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I am an adult (38 yo) professional sound designer and musician. I went to music school for drums. I can play basic jazz chords, read treble clef, still remember theory. Now I am studying classical form, theory, composition and I want to improve my piano/keyboard/sight reading skills. My one year goal is to be comfortable approaching a simple classical piece. Is that realistic?

I downloaded the Alberts all in one - book one and have been working with it. I had to skip to about 75% through to get to a chapter that presented a challenge. I don't know if it's right for me though. I find the song selection a little corny and the lesson structure somewhat scattered.

I also have Bartoks Mikrokosmos 1 which I believe might be a better fit for me. What do you think? Can I put the Albert book down and just dive straight into Mikrokosmos?

One thing about the Bartok book is that it doesn't teach any fingering. I assume the student must know this prior to working on the book? For instance, with my hands in C position I'm not sure how to reach, say B3. Is there a complimentary book I should get to go along with Mikrokosmos? Or should I just stick it through with the Alberts courses for now?

Thanks.

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I don't know if you mean Alfred's piano books, but those are the ones that I use with my students. If you're not using Alfred's you might have a look. There are some sample PDF pages.

Mikrokosmos is a great series, if you like Bartok. Getting students to play the pieces if they don't like Bartok is more trouble than it's worth. Fingering is a flexible concept; the fingerings in books are suggestions, not rules. (I have five different editions of the Beethoven sonatas, and the fingerings are often very different in each. Beethoven had a number of fingering suggestions of his own in his manuscripts, and the editors often happily added their own suggestions as well in the same spots.)

The best thing to remember about fingering is that whatever lets you play the music the way you want to play it is the right fingering. On the other hand, there are general fingerings that work for typical passages such as scales, and it would help you to learn these.

A few general rules: avoid putting the thumb on black keys in stepwise passages, especially passing the thumb under a finger to a black key when the finger is on a white key. Learn to play a note with your thumb (either black or white key), and, while holding it down, play the note an octave higher with your eyes closed. Use both 5 and 4, and if 3 is comfortable, learn that too. Do the same with 6ths and 7ths. Plan ahead for stepwise passages in such a way that you avoid "running out of fingers". In other words, work out ahead of time which notes you will take with your thumb.

With all that said, in your question, if your fingers are in the middle C five-finger position, you could just reach your thumb over one note to the left to play B3. If you have to play other lower notes, it's probably best to pass one of your fingers over the thumb and play it that way. So, as you can see, what fingering you use depends on what else you have to play. Just avoid "running out of fingers" by planning ahead.

Now, scales will teach you a lot about fingerings that work and fingerings that don't. Since you're already musically advanced, I suggest that you begin working on scales in two octaves. Most people start with C major, because it has no sharps or flats to worry about, but it's among the most challenging of scales to play evenly as well. I often recommend E major as a starting scale, because the fingering is the same as C (and most of the other scales) and you have plenty of black keys as guideposts to help you out. I'm also a fan of the Hanon exercises, at least the earlier ones in the first book. Hanon suffers from Victorian absolutism, but if you take his pronouncements about his exercises with a large grain of salt they are very useful to teach you things about how the hands work in realizing various musical patterns. The second Hanon book has all the scales and arpeggios with appropriate fingerings so you might find it useful as well as a reference.

So, by all means, work with Mikrokosmos if you like the music. It's great music, even the simple stuff at the beginning. Don't get too caught up in "correct" fingering, but also don't learn bad habits either. Bad habits are habits that prevent you from playing the music the way you want to play it.

Finally, your one year goal is entirely realistic. Just pick up music that interests you and see if you can play it. If not, set it aside to pick up later. Keep practicing, and avoid mistakes. If you are making mistakes, slow the music down and break it up. If you're a pro, then you know the drill.

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I am in a very similar situation, having played classical guitar for many years and started learning piano properly after I retired. I found a piano teacher who was prepared to teach me using Bartok as much as possible - sounds odd, I know, but I love Bartok's music, and have found his approach to teaching piano fascinating.

In addition to Mikrokosmos books 1 and 2, I used (with my teacher) a copy of the Bartok-Reshovsky piano method, which starts from a very elementary level, but rapidly gets to the stage of playing music with some real musical interest.

The Bartok-Reshovsky method certain has all the details on fingering you might need, and actually my copy of the Mikrokosmos books also has fingering numbers in it, which certainly helps.

My advice would be to stick with Bartok, as he certainly prepares you at a pretty early stage for coping with more advanced music. He doesn't "pull any punches" when it comes to things like playing legato with one hand and staccato with the other, or using the 5th finger on black notes.

I believe that many (most?) world-class Hungarian pianists cut their teeth on the Mikrokosmos books, and there have been quite a few highly competent pianists from that country ...

Edit:

Forgot to mention that something else I found really helpful was to listen to decent pianist playing the Mikrokosmos pieces, and I found this guy on the Piano Society site that seems to make a decent job of them:

Mikrokosmos recordings

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