Practice diary 20240610

I was without internet for the weekend and also my desk space is quite disrupted so I’m a bit late with the practice diary.

I’m currently on a 16 day streak. I’m hoping I can get to 30 days without breaking this time and who knows how that is going to go. In addition, I’m in that space where I’m trying to record the exam and infuriatingly this is suggesting I’ve never seen these 4 pieces of music in my life. It hasn’t been helped by stress relating to the internet outage (happened Friday, fixed today). Now, it’s like I can play any of these pieces provided there isn’t a camera going. If there is, Carl Philipp Emmanuel goes on strike. I’m making mistakes I’ve not made with that piece ever, before Saturday. It’s really infuriating.

All the more so because, well I can play all four pieces, and I’d like to submit them and then move on to the next piece of work which is the grade 8 selection. I’ve slowly started working on some Rachmaninoff but really slowly because obviously the priority is to get Grade 6 paid for and submitted.

Because all my time is going into the final run at this, I haven’t been reading music so I assume my sight reading as deteriorated a little again. It’s disappointing.

Let’s hope I get the exam submitted this week.

As a general note though, I’m really delighted to have made this. It isn’t that I didn’t believe I could do it technically; it’s that I wasn’t sure I could stick at it; my personal life has tended to get a bit disrupted and one of the reasons I am a few month’s late submitting this (four in total) is because I spent a lot of January and May travelling, and I lost December as well. Not only that, until February I was working on a JS Bach piece. Having dropped that fiasco and picked up the less calcitrant CPE Bach, I’m really pleased I even feel like recording this exam. Passing it would be * chef’s kiss *

Practice Diary 20240601

I play the piano, that’s what I do. And I am sorry for my neighbours at the moment, unless they like the same four pieces, then they are on clover.

It’s been a good week for the practice in terms of actually doing any. I now for the first time in a while have an 8 day streak again. Hopefully i will make that nine tomorrow.

Most of the work has focused on the grade 6 pieces. They vary between being tantalisingly close to being ready and completely screwed up. I don’t understand that last part. I’ve been playing 2 of them more or less correctly for the last 3 months. The other two, well one I took a four month break from but it’s generally okay these days. The problem is Solfeggio which varies between being 100% perfect and otherwise being a hot mess. Currently, I am in performance practice which is where mostly, I say my piece introducing the pieces (sometimes) and then play them all. I want to be used to playing them as a performance. But now and again I have to break off and work on a couple of sections of Solfeggio. That’s frustrating because while I feel like I’m not improving, objectively I am. But I cannot play all four pieces cleanly in a single shot.

This is somewhat annoying because I was supposed to be 2 months into Project Grade 8 by now, and a ickle bit of the way into ARSM (Brahms, you see….). There isn’t one place where things go awry all the time, there are several that occasionally cause problems. Mostly, I think, it is glitches not in my fingers, but in my brain. As I’m playing from memory, because I can remember faster than I can read (although that really isn’t a big deal for anything other than CPE Bach), it leads to some wry entertaining moments for me. I think part of this is hormonal; I have not had a period for nearly 3 months now.

Aside from that, there were dips into the Rachmaninoff but in truth I need to do some prematch analysis on all four of the Grade 8 pieces and also find a teacher for that and the diplomas. I am not sure I have the chops to push through those on my own.

I came across some discussion about pass rates for the FTCL during the week. I’m focused on ABRSM at the moment but in general their diploma repertoire lists overlap; one comparison I saw suggested that the FTCL did not require an essay of types. I’m not sure yet how I feel about that but basically since I would probably choose mostly the same rep for both, it won’t matter until I am close to considering doing the registration. It being the last of the three diplomas, it’s not going to matter for the guts of ten years, if even then.

But there was one comment which I cannot find substantiation for that typically, the FRSM had a pass rate of around 50% and the FTCL had a pass rate of around 30%. Whether I do one or the other, I intend to do Chopin Sonata no 3 (it’s currently on both lists) plus something else (check the goals list for options) and maybe, I won’t be too focused on the diploma by then but still go for the piece.

In other news, it transfers that for ARSM, the Fauré Barcarolle I mentioned in the context of Lucas Debargue’s latest album and recently acquired sheet music is on the repertoire list.

The way I work it is as follows, crazy as I am, is that once I am working Exam X pieces, I will start finalising the choice for X plus 1. For ARSM, if I get Grade 6 submitted any time soon (CPE Bach willing), I will start seriously working on the next four pieces (and not just the Rachmaninoff), and also start planning the repertoire for the ARSM. Now it seems, there are two pieces from my TBL list lined up for that. After that, I’ll probably tap Rach’s preludes and then I have some serious work to do to find some Bach or Scarlatti that appeals.

Practice Diary 20240526

I practised three days this week. This is a big improvement on most of the month of May which has featured a few weeks of nothing at all.

So, where are I? I’ve missed my April deadline for submitting the exam, and I won’t make the end of May either. But I am close and that makes me happy.

This week I worked primarily on the exam pieces, and one of the Grade 8 pieces.

Grade 6:

CPE Bach: = this is about 97% there. I make precision errors from time to time and these are really linked to how tired I am.

Mendelssohn: 99% there. Mostly clean playing.

Rebikov: this one is odd. Mostly, it is 100% there but when it goes wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong.

Milne: likewise. Mostly it is 100% but when it goes wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong.

I now practice all four as a performance and I have started practising the little speech I want to give introducing the pieces at the start of the exam recording too. That’s a bit nerve wracking to be honest.

I had intended to use the Steinway I occasionally hire for the exam recording but it is mostly not available until August, so I will more than likely wind up recording it at home on my digital Kawai. That’s a little disappointing.

In addition to that, the Grade 8 piece I looked at today (only today, I’m afraid) is some Rachmaninoff. I will have to sit down with a recording of it and do a few read throughs. It’s in the key of D flat, and that’s just a little challenging.

I realised today that since I had finished memorising the Grade 6 pieces (I will play from memory), I wasn’t reading much music and this is detrimental to the progress I made reading earlier in the year. So I want to resolve that and while I have to read the Rach, I need to do some easier to swallow stuff. I need to pick up the 40 piece challenge I started at the beginning of the year. In fact, I cannot believe it is almost the end of May. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I’ve missed practice. It’s been hard as I’ve been away from home quite a lot, and I’ve otherwise been tired. I’ve also picked up reading and drawing again. This makes a difference in terms of available time – don’t call this an excuse – the reality is many people have struggles on available time. Nevertheless, I spent 40 minutes at the piano today and more than 2 hours yesterday. I’d like to go back to doing at least an hour a day. We’ll see how this week shapes up.

20240520 Practice Diary

Let’s be honest. The practice has fallen off a wagon lately. Admittedly for 2 weeks I have been travelling. So I think there was only one practice session in there. It was alright given I haven’t been playing much. I also played at the Airport in Amsterdam.

I would have played at the airport in Brussels but the piano in Area A is GONE. NOOOOOOOOO. I hope the one in B is still there. I’ll check the next time I am flying outside Schengen but as I tend to exit Schengen in Amsterdam lately….Oh well.

Someone left a book of movie themes at the piano in Amsterdam though so if you are looking for Chariots of Fire, there you go.

Now that it occurs to me, I used to have a copy of Chariots of Fire when I was a teenager. It didn’t turn up the last time I went through the piano music at home.

30042024 Practice Diary

I practiced just once in the last 2 weeks and I will be travelling again soon. So I am going to miss the April deadline to submit the exam. In practical terms, the hall I wanted to use isn’t available until sometime in June anyway. This is a pity but there you have it. I’m not far off ready to record and submit.

I was really close to being ready about 2 weeks ago but then on a personal level something popped up that got in the way of a lot of things in my mind and work has been busy. My mind is cluttered. I put my hands up – these things happen when you are an adult I suppose although I usually beat myself up with the “other people can do it” line.

It is never very helpful. I also found myself planning around planning this morning too which is a worrying indication of a messed up scheduler. Some reflection required I suppose.

In any case, I have started working on June by Tchaikovsky, and will also start looking at some of the Rameau Cyclopes this week before I leave. I did a read through of the Debussy a few weeks ago, can’t remember when. The remaining piece is some Rachmaninoff, and that’s also been subject to a read through. I should update the project plan.

In a previous job, I considered the whole being part time so that I could free up time to play the piano. I realised that this would be fine in theory but I already couldn’t get on time working full time so all that would happen is I’d be working the same hours and being paid less. Is that a reflection on me? Some people would argue it is; they aren’t IT project managers with operational pain on the side.

So for the playing, I have some work to do.

20240421 Practice Journal

I didn’t practice at all for the last days. It’s the longest I’ve gone without sitting at the piano since sometime in December, and I’d like to say I have good reasons. But “good” is subjective.

On the plus side, I did buy a tripod for the camera, and some sort of a mic which will probably struggle with the sound of a piano. I did that 7 days ago.

For myself, I’m sorry. I’ve been tired, and I’ve been getting home late from work. And I’ve been wondering what the point is about this and a lot of other things. I’m tired of online discussions about the piano – many of them seem to be either far too superficial (Is this piece of Rach too hard for me; I can’t sightread) or too deep.

I’m tired of YouTube. It’s got fantastic stuff hidden away but what it is pushing is utter crap about self improvement. I’m wondering if it is worth the monthly subscription I spend. It probably is because instagram’s sponsored posts are running at around 2/3rds of what they push to me. It certainly isn’t what I have followed.

I’m very close to being ready to submit the Grade 6. I have no idea how that will go either because I made the bad mistake of reading piano teachers asking if it was really necessary to comply with the instructions of ABRSM around being able to see the pedal – I’m sorry but I am not a piano teacher, I don’t have one, but I really cannot see why you’d even ask this question? ABRSM went to the trouble of recording a video for you.

So I need to go back to practice and see how that goes. I had started June by Tchaikovsky (although one of his nocturnes is around distracting me at the moment – I need to check if it is in any of the music books I own. Could be.

I will get to the piano shortly – I will set up the tripod then and we might see abut a youtube video later. Anyway. Have a good week. I have a couple of other pieces to write so this practice failure on my part might not be very noticeable to my 1 or 2 readers.

20240414 Practice Diary

All those lovely fours.

Okay. Hands up. It was not a good week on the practice front this week and although I haven’t looked, I’m assuming I dropped out of my Sapphire league this week. I missed yesterday so my continuous streak broke as well.

CPE Bach got most practice. It’s almost ready to go and as an additional bonus, I bought a tripod and for my next trick will be working out how best to record the exam film.

Apart from that, I did touch on the Tchaik a bit and that was about it.

There isn’t much to be said really. My bad.

20240406 Practice Diary

I dragged myself up to Sapphire in my Tonic League journey and the week has been such that I will be lucky to stay there. I’ve not been listening much and nor have I had much time at the piano.

That being side, there seems to be a point at which progress seems to fly. I don’t see the progress at the individual practice sessions now but more in recognising that today, I am playing things much better than I did one week ago or three days ago. I’m definitely playing them better than I was 2 months ago but then I started one of the pieces three months ago/

I open each practice session with a full run through all four pieces in sequence; I play them in order of age, oldest to newest. I call the self selection piece “list D” so in practical terms, this means I play Lists A, B, D and C as C is the only piece by a living composer. It takes 7 to 8 minutes. Mostly, I will play three of them cleanly except last night when I played none of them cleanly. After that I will work on whatever needs to be worked on, which is usually CPE Bach which is not far off target pace and one of the other pieces where the errors have been rather unfortunate. Occasionally I give Mendelssohn a little more detail.

What I’m finding is that I am occasionally bored of all of them now; I guess this is human and it’s one of the reasons you get advised not to work on something beyond your current skills +a little stretch – you will get bored. Because the Bach invention took so much time and then I whisked away from it, I’m behind with the CPE Bach and it’s really the last thing to cover before I do the recording for the exam. But I have to maintain the other 3.

I love playing the CPE Bach. To be honest, I’ve found it far easier than any of the other 4 pieces I’ve worked on for this exam. It’s not even the sound of it but the way in some places, particularly the F Minor section that my fingers fit so perfectly to the run of keys. It’s amazing.

One of the things which surprised me in the shakedown was that all 4 pieces I’ve lined up for Grade 6 are in minor keys. This wasn’t deliberate, and initially, the List A piece was in E Major.

I’m looking forward to having the Grade 6 submitted and recorded. It won’t be so long now I think and I really need to get a tripod so that I can do the recording.

In the meantime I have started working on the first of the Grade 8 pieces. I think I’ve look at all of them briefly at the piano and during the week, the one that made it to the piano stand was June by Tchaikovsky. It didn’t occur to me to vet it for small finger problems (let’s say the Rachmaninoff was the highest risk there) and that was somewhat of an error.

I scheduled Grade 8 for the end of 2025. I won’t object if that comes in slightly ahead of schedule; in any case I will need to track down a teacher at some point. Grade 8 is a gatekeeping certificate; the diplomas do not open up until I have it.

This afternoon I have piano time on a grand acoustic, hopefully a Steinway. I’m looking forward to it; I don’t think I’ve had the opportunity for the last 3 or 4 months.

20240327 Practice Diary

I missed the weekend because I was in Dublin, to see Maxim Vengarov. I know he plays the violin but still….

Anyway, the practice was daily except Sat and Sunday so I broke my streak. I’m struggling. Really struggling to get further than about 15 days in a row. But all that days I have missed in March so far were travelling days.

So where are we: quick look back at last week. Okay. The fingering accuracy problems which were a major feature of last week are not such a problem this week. I’m inclined to think they are hormonal and I probably should track them as such in my practice journal. This leaves us with a review of what I got up to since I last posted.

  • CPE Bach Solfeggio. This is going pretty much okay. It is still below concert speed but it’s increasingly accurate at higher speed. I love my metronome. I’m still surprised at how much better I got on with this rather than his dad’s Inventio in E major. I may go back to that at some point in the future.
  • Mendelssohn Gondollied 19b no 6: this is great actually. I play this and think, yu know, six months ago I couldn’t play this at all, and I wondered if this whole Grade 6 idea was batshit crazy for someone who is otherwise very decent at non-classical stuff.
  • Rebikov Fallen Leaves No 3 Con Affizione: I think of all the would be and were broken relationships since I was 13 and this is rightly afflicted. It’s mostly stable, I’m happy to record it
  • Milne Indigo Moon: After moaning a while back that I couldn’t really memorise this, the finger work is mostly sound, it sounds great when I get it right. I get it right 80% of the time and for those people who drop into my Tonic stream from time to time, it seems to be very popular.

I played other stuff this week at various times, sometimes when I am tired or lost and also because I passed through Brussels and Dublin Airports and touched pianos in both airports. This week that included the Waltz Opus 30/15 Brahms, the A major setting (by Brahms himself). Currently stuck on the opening piece as I shape my fingers to it, but I love it and I think it will be a useful building block to 118/2, the other great expression of unrequited love I think. From the Celtic repertoire, there were the following pieces:

  • Blind Mary (O Carolan)
  • Gracelands (Cunningham)
  • Gaelic Air (unknown, sadly)
  • Eamon A Chnoic
  • The Foggy Dew
  • Kimiad (based on Stivell)
  • Voyage en Irlande (Bensusan).

All pieces that I love. I also touched Exodus, Scarborough Fair, I dreamed a dream from Les Miserables, and I think that was about it for the late night session last night.

For my next trick I need to start booking grand piano time a bit more frequently, and then I also need a tripod for my phone so I can film the exam submission by the end of the month. I’m really pleased about this.

20240317 Practice Diary

The Isle of the Dead is playing in the background. I used to want to learn that; it’s a transcription of a Rachmaninoff piece. I’ve changed my mind.

So, to practice this week. I survived to Platinum for a second week in a row and to be honest, that was doing well because while I practised every day (go me), I only had one long practice. Next week has travel and two after work engagements. I’ll have to do a lot of active listening to offset the lack of practice next week because they will be mostly short sessions. Still and all, I intend to hang in there for my practice streak.

Tuesday was the big session and it must have done well. Since then, for probably hormonal reasons I’ve struggled with finger accuracy and memory issues across the board. It’s infuriating but as I don’t think anyone reads in here, I’ll be frank. I had sleeping issues and headaches and some serious nausea. All of that points to hormones all over the shop and yes, my period showed up yesterday.

Most of the practice time was devoted to CPE Bach. I can now play the piece more or less cleanly but far too slowly. So the effort for this piece is to raise the speed up to around 100bpm initially and then up to 125. After that, I think it may be dangerous. There are moments (time rather than place in the music) where I can tell my fingers where to go but not when. I would like it to be secure. It needs more time.

That being said, every practice sessions now starts with a performance run through of all four to get myself accustomed to playing them in sequence. I was wondering when I would get to the point I could do this.

All in all, would like it if my brain didn’t succumb to my ovaries but still on schedule to deliver the exam video before end of April.