session, during sleep. If, say, each concept takes a fixed number of practice-sleep session pairs to learn, then obviously to maximize throughput, you need to work on multiple concepts at the same time. The staggering occurs because you need to know something about concept 1 before you approach concept 2. So it’s basically pipelining.

After I’m done with Alfred I’ll play through Prelude for a few times. I have started working on the second half, but progress is not as fast as on the first half.

I noticed, though, that I didn’t seem to be adding as many songs each session lately as before. Yesterday I only added 2 pieces. But my session was still like 2 hours. So, I’ve started cutting out the really old pieces from my routine. For example, I really liked Harp Song when I was working on it, because I felt it would help me figure out pedaling (and it has). But now, I don’t feel like I’ll get any more benefit out of reviewing that. There are other songs that also use pedaling, and they’ll teach me to pedal while doing something mildly more complicated.

Oh yeah, I also figured out that the reason my wrist hurts is because I’m not sitting at the correct height because my bench hasn’t arrived yet. I don’t know when it will either because I’m still in the middle of sorting out the damages on my piano from UPS.

Progress update:
Prelude: don’t know how to finger the last phrase, fingered all the other bars. Can play first 19 bars at speed.
Alfred’s: 73/94
Cavatina: kill me now.

Time log:
Week 1: 13.5 hours
Week 0: 11.1 hours

Week 1/104: My Wrist Hurts =(

August 18, 2008

For accounting purposes it is easier for my weeks to start on Monday and end on Sunday, rather than start on Thursday (when I got the piano) and end on Wednesday, since that is how I track my time for everything else I do. Week 0 (Th 8/14-Sun 8/17) I spent 11 hours playing the piano. I may have overexerted myself because my forearms feel a little carpal-tunnely, as they were wont to do when I used to play computer games.

I’ve got the first 19 bars of Prelude memorized (I have to think about it, though, and pause for a long time at certain points–definitely can’t recall at speed), and the next 16 I haven’t looked at at all. It’s a natural stopping point since he starts in G and through a mysterious sequence of chord changes ends on a G one octave down. Presumably he should then work his way back up in the next 16 bars, but, since that part is completely unknown to me, it amuses me to suppose that I can practice by beginning on the (second) highest G on the keyboard and simply repeat these 19 bars, moving towards the low end one octave at a time, until there are no more Gs left on the keyboard. I shall call it “The Idiot’s Staircase.”

I realized that, this summer, I split my time between Disney and the paper, and as a result got nothing done for either project. Therefore, I don’t think I ought to split my time between too many projects. So, I’ve decided to just totally eliminate Minuet from my program. It’s very difficult (at this stage, for me) but honestly, sounds kind of childish, so I don’t think the difficulty to nice-sound (euphony?) ratio is worth it. (By contrast, the difficulty to euphony ratio for Prelude is quite low.) On the other hand, I have heard that one shouldn’t work very hard on one piece, but should rather work on several pieces at once and slowly improve on all of them. I don’t know.

Progress report:
Prelude: 19 out of 35 bars memorized, can play maybe 4 at speed
Minuet: returned to the store for a full refund
Alfred’s: around page 30 of 95 (there are many sketches (I wouldn’t call them full pieces) of varying familiarity. Sight reading is getting better with these easy pieces.)
Revolutionary: learnt the first chord. It’s a G7 with 2 extra notes. So, completed… 5 notes out of about… 1000?
[Edit: 84 bars. Maybe 20 notes per bar on average, so closer to 1600 notes. Where can I find an exact count?]