Piano Forum



Piano Streetís Top Picks of 2022
With a handful of articles published every month since it's start in 2007, Piano Street's online magazine now consists of over 500 interviews, news, videos and in-depth articles about all kinds of piano-related topics. These are the 16 most read, discussed or shared articles of 2022. Read more >>

Topic: How do YOU learn pieces?  (Read 2713 times)

Offline beethovenfan01

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 288
How do YOU learn pieces?
on: May 10, 2017, 03:31:05 AM
In other words, by what process do you go through learning repertoire? I usually have three rounds of pieces (2-4 each) going at once, each one in a different stage. In the first stage of learning for me, I'll look at a piece, (try) to play to the end, and learn the notes--though usually not up to tempo, nor note-perfect--maybe even only part of the piece. The goal is to, A, get an overall feel for the piece, and B, to lay a technical foundation.

The second stage is rest. When I get sick of a piece (or frustrated, or overwhelmed, or else too busy with other things to look at it seriously at that particular moment), I'll set it aside for a few days--or even a few weeks. Usually I do this with batches of pieces. It gives this musical foundation time to ferment inside my head, the equivalent of letting cheese ripen or beans soak. During this time, I will also usually research various interpretations and

Then I pull this batch out again and finish it up. This is usually the longest stage, but also the most rewarding--it applies everything else I've learned and developed. This is when the hard work occurs--the solidification of a strong interpretation, grinding of every note to perfection, metronome work, memorization--all the things necessary to make a good piece shine.

A note--there are lots of exceptions to this rule. If a piece is extremely deep or technically very difficult for me (ie, Chopin's First Ballade or Beethoven's 3rd concerto), I'll go take it through several rest periods. On the other hand, if one is very easy (such as Bartok's Romanian Dances), I'll skip the rest. I like this method, but what are some other ways that y'all learn your respective pieces? I'm interested to hear how you go about it!
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline skywalker_06

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 32
Re: How do YOU learn pieces?
Reply #1 on: May 11, 2017, 03:09:27 PM
Generally, I go through the same stages you laid out. But for concerti and sonatas (especially the 1st movements) I try to learn the exposition and recapitulation together before diving into the development/B section. I think this speeds up the process a lot for me because usually even if the recapitulation is in a different key, the hand movements/passages are relatively similar (or the same). Usually, I find that after I can play through the piece (or a section of it) up to tempo and cleanly with the music, once I take the music away it's already memorized and I didn't even realize it -- with the exception of fugues and complex 20th century pieces that don't lend themselves to being "easy" to memorize. 

I'm curious, though. If you have, say, 2-4 pieces rotating at the same time, how do you divide your time? For example, if you practice for 2 hours do you spend those 2 hours on one piece, divide it between 2? All 4? And then what do you work on the next day? A separate piece you didn't work on much the previous day, or the piece you made the most progress on?

Offline beethovenfan01

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 288
Re: How do YOU learn pieces?
Reply #2 on: May 11, 2017, 07:48:03 PM
Rarely do I spend an entire two hours on a piece. Depending on exactly how much time I have, I'll usually spend fifteen or twenty minutes on warmup and sightreading practice. Then I'll go and read through whatever new piece has me salivating ... (like Chopin's Tristesse Etude).

After that I go and work on my deadline stuff. Depending on what I've done previous days, I may just play through stuff, or I might focus on a specific spot in one or two pieces, for twenty or thirty minutes (most of my current rep right now).

Then I'll move on and do my foundational pieces--the stuff I'm still digging into the hardest (for me right now, that's Schubert's Impromptu in A-flat, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, stuff like that).

I will look at doing sonatas and concertos like you suggested, thanks for that too!
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline mikebat321

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 24
Re: How do YOU learn pieces?
Reply #3 on: May 14, 2017, 12:12:33 AM
I find this a fascinating subject, 'how do we learn'? In my 20+ years experience as a piano teacher I have found that people learn in different ways, and one has to be sensitive to this. Some people prefer to learn by the notes, other people learn visually, and others still learn audibly. The ABRSM have for the past few years been releasing videos of 'the lady' on their youtube channel with the camera filming her hands playing the pieces normally, and then half speed, and this has helped untold numbers of people learn their pieces. The exam board have always said that you should treat your exam pieces in the same way as a public performance, ie. memorized and 'performed'. I read the other day that Alfred Brendel, universally accepted as one of the greatest, has publicly confessed that he is 'a rubbish sight-reader'. So how does HE learn?

I find that we memorize pieces in sections, but the memory needs 'triggers' in order for it to go on to the next section, and these triggers can take on various forms (melodic, rhythmic), just like an actor on stage needs a 'cue line' to go into their dialogue. In fact I've been an MD in London now for many years working with whole casts and sometimes I say to the actors 'how do you do it? How do you memorize all your dialogue from a 300+ page script, and they say to me that the memory is literally like a muscle- the more you use it the stronger it gets.

Btw as we're on the subject, just a quick story, as I came across it just once in my life, and never seen anything like it again. Many years ago I taught a lady with photographic memory. she was doing her Grade 5, was entered for the exam, but she hadnt started her C piece yet, and she said to me 'Dont worry, I'm going on holiday soon (to Morocco), so I'll take it with me and just memorize it over there.' I said 'How will you do that?!' She said, 'Just by looking at it. I have photographic memory.' And she did. When she came back from holiday she played it brilliantly. I've never seen anything like that ever again. I think that's memory in its extreme form.

And just as an afterthought- not only is my short-term memory really bad- but so is also my short-term memory.

 :D



Offline xdjuicebox

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 281
Re: How do YOU learn pieces?
Reply #4 on: June 13, 2017, 06:43:37 AM
For me personally:

Though this process is usually done for the entire piece as a whole, it can be done section by section is limited on time

1. Listen to it on repeat - different recordings, every good recording I can get my hands on, over a period of time until I know literally every note by heart, and can hear the entire thing in my head starting from anywhere I want

2. Obtain the score, and analyze. Write down the structures the composer chose, harmonic/melodic analysis, form analysis, etc. At this point, without looking at a piano, I begin imagining what the piece would look like on the piano. I repeat this process until I can imagine the entire piece, without consulting the score, in my head, preferably at tempo.

3. After the mental aspect of it is solid, I then go to the piano and figure out the physical difficulties. At first, I play it slow, then I take really small sections and play them repeatedly to get them up to speed. As I near the end of the repeated practice, I slow down until I get like maybe a quarter to half tempo.

4. I begin connecting the sections together.

5. I'll play the piece cold without warming up at tempo - then, as practice goes on, slow down until it's soooo slow it's barely recognizable.

6. I'll just suddenly stop practicing it for a week or two to try to forget it, because it's usually stronger when I relearn it - if I do this 3-4 times, I'll never forget the piece. Ever. It just gets rusty.
I am trying to become Franz Liszt. Trying. And failing.

Offline ruvidoetostinato

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 64
Re: How do YOU learn pieces?
Reply #5 on: June 18, 2017, 07:27:27 AM
I haven't touched solo music in a long time.  I know that's terrible. But, nevertheless I usually do this and a variation of it depending on the piece

1) Listen to a couple recordings with the score and mark possible problem areas
2) Read through sections that I marked to decide if my preliminary assumptions were correct.
3) If correct, then I tackle these sections first.  I practice the sections based on musical gestures and impulses, always with context in mind.
4) I branch out to less difficult sections with the same idea.
5) After completing the sections that prove the most challenging, I proceed to the beginning of the piece.
6) I practice these first 2-3 pages multiple times with opening musical and technical gestures as clear as possible as to having a good template of music at the start of the piece.  The thing I want to avoid most is to have a rough start as it tends to affect the rest of the performance.  That's why I put some extra focus on choreographing the first couple pages.
7) I stitch what I practiced together.
8. I listen to many recordings after that, when I'm away from the instrument.

Of course, within these process I analyze as much as I can at a given time, however during the semesters, I just have to crunch out with as little time as possible so I have to get what I can done in the amount of time available.
"Practice makes not so imperfect."
Surviving
Collaborating, Accompanying, Soloing, Teaching, Surviving.

Offline diomedes

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 477
Re: How do YOU learn pieces?
Reply #6 on: June 26, 2017, 04:05:31 PM
Because I consider memory work to be the last and first challenge, not having perfect pitch, I get obsessive over it so that during a performance there's complete freedom.

Almost all memory work is done away from the piano, other than testing it.

First stage is general understanding, function, language.

Then the important part is reaching a stage where I can rebuild a passage in my head, meaning I can say "ok so then it's this and then that" for any passage. At this point it's still slow and there's moments where I'm not sure and get stuck and need to look at the score.

Once it's on a "rebuild" stage, I can reconstruct and passage in my mind, typically it's hands separately, without any need for a score. So I can be driving or doing any other mindless task and I can play through in my mind any part. Or on the table top while I talk to someone.

After that I bring it to the conditioning point, passages that are dense or very fast need to be repeated in my head an undefined number of times, to have the ability to recall it accelerate. This is so that when you play something very very fast or dense your mind can access any point in the score instantly, or ideally is keeping ahead of the fingers.

I call it blind conditioning because you never know how much is enough so you just build your recall in your head as much as possible, it's never enough.

Recently I performed a concert group of about 20 minutes of repertoire including some very demanding Rachmaninov, one of them being the C major Prelude from op.32. it was the opening work on that program and it was actually note perfect and controlled. I didn't feel a single insecurity when playing, occasions like those are very valuable to demonstrate that a method works.
Beethoven-Alkan, concerto 3
Faure barcarolle 10
Mozart-Stradal, symphony 40
For more information about this topic, click search below!
 

Logo light pianostreet.com - the website for classical pianists, piano teachers, students and piano music enthusiasts.

Subscribe for unlimited access

Sign up

Follow us

Piano Street Digicert