Classically Trained Oboist needs advice about learning piano

Questions on learning to play the piano, and piano music.

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Jake Collins
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Classically Trained Oboist needs advice about learning piano

Post by Jake Collins » 24 Nov 2012, 16:27

I was originally classically trained as an oboist but now teach full time as head of music at a school and performing arts college. I have reached a point my life where I am desperate to learn to play the piano properly and intend to start lessons in January. I have been busy practicing scales like there is no tomorrow but was wondering if someone could recommend some good study books for building technique/reading that are at a level suitable for a 'trained' instrumentalist... (I can also read bass clef fluently as I also did grade 8 on the euphonium of all things in a previous life!).

Thanks in advance

Jake

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Re: Classically Trained Oboist needs advice about learning p

Post by Colin Nicholson » 25 Nov 2012, 15:42

Hi Jake,
Welcome to the forum.

Before I can offer specific advice about certain study books/ sight reading books etc.... it would be useful to know approx. what grade you are at on the piano? Or... what kind of music you are playing (not scales etc)?

I think we also need to be careful in defining music & exercises written for a "trained instrumentalist" and a "trained pianist" ??.... although there are 'adult' music books as such, I dont think a piano music exercise book at Grade 1 standard would cater for a "trained musician who thinks at Grade 8 standard".... get my drift? I would try not to confuse the two issues.

Although I appreciate you being a 'trained' musician, you will obviously be aware of all key signatures & time signatures & rhythms etc.... but let's say if I was to learn the oboe "from scratch" (and the only thing I know about an oboe is that its a concert pitch instrument, and has a double reed!!).... even though with my vast knowledge of music, I would still need to start from the beginning, and forget the 'trained' aspect in terms of fingering, legato, embouchure etc....

If you can read, say, a Grade 1 piece of music, then there are various exercise books to buy with for grade. Most exercise books are aimed at a specific grade, and not necessarily for a trained musician, nor is there any mention of the word and I doubt if the music is 'tailored' around an expert woodwind player, but for piano.

For example, around Grade 1-2 standard, the sustain pedal is introduced - BK 2 First Year Piano lessons has some exercises, and good study pieces. (Bk1 is for a beginner). However, the actual application of the sustain pedal, and using legato pedalling is not taught correctly in books - a teacher is needed to guide you. For example, the "release pedal " sign (*) is always placed directly under a bar line - but this is just put there for 'default' reasons.... the pedal is actually released when you start the note(s) in the next bar.... things like that!

Some suggestions:-

Paul Harris - Improve your sight reading (Grades 1-8) - recommended.

Daphne Sandercock - (similar book, may be out of print) - mainly covering concert performance for the TRAINED pianist/ blind playing (large leaps)/ chord inversions/dominant & diminished 7th chords/ extracts of music following an exercise/ variation on themes.... (eg 3 Blind Mice using a vast choice of rhythms & scales inc. the hemidemisemiquaver)
Various scales using vast rhythm changes/ triplets etc.

Studies/ exercises by Czerny, Burmuller, Gurlitt

ABRSM Grades 1-8 Scales & Arpeggios/ Sight Reading

Book 1,2 and 3 : First Year Piano Lessons by Marion Harewood & Fanny Waterman. Books 2 & 3 cover alot on technique/ pedalling etc.

One of the main aspects of learning the piano is 'hand balance'. This is to produce a RH melody with a 'cantabile' projection, whilst maintaining a soft (pp) left hand. No book as such that teaches the "nuts & bolts" of this technique - except my own transcriptions and notes that I provide my pupils with.

Hope that helps....
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Re: Classically Trained Oboist needs advice about learning p

Post by gizzy » 26 Nov 2012, 12:11

I would go along with much of what Colin says, though I'm slightly surprised to read:
Colin Nicholson wrote:Hi Jake,
For example, around Grade 1-2 standard, the sustain pedal is introduced - BK 2 First Year Piano lessons has some exercises, and good study pieces. (Bk1 is for a beginner). However, the actual application of the sustain pedal, and using legato pedalling is not taught correctly in books - a teacher is needed to guide you. For example, the "release pedal " sign (*) is always placed directly under a bar line - but this is just put there for 'default' reasons.... the pedal is actually released when you start the note(s) in the next bar.... things like that!
Most of the methods I teach from teach the pedal in two stages, since "overlapping pedal" is too complicated a concept to deal with when you first start to put your foot down. So usually they don't start by using the ^ sign but stopping and starting pedal and often just putting it down when the music sits on, say, the tonic chord. Overlapping pedal is usually introduced about one book later (I am thinking of methods like Alfred and Piano Adevntures - I stopped using Waterman & Harewood because most of my pupils found them too dry) and at that point the "up=down" sign appears under the first beat of the bar, not under a bar-line. In fact I've never noticed a release sign under the bar-line anywhere. Which books write it that way?

Jake, for teaching in school, I think the most useful thing you can learn for the piano is keyboard harmony. I was taught cadences at the age of 10 when my piano playing was barely at grade 1 level, and I didn't know exactly what they were for. The kinds of keyboard skills I learnt in my early stages have proved invaluable to me, and in those days were examined, at least by ABRSM and LCM, in the General Musicianship exams. This also taught me to transpose (almost) at sight. These exams have disappeared and in the ABRSM have been replaced by "Practical Musicianship" which is made suitable for all instruments and is virtually just a glorified aural test. Because the keyboard skills have been taken out of them to make them suitable for oboe players (sorry, Jake! :) ) I feel they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and I have two pupils who could really do with going down that path and though I can teach it to them, they can't be tested on it any more.

Also: learn to accompany! (Maybe you can already anyway) - I can't say it often enough: a pianist who has grade 8 and no skills in accompanying or working with other musicians in chamber music is NO USE to anyone but themselves unless they are very good indeed and will make a concert pianist.

Enjoy your piano. It's a great solo instrument, but it's also a portable orchestra and a living musical doodle pad

Gizzy in Cambridge

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Re: Classically Trained Oboist needs advice about learning p

Post by Jake Collins » 26 Nov 2012, 17:22

Gizzy and Paul,

Thank you so much for your advice. I can get through (at a push) grade III pieces if I practice and can do BASIC keyboard harmonisation but no more. I guess what I'm looking for are some exercise books that will contain studies for building finger technique that would help me start to develop some strength / better co-ordianation of my little fingers as well as combining developing l/r hands together. I know this must sound awful but the only books I can find are either far too difficult/advanced or written for a child/non-musician.

I have I think managed to find a very well qualified and experienced teacher who I will start with after christmas but when you decide you'r going to do something you want to get a move on... or at least I do! Ideally I want to be able to accompany my students beautifully and be able to play to a high level for my own pleasure. I currently work in a 11-16 school but we will be moving to 11-18 within 2 years and as such I want to have the ability to play well enough to demonstrate/discuss the harmonic structure of any given set work to A Level standard... So much easier to talk over your own playing rather than keep having to rewind the cd!!

Anyhow, thank you for your help but should you have any further advice now I have haven given a little more detail I will be very grateful.

Thanks and best wishes

Jake

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Re: Classically Trained Oboist needs advice about learning p

Post by Colin Nicholson » 26 Nov 2012, 19:34

Hi Gizzy.... I like your comments, and appreciate what you say. I was mainly referring to the "snowflake" (large asterisk) sign for the releasing of the pedal, more than the 'heart beat' for a up-down pedal. I agree that most music I see (and indeed all of my own music) has the Ped. sign in the right place, (and the up-down brackets) but I have seen some pretty awful arrangements of the * sign, not quite in the right place - and I guess, it could be that the notation is in the way?.... and I reckon it should be removed on occasions. I have some music somewhere - cant lay my hands on it, but it clearly shows the * smack-bang under a bar line! (but not the Ped. sign).

However, when I tuned a piano recently, the parents asked me if I would hear their daughter's festival piece.... "Alone at Sunset" - which is also a ABRSM piece. This piece was brought up in another post.

To my amazement, she basically "let go" of the sound through EVERY bar! - her pedalling was fine up to the 3rd beat,,,, then silence! .... and after looking at the music, I clearly saw why ......
PedallingQuery.jpg
So.... its clear that some "arrangements" are not quite right, and pedal markings can be misleading. The snowflake here implies to 'let go' of the pedal, when really, it either shouldn't be there, OR the up-down brackets used instead under the first beat of the next bar (say bar 2 for now)...... and this is what I was saying earlier, that the 'concept' behind these signs can be misleading, and that extra bit of tuition is needed to explain a switch in pedal. The snowflake could also imply "change the pedal" on the 3rd beat.... but then the gap between the snowflake and the next Ped. sign was what that girl did literally.....
Hope that clarifies my views! :)

Colin
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Re: Classically Trained Oboist needs advice about learning p

Post by gizzy » 27 Nov 2012, 01:42

Colin - Ah, yes, that clarifies it.

I taught a child on Alone at Sunset, and I was puzzled by that pedalling. I assumed that although it was counter to what I did when I first played through it, that it was INTENDED to break at the barline - otherwise surely they ought to have just printed what you call the "heartbeat". It never felt natural (but then she never did quite get the hang of the pedal anyway - one of those who says "I prefer it without" when they actually mean "I can only do it without")

It's a gorgeous piece played properly, but perhaps the interpretation on the second page is abit beyond the average nine-year-old (I inherited her on this piece, wouldn't have given it to her myself)

All the best
Gizzy in Cambridge

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Re: Classically Trained Oboist needs advice about learning p

Post by Gill the Piano » 27 Nov 2012, 16:58

If it's note-bashing you want, then the studies by Hanon or Czerny certainly improve speed and articulation. However, they're not pretty to listen to!
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

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