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Practicing long pieces (Read 14771 times)

Offline newsgroupeuan

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Practicing long pieces
« on: February 08, 2004, 06:14:32 PM »
I was wondering,  what's everyone here's approach to practising long pieces.

Best wishes,
Euan

Offline Dave_2004_G

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #1 on: February 08, 2004, 06:18:30 PM »
I go through in order and learn say a page a day - very slowly at first and then sped up - I normally wait before going on until I have each section up to speed

Dave

Offline allchopin

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #2 on: February 08, 2004, 06:44:51 PM »
Learning long, hard pieces can be very intimidating!  And sometimes it's hard not to look ahead as a sneak preview.  But I try not to look ahead, and to take each part as they come.
I usually break everything into single measures to practice, unless a few measures are connected intimately and need each other for support.  And I almost never move on until I have a measure well.  Taht way, I know half the piece well, and completely don't know the other half, instead of knowing the whole piece poorly.
And also, I always (I don't know if this just goes without saying) store everything into my memory right when I learn it.  If you have to refer to the music (note-wise) then you shouldn't have moved on so quickly.  
A modern house without a flush toilet... uncanny.

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #3 on: February 08, 2004, 07:45:48 PM »
1.      If available, I listen to a CD of the piece. One should only start at the piano after one can play the whole piece in the mind. So I start by memorising the”sound” of it. Do not rush this stage (I spent almost two months listening to Grieg’s Holberg suite before I even looked at the score). As I listen to it day after day I try to imagine what the score will look like.

2.      I study the score. This means figuring out all the harmonic progressions, marking all the repetitions, the motifs, the textures, the climaxes, the phrasing, etc. Again do not rush this stage. It usually amazes me how different the score looks from what I first imagined in phase 1. You don’t need to memorise the score, but it should be very familiar. As you do that, keep listening to the CD and accompanying it on the score.

3.      I sight read through the whole piece. My aim is to spot the difficult (for me) sections. At this stage my only consideration is technical difficulty.

4.      I plan the learning sequence. The difficult sections I spotted will be practised first since they hold the key to the technical mastery of the whole piece. This is the exact equivalent of a film director planning the sequence he will shoot the movie.

5.      I work on each separate section according to the sequence plan. (Allchopin is right: this is the stage when you should memorise your piece.)

6.      I join everything together – if necessary in larger sections before tackling the whole piece - and practise the whole piece at half speed. Depending on the piece, outlining can be very helpful at this stage.

7.      I work on interpretation (since by now technique should have been mastered), and start plying the piece as it should be performed.

8.      If the piece has well defined parts (e.g. a Sonata, or a Suite) I will treat each part as separate piece – good psychologically.

That’s the gist of it. Each item can be more fully detailed. And specific pieces may need specific procedures.

I believe this to be the most efficient and fast way to learn any piece (not only long ones). If anyone knows a better way I would be interested.

Best wishes,
Bernhard
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline chopiabin

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #4 on: February 08, 2004, 08:06:25 PM »
I think Bernhard's way is great, but I would say that it is possible to deviate from "the sequence" at least a little bit. I think you should be allowed to "lookahead" to the next page because it will help keep the piece fresh and interesting. I think it's fine to explore any part of a piece that you want, as long as you don't stop using "the sequence."

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #5 on: February 08, 2004, 08:18:39 PM »
Quote
I think Bernhard's way is great, but I would say that it is possible to deviate from "the sequence" at least a little bit. I think you should be allowed to "lookahead" to the next page because it will help keep the piece fresh and interesting. I think it's fine to explore any part of a piece that you want, as long as you don't stop using "the sequence."


Completely true.

Rules exist to be broken. However, be alert and observe what happens when you break the rules. Sometimes very good things happen (and we should change the rules). Sometimes very bad things happen (and we should keep the rules). Other times yet there seems not to be much difference (then follow your own personal inclination).
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline allchopin

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #6 on: February 08, 2004, 11:22:06 PM »
Quote
1.      If available, I listen to a CD of the piece.
2.      I study the score. As you do that, keep listening to the CD and accompanying it on the score.

Yes, this is important also.  I love following an mp3 along with its music: you get to hear what tough parts are 'supposed' to sound like, you get the overall feel of the piece, and it allows you to pick out the parts that you may have trouble with in the future.  If you want, warp ahead and get the hard parts out of the way first.

Quote

I believe this to be the most efficient and fast way to learn any piece (not only long ones).

You mentioned that you spent two months doing nothing but listeniing to the music... this is simply not efficient.  If you are a person that is in a hurry to learn a piece for an upcoming recital, event, etc. this isn't the best way to go.  In two months, one could already be learning a few pages, in addition to listening to the next few minutes of the piece.  In other words, listen a certain buffer amount (say, a minute) and play the part you just listened to.  There is no real important need to listen to the end when you are practicing the beginning.
A modern house without a flush toilet... uncanny.

Offline Noah

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #7 on: February 09, 2004, 12:41:21 AM »
Quote
1.      If available, I listen to a CD of the piece. One should only start at the piano after one can play the whole piece in the mind.


I totally disagree. I think it's much better to read through the piece to get your own idea of it, if possible without having heard any recording of it. That way you discover the piece by yourself instead of looking for the elements you know are there because you heard them in a recording. Generally if I'm working on a piece I try to avoid listening to any recordings of it before I've learned the notes and made some idea of what my interpretation of the piece will be like.
'Some musicians don't believe in God, but all believe in Bach'
M. Kagel

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #8 on: February 09, 2004, 12:57:50 AM »
Quote


You mentioned that you spent two months doing nothing but listeniing to the music... this is simply not efficient.  If you are a person that is in a hurry to learn a piece for an upcoming recital, event, etc. this isn't the best way to go.  In two months, one could already be learning a few pages, in addition to listening to the next few minutes of the piece.  In other words, listen a certain buffer amount (say, a minute) and play the part you just listened to.  There is no real important need to listen to the end when you are practicing the beginning.



1.      You should not take things too literally or out of context. The reason I mentioned I spent two months listening to a piece was to show how important I believe that particular stage to be. In other words I firmly believe in delaying going to the piano as much as possible. If you do that your time at the piano will be much shorter and much less practice time will be wasted in false starts and bad habits.

2.      I was not in a pressure situation, so there was no reason to hasten the listening process.

3.      And no, you should not listen to the piece and practise it at the same time. You should only start practising after the music (as sound) is completely memorised. Only then should you start memorising the physical aspects of playing the music.

4.      Listening has a different purpose than practice. Listening is for the large, architectural aspects of the music. Practice is for the small technical details.

5.      I stand by my assertion that this will be more efficient than diving into the piano straight away. But as I also said, rules are there to be broken. Break it and observe what happens. But to be really scientific, you need a control. So select two pieces of similar character and similar difficulty. Do one according to the sequence I suggested, and do the other any way you like. Report back in a couple of month’s time and tell us what happened.

6.      Finally as a matter of principle I would advise anyone to never ever be in a hurry to learn a piece for an upcoming recital. This is a sure recipe for disaster. You should only show publicly pieces you have thoroughly worked out to the minimum details. Pieces you are completely comfortable with. Most pieces of any quality actually may take a lifetime to achieve complete comfort with. Someone in this forum claimed to have learned Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in 4 days. I doubt very much I would care to listen to the result. Meanwhile Ashkenazy spent three years working on Chopin’s etude op. 10 no. 1 before doing it in public. Need I say more? So organise your musical studies so that you are never in a position to have to learn a piece in a hurry. Refuse to enter a recital under such conditions. And then again, break this rule and watch the results.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #9 on: February 09, 2004, 01:09:45 AM »
Quote


I totally disagree. I think it's much better to read through the piece to get your own idea of it, if possible without having heard any recording of it. That way you discover the piece by yourself instead of looking for the elements you know are there because you heard them in a recording. Generally if I'm working on a piece I try to avoid listening to any recordings of it before I've learned the notes and made some idea of what my interpretation of the piece will be like.


Yes, this used to be the philosophy when I first started learning the piano.

My teacher would not even play the pieces for me in order not to "interfere" with my interpretation. In fact the ABRSM only started producing CDs of the pieces required for examination on 1998. Before that all you would get was a tape with some woman reading comments about the pieces and the first few bars. All so that your interpretation would not be interfered with.

Horowitz was of the same opinion. But then if you are Horowitz, then you don't really need to listen to a CD.

Overall I think this philosophy is completley absurd. It is the equivalent of advising an aspiring writer to never read anything, just in case he gets influenced by other writers' style.

If you are a normal piano student (even advanced) and you have not yet developped the skill to perfectly sight-read (which even accomplished performers sometimes have not) or the skill to look at a complex score and immediately translate the symbols in the score into sounds in your mind, then you need a CD. In fact, you need all the CDs with all the possible interpretations of that piece.

Maybe you don't.  But tell me, how is the practical aspect of this? You will have to decide on a piece you have never heard before for a start. Then you must avoid going to concerts, just in case the pianist plays the piece you decided to work on. Interesting.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline eddie92099

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #10 on: February 09, 2004, 08:43:03 PM »
Quote

Before that all you would get was a tape with some woman reading comments about the pieces and the first few bars


Jean Harvey ;D,
Ed

Offline Noah

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #11 on: February 09, 2004, 09:54:51 PM »
Quote


If you are a normal piano student (even advanced) and you have not yet developped the skill to perfectly sight-read (which even accomplished performers sometimes have not) or the skill to look at a complex score and immediately translate the symbols in the score into sounds in your mind, then you need a CD. In fact, you need all the CDs with all the possible interpretations of that piece.

Maybe you don't.  But tell me, how is the practical aspect of this? You will have to decide on a piece you have never heard before for a start. Then you must avoid going to concerts, just in case the pianist plays the piece you decided to work on. Interesting.



It's not so much a question of being influenced by the interpretation, but I think that by having the piece in mind before even starting to play it, you miss something very enriching, ie find out the structure and details of the piece for yourself. Now I'm not saying I do that for every piece I work on, but you systematically listen to many recordings before starting playing, and I think you do miss something. A stupid analogy that comes to my mind is reading a book in the language it was written in as opposed to reading the translation... it might somewhat of an effort, but it is much more interesting (and satisfying!).
'Some musicians don't believe in God, but all believe in Bach'
M. Kagel

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #12 on: February 10, 2004, 12:08:28 AM »
Quote


It's not so much a question of being influenced by the interpretation, but I think that by having the piece in mind before even starting to play it, you miss something very enriching, ie find out the structure and details of the piece for yourself. Now I'm not saying I do that for every piece I work on, but you systematically listen to many recordings before starting playing, and I think you do miss something. A stupid analogy that comes to my mind is reading a book in the language it was written in as opposed to reading the translation... it might somewhat of an effort, but it is much more interesting (and satisfying!).


Here is a better analogy. You decide to go to Nepal and see the Himalayas. How are you going to go about it? Are you going to just pick up a plane to Kathmandu and figure your way one you get there?

Or are you going to:

1.      Get a book on Nepal – preferably a guide book.

2.      Research the internet about the country, the language, the customs.

3.      Try to talk about it with someone who has already been there to get some information.

4.      Try to meet a Nepalese and see what he has to say about it?

5.      Organise transport both to Nepal and within Nepal, make hotel reservations and possibly sort out a guide.

If someone who is not a seasoned traveller asked me about it, this is what I would suggest.

Then comes around this guy who has already climbed the Everest four times, is chums with the Nepalese Royal family and likes to travel by foot in the region. He hears my advice and say something on the following lines:

1.      Books? No way man! They are second hand experience. You must let your mind clean so that you can experience the country first hand.

2.      Research ? Just go there for crying out loud! You will find out as you go along.

3.      Talk to someone who has already been there? It will just taint your impressions. It is better to go with a fresh mind – let the place be your guide.

4.      Hotel reservations? Don’t worry, just bring your tent and camp. I do it all the time.

5.      Transport? It is a nice country full of nice people. Just stick your thumb and you will get a lift.

Does this sound good?

For a seasoned experienced traveller looking for adventure, no doubt the mountain man’s advice may be more adequate. But for someone who in not used to travel it would be disastrous.

How can you know? If a person asks the question he is not an experienced traveller. If he was he would know what to do.

Best wishes,
Bernhard
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline Noah

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #13 on: February 10, 2004, 12:35:28 AM »
Quote

For a seasoned experienced traveller looking for adventure, no doubt the mountain man’s advice may be more adequate. But for someone who in not used to travel it would be disastrous.

How can you know? If a person asks the question he is not an experienced traveller. If he was he would know what to do.


It turns out that I'm more of the 'seasoned traveler' type of person. I find it much more enriching and exciting. Someone not used to travel has to start exploring at some point... it might be hard at the beginning, but very rewarding.
'Some musicians don't believe in God, but all believe in Bach'
M. Kagel

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #14 on: February 10, 2004, 12:55:22 AM »
Quote


It turns out that I'm more of the 'seasoned traveler' type of person. I find it much more enriching and exciting. Someone not used to travel has to start exploring at some point... it might be hard at the beginning, but very rewarding.


I thought you might have gone to the top of Everest a few times. (pianistically speaking) ;)
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline anda

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #15 on: February 13, 2004, 03:32:15 PM »
i'm a fast learner - and my "method" is quite chaotic :), but it works (at least for me):

i never learn just one work at the same time.
i read all the work before starting practicing on it and after i'm done for the day, every day.
i always learn in tempo - never learn slower, it's much easier if you split the tasks between the head and the hands - many passages can be learned much easier by finding the right "trajectory" for the hand rather than note-by-note (in case harmonic memory can't help - especially in modern works).
i carefully choose my fingering (i think that's the word - which finger is playing what) when i read the passage and never change it - fingers have a memory oftheir own, might as well use it.
learn everything from the start - i heard about that method that says you should first learn the notes, and then the rest (learn the notes and then learn how they should be played :)) - i don't agree, the notes make no sense outside a musical context.
at the end of the day, always play 5 or 6 times everything you've learned so far, not just what you learned today.

i'm not sure how this "method" could help - but it works for me, last time i had to learn a "big" work in a short time it was a modern concert, and it took me a week to learn it (and what helped was learning chopin preludes at the same time :)).

Offline bitus

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #16 on: February 14, 2004, 09:35:38 PM »
In the past month i realized there was a different level of playing piano... There is the one that most of pianists know and practice, but there is another one, much more personal, that only few of us get a bite of, from time to time.
Listening to a cd before actualy playing a piece might spoil the surprise, and might even get you bored of that piece (only happened once with Liszt hungarian rhapsody). But the deeper aspect of this method is that you discover the details of the piece... you don't have to worry that much for the big aspect.
Also, discovering the piece in big terms, applies to the audience, not to the player ;)
The Bitus
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To guide the future, as He has the past.

Offline Noah

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #17 on: February 14, 2004, 10:45:28 PM »
Quote
i'm a fast learner - and my "method" is quite chaotic :), but it works (at least for me):

i never learn just one work at the same time.
i read all the work before starting practicing on it and after i'm done for the day, every day.
i always learn in tempo - never learn slower, it's much easier if you split the tasks between the head and the hands - many passages can be learned much easier by finding the right "trajectory" for the hand rather than note-by-note (in case harmonic memory can't help - especially in modern works).
i carefully choose my fingering (i think that's the word - which finger is playing what) when i read the passage and never change it - fingers have a memory oftheir own, might as well use it.
learn everything from the start - i heard about that method that says you should first learn the notes, and then the rest (learn the notes and then learn how they should be played :)) - i don't agree, the notes make no sense outside a musical context.
at the end of the day, always play 5 or 6 times everything you've learned so far, not just what you learned today.


Exactly ! My method is very similar to yours.
'Some musicians don't believe in God, but all believe in Bach'
M. Kagel

Offline djbrak

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #18 on: February 22, 2004, 07:11:32 AM »
Quote

i always learn in tempo - never learn slower, it's much easier if you split the tasks between the head and the hands - many passages can be learned much easier by finding the right "trajectory" for the hand rather than note-by-note (in case harmonic memory can't help - especially in modern works).


I don't understand this, how can you learn a piece in tempo and accurately hit all the notes with dynamics, etc.   From every teacher I've spoken with they tell me, "The key to playing up to speed is to begin slowly"
-Renato
"If music be the food of love...sing on sing on!"

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #19 on: February 22, 2004, 04:33:13 PM »
Quote


I don't understand this, how can you learn a piece in tempo and accurately hit all the notes with dynamics, etc.   From every teacher I've spoken with they tell me, "The key to playing up to speed is to begin slowly"
-Renato


If you look through Anda's other posts you will come to the conclusion that he is an advanced (probably professional) pianist.

So for him this is a feasible approach.

However I believe the teachers you have spoken to are wrong. Because this is a common misconception I decided to tackle it. Brace yourself.

Yes, a lot of people get intrigued by the statement: “play fast before you play slowly”. It is just one of the many instances in which the correct way to approach piano practice/learning flies in the face of common sense.

It is also why one should get a good teacher who knows about this stuff. It can save one so much time that is unbelievable. Unfortunately you can find even experienced teachers sometimes clinging to common sense notions. So I guess it will depend on your luck. I myself however believe that if you are ready the right teacher will appear. So busy yourself by getting ready.

But I disgress.

First of all, let us understand why you should learn/practise a piece in tempo before tackling it at slow speed (yes, you will need to work on it slowly as well).

In its simplest terms playing the piano is a pattern of movements and co-ordination of these movements. You learn movements and co-ordinate them by carefully repeating them over and over until they become subconscious. This means that what you repeat (good or bad) you learn.

The human brain is amazing in its capacicity to learn things. Learning something is never ever a problem. The problem is that once you learn something you can count on it being there pretty much forever.

So if through your bad practise you learn bad things, you will not be able to unlearn them. This means that now your subconscious is filled with all sorts of variants of what you should do, all competing to be done.

Wilhelm Kempf was once asked: “How come you never play a wrong note?” he answered “I only practise the correct ones” Easier said than done. So how can you only practise the correct notes/movements? Exactly the same way that porcupines make love: carefully, very carefully. This as we will see in a moment does not necessarily means slowly.

If you start learning a piece by having no idea whatsoever how it goes, and decide to discover the piece in the process of playing it, and does that by playing it slowly, you will be doing plenty of wrong movements, inappropriate fingerings and so on, that will be ingrained into your subconscious forever. And you will do it because at a slow speed you will be able to get away with it . If you were to play the piece at proper tempo straight away, you would immediately see which movements would be appropriate, and which fingerings would work the best. And once you figured out the correct movement pattern/fingering, then and only then you should practise the piece slowly but doing slowly exactly the same movements you figured out when first exploring the piece at full speed. That is you never ever practise a piece slowly. You always practise a piece in slow motion: that is you play slowly exactly as you would play fast, just slowly.

But what if you are a complete beginner with no experience whatsoever? How can you possibly play that new piece fast straightaway? That’s where a teacher that is knowledgeable about these things will be of infinite help: S/he will tell you how to move until you can figure out by yourself. S/he will watch over you like a hawk so that you do not learn the wrong things.

What if all you have is 30 minutes weekly lesson with a teacher that either does not know this stuff ort does not have the patience to go through all this (admittedly boring) stuff? Then I am afraid it might take you a lot of time to learn the piano and to play it properly.

There are some people in this world who have a natural way to go about the piano, so that they do the correct things intuitively, without ever having to be taught this stuff. They are the dream students of piano teachers (not me though). They are called talented and get away with almost no practice and still play beautifully. They are actually the great pianists of all times.

But what about the rest of us? Do we have to slave away for twelve hours everyday at the piano for less than satisfactory results? I don’t think so. What we have to do is to discover the precise set of co-ordinates these super talented people use and work the same way they do. But we cannot do that if we are stuck in conventional wisdom about practice and piano methods.

Again I am disgressing.

Ok so to finally answer your question. Which is (it is good to remind myself):

Quote
“how can you learn a piece in tempo and accurately hit all the notes with dynamics, etc.   From every teacher I've spoken with they tell me, "The key to playing up to speed is to begin slowly"


1.      If you are a superb sight-reader and the piece presents no technical difficulties you have not encountered before this should not be a problem. You will not accurately hit all the correct notes (although I have seen people who could do very near to that), but you will be able to figure out the movement patterns, so that you can then work on the piece slowly. But this option is opened only to experienced pianists – which the guys you quoted as working a piece this way clearly are. What if you are an inexperienced beginner? Then read on.

2.      Don’t work on the whole piece. Choose just a few bars. Sometimes you will have to go down to two notes. Anyone can manage two notes at top speed to figure out what fingering/movement works best. To do that you will have to sit down with the piece and analyse it. So don’t open the score in front of you and launch at it with gusto. Remember the porcupines making love! Proceed carefully.

Sit with the score away from the piano. Figure out patterns that are repeated, imagine the movement/fingering you would need to do to accomplish each particular passage.

Simplify the piece by looking at the hands separately. If each hand plays more than one voice, separate the voices. Outline the piece – this means getting rid of every unessential note and looking at the bare skeleton of the piece (this means usually the melody and bass notes). If necessary rewrite the piece in all of these variants.

And while you are doing that listen to a CD of the piece. Only once you are satisfied you have figured out exactly what to do with the, say, first two bars, go to the piano and play those first two bars (hands separate if necessary, voices separate if necessary, outlined if necessary) at the proper tempo (even faster if you can manage).

This is to ensure that like Kempf you only practice the correct notes/movements/fingerings.

Does the movement/fingering you imagined actually work? Then proceed to practise it slowly in order to ingrain it in your subconscious. It does not work? Try something else. Keep experimenting and investigating until you hit oh the precise movements/co-ordinations/fingerings that will allow you to play the passage at speed. By the way, at the advanced levels such movement/co-ordinations will be highly personal, since everyone is different.

3.      In fact if you start slowly (oh, the misguided metronome approach: start slowly and go up a notch until you can play at the proper speed) you will soon hit a speed wall: A speed beyond which you cannot go no matter how much practice time you put into it.

This is largely due to the fact that you started slowly, with the wrong movements (at slow speed you could get away with wrong movements) and now that the speed has increased the movements cannot deliver the goods.

So all those daily two hours you spend painstakingly increasing the metronome speed for the whole of the week were basically a huge waste of time. And what is worse: you now have the wrong movement firmly ingrained in your subconscious. Nice isn’t it? So what is the answer?

Surprising as it may seem, the answer is to do exactly the opposite: Play a s fast as you can and then slow down! Then you will not find a speed wall because you jumped straight over it in the first place by starting at the other end of the speed spectrum!

Try a simple experiment. Using fingers 12345 play the notes CDEFG. Start slowly , lift well your fingers and articulate them clearly. Now try increasing the speed maintaining this (totally inappropriate) movement. You will hit a speed wall at a ridiculously slow speed.

Now play these five notes with the five fingers in the fastest way possible. The fastest you can play them is together. Yes, that’s right. Play these five notes as a chord . Lift your arm, keep your fingers rigid but resilient and play away several times this five note chord.

Now slow it down by rotating your forearm and slightly “wiggling” your fingers. This is the point where I have to issue my usual warning. This cannot be properly described in writing in any meaningful way. You will have to go and figure out. The best way is to find someone knowledgeable about this stuff (hopefully your teacher) and ask him/her to demonstrate it for you.

But the point is that by playing it as a chord first you have played it as fast as possible. And by slowing it down you are still playing it at an unbelievable speed. In five seconds you went from not knowing how to play the passage to playing it at much more than the required speed. Now keep slowing it down taking care to preserve the movement (forearm rotation, finger wiggling) that you discovered to be the appropriate one for this note sequence (different note sequences will require different movements, but now you have found out the method to go about it). In a couple of minutes you should have mastered this passage and ingrained it into your subconscious forever.

You see, slowing down is far easier the speeding up. So instead of two hours of painstaking metronome practice just to hit a speed wall and have to deal with the bad habits you learned, you have now 2 minutes practice that ingrained the correct habits.

Now move to the next passage and so on and so forth. In two hours you could pretty much have learnt your piece at full speed. How about that? And if you have a teacher that will show you the movements and break down the piece for you, than your learning will be even more accelerated. I have my beginner students with a repertory of 20 – 30 pieces of grades 1 – 3 at the end of three months.

So to recap everything:

To play at speed straightaway:

1.      Play it in your mind first.
2.      If you are a good sight-reader, go ahead and do it, but if you were you would not be asking the question. So:
3.      Work in small sections.
4.      Work in separate hands.
5.      Outline.
6.      Make your movements being right a priority: if they are right you should not only get the correct notes, but also the correct dynamic and so on.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline comme_le_vent

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #20 on: February 22, 2004, 05:25:43 PM »
bernhard whats your longest post ever?
this looks like a contender  :P
http://www.chopinmusic.net/sdc/

Great artists aim for perfection, while knowing that perfection itself is impossible, it is the driving force for them to be the best they can be - MC Hammer

Offline newsgroupeuan

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #21 on: February 22, 2004, 05:34:17 PM »
I concur.  Though its also very helpful,  like his other posts.

Euan

Offline bitus

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #22 on: February 23, 2004, 06:57:22 PM »
Anda is a "she"... (proudly... a romanian "she") :d
The Bitus
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To guide the future, as He has the past.

Offline djbrak

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #23 on: February 25, 2004, 06:10:35 AM »
I'm still a little confused as to what you define as "playing in slow-motion"...
For example, when I first looked at Maple Leaf Rag, well, the reason I looked at it was because I enjoyed listening to it, so I decided to take a shot at it.  Anyway, after looking at it, the first thing I concentrated on was the 'stride' LH.  Slowly, I began to put the music notes from the paper to the piano for the first four measures.  Eventually I played it up to speed just to see how it's played (4 measures only).  Then I practiced my right hand slowly, and eventually up to speed.  Then both hands together, up to speed.  THEN, I continued with the next two measures the same way.
I have no problem playing up to speed on the first part of the rag, except maybe missing a couple of notes on my stride jumps.

Now, would you say that this is the wrong way to practice?
"If music be the food of love...sing on sing on!"

Offline dinosaurtales

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #24 on: February 25, 2004, 07:06:37 AM »
It may be a different way to practice, but not wrong, BUT the Maple Leaf Rag is not a long piece, either, which is what this topic is about.  Dealing with multi-movement sonatas and concertos of a  big and/or highly technical nature requires a different mind set.  Some of these pieces are seemingly endless, especially when you are starting from scratch and see a lifetime of work ahead to practice.  I am a bit different from my teacher, who always starts at the beginning of the first movement and works through from there.  That way she always knows how far she can get *clean* or *at a certain speed*.  I have adapted to this method for peace, but my preferred way is to read through and identify the nastiest bits and learn those first.  That way, as I start learning from the beginning, as I get to a nasty bit I just play it without fear.  But she hates that.  She always asks how far I can get.  Then I don't know.  sigh.
So much music, so little time........

Offline chopiabin

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #25 on: February 25, 2004, 07:23:43 AM »
I've read that your method is the best because if you don't start the hard parts first, they will always be weaker.

Offline anda

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #26 on: February 25, 2004, 10:54:12 AM »
Quote


So to recap everything:

To play at speed straightaway:

1.      Play it in your mind first.
2.      If you are a good sight-reader, go ahead and do it, but if you were you would not be asking the question. So:
3.      Work in small sections.
4.      Work in separate hands.
5.      Outline.
6.      Make your movements being right a priority: if they are right you should not only get the correct notes, but also the correct dynamic and so on.


that's the organized version :) - mine is much more chaotic - but i totally agree :) - except that nos. 3-6 apply upon necessity (sometimes they do, sometimes they don't - the scores tells you what to do)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #27 on: February 26, 2004, 01:14:47 AM »
Quote
I'm still a little confused as to what you define as "playing in slow-motion"...
For example, when I first looked at Maple Leaf Rag, well, the reason I looked at it was because I enjoyed listening to it, so I decided to take a shot at it.  Anyway, after looking at it, the first thing I concentrated on was the 'stride' LH.  Slowly, I began to put the music notes from the paper to the piano for the first four measures.  Eventually I played it up to speed just to see how it's played (4 measures only).  Then I practiced my right hand slowly, and eventually up to speed.  Then both hands together, up to speed.  THEN, I continued with the next two measures the same way.
I have no problem playing up to speed on the first part of the rag, except maybe missing a couple of notes on my stride jumps.

Now, would you say that this is the wrong way to practice?



No, I would say that this is a very sensible way of practice.

A more experienced pianist may not need to go through it in quite that way, but if you were a complete beginner with little or no technique, or if you were completely unfamiliar with the style of Maple leaf rag this would be exactly the approach I would suggest.

Now let us use it as an example to explain what playing in slow motion is all about and how easy it is to do it all wrong and in the worst possible way. I will say it again: not a different way, but a wrong way.

Ok consider just the first left hand stride. And let us concentrate on the first three notes of the left hand, namely Eb (octave) Ab (octave) and the inverted Ab triad (EbAbC). There are two extreme ways one can go about it.

One way, completely and utterly wrong (for reasons the will be clear in a moment) is to carefully and slowly start at Eb. Then making sure you are doing it slowly as to be accurate, move to Ab. Now stay there for a while (we are doing it slowly) and figure out by looking at the keyboard where the EbAbC triad is. Then slowly and carefully move there making sure that you strike accurately the triad. In short make your priority to get the correct notes, even if this means big pauses between each octave/triad. Repeat it this way until you sort of memorise what you are playing and where you are going. Now (using a metronome – if you or your teacher belong to this school of thought) start to increase the speed always aiming at note accuracy. If you start getting the wrong notes, decrease the speed and keep practising at a speed where you can be accurate.

You will then be reassured that eventually this method will bear fruit and all you have to do is to keep at it, be patient, disciplined and so on. One year from now, practising two hours a day this way you will still be stuck at a pretty slow speed because this method not only does not work as it actively creates speed walls . Now let us leave this way of practising for a moment and turn to the other extreme.

Start by ignoring the notes completely. In fact start by doing this on the piano lid (or if you are practising on a digital piano turn it off). Your aim now is not note accuracy, but figuring out a movement. This movement – which is easy to demonstrate but very difficult to describe in writing, so you will need to give me some rope here – is like an arch. You keep everything from the forearm down in a fixed position (not stiff though), and use the upper arm to make your forearm-hand-fingers move as a single unit in an arched shape. Imagine you petting the head of an elephant and you will get the idea.

Now go to the piano (or turn it on) and just throw your hands about using this movement without any concern at all for the correct notes, or how accurate you are in hitting them . Your aims at this stage are the following:

1.      Do the movement as fast or faster than what you will need when actually playing.

2.      Make the movement in such a way that it originates from the centre of the body and radiated to the extremities which should move as a single unit.

3.      Make sure the movement is smooth and cyclical, that is it never stops and it is never a jerky motion (stop / start). Instead the movement should be flowing and infinite – you should not be able to detect where the movement starts and where it stops.

Now that you figure out the movement, start calibrating the distances so that you start to hit the keyboard in the area where the correct notes are. It does not matter yet if you are getting wrong notes. The important thing at this stage is to make sure that the calibration is done at the level of the upper arm not at the level of the fingers, that is the arm brings the fingers into position and not the other way around.

Now you start to slow down this movement (that should still be kept smooth, flowing, cyclical and not start/stop) in order to give you the opportunity to be more accurate. At this stage you should aim at hitting the correct notes. If you don’t do not worry, just keep moving and a t every repetition you aim again . In no circumstances stop moving if you hit a wrong note. Just make a mental note of it and try again in the next cycle. Failure to obey this rule will result in a “stutter” habit that will take years to eradicate (if you ever do). Eventually you will find a speed (remember you are not going from slow to fast, but from fast to slow) that will allow you to hit the notes accurately. But throughout the whole procedure, from the very start you have been practising the correct movement. And what is more. What took me several paragraphs to describe will probably be over in a couple of minutes at the piano.

Now let us compare these two extreme ways of practising.

In the first (wrong one) you are constantly practising the wrong movement. Because you are pausing and going slowly, you will be able to get away with all sorts of tiny unnecessary movements that as you speed up will be on your way and create a major block  - what we call a “speed wall”. And the worse aspect of it is that you will be unaware that there is anything wrong since at slow speed you will be able to get some sort of result. And it will take months of toil and drudgery.

In the second (correct) way, you start from the movement, not from the notes. So it is essential that you know the movement before starting any piece. An experienced pianist will know what movement to use for any new piece simply because the number of movements used in piano playing is actually pretty limited (although it may run into the hundreds and thousands once you start combining them – but the basic movements are pretty small in number), and an experienced pianist will simply be familiar with them. For a beginner the situation is far worse. In this case s/he needs to be shown the movement and then try to reproduce it – it will not be exactly the same because everyone’s physicality is different and therefore some adaptation will be in order – Usually the teacher should demonstrate. But there are other ways. For instance watch an expereiced pianist play the piece. Watch a video of someone playing it. Or – and this is the worse option – read someone else’s description of what the movement is all about – like you are doing right now.

Because you start from the movement, you will immediately realise not only how far from the mark the movements generated by the first method actually are, you will also realise that there is no way to get at the correct movement by speeding up the wrong movement.

Let me stay on this point a bit more. Consider running. How would you go about learning to run – assuming you are already a proficient walker? Would you walk faster and faster? If you try you will have two consequences: you will hit a speed wall – you can only go so fast while walking even if you walk at the maximum speed you can achieve; and you will probably get an injury if you insist. Moreover the top speed you can get by walking as fast as you can does not even get close to the slowest speed a runner can manage when running slowly.

So how does a walker learns to run? By running in slow motion! . If you do that you will not encounter any speed wall because the movement is correct form the first. In fact because running in slow motion is far more difficult than running, the phase of running in slow motion will probably take only a few steps before your body takes over and you start running at top speed – just watch small toddlers learning these complex feats of co-ordination. Meanwhile trying to learn how to run by carefully walking and then increasing the speed will take a lifetime. In fact even in a lifetime you will not be able to do it.

Likewise, you must from the start figure out what is the perfect movement for a certain passage and practise it from the start. The accuracy with which you hit the notes will come surprisingly soon – after a few seconds/minutes actually. If it doesn’t you are using the wrong movements.(Remember we are talking here very small sections – sometimes as small as two notes).

So this is what I meant by practising in slow motion. But as you will find out, once you have slowed it down enough to start hitting the correct notes (and this slow speed is far faster than the fastest speed you could possibly manage by speeding up the wrong movements), it is far easier to play at top speed than at a slow speed. Hitting the keys with the correct movement takes care of that.

One last word.

As I said, the correct movement for this stride is like an arch. But is it a more spherical arch? Or more elliptical? Or is it like a straight line where the hand glides over the keyboard lightly touching the keys? This is completely up to you.

Each variant of the basic movement will have subtle influences in the sound that is produced. But you may not be able to do every single variant equally well due to limits (both physiological and psychological) to your physicality. So you will always be able to have more then one “correct” movement that will do the job satisfactorily. This is the only level where “my way” versus “your way” applies. Any level lower than that and “wrong way” versus “correct way” will apply.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #28 on: February 26, 2004, 01:36:25 AM »
Quote
 Dealing with multi-movement sonatas and concertos of a  big and/or highly technical nature requires a different mind set.  Some of these pieces are seemingly endless, especially when you are starting from scratch and see a lifetime of work ahead to practice.  


Yes and no. The fact is that music is ridiculously repetitive (as it must, due to its ephemerality). So most long works can be reduced form 30 pages to one and a half. Sometimes there is sheer, exact repetition. Sometimes there is exact repetition in a different key. Sometimes the notes are all different and yet the movement is exactly the same at different intervals. In fact any piece who was not constructed in this way would be unbearable to listen to.

So the answer here, is simply to delay going to the piano, and instead work a lot on the score marking repetitions, outlining melodies, discovering relationships and overall planning the learning and practice of the piece so that it is not long at all. In short don’t start from scratch.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #29 on: February 26, 2004, 01:38:02 AM »
Quote
 I am a bit different from my teacher, who always starts at the beginning of the first movement and works through from there.  That way she always knows how far she can get *clean* or *at a certain speed*.  I have adapted to this method for peace, but my preferred way is to read through and identify the nastiest bits and learn those first.  That way, as I start learning from the beginning, as I get to a nasty bit I just play it without fear.  But she hates that.  She always asks how far I can get.  Then I don't know.  sigh.



Your teacher is wrong, you are right. Reasons:

1.      The most difficult bits of any piece encapsulate the technical difficulty for that piece. Learn and master those first and you will have mastered/acquired the technique to play the whole piece. This means that if, say, bars 23-24 are impossible, completely ignore the rest of the piece until you can play these bars perfectly. Once you can play the difficult bars perfectly move on to the rest of the piece (which you have not tackled at the piano until now). You will be amazed how quickly you master it simply because you already have more than the necessary technique to do it.

2.      The most difficult bits of any piece – with perhaps 20 or 30 exceptions in the whole of the piano literature – are only a few bars of the whole piece. So it becomes very efficient to work on a few bars at the end of which you get the whole piece as bonus.

3.      The reason long pieces seem endless is exactly because most people do not follow this procedure, trying instead to tackle the piece form beginning to end at the piano, devoting no time to go through the score planning the learning of it. And of course, having mastered the easy bits the difficult ones become an unsurmountable block, and the piece takes forever to learn, if it is ever learned.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline djbrak

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #30 on: February 26, 2004, 03:16:39 AM »
I have a question about the Clementi sonatina in C (#1).
 I think it might have been because of this slow practice that I can't play 100% accurately up to tempo.  Anyway, the question is, I've been practicing the first movement, Allegro, in 'andante' speed and can play it accurately.  Now, when I try to go faster, or at least from what I hear on the examples online, I mess up the timing of the descending/ascending scale(s).  
Is there a way to fix this problem?  It happens mostly on fingers 4 & 5.
Thanks,
-Renato
"If music be the food of love...sing on sing on!"

Offline ludwig

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #31 on: February 26, 2004, 07:50:29 AM »
Hi djbrak,

   I believe that there are different methods for each person to tackle their problems of playing fast scale-like passages, for me, I sometimes play at adagio and gradually increase my speed up to andante and then allegro. It is a gradual process, and while you're going through it, you could always try methods with alternative rhythms, such as dotting the rhythms (dotted quaver+semiquaver or the other way around), and also staccato and legato in an alternation.

  Anyways, back on topic ;D since this thread was about how to practice and approach a really long piece. Right now I'm tackling Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody and boy does it seem long. Its not the longest piece I've played (pages wise or time wise) but it sure seems to go on forever. It is also not so repetitive (of course the sections all link in some ways melodiously but not technically) so I have trouble just practicing the "hard bits." Therefor I have some pointers to tackle pieces such as this:

* Just go for it, get through as much as you can but stop yourself when you have forgotten how the beginning of the piece sounded like =) This means you can learn the piece up to a major ending of a big section. Then break it down further. I suppose this can help you because it
  -draws out all the "hard bits" within the major section
  -helps you understand what ARE the important melodic and harmonic structures
 
* Listen to the piece before learning it. But not too much, and ask your teacher for a pianist that she recommends. Do not get several recordings at this point, it is not the time to figure out HOW you like to inteprete the piece. This cannot possibly "ruin" or "influence" your own interpretation of the piece because you have none at this point. Listening to several different recordings of different pianists is very important in the future, when you have the piece technically comfortable.

* It is very important to get details and technical elements right when first starting a piece, so practice SLOWLY and CAREFULLY, pay attention to phrasing, fingerings, melodic lines, (what is important and needs bringing out and what isn't), how to use body weight and arm/finger movements during difficult sections etc... It is impossible to figure these things out playing "in tempo" first couple of times no matter how brilliant you are. Getting better is a gradual process so why should learning not be?

* Yes it is important to practice in small sections, but don't loose the bigger picture. If it is a long piece like the one i'm learning, then it is always important the flow of the piece, the organic element, how the piece grows, how sections are linked, how to give yourself a break when your hands are about to break off etc...

Hmmmm.... I'll think of more to add later, but yeah, that's my way of tackling a really long piece.
"Classical music snobs are some of the snobbiest snobs of all. Often their snobbery masquerades as helpfulnes... unaware that they are making you feel small in order to make themselves feel big..."ÜÜÜ

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #32 on: February 27, 2004, 01:06:19 AM »
Quote
I have a question about the Clementi sonatina in C (#1).
 I think it might have been because of this slow practice that I can't play 100% accurately up to tempo.  Anyway, the question is, I've been practicing the first movement, Allegro, in 'andante' speed and can play it accurately.  Now, when I try to go faster, or at least from what I hear on the examples online, I mess up the timing of the descending/ascending scale(s).  
Is there a way to fix this problem?  It happens mostly on fingers 4 & 5.
Thanks,
-Renato


May I suggest that it may be a good idea to start another thread on this sonatina (probaly on the Student's corner) since the answer to your question will probably have nothing to do with this particular thread.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline rlefebvr

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #33 on: March 02, 2004, 08:22:33 AM »
I can say almost everything I have done for the last 2 years have been wrong.
Since finding this forum and reading Chang I realize how wrong my approach as been and have started to correct it with amazing results.
Being a Master at doing it the wrong way, I can comment on the reason it is so important to learn the hard passages first and not last.
The main reason is that by the time you get to them, as they are almost always on the second or third or fourth sheet, you are at your wits end and simply do not have enough gas left in the tank to properly learn the harder passage.
It is depressing  after working so hard to learn there are more parts to learn and they are even harder. Not only that, but if you have not prepared the piece before hand, you sometimes learn the hard parts are out of your reach and all your work goes down the drain.I cannot tell you how many pieces I know and play that are incomplete.
For this reason, I believe it is imperative that the notation be done for the whole piece before you play a single note. How else can you know what the hard passages are and which one will necessitate more work.
I also believe that this is true no matter how short or long the piece is.

Ron
Ron Lefebvre

 Ron Lefebvre © Copyright. Any reproduction of all or part of this post is sheer stupidity.

Offline scriabinsmyman

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #34 on: March 12, 2004, 03:33:12 AM »
when learning a long piece, i play through it for a couple days and get the feel for it...then i think about what i want to do, pick out the trouble passages, and work on one or two trouble passages a day. every few days i'll play through the entire piece, just to encourage myself of my progress...i'm usually done going over all trouble passages w/in 2 weeks, and that's when i work on the piece as a whole...for concertos, i take a movement at a time...when movement I is memorized and perfected, it's time to concentrate on movement (but i still keep up w/ movement I, just not w/ the same intensity i had when learning it)

Offline cziffra

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #35 on: March 18, 2004, 04:42:01 PM »
a long way up bernard said he likes to have the sound of the piece in his head before he starts- this is exactly my opinion on the matter.

however i disagree firmly with the idea that you can learn the sound through a recording!  bernard what are you thinking!?   :o
you can only learn someone ELSE's sound that way-

instead of listening, i read the score, and then sight read it (as best i can, aiming for a harmonic and developmental uinderstanding rather than a performance) once i do that, i feel like i have experienced the entire thing, "the sound of it" and can then dissect it and focus on the little sections.  

i try never to listen to another pianist until after i have recorded my own- this is why i avoid gould like the plague. (i want my bach to be my bach)

sorry, bernard, please don't take offence, i still agree with you (partially)  ;)
What it all comes down to is that one does not play the piano with one’s fingers; one plays the piano with one’s mind.-  Glenn Gould

Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #36 on: March 19, 2004, 02:41:52 AM »
Quote
a long way up bernard said he likes to have the sound of the piece in his head before he starts- this is exactly my opinion on the matter.

however i disagree firmly with the idea that you can learn the sound through a recording!  bernard what are you thinking!?   :o
you can only learn someone ELSE's sound that way-

instead of listening, i read the score, and then sight read it (as best i can, aiming for a harmonic and developmental uinderstanding rather than a performance) once i do that, i feel like i have experienced the entire thing, "the sound of it" and can then dissect it and focus on the little sections.  

i try never to listen to another pianist until after i have recorded my own- this is why i avoid gould like the plague. (i want my bach to be my bach)

sorry, bernard, please don't take offence, i still agree with you (partially)  ;)


A long way up, I thought I had dealt with this idea of not listening to other pianists before one figures out one's own interpretation. Never mind. Here is another way to look at it:

Quote
a long way up bernard said he likes to have the sound of the piece in his head before he starts- this is exactly my opinion on the matter.

however i disagree firmly with the idea that you can learn the sound through a recording!  bernard what are you thinking!?    


Here is what I am thinking:

1.      Let us consider for a moment an accomplished genius of the piano. Someone like Horowitz, or Richter, or Argerich or Gould. These guys were able in their prime to look at a complex score and as they looked at it, they would immediately translate the printed information into sounds in their minds. They would hear not only the limited information that a score provides, but they would fill in the gaps and “hear” a most perfect and personal rendition of the piece – a personal and particular rendition that they would then spend a life time trying to reproduce in a real piano (not always successfully). Moreover, by just looking at the score they could immediately not only hear it, but see the keys being pressed (since a piano score is a diagram of the piano if you know how to decode it). They would instantly know, by just looking at the score which would be the best fingering, the best hand position and the best movement and sequence of movements to achieve the sound they had in mind. They could even, by just sticking with the score for a couple of hours, memorise it and play the whole thing from memory with no practice at all (all four pianists mentioned were known to have perfpormed this feat on more then one occasion).

So the first thing I am thinking is this: A guy like that indeed has no need to listen to a CD, in fact, he will avoid listening to it (Horowitz is on record saying just as much) since a different interpretation from the one they imagined may disturb the elusive mental representation thy themselves imagined.

The second thing I am thinking is: Were they born like that? And I am immediately answering myself: No, they trained towards this particular aim. In fact, it has been argued by many people that J.S.Bach’ Art of Fugue was never meant to be actually played (and hence him not specifying instruments, and hence being difficult even to imagine which consort of instruments would be appropriate) but instead it is a score to be looked at and played in one’s mind . But to do that you must have the necessary skill and training. Unless you are Richter, or Horowitz, or Gould, or Argerich, looking at the score is not going to do much good.

The third thing I am thinking is, how can I train myself to be able to do this (you see, I have this absurd philosophy, that if one single human being can do it, then anyone can do it – but you must have the know how).

In short, this is like Robert de Niro reading a script. A script is necessarily limited, but as he reads it, he can already see the character, how he is going to play that character, which tone of voice, which non-verbal language, which accent and vocabulary he is going to use. Nick Nolte, reading the same script may come up with a quite different interpretation. And they will probably not wish to see each other in the role until they have firmed in their minds their own interpretation . At which point they may be interested (a case in point are remakes: most actors are interested in seeing the original movie provided they have already decided how they are going to play it.)

So this is all very nice and lofty, but there is one tiny little problem. This attitude (I will not listen to anyone else because I want to come up with my own interpretation) is only applicable if you have the skill/training of a Richter/Gould/Argerich/Horowitz.

The original question of this thread is in a way so basic, that it can be safely assumed that the person asking it is not on that level yet. Therefore telling the questioner that s/he must look at the score and come up with his/her own personal sound is not going to be very helpful.

2.      Now let us consider not a genius of the piano, but a common piano student – like me in my teenage years. My teachers were of this same school of thought. One should never listen to recordings of other pianists of the pieces one was playing just in case it might influence one’s interpretation. What a crock of potatoes!

These same teachers were however queueing up to buy tickets for this or that famous pianist’s recital. They would not even play the pieces they had assigned for me. So I had no idea whatsoever what the pieces sounded like. In those days, not being a particularly good sight-reader (and not being given any specific instruction towards improving it except for the exhortation to practice) I would look at the score and just see masses of black dots.

Where does this philosophy leaves such a piano student? Facing a long uphill struggle to make sense of the score while deciphering it painfully and slowly - and let us not forget this very important point – and acquiring all sorts of mistakes and bad habits on the way. Worse still, having being assigned a piece, and not knowing what it sounded like, chances were that after several months of drudgery, I may as well find out that I hated the piece. And if I didn’t, the process of learning it this way, would certainly kill it for me. You must also understand that in those days CDs were not available, And what was available in terms of repertory was very very limited.

I remember getting the  2 voice inventions by Bach and wondering which one should I play. There was no recording of them available. The teacher would not play any of them (As I grow older I start to suspect that she couldn’t). So the choice was either the teacher’s or random (mine), since trying to sight-read through them could not give me any idea whatsoever what they sounded like.

The funny thing, is that at that time I fully subscribed to this absurd philosophy. What a waste of time. In my defence I can only say that even if I had rebelled against it and had decided to listen to recordings, I would not have been able to, since they were not available. (Computers were not available, midi was not available, even tape recorders were not available. TV had just been invented).

3.      Finally, the way that you train yourself to do what Richter.Argerich/Gould/Horowitz do is by listening to recordings with a score in hand. After acquiring some experience, try to imagine what the score for a piece you are listening to would look like. And finally try to look at a score and figure out what the music in it will sound like.

I distinctly remember (millenia ago) buying the score for Chopin’s preludes and being quite shocked by their appearance on the page: I had imagined something completely different.

In fact, the best way to develop the ability to look at a score and hear it in your mind is to get a notation software and copy the music into it and then play the midi of it. This will make sight reading skills jump skyward. It will also show you that certain pieces are so good that even played by the computer they will be effective, while other pieces will only come alive in the hands of a competent pianist – another reason not to rely on your own interpretation (unless you are Horowitz).

I lost count of the pieces I sightread in my younger years and put aside as dull, just to listen to a superb interpretation of it that made me fall in love with a piece I would not have given a second thought to.

At this point you may argue that the problem was me and my low musical level, and I will wholeheartedly agree with you. But this is the whole point. My advice is not for Richter (as if he was asking!) but for beginners and intermediate players (you can pretty much surmise the level of the poster by his questions – I do not say that in any demeaning way).

For that level listening to CDs, lots and lots of them has to be the first step.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.





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Offline djbrak

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #37 on: March 22, 2004, 08:22:04 AM »
Quote

In fact, it has been argued by many people that J.S.Bach’ Art of Fugue was never meant to be actually played (and hence him not specifying instruments, and hence being difficult even to imagine which consort of instruments would be appropriate) but instead it is a score to be looked at and played in one’s mind . But to do that you must have the necessary skill and training. Unless you are Richter, or Horowitz, or Gould, or Argerich, looking at the score is not going to do much good.


Actually, I heard that J. S. Bach wrote the fugues for his students as an etude to practice difficult counter-point pieces; eventually they noticed that they were so musical that they performed them as if they were a musical composition not an etude.
-Renato

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #38 on: March 22, 2004, 08:38:59 PM »
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I think it's much better to read through the piece to get your own idea of it, if possible without having heard any recording of it. That way you discover the piece by yourself instead of looking for the elements you know are there because you heard them in a recording. Generally if I'm working on a piece I try to avoid listening to any recordings of it before I've learned the notes and made some idea of what my interpretation of the piece will be like.


I totally agree with Noah, CD's are for 2 purposes, to enjoy the personal statement and music by specific composer-artists, and to listen "NOT" to do when we play the same piece. If someone takes the time and discover the piece, putting it's own intellectual thoughts (if any), will know what to do, and can't be wrong following the music and the composer's directions.

Well done, Noah.
K

Offline trunks

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #39 on: April 10, 2004, 10:32:35 AM »
Analysing is a must especially in long single-movements and other long pieces like the Lizst B minor Sonata or the Chopin Grand Polonaise Brillante in Eb, Op.22. In that way the formidable length would be broken into shorter sections that are much more feasible. Work on them separately - perhaps a few sections for every practice session.

I agree that the pick out the most difficult parts and practise them first approach is very effective, especially for those who lacks perseverance. But for those who are so confident in their persistence that no difficulty would deter him/her ever to quit, then feel safe to begin from the opening.

Prior to actually sitting on the piano and working on a piece, becoming familiar with the piece by listening to existing recordings or recitals is absolutely essential to me. The more versions by more diverse artists, the better - even from those that one might take sides (I, for one, listen to Horowitz, Argerich, Pogorelich and the like in order to remind me of how music should not be played). And 'Avoid listening to recordings/concerts lest the pianist might influence your own interpretation'? Ugh . . . this is pure rubbish talk. For the connoisseur of music, listening to music played by anybody else won't influence his taste for the music. He knows from the performance what he likes or dislikes, and from that experience he builds a reinforced idea on how he should play the music himself. This reinforcement is indeed an influence from the recorded music, but being influenced is not necessary a baddie. The experienced connoisseur will choose to be influenced in a positive manner, which indeed is a goodie. :)
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Offline Mayla

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #40 on: February 19, 2005, 07:47:53 PM »
.
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Offline bernhard

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #41 on: March 01, 2005, 12:50:33 AM »
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Please forgive me for bumping up this thread to ask very sheepish questions, but I just wish to be very clear about it:

You are forgiven. ;)

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1.  In treating movements of a piece as individual pieces, is it being recommended here that one follows the entire procedure with movements one at a time?

The reason to treat movements as single pieces:

1.   Psychological: Having a “piece” finished and ready for performance is always motivating and empowering instead of trudging for ever on some mammoth sonata that never seems to be finished.

2.   Musical. Different movements have different musical meanings and different ways to achieve them.

3.   Practice. You must completely master each movement in all of its aspects before you can make the sonata work as a coherent whole.

Now, so that there is no misunderstanding here, I am not suggesting that one should perform isolated movementsof a sonata. Quite the opposite I personally abhor the usual exams where they only want to hear one movement (and no repeats, please!). If one of my students fancies an exam piece that happens to be a sonata movement it is an unwritten rule that we will learn the whole sonata. And it goes without saying that part of playing a movement perfectly is to understand the sonata as a whole and the role of the movement in that whole.

So what I am suggesting is a learning and practising strategy.

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listening for as long as it takes to memorize the sounds of the individual movement and then proceeding with all of the following steps as previously listed with just one individual movement (maybe this is exactly what is meant)?  Once this is mastered, move onto the next?  Or some variation of this?

Yes, Just treat each movement as a self-contained piece (for the purposes of learning and practising it – once you learn it, you will be ready to “learn” it in the context of the sonata proper)

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If it is so, is there a logical movement to begin with?  Maybe the "most difficult" (which would require some kind of initial study of the entire piece in order to discern which is the most difficult)?

I always work on all movements at the same time – just allocate different practice sessions to each – as if you were working on different pieces.

Here is an analogy. Think of a magician. Amateur magicians often try to impress their friends with a vast number of half baked tricks (choose a card, choose any card). But the professionals will plan their act very carefully. They will actually concentrate on a few tricks and make them follow logically one another building up to a climax. The pattern, the ambience and the manipulation of situations become just as important if not more important then the trick itself.

Years ago, a friend magician of mine used this procedure to great effect at a celebratory dinner. His basic trick was the cups and balls routine. It is a well known trick: the magician has three cups upside down on the table which he shows to be empty. He then lifts one of the cups and a ball appears mysteriously under it. Then he lifts the same cup again and the ball has vanished jut to appear under another cup. As the routine proceeds, more balls keep appearing until at the end all disappear, and in the last cup there will be some surprising item (a chick was very popular a few years ago).

The trick itself is simple: you have to learn how to make the ball appear and disappear under the cup. As such, it holds little hope of entertaining anyone. So over the years, different magicians kept adding to it to the point where now there is a well known routine where the basic trick is repeated several times in different guises and in surprising (if you have never seen it before) ways (like the chick at the end).

In our case, the audience was quite savvy, some of us being amateur magicians, so my friend knew he would have to do some unsusual twists to an old trick.

His first plot was not to mention magic at all. In fact the subject never so much was mentioned until the very end of the meal.

As the waiter cleaned the table and distributed cups for coffee all around, the magician – who seemed to be a bit tipsy after a few glasses of wine – called to the waiter in a loud voice – loud enough for people on the tables around us looked to see what was going on.

“Excuse, can you tell me what is this?”

And he lifted one of the cups to reveal a large cockroach, and quickly put it down again. “We don’t want it to escape do we?”

Now he had everyone’s attention. We, fellow magicians knew something good was afoot, and we were delighting in the waiter’s embarassement and on the other customers curiosity.

The waiter was livid. He approached the cup in great embarrassment, and carefully lifted it, and of course the cockroach was not there. Now my friend started making a real fuss.

“It must have escaped” and went accross the table and lifted another customer cup, and sure enough there it was. He quickly put the cup on top “I found it” It is not going to escape now!. He then throw a napkin on top of the cup and brought his open hand with full force on the napkin which had the cup underneath (with the cockroach underneath. It was a loud bang, and both the cup and the cockroach were gone! The napkin however was red with blood, presumably from the cockroach.

By now everyone knew that a show was in progress, and my friend proceeded to look for the missing cup and the cockroach’s remains by lifting every cup in the restaurant. Under each cup there was a different vegetable each bigger then the other. It started with a pea, increased to a red bean, then a Brussel sprout, until the whole thing became more and more impossible (long carrots coming out of a shallow cup). Now, even the ones amongst us who knew how the trick was done were baffled. He finished by emptying one of the bread baskets on the table and saying “nothing here” and putting it upside down on the table. “Better make sure” And he lifted it again, but there was nothing underneath the bread basket. He looked a bit surprised, and at that moment a huge water melon tumbled down from the basket and roll on top of the table to the floor and toward the door of the restaurant. “Catch it quick”. The waiter caught it. “now for some desert”, and my friend opened the watermelon, and of course the (rubber) cockroach was there.

It turns out that he had been rehearsing the whole routine with the waiter for a couple of weeks beforehand, so the joke was on us.

Now, such incredible routine would be boring and meaningless if treated as a random sequence of tricks. However, my friend – in order to learn and practise the tricks and in order to ensure that the whole routine run smoothly – had to start by working on each small trick individually. He had to make sure each trick worked, and apart from practice, he showed the tricks in isolation to select friends to make sure it indeed worked. Then he had to memorise the sequence of tricks, and the “story” so that one trick followed smoothly into another. He had to be so good at it, that if something went wrong he would be able to improvise without loosing the plot (which he successfully did - when the watermelon got stuck in the bread basket).

This is not that different from playing (or composing) a long piece. But true excellence can only be achieved through minute attention to detail – this is absolutely necessary, albeit never sufficient – and my suggestion to treat each movement as a separate piece fits in this particular context.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline trunks

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #42 on: March 01, 2005, 05:29:26 AM »
"Long time no see" here.
I just finished my debut recital on the 27th February. Phew!

Wow Bernhard, once again I'm impressed by your long and eloquent reply!
One question on performing sonatas. Would you eschew playing sonata single movements as encore pieces the same way you would in the proper programme?
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Offline dinosaurtales

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #43 on: March 01, 2005, 05:32:36 AM »
i don't know about Bernhard, but I would, and so would my teacher.  I have heard several recitalists do such a thing - some work better than others.  For example, the final "famous" movement of Prokofiev's 7th stands alone as its own sort of "jazz" piece better than most other single movements.  I am sure there are others that would be okay, too.  But to me, most would "stick out" funny, and would seem incomplete.  And for what, when there are lots of little 3 and 5 minute pieces around.
So much music, so little time........

Online lostinidlewonder

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #44 on: March 01, 2005, 05:41:25 AM »
One helpful advice I was given by Australian concert pianist Roger Woodward when it came to long pieces was to grab your color pencils. Totally shade in sections of the music, make it clear and easy to see. Section up all the music, then paste all the sheet music onto a wall and look at the entire score at once. Keep this on the wall the entire time, look at it every day, observe the shape and structure of it which beams out to you through the color you shaded.

I really laughed at this idea, but i did it since there was no harm trying. Strangely enough it helps, you develop a perception of the peice in its entirety, but it all has to be displayed, every single page. People may think you have gone insane sticking coloured sheet music up on a wall lol, but it is very fun, and it draws a mystical line between art/color and music. A facinating effect on the musical memory.
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Offline pianonut

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #45 on: March 01, 2005, 03:17:59 PM »
that sounds like a good idea, along with so much of the aforementioned.  i wonder if you enlarged the music it would be easier to see from the dining area?  each page sort of like a separate work of art.  i might just do this with my barber nocuturn (even though it is short).

ps  can you explain just a little bit more about the coloring.  would you highlight what are 'points of articulation' or changes that the piece goes through (four or five places?) or a lot more?
do you know why benches fall apart?  it is because they have lids with little tiny hinges so you can store music inside them.  hint:  buy a bench that does not hinge.  buy it for sturdiness.

Offline hodi

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #46 on: March 01, 2005, 04:49:32 PM »
i do it like that.. i learn about a page day. and i practice it a lot.
the next day, i begin the piece from the beginning and play until i reach the page which i didn't learn, i learn it, practice it... then the next day the same thing..

Offline SDL

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #47 on: March 01, 2005, 04:57:16 PM »
Bernhard - do you spend most of your time on here?  You never seem to have a short simple answer.    ::)
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Online lostinidlewonder

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #48 on: March 02, 2005, 12:43:16 AM »
can you explain just a little bit more about the coloring. would you highlight what are 'points of articulation' or changes that the piece goes through (four or five places?) or a lot more?

The coloring is very personal, and i think that there really is no real rule. However this is what i do, I make sure parts which sound SIMILAR to one another have the same/similar color. So when/if the music returns to a particular theme or idea, that is emphasised with the similar color. Sometimes i also shade the climax points as a golden yellow color, and then shade darker parts which lead up to it or lead away from it. Or if there are important build ups, i shade that with a gradual golor shading.. like lighter to darker, or darker slowly to lighter, whatever. That way you can almost see the tension in the music being brought up and then released through color, if you get my drift.

The application is unlimited. For instance if you wanted to highlight an important voice in a group of notes, then color in only those notes and leave the rest colorless. Highlight patterns, for instance, one chord may be exactly the same as before but a very slight change. The piece might go through those patterns many times and repeat it many times, so it is handy to highlight this with color. But this is looking more closely at the music, like observing the trees, not the entire forest. This is helpful but not as important as observing entire forests(sections of the music) at once.

Overall, it is most important to firstly break the sheet music into its parts, where the "sound" of what you play moves into a new idea or develops. This can be done simply by color in entire pages or big groups of bars. Then go back and then start coloring in patterns, details etc. That is not necessary, what is most important is the seperation of the music into its parts through the color. If you choose lets say Blue for the introduction then on page 12 the intro theme comes in again for 15 bars, color those 15 bars blue as well, but also highlight some difference that there might be with absence of color or even another color, its up to you.

Photocopy the sheet music and test it out, dont ruin your books!  You can also do this with shorter peices as well it isnt just limited to longer pieces.
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Offline BoliverAllmon

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Re: Practicing long pieces
«Reply #49 on: March 02, 2005, 01:41:16 AM »
1.      If available, I listen to a CD of the piece. One should only start at the piano after one can play the whole piece in the mind. So I start by memorising the”sound” of it. Do not rush this stage (I spent almost two months listening to Grieg’s Holberg suite before I even looked at the score). As I listen to it day after day I try to imagine what the score will look like.

2.      I study the score. This means figuring out all the harmonic progressions, marking all the repetitions, the motifs, the textures, the climaxes, the phrasing, etc. Again do not rush this stage. It usually amazes me how different the score looks from what I first imagined in phase 1. You don’t need to memorise the score, but it should be very familiar. As you do that, keep listening to the CD and accompanying it on the score.

3.      I sight read through the whole piece. My aim is to spot the difficult (for me) sections. At this stage my only consideration is technical difficulty.

4.      I plan the learning sequence. The difficult sections I spotted will be practised first since they hold the key to the technical mastery of the whole piece. This is the exact equivalent of a film director planning the sequence he will shoot the movie.

5.      I work on each separate section according to the sequence plan. (Allchopin is right: this is the stage when you should memorise your piece.)

6.      I join everything together – if necessary in larger sections before tackling the whole piece - and practise the whole piece at half speed. Depending on the piece, outlining can be very helpful at this stage.

7.      I work on interpretation (since by now technique should have been mastered), and start plying the piece as it should be performed.

8.      If the piece has well defined parts (e.g. a Sonata, or a Suite) I will treat each part as separate piece – good psychologically.

That’s the gist of it. Each item can be more fully detailed. And specific pieces may need specific procedures.

I believe this to be the most efficient and fast way to learn any piece (not only long ones). If anyone knows a better way I would be interested.

Best wishes,
Bernhard



Wow that sounds good. The only difference that I really do is that I don't listen to the Cd that much at all. I found myself playing other people's interpretation if I listened too much. I like the music to speak to me, not someone's playing speak to me. But that is a matter of taste and opinion. Nothing really wrong with either way (at least I don't think so).

boliver



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