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Thread: Learning music after my teens

  1. #1
    Lieutenant, Associate Concertmaster
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    Learning music after my teens

    I am not sure which forum to post this Q in, so I hope an admin will move it to an appropriate one if its wrong.

    I'm 21, and I play keyboard instruments by ear, and am able to play most of the Anglican hymns (English Hymnal stuff) I hear by ear after a few listens (I don't mean with one finger of each hand like some friends of mine, I generally get someone to play each part or I download a midi of it and try to learn the bass and treble parts to perfection, doesn't take me very long), however I'm sure I use techniques that would get me shot by any teacher, wrong fingering, etc lol!.

    However, I was never able to formally learn music, although I am aware of some basic theory through members of my family who know music.

    I want to know whether it's too late for me to start learning theory and to sight-read, at my present age of 21. I am currently a student in the States, but I'm not an American, so as an international student I have some other expenses and cannot afford to take lessons at this time. Are there any self help books that I can learn on (I have access to pianos where I am). I remember the John Thompson's books, but I don't have them here with me. Or should I wait until I'm done with college and head back home, and then take lessons from a teacher?

    Would appreciate any help at all!
    Last edited by Argoth; Sep-08-2007 at 11:35.

  2. #2
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    Argoth,
    You pose a very good question and I hope I can be of help to you. I have been totally self taught and so I can't speak from experience of having a teacher; however, I would not advise that for everyone. I would venture to say that it is never to late to learn any instrument although it will increasingly be more challenging as you grow older. I started my musical studies at the age of fourteen which is much older than most people do.
    I would also say that you are at an advantage if you can play by ear because that is something that is quite hard to aquire for some people (like me!) who have depended on notes for many years. Note reading does take a lot of practice but I would certainly encourage you to persue it because it is a very useful thing to have if you want to play any sort of advanced music. Sight reading can be quite challenging at first but after a year or two (much shorter if you really practice) it can be mastered and remembered for life.
    I found John Thompson's books extremely helpful in teaching myself and if you can't get a teacher currently I would recommend you use them.
    One of the disavantages I found was that they did not teach me all the theory a teacher might so I had gaps in certain areas. I didn't rely soly on the books and got some computer software as well.
    To sum it up, my advice would be is to start learning to note read now and even if you're not comfortable teaching yourself at all you can at least be prepared to take lessons when you go back home because most likely that's what you will be learning first. You are certainly not too old and I would say--go for it!
    Regards!
    Bill

  3. #3
    Lieutenant, Associate Concertmaster AllanP's Avatar
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    I envy your ability to play by ear. I started organ lessons at the advanced age of 35. My teacher taught sight reading by assigning a new hymn from the church hymnal every week. Today, i can sight read fairly well but still must have the music in front of me to play. My present teacher is starting to teach harmony (by ear training) by requiring taking a single note melody and playing either thirds or full 3 note chords. This is a slow process for me, but I am making some progress.

    If playing Bach or other classical organ music, the correct way is to play the notes accurately as written rather than filling in the harmony by ear.

    At your age and with the ability to play by ear, it should not be hard to develop a greater skill. BUT a teacher really can help by hearing and seeing problems and helping one to correct them. A teacher can help with fingering problems, when to play legato, how to get expression into the music, where notes should be detached, etc.

    I found myself being stuck at a plateau, found an excellent teacher about 3 years ago, and have made considerable progress since.

  4. #4
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Argoth,

    I agree with what Bill has said in the above posting. I also echo AllanP's concerns about having a teacher or mentor help you through the learning processes. When one is beginning to read music, they are so very concerntrated on the notes that other things like phrasing or timing seem to slip by un-noticed by the player.

    Piano was the stepping stone to organ for myself - my piano teacher insisted that I study privately with her for at least six years before going on to organ. I then studied organ privately for another six years. I value and cherish all those instructional years and still use lots of the techniques learned in those youthful years.

    There are success stories of self taught musicians - but if one wants to seriously persue the keyboard as a professions, then by all means secure a teacher when you get home again.

    A book that greatly helped me with my organ studies was The Method of Organ Playing by Harold Gleason - a rather pricey book when new, but there are bargains on older printings on Amazon or eBay occassionally. I still have my Gleason book from 1960, and refer to it to this day when having a particular technique problem. Being as you are a student, perhaps the UNI library where you are attending has a music library - they might have some helpful publications to keep you going until you are able to secure a teacher.

    Best of luck to you - and keep us informed of your progress.
    Kh ~~.
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  5. #5
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso methodistgirl's Avatar
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    Wink learning music

    Argoth, I'm 47 years old and I'm also learing how to read music and play
    even toccata & fugue on the organ. I know what you are saying. But at
    only 21 years old you can still find teachers or even a class at a college
    somewhere that can show you what you want to learn. People who are
    pros look strange at me and even laugh when I ask for lessons as if I'm
    too old like 100. Music has been my life and I also play by ear. I also find
    it easier to play toccata & fugue by ear than trying to read all of the
    pages of sheet music. If you didn't notice a lot of professional musicians
    call play by memory. I call it playing it by ear. Don't give up and enjoy!
    judy tooley

  6. #6
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    This is a good question and one that a lot of people wonder about.

    I have students from 7 to 70 (literally) and I can tell you the defining factor (besides natural talent) in how fast they learn is their dedication. That is miles ahead of any age factor.

    But adults often struggle with the dedication. I have yet to have one beginning adult student who understood how difficult it truely is - even after I told them. They figure, "I can balance a checkbook, drive a car, and I do well at my job. Learning music should be a snap" Kids and teens tend to have more patience with the learning process, maybe since they are learning a lot of things at that stage in their life.

  7. #7
    Lieutenant, Associate Concertmaster
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    I'd like to thank you all for your kind advice. I think the best route for me would be to first finish up my education, then head back home and study under a qualified teacher. I have probably already cultivated bad keyboard habits and wouldn't want to increase them by going the self-taught route. However, I suppose I can probably teach myself to identify the notes on the stave and corresponding keys before I go into any depth.

    Judy, the University I am at has a strong music programme, however I don't think it's possible for me to enroll in a basic theory class at this point since I am a couple of semesters away from graduation and wouldn't be able to give it my 100%. I've heard they also tend to take things a bit too fast in these semester courses, and I'd have the additional worry about the grades lol. I'd probably feel more comfortable with some private study at my own pace and maybe taking some London exams they offer back home(Trinity College diplomas etc.) I'm currently taking an Introduction to Opera class though, and am loving it.

    Thanks again for all the advice, and feel free to chip in if you have more!

  8. #8
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    I wouldn't discount how much it would be possible to learn on your own AS LONG AS you're quite dedicated to the process, and use a good method book. I would echo that that Gleason book is good, but depending on how much you want to know about organ playing, I'd recommend Organ Technique: Modern and Early by Ritchie and Stauffer as being more complete and explaining different options. However, it is always better to have a good teacher making observations, as it takes a huge amount of introspection and honest self-criticism to learn completely on your own. Perhaps, however, a method book such as this is a bit advanced for you, since you're still learning to read notes, from what you say. In this case, there are lots of books for learning basic theory. Your ability to play by ear is great and will always be useful, but if you want to learn serious organ music you need to discipline yourself to play with notes. I am speaking from experience because I was self-taught from about 10-13 years of age and played a lot by ear.

    On this subject, there are a few things I would put forth to consider, especially since you're older. My early experience being self taught made me fiercely independent, so my opinions are colored by this, but still, think on these things:

    No matter whether you have a teacher or not, your learning will be done mostly on your own. A teacher is not a magic pill, but a guide. Unfortunately, even most teachers forget this, and rather than guiding students into finding what works most efficiently and best for them, they slip into what I see as a great pitfall of traditional music teaching: the teacher as demigod, who imposes his/her ideas as the "one and only" correct way to play the organ. The truth is that there are many correct ways, and in my opinion, teachers should help students find their own way. Technique is a purely practical issue, and the "correct" way is the way that allows a person to play the required passage work accurately, whether it's high or low wrist, early 3-4-3-4 type fingering or modern 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5 fingering, or whatever. I agree with the old Germans that it doesn't matter if you use your nose and it works. If it doesn't work, that's another story, and the teacher needs to help you find one that does.

    Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a teacher who thinks this way, as so many musicians are hung up on being "correct" or doing things by the magical "correct way" and teachers are often too egotistical to allow students the freedom to learn independently with guidance.

    Perhaps I'm wandering off topic here, but I'm using this as a soap box to tell anyone searching for a teacher to try to find someone who will guide you in your own learning process rather than imposing their own. I have had some TERRIBLE experiences with this, and one teacher in particular forced his egomaniacal ideas on me at a relatively young age (18 - early 20s--you're still susceptible if you're not careful!) If a teacher tells you there is only one correct way to finger or pedal, that legato playing is the one and only way to play the organ, that you must always, without exception, play on the insides of your feet, etc, I would run away as quickly as possible and find someone else. These kinds of ideas are rampant in the organ world, they are wrong, and in my opinion are the root cause of the terrible arguments and fights organists are often prone to. Please, to all starting out in our profession, do not fall into this trap!

    I will now step off the soap box!

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Dressler View Post
    A teacher is not a magic pill, but a guide. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a teacher who thinks this way, as so many musicians are hung up on being "correct" or doing things by the magical "correct way" and teachers are often too egotistical to allow students the freedom to learn independently with guidance.

    If a teacher tells you there is only one correct way to finger or pedal, that legato playing is the one and only way to play the organ, that you must always, without exception, play on the insides of your feet, etc, I would run away as quickly as possible and find someone else. These kinds of ideas are rampant in the organ world, they are wrong, and in my opinion are the root cause of the terrible arguments and fights organists are often prone to.
    Well said Thomas! I would like to add that this odd preoccupation with legato playing and the insides of the feet has such a flimsy rationale, and almost nonexistant historic justification that it makes some organists look silly to the rest of the classical music world. There, I got on my soap box a bit.

  10. #10
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Yes, I'd say that when the arguments are done with both sides taking the attitude that they have the ultimate truth, then we do look silly. Musicians in general are pretty opinionated, and I think there is good reason for that, however when it gets to the point of closed-mindedness, then it's not good.

    Legato playing has its place, as does playing on the insides of the feet, but they are NOT the ultimate and only true way to play. The inside of the feet approach is most useful when using late 19th/early 20th century technique on a concave radiating pedalboard. It does not work that well on a flat pedalboard unless the bench is low enough. It just does not work on older style instruments where the bench is high and the pedalboard flat. Similar issues arise in connection with legato playing and fingering.

    The important thing to remember is that the underlying assumptions about technique have changed over the years and it seems more musical and expressive to match your technical approach to the music in question. It's probably unrealistic to think we can all have equal control over different kinds of technique, but I think it is very desirable to first of all accept that there are many correct ways to play, and second, to try to have at least a basic understanding of the different approaches. I get very tired of hearning young organists who have little experience with flat pedalboards complain that they are horrible. Perhaps the problem is closed mindedness about technique, not the pedalboard.

  11. #11
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    I think fear is part of it too. People are afraid of things that are different, and I think organists have trouble getting that out of their heads if they have the opportunity to try a flat pedal board.

  12. #12
    Captain of Water Music jvhldb's Avatar
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    I wish I had your abbility to play by ear. At the age of 38 I started organ classes at the local music academy. I also couldn't afford music lessons so I learned to play the electronic organ from DIY books, but I realised this won't work for pipe organs.

    The most difficult part in starting classes at this age is sitting between a bunch of kids between 12 and 14, doing grade 1 theory while most of them are a couple of years ahead of me. If you do start taking classes, just tough it out.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by jvhldb View Post
    The most difficult part in starting classes at this age is sitting between a bunch of kids between 12 and 14, doing grade 1 theory while most of them are a couple of years ahead of me. If you do start taking classes, just tough it out.
    Hehe yes, that had occurred to me too, but I am not bothered by this, it will probably provide them some inspiration that an adult came on his own accord to learn, instead of being forced into it like many of them are

  14. #14
    Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler Corno Dolce's Avatar
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    It is a great inspiration when adults go to college/university to get a degree when they have been out in the workforce for awhile.
    *If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks* -Abba Zeno-

    *Protagoras: "Truth is subjective. What is true for you, and what is true for me, is true for me. Your opinion is true by virtue of its being your opinion."

    *Socrates: "My opinion is: Truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you are in absolute error. Since this is my opinion, then according to your philosophy you must grant that it is true."

    "Improvisational Art": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSxVO3EoCRM

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