Learning Piano Again
December 14, 2003 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm diving back into playing the piano again after 4 to 5 years of not playing. By my nature, I don't want to take lessons right now; I just want to teach myself. The piece I've decided to jump in with (La valse d'Amelie by Yann Tiersen) probably isn't the best to start with, but it's one I've picked. I can learn to read music again, but I'm looking for other pieces to work on which aren't too hard, but aren't laughably simple either. (Oh, and any ideas on how I can make my fingers not feel like lead bricks besides just playing more?)
posted by thebabelfish to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Or you could learn to play by ear. You can pick up a book that has the fingering for piano chords (should be easy to find) and also perhaps a basic (read easy) book on music theory.

The best of both worlds -if you can find it-"The Idiot's Guide to Playing the Piano." Absolutely the best book to start out with-contains tips on both sight reading and improvisational (which is where the chord book comes in.)

With some effort on your part you can start reading chords just like a guitar player-and I have found that comes in very handy.
posted by konolia at 12:10 PM on December 14, 2003

Hanon's exercises are always good for limbering up your fingers. As for simple but not too simple pieces to work on, how about Bach's two-part inventions? They're not very difficult to start playing, yet you'll learn a lot about playing evenly, balancing each hand, phrasing, etc.
posted by gyc at 1:18 PM on December 14, 2003 [1 favorite]

Like you, I used to play piano, stopped, then re-started. However, I went in an entirely new direction: not playing pieces, per se, but at improving my skills at improvisation and thus the ability to tap out any song.

The Jazz pianists have got it nailed. The best book out there is Mark Levine's Jazz Piano Book. For some dumb reason its hard to get a hold of but this will pretty much unveil all the secrets of jazz and improvisation - chords, styles, voicings, transitions etc.

Once you feel familiar enough with improvising changes on the fly you can then buy a fake book which is essentially a simplified version of a song - showing basically only the melody and the changes. Taking what you've learned from improvisation techniques its not that hard to play the whole tune out on the piano, with the difficulty level matching your own ability.

I still like to play off sheet music (in fact, Ive also been playing the Valse d' Amelie as well as Chopin etudes) but Ive found that improvisation is much more fun for me, draws me in much deeper to what I'm doing while broadening my range.
posted by vacapinta at 1:40 PM on December 14, 2003

Beethoven's Fur Elise.
posted by JanetLand at 2:54 PM on December 14, 2003

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I have some new material to check out now. vacapinta, I've always thought improv would be cool to be able to do well, so maybe I'll give that a shot.
posted by thebabelfish at 4:11 PM on December 14, 2003

thebabelfish, I bought a piano two years ago after several years' hiatus. Among many others, I picked up a book of Handel pieces and found it a great way to keep my fingers in shape. It has plenty of variety in length, style, and complexity - everything from a simple menuet in G minor to a fiendishly complicated 3-part fugue in A minor... It has become my primary practice book when I don't have something specific I'm working on. Most of the pieces won't give you much of a rhythm workout, but there's a lot of good harmony and multiple part melodies. Some of the pieces have complex fingerings that will really limber you up.

Stick with it - I was amazed at how quickly it all came back. I had resigned myself to spending years recovering my earlier level of skill, but it barely even took a year. Now I'm playing pieces I never could have tackled last time around, and I've found that my ability to play by ear and improvise has miraculously improved in the interim. It has been very satisfying, and I hope you find similar success!
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:20 PM on December 14, 2003 [1 favorite]

Our family just had a piano bestowed upon us from out of the blue, and I've been appreciating how different it is to have a piano in the living room rather than an electronic keyboard that can sound like a piano. Even with touch-sensitive keys, there's just nothin' like a piano.

To give any answer about how to go about re-learning it would really require knowing what you want to do with it - where you want to get to. Do you want to be able to play songs that people can sing along to? Sit down and spin jazzy personally-embellished versions of standards? Improvise entire pieces a la Keith Jarrett? Or play piano repertoire pieces as written - either in public or for yourself? Yeah, all of the above would be great, but what's motivating you?

At any rate, here's a vote for spending time just noodling. Do some Hanon exercises and such to get your fingers used to moving again, but then take some time to just make up chords and melodies. Listen for what sounds good to you. As you find parts you like, remember them and/or write them down. As you get more confident in coming up with stuff, you'll also be more motivated to work on playing it. Worked for me.

That said, if you absolutely want recommendations of pieces to practice, there are some very nice Chopin Etudes. Oh, and speaking of Bach, the 10th fugue from the first book of The Well-Tempered clavier is a hoot. It's the only fugue in the whole two books that only has two parts, and it's a lot of fun to play without being fiendishly difficult. Try it!
posted by soyjoy at 8:45 PM on December 14, 2003

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