Week 1/104: Almost done with Alfred 1

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

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