Starting a new instrument as an older beginner is never easy. Let’s face it: the things we learn as children come easily to us and stick with us longer. I still remember many of the pieces that I learned as a child, but have trouble remembering many of the pieces I performed in graduate school. The same goes for coordination. It seems that we are just bent for learning new things as children and have to work much harder for every new skill learned as an adult.
I have a lovely adult student who began piano after retirement. She has progressed well, but needs to work hard for every skill learned. Even with all of her hard work, it was often difficult to play fluently. I had tried a variety of types of pieces, technical skills, memorizing exercises, and duets all designed to improved fluency and ease of playing. We would have momentary breakthroughs, but nothing that seemed to completely solve the problem…until I introduced the Op. 149 Melodious Duets by Diabelli.
At first I assumed these duets would be difficult for my student, but wanted her to have the opportunity to play them for sight-reading purposes and also to develop the coordination between the two hands playing the same notes. I also felt it would be good for her because they often stay within a five finger pattern. And, I knew she would enjoy them because of the lovely melodies. I thought it may help achieve greater fluency but really had no idea whether it would work.
The first few duets in the book are quite simple with the two hands playing the same notes, all in half notes. This was a great place to start. We were able to play the duets together and she got the feeling of continuing on and not allowing herself to stop and fix anything. We then began to move through all of the duets that had the same melody between both hands. She gradually began to become “addicted” to the feeling of playing fluently and without stops. She loved the sound of the duets and felt like she was “really playing music.” The real breakthrough happened when I began recording the secondo parts on her digital audio recorder. She even bought a speaker for it so we could “play together” in the comfort of her own living room. By practicing “with me,” she was able to develop the fluency to play the pieces without stopping. We have since moved on to the duets that have melody and accompaniment between the two hands. I have also bought Diabelli’s Pleasures of Youth to start our year in the fall.
Developing fluency in playing the Diabelli duets has given her the standard with which to match her other pieces. She knows how it feels to play fluently and expressively and can feel how exhilarating it is to play this way. She now is starting to apply this to her other pieces and has developed a new love and appreciation for polishing her music.
More importantly, she has gained confidence in her own playing. She is beginning to feel like she can play for others and feels she can now work more independently without needing to rely on the help of a teacher. Her old “piano persona” is barely recognizable in the new, confident student I now see at each lesson.
Thanks to Mr. Diabelli, my student has a new lease on learning!