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Best way to develop practice craft (Read 1461 times)

Online lostinidlewonder

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Best way to develop practice craft
« on: June 07, 2015, 01:47:55 PM »
I thought I would share my approaches in developing beginner,intermediate and some advanced students practice craft:

Learn as many small pieces as possible without perfecting them rather than studying few pieces and mastering them.

The benefits is that students that go through a lot of works understand overall general fingering procedure at the piano and have good sight reading skills. They also understand the analysis that we go through to learn a piece and a layered approach to tackle difficult situations. In short, they have the skills to learn, it is efficient and well practiced. Most importantly their practice method has had a lot of experience to develop with.

It is not unusual with my students to study a hundred or so pieces a month and practice the learning process. It is this action of taking a piece and learning it from scratch that is of most interest for me to teach my students. I really dont like laboring on small sections with students and much prefer to ensure they know how to absorb the piece entirely. This of course requires that you choose repertoire that they can grasp hold of entirely.

Too many teacher imo give students pieces which take many weeks and even months to learn. Of course our hands are tied if a student must do examinations, but outside of exams I would keep away from such things. It is ok to study big projects that take a long time but the point is that it should not become the main focus or you become inefficient in your progress. I always let my students take on big projects if they insist but encourage them to focus on smaller pieces, problem is that some are so obsessed over their big project that they blind themselves from the fact they are wasting time learning a piece that is too difficult for them and should not be a main focus!

The real secret is that the more easy pieces you know the higher the bar raises as to what is easy for your to learn. Some people approach this oppositely and do things much too difficult for them in hope that it raises the bar, this is a hit and miss affair and can take uncontrolled extended periods of time, it however if done correctly act as a catalyst to ones progress but must have some sort of base to understand it.

I have taught even students who are 50+, playing much of their life and they think it is normal to spend x months learning a single piece. Building from the bottom up is very consistent and one doesn't even realize their improvement until they go back and try things that challenged them to learn years before and, bang! you can do it easy.

Some students tell me they are not interested in being able to approach music in this fashion and much prefer simply playing a small selection of pieces they like. IMO I think they are missing a bigger picture, they could play all the pieces in their list and more if they only built up towards it.



I think it is deceptively difficult to build a bottom-up repertoire program that creates an efficient progress in a student, its pretty much impossible to find a perfect path and of course unnecessary. Some students have a very fast learning curve so the groups need to be more steeply progressive, others have a snail speed learning curve and the groups must be mostly of a basic level.

Often I simply dump a whole heap of pieces on them and ask them to circle parts which are too difficult for them to learn. This helps me gain understanding of their overall difficulties. From this I can address the simplest issue first and move from there until the group of pieces predominantly become easy. When entire pieces feel like they should be circled I ask them to circle certain parts they find doable instead with a different color. Often what they circle as unsolvable actually represents an issue they do know about but did not realize it, these can be solved usually less than a minute and we move on.

What some teachers find hard to understand is that I don't expect them to play the pieces completely well, rather be able to demonstrate the method to practice a part and then move on. I also require that they highlight any tips as to how to play a passage and any patterns in the hands they notice. If they could achieve near a 50% in an exam I would be totally happy to move on. I do of course teach students how to polish single pieces to a very high level, but their main focus is tackling these huge groups I give them.

So, this is what I do with the majority of my students who are learning the piano from beginners/intermediate levels. My more advanced students it is all about their craft, they already have the tools to learn. Sometimes a little tinkering of their tools helps but predominantly it is just about the music which is lovely. With my lower level students I want them to know how to practice mostly, have the skills to learn pieces without me having to spoon feed them the notes and fingers (which of course you must do somewhat at the start). I don't completely miss out on the expression and beauty of music, the different articulations etc, but I don't expect every phrase to be perfectly connected and all hesitations removed, I tell my students if they are about to hesitate freeze then when they gathered their thoughts continue, its a little more detailed than that but that's the gist of it, if they can do that I accept it.
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Offline j_menz

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Re: Best way to develop practice craft
«Reply #1 on: June 08, 2015, 12:02:28 AM »
FWIW, I heartily agree with your approach.

For more advanced students, there seems to me no reason why larger works couldn't be included using the same approach.
"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant

Online lostinidlewonder

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Re: Best way to develop practice craft
«Reply #2 on: June 08, 2015, 01:53:49 PM »
For more advanced students, there seems to me no reason why larger works couldn't be included using the same approach.
Certainly this can be applied to more advanced students, when I studied with Roger Woodward he made me study all Chopin etudes in less than a month! It gives you a great overall view of your practice method and capability. Most advanced students are very comfortable with their practice method and much prefer to craft particular pieces though there are some who like to learn entire volumes of works and one of the best approaches is to study them all or large groups of them at once.

With more beginner/intermediate I find it is a priority to develop their practice method (eg: Sight reading, musical analysis, pattern recognition, fingering etc) rather than their musicality however we do still train basic musical expression. Some teachers really disagree with my approach and say that focusing on polishing works is a very important skill. I feel that freedom of musical expression increases the stronger our practice method is, if absorbing all the fingering and notes is routine then there is a lot capability to focus on expression.
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