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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Wednesday (11/19/14) 3:19pm - ... wherein Peter is stuck in a rut, piano-wise.

Executive Summary:
I'm feeling pretty adrift on piano lately.  What should I do to get better at it?

Longer Version:
I've been practicing piano for -- jeez, off and on for ten years now -- and I'm still a rank amateur.  I've worked with a couple different instructors.  I've practiced on my own.  I've tried various etude books and instructional software.  But I still seem to be stuck in mud after all these years.

Skill-wise, right now, I can slowly and haltingly stumble through two-handed sight-reading.  If given a fakebook, I can plod along with basic block chords + octaves in the bass, but I have trouble adding much of any texture to it, and my voice-leading is often iffy ("wait, which inversion do I need here?").

I can, with lengthy practice, learn basic pop songs (for a while I was able to play "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk", and that was just about the apex of my abilities) or basic instrumental pieces (I've just sorted out playing the SMB "Underwater Waltz" at half-tempo, and I couldn't be happier).  But I can't play in particular styles (say, blues, or jazz, or ragtime), nor can I solo over a left-hand accompaniment.  Beyond two flats or sharps in the key signature, and I start to get awfully confused.

Basically, I've gotten stuck at "can barely play piano", and I'm not sure how to get better.

I'd like to get to a point where I can (1) sight-read simple two-handed pieces slowly but accurately, (2) improvise simple blues piano, and (3) play from fakebooks passably, with pleasing voice-leading and a few embellishments here and there.  How hard could that be?

What I've been doing lately is spending a half-hour a day on the instrument: warming up with simple boogie-woogie chord progressions, then practicing whatever song I'm learning, then finishing up with sight-reading practice -- either random exercises on Piano Tutor or fumbling through something out of my big simplified-piano book.

Since starting in with the excellent jamplay for guitar, I've been looking around for a similar resource on piano.  There are good piano-instruction sites out there (I've tried Playground Sessions and Piano Marvel), but they're designed for beginners.  They cover the basics of sight-reading, with no good warm-up exercises or instructions about playing in various styles.  ("Oh.  Their final  'advanced' lesson explains what a dominant seventh chord is.  Yeah, we're done here.")

Once I'm employed again, I may try out "Piano With Willie", which is expensive, but has the sort of "instructional videos in various styles" resource I'm looking for.  I can also try (*gasp!*) employing a piano teacher, but I always have trouble communicating what I'm trying to accomplish to instructors.  Then again, my sample size is 'two instructors', so that 'always' is perhaps not statistically significnat.

But for now, I have no job, so I guess I'll keep plugging along with what I'm doing.  Still, I seek advice from the hivemind: given what I want to accomplish on the piano, how should I go about pursuing it once I have money again?

Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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