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Topic: balance between reading skill and rote memory [Bob asks]  (Read 6524 times)

Offline Bob

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I'm not quite sure how to phrase this....

I've been wondering, when you're learning a piece of music, how do go about learning more than just that piece?  You could just sit down and hammer the piece into your mind without knowing too much about the piece, without having the skill of reading the key you're in, the chords you use, etc.

I could sit down and work on a difficult piece, phrase by phrase.  I could repeat small pieces and put them together in one whole.  And I can do all this without even knowing what the chord is possibly.  Play the LH, play the RH, put them together... never becoming aware of larger elements in the piece.

I can also sit down and analyze the piece and figure out every chord, but that's not the same as being able to read them at sight off the score.  I've seen people that can read every chord off just about any piece at sight, or people that can "read" a great amount of information off a piece at sight -- instantly hearing the form, understanding what elements are typical of that composer's style. 

Besides just playing a piece, I want to develop these other skills.   I guess you could call them "reading skills."  I'm concerned about spending a huge amount of time just programming my fingers at the expense of developing these other skills.

Hope that makes sense.  Any thoughts on this?




Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline MrRonsMusic

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Re: balance between reading skill and rote memory
Reply #1 on: December 06, 2004, 09:21:04 PM
I understand your problem.  Learning songs through "rote" are used for young children because their minds are too under-developed to understand abstract concepts such as music theory.

However, once you are beyond puberty, you mind is able to comprehend music theory concepts.  Therefore, you should definitely start focusing on keyboard harmony.

Your understanding of harmony will help you also memorize songs because you will be able to analyze the passage and know what harmony it is derived from!

To your success,

Mr. Ron 8)
https://www.mrronsmusic.com

Offline Mycroft

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Re: balance between reading skill and rote memory
Reply #2 on: December 06, 2004, 09:48:27 PM
To do that all you need to do is study music theory.  Bernhard has posted lists of books that he recommends for studying theory and harmony. 

Offline bernhard

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Re: balance between reading skill and rote memory
Reply #3 on: December 06, 2004, 10:17:04 PM
Yes. This is a very inefficient method.

Programming fingers (better still: programming movement patterns) should not take a “huge amount of time”. In fact it should take the smallest amount of time in regards to work in a piece: everything else takes longer. You can easily program movement patterns in a couple of minutes provided that:

1.   You know exactly and specifically which movement patterns are the most appropriate and therefore the ones to program.

2.   Your ability to repeat such patterns with full focus, concentration and invariability (that is, you actually repeat the exact same movements rather than a slightly different version every time).

As you can see, what will take the lion’s share of your practice time has little to do with actual work at the piano, but rather with investigation that will lead to figuring out the movement patterns:

1.   What sound are you aiming at. (This involves the meaning of the piece – for that you will need harmonic analysis and theory. The composer intent – for this you will need again theory and the understanding of the composer’s notation and maybe a comparison between different editions. Decisions on phrasing and articulation as well as dynamics and ornaments).

2.   Figuring out fingering and the movement patterns that will generate the sound you want. If you are using movements that were suggested by a teacher or pianist friend, you may have to investigate their appropriateness to your physicality and ways to adapt them.

3.   Having the piece (that is how it sounds) firmly in your mind – this will involve listening to different interpretations of it, and then arriving at your own interpretation.

4.   It is taken for granted that you can read/sight-read – if you cannot then this will add another chunk of practice time to your schedule.

5.   Breaking down the piece in divers ways to make it manageable for practice at the piano and memorisation. Figuring out the best strategy to acquire the technique necessary for the piece.

If you only go to the piano when the previous work has been completed, then the actual time “programming the fingers” will be minimum.

A reporter once asked Wilhelm Backaus:

“Mr. Backhaus, you never seem to play wrong notes in your recitals. How come you never play any wrong notes?” He replied: “ I only practise the right notes”.

I recently read a most wonderful book by Susan Tomes (the pianist with the Florestan Trio) “Beyond the notes” (Boydell). In this book she makes a most interesting comment on this story:

When I first heard this story I immediately had  a sense of all the time that we spend in effect practising the wrong notes; thinking the worng thoughts, doubting our ability to get it right, watching ourselves for failures of nerve. Backhaus’s approach seemed to indicate a mind at peace with itself. To practise ‘only the right notes’ and only in the right way, would eliminate whole areas of unproductive work of the kind that occupies practice rooms in colleges and concert halls throughout the world.

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 Bob

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Re: balance between reading skill and rote memory
Reply #4 on: December 07, 2004, 01:50:08 AM
Here's some more of what I was thinking.  I'll go back and read what people posted.



More on that question

Doesn't it reeeeeally help you to understand and know what key you're in?  It totally changes your perspective of the piece, I think.  Yet, I've seen students that can play intermediate pieces fairly well, but have no idea of the key they're in.  And if they don't know what key they're in, they obviously won't understand some obvious things about playing a key -- recognizing scale fragments, I IV V chords, etc.

Ditto that with even the concept of a scale.  Decent performance, but the student doesn't even know what a scale is. 

That's something that concerns me with the idea of breaking a piece up into sections and then learning to play each piece and putting those pieces back together as a whole.  How should the student go about learning skills like reading the chords on a page?  And being able to use those skills at sight?  This isn't necessarily part of learning a piece by the "divide and conquer" method.

I suppose you could say the same thing about serial music.  I might be able to play it well, but I don't have the skill of seeing a tone row at sight.  Being able to do that would definitely help my ability to perform the piece and my efforts in learning the piece would be amplified.  I can sit down and anlyze the tone row, but keeping that tone row in mind while performing my be quite a challenge.  Not that I'm going to start learning to "read" tone rows on pieces any time soon.... but the idea can be applied to any concept in music -- reading chords, reading the solfege/step of the scale, reading chord progressions (being able to instantly recognize a II V I progression, for example), reading the form, etc.

Do you get the gist of this concern?  Do you have any thoughts on this?

I suppose the solution is that you play pieces for the sake of playing pieces and for performances, and then you also practice these "reading" skills to enhance your performance and learning capabilities. 

Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline Bob

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Re: balance between reading skill and rote memory
Reply #5 on: December 07, 2004, 01:59:46 AM
Ah, thanks for the ideas.   Thanks Mr. Ron!  ;D :-*

I'm thinking more along the lines of having the skill instant.  Instantly being able to identify the chords, and without effort.  I guess that just takes an extra practice session and lots of effort of time to achieve.

I'm also worried about analyzing the piece and knowing what's in that piece, but not developing the skill much and being able to transfer that skill.  For example, for chord reading -- I could analyze the piece and know all the chords, but I don't want to do that with every piece (or spend the same amount of time on each piece).  I want to go on to the next piece and be a little better at reading those chords.  I doubt spending months on a piece is developing this skill.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline jazzyprof

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Re: balance between reading skill and rote memory
Reply #6 on: December 07, 2004, 04:34:02 AM
It is mostly a matter of developing all round musicianship.  That means having an appreciation for harmony, knowing your major and minor scales, recognizing when there is a modulation to another key, understanding cadences, training your ear.  Anything that improves your musicianship is a transferable skill that will help improve your playing of any piece.   
"Playing the piano is my greatest joy, next to my wife; it is my most absorbing interest, next to my work." ...Charles Cooke

Offline galonia

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Re: balance between reading skill and rote memory
Reply #7 on: December 07, 2004, 10:11:34 AM
It is mostly a matter of developing all round musicianship. That means having an appreciation for harmony, knowing your major and minor scales, recognizing when there is a modulation to another key, understanding cadences, training your ear. Anything that improves your musicianship is a transferable skill that will help improve your playing of any piece.

I agree - I think both skills go hand in hand - you read well if you understand the structures behind the music, and this makes it easier to remember the music, too.  It's like reading language - if you have a larger vocabulary, then it's easier to read anything, compared to if you had to look up every second word in the dictionary.
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