How do you pick up after a long break?

Hi all. It’s been a little while since I’ve been around. I’ve been busy – adjusting to a cross-country move last fall, plus finishing up my PhD in Plant Biology. And along the way I’ve fallen out of practice with piano. I recently acquired quite a bit more free time, and I’d like to jump back in to piano, but I’m frankly finding it somewhat daunting. So I’m seeking some advice.

For a little background, I’m only ~2.5 years into my jazz piano journey. Still, I feel like I’ve not really accomplished anything near what I’ve wanted to in that amount of time. A large part of it, as I discussed back in this reflection topic on my first year, is I’m just generally poor at forming habits, and my time with the piano comes in fits and starts. I have a hard time focusing on something like practicing an instrument for an extended period of time, as well maintaining a regular practice schedule. In fact, a sort of “meta-goal” for learning the piano for me was learning how to get better at setting up habits for myself. It hasn’t happened yet, but I haven’t given up.

So at the beginning of this year, I was working on left hand voicings. I was comfortably drilling them every day through January and February while also working on some standards. The last standard I was working on was “In A Sentimental Mood.” I also started doing a few transcription exercises. But around late February/early March, I lost the habit, and I haven’t really touched the piano since.

Now I’m wondering how best to hop back on the train, and do it in a way that sticks. I get this urge sometimes in these situations like I should start all the way at the beginning, just to make sure I really know my fundamentals. Maybe more importantly, I wish I could reconnect with the dozen or so standards I’ve learned. I often feel like once I learn a standard, I move on from it, and I can’t remember how to play it soon after. I’m not sure how to prevent that, but maybe it might be a good thing to go back and try to learn them again to see if that helps make them stay in my mind.

I suppose this post is a little vague–I’m not necessarily looking for someone to prescribe me a practice regimen (though I wouldn’t be mad if you did!), but rather for others’ reflections on some of the topics I’ve mentioned here: starting after a long break, practice habit forming tips/tricks, keeping standards in your head once you’ve learned them. As a corollary to all this, I’d like to engage more with this community, so I genuinely appreciate any feedback and dialogue you folks may have. :slight_smile:

Anyway, hope you all are doing well, and thanks in advance to anyone who shares their thoughts.

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TactfulCactus,

I understand your concern. I spend a few hours every day doing something with the keyboard. If it’s any consolation, I’ve noticed that after I spend days on a tune–sometimes weeks–and get it pretty much managed to my satisfaction, if I leave it for some time while working on another project, when I go back it seems like I’ve never seen it before. I have no idea why or how to remedy that. The one plus is that, after the initial irritation, it comes back pretty quickly on running through it a couple of times.

Your post is not vague at all. I think this must be a common problem. Just jump back in and take it day by day. And welcome back!

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I wish I could reconnect with the dozen or so standards I’ve learned.

A lot depends on how you learned them. If you’re learning them from a transcription - many of the lessons here have transcriptions as well as lead sheets - you’re learning them note for note, like a classical piece, and you’ll keep having to relearn them every time your memory fades. Lead sheets are always the best way to learn a piece because once you have the chords under your belt (the II V ! progressions that you probably practiced right at the beginning) they’ll come back really easily, particularly if you worked at memorizing the lead sheet so that you could comfortably play without it. Each time you “relearn” it you’ll play it a little differently (and hopefully better) which is what jazz is all about.
I’ve thought a lot about procrastination because I used to do it all the time, and I came to the conclusion that every time I procrastinated I was actually worrying about doing the thing in my head, so I ended up doing what I was trying to avoid dozens of times instead of once. So the cure for that (for me) was to just do it. Don’t know if any of that makes sense. Good luck with your jazz. :+1:

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Actually I am going through getting over an absence right now. I was out about a month and just started back. Yes…I am having to relearn songs again, but they are coming back quickly. I think when you have to re-look at a piece, you actually gain more knowledge about it. Hence, in some respects, I believe you are putting it deeper in your memory bank. Hey…that is my story and I am sticking with it! :grinning:

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Celia,

You’re so right when you say, “I think when you have to re-look at a piece, you actually gain more knowledge about it.” The voicings start to seem clearer, and you often find alternatives that you didn’t see before.

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I think we’ve all been there; I also think several of us who replied (not sure about Celia) have a few years on you, @TactfulCactus, so we’ve been there more than once!

My 2 cents on two of the topics you raised:

  1. Learning standards–I agree with George but would go even further; not only is the best way to learn a standard from a lead sheet, but it’s also important to learn it so that you don’t need to look at the lead sheet. Keep a running list of the standards you’ve learned, and play through all of them at least once a week (without looking at the lead sheets). That makes them much harder to forget, and you also will find yourself coming up with new voicings and interpretations, even after you’ve played through it hundreds of times.

  2. Maintaining engagement. I think this has been pretty well covered in other threads–a daily routine that includes 10 - 30 min each for structured exercises, playing through standards you know, practicing new standards, and transcription–is a recipe for improvement. It’s easier said than done, especially when there are other demands on one’s life, day job, family, etc. But if you can find a daily routine that isn’t crazy, and also yields perceptible improvement, it can be a great source of positive reinforcement.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, everyone is different, so you may want to ignore all of this, and try different approaches, finding what works for you, and measuring success by engagement.

Hope this helps, and good luck with the thesis and the postdoc search!

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Perhaps doing some remedial work might get you jumpstarted, I agree.

Surely if you’ve done 2 1/2 years of Jazz piano already, you should be able to breeze through those early lessons until you reach equilibrium with your current skill level.

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Hey @TactfulCactus :wave: Welcome back!

There are lots of great tips shared in this thread already.

I think this is the main thing we need to work on here.

When I teach a jazz standard on PianoGroove, this is just one possible interpretation of the tune which could be interpreted, arranged, and performed in a potentially infinite number of ways.

The goal of the jazz standard tutorials is to help students to become comfortable with reading and interpreting lead sheets, which can be a difficult task for students who have been accustomed to reading full sheet music for all of their music education.

Lead Sheets & Memorising Tunes

A couple of folks above suggested working from lead sheets instead of transcriptions - very important! - and then to truly absorb the song and not forget it, the next step is to memorise the form and changes of the tune so that we no longer need the lead sheet. Great tips above on this.

I find that half of this task is memorising the form to understand what sections are repeated - “In A Sentimental Mood” for example is an AABA form, and so 75% of the tune is based on the same 8 bar section - and then grouping together blocks of related harmony to make the memorisation task even easier.

The second half of the task is just playing the tunes over and over, trying not to use the same voicings each time, and with that repetition and revisiting the tune regularly, the long term memorisation will quickly follow.

Narrow Your Focus

Perhaps pick just 2 or 3 tunes to start this process with, spend a few weeks on them revisiting them everyday until you are at the point where you don’t need the lead sheet anymore.

I know from the awesome playlists that you have compiled and shared that listening comes naturally to you and so the next step is to study the recordings of the 2 or 3 tunes that you are working on.

Play along with them, transcribe from them, and when listening to them away from the piano try to always hear and visualise exactly where the musicians are in the form.

Then repeat this process for another 2 or 3 tunes.

Building out our repertoire to begin with is important to expose ourselves to different harmonies, and at the same time my opinion is that it’s good to ‘deep dive’ into the tunes that resonate most with us, learning them inside out, listening to every recording we can find on them, and transcribe the parts that we personally like; whether that just be a little fill or lick, or the entire solo or recording.

Join A Classroom Program

We have recently started more guided “classroom programs” which have a weekly or bi-weekly meetings.

You can read more and join the groups here:

https://www.pianogroove.com/community/c/classroom/36

We have a new forum design update this month which will coincide with more classrooom programs, workshops, and online recitals to keep students engaged and on track with their goals and progress.

I’m currently coordinating the design and development of this and so I would definitely recommend getting involved in these new initiatives.

I will send you an email with some more information on these.

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Thanks to everyone for your comments! I’ve felt a lot of inspiration and encouragement from your words and insight. :slight_smile:

An emergent theme from your responses that I’ve been reflecting on is what it means to “learn” something, particularly a standard. You all hit the nail on the head in pointing out that my learning of standards has been a bit too surface-level. For clarification, my approach has been to learn the arrangements from Hayden’s tutorial videos (which are wonderful!) with a lead sheet in front of me (not the actual transcription). I’ve been considering a standard “complete” when I can play through that arrangement with little to no mistakes. I do pay attention to form and chord progressions, but until this point I haven’t made a habit of really studying them and committing them to memory. So when I think about playing a standard I’ve “learned”, my mind instantly goes to, “Can I play that same arrangement from my memory?” rather than “What is the form, what are the chord progressions, what’s the melody, and how can I voice this in a musical way?” The latter certainly involves a deeper understanding of the standard but I think could actually be less daunting. It’s funny – intellectually I’ve recognized the distinction between that “jazz vs classical” approach (to oversimplify a bit) in playing and learning, but I didn’t really admit to myself that I wasn’t committing myself to the jazz approach. This has been definitely an eye-opener!

I’m excited to take your advice to heart and jump back in now. I think this new approach might also help solve in a way my lack of steady practicing, as it seems like it would be more intellectually and musically stimulating. We’ll see how it goes!

Thanks again everyone :grin:

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Awesome! :sunglasses:

Yes I would most certainly agree with both of those points.

There are 2 sides to it as we must first understand the basic principles of arranging from a lead sheet or chord chart; in which case being walked through an arrangement is perhaps the best approach here.

The next step is to take on the challenge of making the tune(s) our own, learning the harmony inside out, taking inspiration from recordings, and that is where most of the fun is to be had!

Enjoy and be sure to let us know how you are getting on with this.

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Wow… I m just learning a lot just by reading through the comments/ conversations…

I Love this thread/topic that you started @TactfulCactus

I had the same question for myself recently since I’ve been like on and off with practice too

:blush: and I must admit, though I can read notes or am familiar with transcribing, composing, improvising, or interpreting - I could only do that for some song genres that are not jazz :grin:

so I’m such a beginner in terms of doing and following the right jazz approach - and am just SO glad the lessons on PianoGroove (to me) is my TOP option of learning the how-to’s, no matter how slow - as well my top motivation to practicing…

I always LOVEEE the introduction of each lesson, where the teachers PLAY or SING the piece - that alone (as a beginner jazz piano learner like myself) I would repeat over and over and over :grin: and would just allow the melodies to stay in my head… then… would watch the chord shapes… listen to the theory side of things… … then - another day, I would go back to the lesson and repeat over again…

my number 2 best option (of getting back on track or getting myself to practicing again) is just really surrounding myself with the right people and those with similar passion or goals…
which is … this community :star_struck: and some musician friends who are into jazz

I would watch or listen to the members’ videos, or audio clips that are shared here - and I find myself getting more inspired bec somehow, there is this connection between each of us - , … me listening to other members’ recordings makes me feel and want to say that somehow, I know a bit about this person and I have been watching her/his jazz piano journey… that keeps me getting inspired!

Am not sure if you’ll get anything from what I am writing hehe but just in case, I thought of just sharing a bit my reflections and thoughts

From more than 10 jazz standard songs that I tried to learn (just by sight-reading, watching the lessons and listening to the recording) last year or since I started - I realized reading from transcriptions still helped me a lot …

by this time, each time my fingers would notice the same chords that I might have played from previous pieces, and it was not even because I knew all the notes in the chord right away, rather,… the shape/sound of the chord helped me to remember that I have played that chord before… and that’s when I started remembering which chords they are… or which progression it was… then I would start to slowly compare one piece to the next, and plus the lessons, courses are topnotch with the superb details…

My very first goal when I started was just to really … discover (as a jazz piano beginner) beautiful jazz tunes, get motivated to listening to more of them… and learning to play those that I can connect to or relate to … … experiencing the joy of jazz music

though I do play lead sheets - I think the one fear I have is I still need to know more about which inversions will be best to use when paired with the melodies … most importantly, continuing to improve/ develop that bank of jazz chords in my head so that once I see a 9th, 13th or a sus chord, etc I want my left hand to be able to instantly play that shape/sound…

this time… … I want to start right, and start over again with the Jazz foundations… and just remember those that I can… repeatedly watch lessons until my brain (little by little) absorbs the impt details :blush:

sorry that got long! :grin:

Please do keep us posted and let us know about your discoveries, a-ha moments or progress…

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