What Practicing the Piano for 15 Minutes a Day for 30 Days Accomplished
I am not by any stretch of the imagination an accomplished piano player.
I am not by any stretch of the imagination an accomplished piano player. In fact, you could size up my ability to learn the piano to that of a chicken that plays the piano by a person putting a kernel of food on a piano key and having the chicken hitting the piano key to grab the kernel of food.
I had a small 77 key keyboard for a few years but didn’t play with it much. Then I decided, well, if I’m going to take the time to learn to play, then I’d like a full-size keyboard. Just in case I actually sat down at a real piano, I didn’t want the key sizes to be different. So I purchased a YAMAHA DGX660B 88-Key Weighted Digital Piano.
What I Like About The Piano
What I like about a piano, in comparison to a stringed instrument like the guitar, is that if you get your finger over the right key and strike it, you hear a perfect note. This is not the case with a stringed instrument. You have to get your finger in the right position, hold the string down with a proper amount of pressure on the fretboard, then pluck the proper string (the string where your other hand is holding the note) with your opposite hand. Numerous things can go amiss, making the note sound less than perfect.
What I Don’t Like About The Piano
What I don’t like about the piano is the two ledger lines of music that are to be played simultaneously. One ledger line of notes for the right hand (Tremble Clef), and a second ledger line of notes for the left hand (Bass Clef). Yikes!
With guitar, you have a single leger line of notes. Ahh.
To help myself navigate the keyboard, I purchased these piano pasties. Small removable (I hope they're removable) labels that go on the keyboard's individual keys. The label provides the name of the note (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G) along with the musical notation of the note you would see on sheet music.
The labels help me in my quest to translate what’s on the sheet music to the keyboard to play the piece. I could find the keys without the pasties, but it would take considerably more time. I would find the middle “C” on the keyboard and count up or down from there. Doable but time-consuming.
I noodle around with musical instruments. I have several instruments, but I don’t practice with any of them seriously. Occasionally I learn a couple of notes or cords to a song with my guitar, then put the guitar down for a couple of months. Pretty much-losing anything I learned or proficiency I gained when I pick it up again.
I’ve been reading about the potential of daily practice. So I wondered exactly how much I could improve my playing if I invested 15 minutes a day studying.
To document any improvement, I would start to learn a song I don’t know. Record myself playing a few measures of the song. Practice 15 minutes a day for 30 days, then record myself playing the song again.
I had the sheet music for Moon River, and for no other particular reason than it being readily available, it was selected.
This was painful to record and listen to. It’s about 30 seconds long, with me first finding and then hitting the piano keys. I made it through the first two measures with little semblance of timing or rhythm.
I’ll be back in 30 days — Around January 4, 2021, to finish this piece.
Practice, practice practice
The first three or four days I felt like I made good progress. I was able to hit the notes in the first two measures pretty accurately and in time. So I thought, this is going to be easy. That optimism was short-lived. Getting past those first two measures proved to be more challenging than I anticipated.
The challenge is reading two lines of music and moving each hand to the correct position on the keyboard.
Reading music is death to playing it. If you have to look at the sheet music to find the next notes then scramble to move your hands into position, you’ll never be in proper time. I found myself lost, all the time, translating the sheet music notes to my keyboard positions, labeled with music notation pasties!
I tried a few strategies. One strategy was practicing the music for each hand separately. So I would practice a passage for the right hand (treble clef) one day, then practice the same passage for the left hand (bass clef), next day. It appeared to work, but on the third day when integrating playing with both the right and left hand proved just as frustrating as practicing using both hands.
Perhaps I didn’t give this strategy enough time to evolve. I opted to go back to two-hand practice.
Why Am I Practicing This?
Somewhere around week two, I began questioning my song choice. I like the song “Moon River”, but did I want to invest the time into learning this song? I decided I didn’t. This time could be spent practicing a Beatle or Coldplay song, that I liked so much better. So a takeaway is if you’re going to invest the time in learning a song, love the song you going to learn.
Being I was already two weeks in and didn’t want to go back to square one, I continued. Besides, Moon River’s sheet music looked simple. By simple I mean not an overabundance of notes in each measure. And I had no idea what the sheet music to the other songs like John Lennon’s “Imagine” would look like.
Shapes and Memory
In practicing this song I realized (for myself) that shapes and memory were what I used to play the song. Shapes are the shape you hold your hands in, on the keyboard before striking the keys. Memory is remembering the sequence of shapes for the song.
I don’t know if that makes any sense to you. The better I learned the song, the more sequence of shapes I could pull in the proper sequence from memory to play the song. Sure there are still hesitations, as you can hear in the recording, where I’m remembering the next shape in the sequence.
I put in my 30 days of practice. A minimum of 15 minutes per day. Some days went a bit longer. The sheet music is two pages. I got one and a half pages completed. The last half-page of sheet music is more challenging than the first page. What makes it more challenging are subtle note changes in the cords. So a cord used previously in the song has a one-note inside the chord changed. So you think you know the shape (cord) but you don’t. At least that makes it more challenging for me.
Without Further Ado
This is me playing the piece after 30 days of 15 minutes per day. This recording took a number of runs. I can (sometimes) play the piece better than what you hear in the recording. It seems that recording is like playing in front of people, the added nervousness increases my tendency to make mistakes. I apologize for the poor recording. This was just an open-air recording using my phone.
The playback is halting and very staccato. I’m undecided if I will continue with this piece. I still have one-half a page to learn, and perhaps in taking the additional time to learn that 1/2 page I will develop better proficiency and fluidity in playing the song.
I also believe learning one song, makes learning the next song easier.
Is this a success? Yes. It’s not my intention to become a pianist or an accomplished piano player. No, I’ll be happy if I could learn to play a few songs well enough to entertain my friends. My real purpose is learning a new skill through deliberate practice. Learning new skills is the proper exercise to keep my brain’s synapses firing, and help sustain my brain’s flexibility and plasticity.
One takeaway from this experience for me is the importance of memory in playing the song. I want to focus on strategies to increase my memory to remember the sequence of shapes more easily. I read of people that can remember the sequence of playing cards in multiple decks of cards, or recall hundreds of random digits after hearing them once. If this is possible, perhaps there is a memory technique that I can use to remember shapes and patterns of music?