Home Forums Piano Related Discussions Questions to Jaak Different ways of learning the piano can be confusing

1 reply, 2 voices Last updated by  Dennis Dooley 2 years, 1 month ago
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    This is an excerpt from a recent email between myself and Jaak:

    Another thought I had this morning is that about the different ways of learning the piano. The more things I read on the Internet, the more I get confused it seems. Here are examples of what I’m talking about:

    1. Many say to try not to look at the keys when you play. The looking back and forth at the note sheet and the keys can break your concentration.

    2. Memorize all your pieces. Memorize some of your pieces. Memorize nothing. We have discussed this and I think I fall in the middle category. I do see the value. The thing is, though, it’s almost like one needs to decide from the start if that piece is to be memorized. Because once you become attached to the note sheet, that’s how you know the song and taking it away is like taking the book away that you are reading.

    3. Sight reading is all important. And you better know this before you try to memorize. Or sight reading is not important; just learn your music. I suspect reading music on the go is important, but it’s not a deal breaker.

    I tend to make things too difficult. I mean that I over analyze, but that can be a good thing if applied properly. I have to balance it, though, with knowing and working. All that said, I will keep at the minuet piece and will definitely send you a video soon. I would love to know what you think.

    Jaak’s reply:

    1) About not looking at the keyboard:

    In general we all have short term memory and long term memory. It is similar when it comes to our actions – we have a short term action control center so to say. This is what we control directly and we sense it as our conscious action, commanded by ourselves.

    Then we have the habits or lets say the actions that have become like mental models that run on their own. They have been formed because of the repetition of certain controlled actions.

    If someone says that “do not look back and forth”, it is very superficial. To form the ability of “not looking back and forth”, there are certain steps you can take. And also you have to know why is it good to be able to “not look back and forth”.

    1) To not look back and forth, you have to be in contact with the piano keyboard with your peripheral (for example while sight reading).

    2) But what is of utmost importance is the “mental keyboard” that you have in your mind. Also the mental imagery about the piece, the mental version of it. For example I can play difficult pieces with big jumps on the keyboard while eyes closed. Rubinstein had a faded eye vision, but he could still play everything while more than 85. Why is it possible? Because the mental keyboard has been formed and the pieces have strong mental imagery.

    3) This mental imagery is the key – it means that you have formed abilities on the level of “mental models” or habits that are strong enough to work without you actively controlling them. So they do not drain the energy you have for conscious actions and conscious actions can be directed to playing musically and maintaining a feel of being balanced.

    4) This is also why I am teaching the memorizing thing. Memorizing the way I am teaching it enables to created broad and strong mental models in your brain that start supporting you not only in the particular piece but everywhere in your piano journey later.

    5) Do we need note sheet? I think we always need the note sheet. I love note sheets! They are the source of the music you play and contact with it is very important. It helps to keep your mental imagery about the piece authentic and gives a chance to polish it. Without the support of note sheet pieces start to differ from original over time and many other issues appear – for example mental imagery gets blank and details vanish from there.

    6) Sight reading as a separate thing does not decide whether you can play a piece well or not. I have students, who are very bad at sight reading, but can play difficult pieces well. Sight reading gives you a) Ability to learn pieces much faster b) ability to play a bigger range of repertoire straight from note sheet, if you are good enough at sight reading.

    Hope this is helpful to someone; it was to me!


    Dennis Dooley

    Hope this is helpful to someone; it was to me!

    This is what I like about Jaak’s approach to playing the piano. He explains “why” we do the tings we do.

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