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A couple of years ago, I stopped practicing the piano due to school and other commitments. At that stage, I had recently passed my ABRSM grade 5 and grade 5 theory, and was starting to practice a couple of grade 6 pieces.

I've managed to get a digital piano for my house next year, so I will be able to play again. However, I still don't think I will have time for lessons.

Do you think I will be able to make reasonable progress without a teacher? I can still read music fairly well, still have good coordination of my hands, and can still play most of the pieces that I could back in the day.

What would be my best way forward without a teacher?

Thanks

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    You really want a teacher for piano, there are real concerns if you start practicing wrong technique. – Neil Meyer Aug 7 '17 at 9:21
  • Are you sure you wouldn't be able to take some intensive courses, maybe just e.g. 4 weeks in a roll a year? Having a teacher surely helps! Then just one thing concerning the articulation: record yourself, replay the recordings, compare to some professional (or even good youtuber) recordings of the pieces. – yo' Aug 7 '17 at 17:33
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I stopped playing piano at about the same stage as you (Grade 5) when I was a teenager and had lots of exam stress. I went back to it about ten years later without a teacher and it's one of the best things I've ever done. It was wonderful just to play again, but the freedom of being able to play whatever I liked and know I was doing it just for my own enjoyment completely changed my attitude to music. I now play more difficult pieces far more proficiently, compose my own music, and most importantly enjoy playing in a way I never did when I had a teacher breathing down my neck.

By contrast, my brother gave up the violin at about the same time as me, and similarly went back to it about a decade later. He went to a teacher, but the new teacher was so unpleasant that the experience put him off ever playing again.

On the other hand, if you're focused on making progress, particularly if you mean that in the sense of taking more grades, then a good teacher will almost certainly help, and if you have any worries about where to start or getting into bad habits then a few refresher lessons might not be a bad idea. I found that I was very rusty at first, but after a few weeks of playing everything just sort of clicked and my fingers remembered what they were doing.

The lack of a teacher has certainly led me into bad habits, particularly in the way I practice. I play what I like, and what I feel like, whenever I like, for as long (or as short) as I like, just to enjoy playing it and without a particular focus on improving my technique, which is a terrible attitude to have ;)

My general advice to most people in most situations is (quite hypocritically) to get a good teacher, but time and money are often in short supply, and sometimes good teachers aren't all that easy to find either. I wouldn't advise a beginner to try to learn without a teacher, but grade 5 is a reasonable level of proficiency, and with grade 5 theory you should be able to read just about any music and understand the basics of harmony. The most important thing is to get back to playing, and enjoying, music in whatever way fits in with your life now.

The best way to go about it depends very much on you. I started off by going back through my old exam pieces and then picking up music I liked in second hand shops. Finding music to play is so much easier now with so much of the classical repertoire available for free on imslp. You can try to approach things systematically and identify your strengths and weaknesses, or you can just play what you like. I worked my way through Czerny, but then I like etudes. The trickiest thing I found was identifying music that was sufficiently challenging to be rewarding without being too difficult and time-consuming to tackle. The biggest revelation I had was when I realised that the music I enjoyed playing wasn't the music I liked listening to.

Good luck, and do yourself a favour: ditch that digital for an acoustic the first chance you get!

  • Thanks for all the pointers! I was thinking of using my old grade books as a starting place for getting back into it. I'm going to get in contact with my old teacher who was brilliant but unfortunately doesn't teach any more, and see if he can help me with a practice routine/schedule. I do have an acoustic at home but my student accommodation at university is pretty tight on space, so I'll have to stick to the digital for now! – joseph Aug 7 '17 at 16:14
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It depends on your goals. If you're planning to do ABRSM theory and piano practical exams again (eg. Grade 6, 7 and 8), it's more ideal to have a teacher to give you feedback about what areas you need to improve on. Having said that, it is possible to make a reasonable progress without having frequent lessons from a teacher. So if you're planning to do ABRSM, you can learn by yourself , but I stressed the importance of having a teacher to give you some feedback. But if you're restarting because it's a hobby, there are many ways you can progress without a teacher.

When it comes to learning both the piano and music theory by yourself, the best way forward is finding detailed resources that suit your needs and goals. I can’t stress this enough because when you are learning music by yourself, there isn’t anyone to guide you. Thus, you have to hunt for good resources to ensure that you are learning the correct techniques, and that you are learning efficiently.

There are 3 main resources for any self-learners today - Books, Online learning tools, and Music streaming. The best way to teach yourself piano is to gather the best resources available and make full use of them.

1. Books

There are many different books on piano techniques out there, but check out Czerny’s etudes and exercises.

2. Online learning tools

With today’s advanced technology, we can now learn music from the comfort of our homes. There are many tutorial videos and online schools that provide quality music lessons for self-learners like yourself.

3. Music Streaming

One part of learning music that we tend to overlook is exposing ourselves to different music genres. With Youtube and Spotify so readily available, you can listen to most music genres that you enjoy listening to. So be sure to listen to different genres written by various composers - who knows, you might even feel inspired to play music from a genre that you never even thought of!

And of course, be ready to work smart and hard, and really make time for piano practices and theory.

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First you need to realize that Grade 6 - Grade 8 piano is equivalent to a Music Degree minus some subjects in solfege singing, composing, ethnic instruments and software usage.

The focus of playing Grade 6 pieces (or beyond) is to achieve what the composer had intended when he composed the piece. In order to do that, one will need to have a good grasp of the style of a given composer through listening to recordings, study the history and life of the composer and apply techniques that highlights the mood of the piece.

For example, when playing a Debussy piece, the control of pedal and the touch are quintessential to get the dreamy and floating effect. One cannot apply the same techniques when playing a Chopin waltz obviously. (A teacher's guidance is crucial at this stage, techniques and stylistic performance is not something that one can learn by him/herself.)

So as you can see, there is a vast gap of standard between Grade 5 and Grade 6 given the amount of time that you have to invest in researching in order to play well (much like an assignment) and you will also need to take into account the time you'll need to practice.

In terms of timing, I think now is not the best time to pursue your piano in the sense of advancing to ABRSM Grade 6. It will be like studying for a double degree - way too demanding and stressful. Instead, focus in your academic and take your time to work on improving your theory, analyzing pieces, finger strengths and agility.

P.S: Liberty Park had given some great suggestions that you should consider.

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