Playing beyond your level

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Guitar Nut
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Playing beyond your level

Post by Guitar Nut » Mon Aug 14, 2017 11:36 am

To give you an idea of my level, I'm nearly two years into learning the guitar and I'm currently working through Delcamp D03. Sometimes I hear a piece of music and think I'd like to play it but assume it's beyond my current ability. Other times I'll take a look at the score and see how difficult it really is for me. I tried the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 and decided it's just too difficult for me at the moment. I also tried Pernambuco's Sons de Carrillhoes and persevered. I really like the tune, and, technically, I didn't find it too difficult, especially the first section. Still being unfamiliar with the notes higher up the fretboard I took a while to work them out, but after I'd memorised it that wasn't a problem. Personally, I think it's given me a renewed vigour. All of my sessions in the last week have been taken up entirely with learning this one piece and I'm having great fun with it.

What I wonder though is should I have waited before learning it? Am I ruining it for later, or perhaps reinforcing bad habits in an effort to "muddle through" a piece that is beyond my current level? What do you think?

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Adrian Allan
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by Adrian Allan » Mon Aug 14, 2017 12:03 pm

Guitar Nut wrote:
Mon Aug 14, 2017 11:36 am
To give you an idea of my level, I'm nearly two years into learning the guitar and I'm currently working through Delcamp D03. Sometimes I hear a piece of music and think I'd like to play it but assume it's beyond my current ability. Other times I'll take a look at the score and see how difficult it really is for me. I tried the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 and decided it's just too difficult for me at the moment. I also tried Pernambuco's Sons de Carrillhoes and persevered. I really like the tune, and, technically, I didn't find it too difficult, especially the first section. Still being unfamiliar with the notes higher up the fretboard I took a while to work them out, but after I'd memorised it that wasn't a problem. Personally, I think it's given me a renewed vigour. All of my sessions in the last week have been taken up entirely with learning this one piece and I'm having great fun with it.

What I wonder though is should I have waited before learning it? Am I ruining it for later, or perhaps reinforcing bad habits in an effort to "muddle through" a piece that is beyond my current level? What do you think?
Everybody has been guilty of this. So long as you don't plan to perform a piece that is too difficult, I don't see an issue. You can keep returning to it multiple times as your technique improves.
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Steve Langham
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by Steve Langham » Mon Aug 14, 2017 12:18 pm

I'm sure that the majority of subsequent responses you get will sensibly tell you that you should play pieces at your level and you are risking bad habits and even injury if you don't and there are many reasons including the ones you've stated at the end of your post for not reaching too far beyond your level. And I personally try to stay generally within my grade.
However, like everything in life, I think as long as you do it in moderation then it can be a good thing - particularly if the level 'beyond' is not too far beyond. My suggestion is that if you are currently grade 3 then I wouldn't be trying to learn anything more than grade 5 at most. If you do fancy having a crack at a tougher piece it can be motivating and exciting but I'd suggest not to have it dominate your practice time, just have it as a little 'side project'' - that way you are still doing the right things at the right level and you are less likely for this harder piece to cause any lasting bad habits.
On a personal note, when I came to CG from casual steel string playing a couple of years ago I really liked Sor Segovia Study #5 (Study in Bm). It was above my level at the time but I was new to the CG, loved the piece and was working a lot on the it. Trouble was my Barre technique wasn't great (too much left hand thumb pressure) and the piece is quite long and there's a lot of Barre's and after one too many repetitions I had this weird shooting pain in my left hand thumb and after that I had to give up playing for 6 months as I had tendinitis in the thumb. After 6 months rest and a one month dose of prescription strength anti-inflammatories I was good again and I've been fine since.
I tell you this because when I used to read people saying ''ýou can injury yourself' I used to think, really - we're only playing the guitar, how can you injure yourself, it won't happen to me. But it did and it can happen to you too if you get too carried away with a difficult piece beyond your abilities.
So, I say by all means have a go at a piece a couple of levels above your grade but only in short stints and as a little side project and be conscious of your technique and your ability to play it.

Guitar Nut
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by Guitar Nut » Mon Aug 14, 2017 12:53 pm

Thanks, good advice both, point well taken about injuries. My sessions are all short, only 30 minutes or less, and I'm getting better at noticing when I'm becoming tense, so hopefully I'm minimising the risk. A good shake out now and again does wonders.

Ramon Amira
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by Ramon Amira » Mon Aug 14, 2017 2:01 pm

In the poem "Andrea del Sarto" by Robert Browning, it says "A man's reach should exceed his grasp."

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Larry McDonald
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by Larry McDonald » Mon Aug 14, 2017 4:44 pm

Every 6-8 months I will challenge a student with a piece that is a few levels higher to see if I am teaching them at the correct level. I am usually not shocked when they have trouble, but a student will surprise me once in a while.
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khayes
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by khayes » Mon Aug 14, 2017 4:49 pm

I enjoy taking a piece beyond my level and just work on short phrases here and there. It gives me a smug satisfaction...and sometimes I can slowly expand to adjacent phrases to the one I'm working on, and before I know it I've put together a chunk of music. Even if I never play the entire piece, I enjoy these snippets.
Ken

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guitareleven
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by guitareleven » Mon Aug 14, 2017 6:14 pm

I learned a lot from working on pieces I had no business trying to be working on.

larryguitar
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by larryguitar » Mon Aug 14, 2017 7:42 pm

I suppose it is ok in the privacy of your own home to try a piece that is above your level but I find it to be too demoralizing, so I stick to things that I have a reasonable chance of playing well. I have dozens of pieces that I've worked on in the last eight years that I can go back and improve upon, so I don't feel the need to fail miserably at a piece that is too difficult for me.

In my opinion, the worst thing is hearing a student play too difficult a piece in a master class. It's a terrible experience for everyone, teacher, student, and the audience. Yet, I see this all the time. In one master class I attended, I couldn't make out anything about the tune, recognize any of the chords or the melody, it was just an awful mishmash of noise. As a result, I had to leave the room, I just couldn't listen to it.

Everyone loses ability when they play in front of other people so it is important to go with something down a few grades rather than to reach too high.

It is far better to play a simple piece with musicality than it is to butcher a difficult piece.

DerekH
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by DerekH » Mon Aug 14, 2017 8:36 pm

When Larryguitar wrote "It is far better to play a simple piece with musicality than it is to butcher a difficult piece.", I couldn't agree more.

In fact, there's a corollary to that, which is that if you constantly play music that is technically too tough for you, you will never really learn musicality, and you will become a technician, not a musician :-)
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Robin
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by Robin » Tue Aug 15, 2017 1:44 pm

I believe that balance working on repertoire at, below and above our current level is an important key. I like to think of these three tiers as threads that weave together to provide us with a strong basis for playing and/or performing.

If you don't try pieces that are above your current level, how will you know where your ceiling is? These pieces help us to reach and grow; expand our learning strategies, explore and implement new technique. The danger comes when you spend the majority of your time working way above your level and you begin to identify this as "your level". It causes frustration and tension as you struggle. You may begin to doubt your ability.

I also think it's beneficial to continue to keep previously learned pieces under your fingers. Here is where we will begin to feel the freedom to explore musical interpretation and develop confidence in our ability to communicate musical intent. These pieces can be the core of your performance programming.

As you work progressively on pieces at your current level, you can continue to steadily grow your skills and repertoire. The refining of skills gained from your previously learned, easier repertoire and the stretching of skills at the upper levels will enhance what you are learning at your present level.
Guitar Nut wrote:
Mon Aug 14, 2017 11:36 am

What I wonder though is should I have waited before learning it? Am I ruining it for later, or perhaps reinforcing bad habits in an effort to "muddle through" a piece that is beyond my current level? What do you think?
I think if you enjoy it and don't push it to performance too early, you won't ruin it. There are a few core repertoire pieces that I will never touch again (and avoid listening to) because I pushed them to performance way to soon.

Best,

Robin
So much music, so little time.

chrisc
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by chrisc » Fri Aug 18, 2017 2:52 am

Having a teacher who can guide you is the best way to learn. Ideally, one or two pieces that challenge and a piece or two that is at your grade so that you progress. One of the things that my teacher does for his university students is to tape the lessons so that they may review and follow their progress and remember the lesson. This is incredibly helpful I think. Keep working and hopefully, you have a teacher who can help with your progress.
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Evocacion
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by Evocacion » Sat Aug 19, 2017 12:34 pm

Some days everything I play seems to be above my level...

mts132
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by mts132 » Sat Aug 19, 2017 5:57 pm

I've found that after 30 years of playing the only things that limits me is time. I can play just about anything as long as I like the piece and have the time to practice. Levels seem to be meaningless at this stage in the game.

Steve Langham
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Re: Playing beyond your level

Post by Steve Langham » Tue Aug 22, 2017 12:14 pm

Evocacion wrote:
Sat Aug 19, 2017 12:34 pm
Some days everything I play seems to be above my level...
I hear ya on that one!

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