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Author Topic: Practical procedure for learning a piece?  (Read 582 times)
cuberdrift
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« on: August 27, 2017, 10:08:26 AM »

Hi all,

I've tried to devise my own method for learning most conventional piano pieces (not avantgarde stuff, just the "normal" pieces with regular meters, structures, etc.).

I wanted to devise a step-by-step procedure that is highly reliable for one if it is followed to the letter, to "make things simple" (instead of having to "keep several things in mind" you only have to "refer" to the procedure to instantly know what you are supposed to do).

I'm just now beginning to apply it to my practice, but I'd also like to know your thoughts.

I. Memorize it

1.) If possible, look for a recording of the piece/movement and listen to it. Using the music, divide the score into several Sections. It would be useful to order the Sections from hardest to easiest.

2.) Divide each Section into groups of 4 bars each, then put a number on each 4-bar-group, sequentially (Group 1, Group 2, etc.).

3.) Find the hardest Section, then take the first 4-bar-group. Practice the left hand until you can do it 10x perfectly using a metronome set to the performance tempo. Don't make mistakes; if you do, play it slower to correct it, then if ready, set it to performance speed again. It is important to play it 10x CORRECTLY at speed. Then do the same for the right hand (practice until you can do it 10x perfectly at speed), and then, finally, with both hands (10x perfectly at speed).

4.) Do Step #3 for the next 4-bar-group. Afterwards,  play the first 4 bars and the second 4 bars consecutively, 10x, perfectly, at the right tempo, hands together. If you make mistakes, slow it down and practice it perfectly until you can do the 10x perfect playing.

5.) Again do Step #3 for the third 4-bar group, then the second and third 4-bar groups, then the fourth 4-bar group, the third and fourth 4-bar groups, etc. until the entire Section is mastered this way.

6.) Then practice the ENTIRE Section until you can play it 5-10x perfectly. Make sure there are no mistakes during the 5-10x playthrough. If you do, ISOLATE this mistake, preferably the bar of the mistake, the bar before it, and the bar after it, and correct those 3 bars. Then repeat the whole Section until you can actually play it 5-10x perfectly with a metronome set to the performance tempo.

7.) Do the same for all Sections, starting from the 2nd Hardest to the Easiest.

8.) Play through the entire piece/movement, preferably with a metronome set to performance speed. For every mistake you make, isolate the bar of that mistake, the bar before it, and the bar after it (like before), and correct those 3 bars. Practice the piece this way until you can play it with no mistakes, perfectly, at the right tempo.

Note: It is okay to make some technical mistakes during this entire process, as the purpose is to memorize it first. Make sure, however, there are no MEMORY mistakes.

II. Refine it

1.) If you have a teacher, write down all the teacher's comments on your performance of the piece and work on the most critical comment down to the least critical. Identify each segment which each comment concerns, and then practice it until you are able to play that segment 10x perfectly with a metronome, to the teacher's standards (corrected).

2.) If you have no teacher (or have satisfied the teacher's comments), you can now work on your own personal comments of your performance of the piece. Identify ALL your problem spots of the piece, then work on them from the most difficult/critical to the least. Preferably, as above, try to practice each segment until you can actually play it ten times at the right tempo perfectly.

3.) Play through the whole piece, preferably at performance speed, then write down again what are your problem spots encountered during this playthrough. You can take a break, then work on these problem spots later (Step #2 again).

Note: The less mistakes, the better. Whenever you make a technical mistake, isolate it (the 3 bars thing discussed earlier), then make sure you can play that 3-bar spot ten times perfectly at the right tempo. In other words, it's important that whenever you make a mistake, you correct it RIGHT AWAY.

III. Turn it into "Art"

Okay, congratulations if you've actually managed to satisfy ALL the above demands (which I rarely do)! Now it's time to give "character" to the music. Use your imagination, your creativity. Practice it towards the goal of making your listeners "EXPERIENCE" the music.

Note: This is a hypothetical part of the procedure. I haven't really reached this level but I placed it here just to emphasize that, in my current opinion, a piece must first be "correct" first before it can be "nice". The reason is because I think it's important to focus first on what "needs to be" before what "can be"; being a conservatory student, I find that my "artistic/creative" ideas often make me take too much time on certain parts of the piece and end up not really making the piece"correct". In short, it's practical to make sure the piece is "right" first before you can start making it something truly nice, because you are beholden to an institution that grades you (just my humble opinion).

--
Other Notes:

1.) It isn't an absolute must IMO to "use a metronome", though to be sure I usually just go ahead and use it anyway, just to make sure "I am in time". Of course, not all pieces are supposed to be "metronomic". What is important is that you play it ON THE BEAT perfectly, with as little mistakes as possible.

2.) Like I said, this is a newly-devised method and I have yet to really test it. I haven't seen anyone else apply this method, either, so it still needs to be tested thoroughly.

3.) I have not yet read any piano practice book thoroughly (though I am checking Chang's Fundamentals book now, though I haven't yet tried it), so this method is not really guided by other methods, it's just my own theory.

Your thoughts?

Regards,
cuberdrift
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visitor
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« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2017, 10:44:32 AM »

Nope.
Trying to learn a piece by separating the "notes" from "refinement and "artistry"  leads to learning the work incorrectly in terms of setting up baf habit mistakes in interpretation that are more difficult if not impossible to "inlearn " later on, it simply creates more work and extends the amount of time one ultimately needs to devote to the work since there will essentially be a need re learn parts previously covered
From earliest sessions an Interpretation goal and attention to making music w good phrasing tone dynamics , articulation and pacing decisions etc, all of that has to part of the earliest phases of learning otherwise you are spinning your wheels l.
Also, better to not  rely on listening to recordings early on, it will shape how you yourself hear.the work, not always a good thing, it also creates a difficult to overcome crutch, needing a recording as part of learning process,
What happens when it is a work with no previous recording? Or when only extant racing is bad actually?
No, recording can and should be consulted as needed to look at and for ideas mainly later on for how one might do things differently, etc, bit a lot of the  awesome worth learning music by less performed composers, doesn't have a recording reference and cultivating a reluctance on them is not bueno.
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cuberdrift
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« Reply #2 on: August 27, 2017, 11:13:57 AM »

Trying to learn a piece by separating the "notes" from "refinement and "artistry"  leads to learning the work incorrectly in terms of setting up baf habit mistakes in interpretation that are more difficult if not impossible to "inlearn " later on, it simply creates more work and extends the amount of time one ultimately needs to devote to the work since there will essentially be a need re learn parts previously covered

Understood.

You say the problem is;
- You learn the notes ONLY as notes;
- You have now internalized the notes as ONLY notes, not music;
- So it's hard to make it music because it's memorized as NOTES, not MUSIC;
- It will be hard to turn it into MUSIC because it's already been ingrained as NOTES only;

I say:
- It's hard for me to make it "music" right away when;
1) I don't have enough technique to play with my hands the "idealistic" sound in my head, because that idealistic sound is virtuoso-level, way above my own;
2) I don't even know what the notes are yet, so how am I going to color them?
3) Actually, for me, it's quite easy to color the notes once I know WHAT they are and WHEN they are played. Is it a different case for you?


Quote
From earliest sessions an Interpretation goal and attention to making music w good phrasing tone dynamics , articulation and pacing decisions etc, all of that has to part of the earliest phases of learning otherwise you are spinning your wheels l.

I have an ideal sound in my head. It will take me a VERY LONG TIME to realize this into my fingers because it demands a high level of technique. By the time I have SOMEWHAT made that tiny passage "music", it's lesson time with my teacher, and the teacher ends up saying, "you're so slow/you didn't even practice the rest of the piece/etc." How do you roll with this?

I once tried to tackle the piece in a way not different from what you said. I ended up playing two bars for an hour or two, trying to make it sound like the way I think it "should sound".   A long time that could've been spent on mastering the rest of the music not necessarily to my ideal level of "perfection", but enough mastery to play the REST OF THE PIECE convincingly. Undecided

Quote
Also, better to not  rely on listening to recordings early on, it will shape how you yourself hear.the work, not always a good thing, it also creates a difficult to overcome crutch, needing a recording as part of learning process,

For this I was somewhat influenced by Chang's Fundamentals book.

How am I going to group the piece into sections if I don't know what it sounds like?

I'd like to summarize the point of my entire procedure;

Before you can learn HOW, you must first learn WHAT note to play and WHEN to play it, for how will you know how to play it if you don't know what it is and when it is played?

Thanks for your response!

Regards,
cuberdrift
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brogers70
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« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2017, 12:05:47 PM »

I think that it's possible that by trying to create a system you have exaggerated a bit. I agree that you need to learn the notes and that you cannot always get the most musical expression right while you are learning the notes. Still, there are aspects of producing a good sound - arm weight, looseness of the wrists, making a god phrase by moving the arm through a run - that also make playing the notes technically easier. So, while you do have to learn the notes, I think that making as sharp a distinction between learning notes and then learning to play them musically as you seem to in your first post is taking things to extremes.

Also, it is possible that if you are playing things that are so difficult for you that it takes a long time before you feel like you can go back and add in the musicality, maybe you should just play easier pieces. Personally, I was playing medium level Beethoven sonatas and lots of the WTC, but found that it took forever to learn them and that I never really felt fluent and comfortable. Now I've gone back to very, very easy pieces, such that I can learn the notes right away and play them musically from the beginning. My hope is that if I keep working up from very easy pieces that my sight reading and ability to learn the notes quickly will advance in such a way that I won't feel that need to struggle for weeks to memorize the notes for weeks before I can begin to produce the music I want.
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dogperson
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« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2017, 01:13:31 PM »

FWIW:
I would suggest you do a lot of reading on practice techniques, and not rely on Chang's book.  I also agree with Brogers  and visitor that your methodology is trying to separate work into such  discrete tasks that you will be creating re work.   Interpretation is an ongoing process that will evolve over time, but  should be started while you're learning the notes so that the the notes, rhythm, pedaling and basic dynamics are a unit  that is developed before you memorize.

If you take just one measure as an example: learn the notes, the rhythm and the basic interpretation of that measure.  It might be easy enough that you can learn the notes the rhythm and interpretation as one unit, or you may need to layer: learn the notes then add the rhythm and then add the basic interpretation. But one way  the other, you include the basic interpretation in the early work so that it  is a unit that can be refined and memorized as a unit. Any teachers comments are incorporated  at the stage received   

If every measure is a problem for you to do this,  back up and learn something within the skills that you have with maybe  A limited number of new skills in the work. You do not want to memorize pieces that do not have the general elements already included because you will need to redo the memorization and  it is harder to do as re work when your brain has already learned it one way







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beethovenfan01
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« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2017, 03:53:50 PM »

So, I see what you're trying to say. However, it just doesn't work for me to try to "learn the notes" before "making it art." If I'm going to learn a piece that requires any kind of serious effort to learn, I need to have an artistic vision for it--a sound I know I want, and right from day one I'm trying to get that sound. If the sound I want is not necessarily what the composer wrote, I adapt. But the sound I'm looking for (and the story I tell through the music) is essential to my interpretation--and the notes nothing more than the composer's instructions on interpreting a piece of music.

My own method and opinion. I've been developing it this summer, and so far it has worked amazingly well.
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adodd81802
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« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2017, 02:17:24 PM »

I have tried before, when hitting brick walls with learning, to look for these revolutionary methods or ways to learn new music that I have not yet tried myself in belief there must be a strict solid way to achieve the results I want.

Often I have found that it steers you away from your own ability and starts trying to cram in too many new ideas that you end up finding you're relying on the method, rather than your own intuitive feelings or thoughts.

9/10 times, even the methodologist themselves will exclaim at the start, that their method must be used ONLY with a teacher who can properly assess what aspects of the method are even applicable. There isn't a black and white book that can provide the same results as that of a teacher.

The bottom line is there is no strict method that should be considered when physically learning the notes.. there are however, overall similarities that can pass down that should be considered such as scales, theory, rhythm practice, metronome, the use of all muscles in the body.

Here's how I learn most pieces - Note that I actually believe your practice method changes depending on the difficulty of the pieces you're working on, and so I'm quite aware that some aspects of my practice are the reason why I do not play more difficult pieces, and that's definitely a choice I know I make. SO -

- Listen to a number of transcriptions, simply to hear how the performances vary, what musicians take liberties on and what often remains the same. I focus listening with the score for any particularly difficult or complex passages so my mind can prepare beforehand the work that is likely required.

- I simply start from the beginning, hands together immediately and see what I struggle with and what I don't. This will be initially quite slow to feel how the notes go together as sometimes my hands will want to do something my brain never told them, weird snags probably muscle memory picking up on a similarity between 2 pieces which go different directions.

- I will often have a small section that I set as a goal, whether that be in X number of bars or 1-2 phrases, wherever it feels like the end of a sentence or paragraph and I will see and practice that until it is up to speed, maybe that takes 5 minutes, maybe that takes 30 minutes, maybe it takes 2-3 revisits, I know when I'm comfortable with it and I then move on.

- I will continue through the piece, often reinforcing the previous sections by practicing them usually at a ratio of 1:3 - 1 being a run through of the previous section(s) and 3 being the rough amount of times I stop and repeat the section I'm currently working on) I will play the previous sections without referring to the score unless I am unsure of dynamics, or have a memory slip.

- Complex passages, in most cases tend to have a hand that's doing a lot of work and a hand that's doing a little - here I will have a couple run throughs of the difficult hand ONLY, until I know the notes, the fingering, I then add the easier hand in and see what other difficulties I may come across, often this could be rhythmic, but I'm pushing the whole thing together in one go, slowly ironing out the snags every repetition.

JOB DONE!

Some pianists will swear by a metronome, or full runs hands separately, or half speed practice for X amount of time or X amount of repetitions e.t.c. and I'm sure it works for them, my way works for me, it's very free, very loose and it's completely relying on me to know when I think i'm ready to move on, no counting numbers, or strictly sectioning off parts of the score.
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clouseau
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« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2017, 10:59:45 PM »

Hello cuberdrift,

in general, I agree with the others, that your method is way too complex than necessary. Your intention, however, of thinking something out before doing it,  questioning and examining closely the practice process as such, is fascinating. Me too, have thought a lot about how to minimize the "learning the notes" phase as much as possible, in order to concentrate on the important matters of technique and interpretation. In doing so, I came across various opinions and tried different things out, and I concluded that there are a few things that if you remind yourself of them, will speed up the learning dramatically. Besides those guidelines, there are two long-term factors, which influence positively the time you need to learn a new piece, and those are 1)experience 2)theory

- play everything correct from the first time
if you learn something the wrong way, it's quite hard to correct it

- don't play fast before you are ready for it

- split the piece into many sections, try to play each section perfectly (memorize in sections as well)

remember that everything you do on that piece, whether it is repetition of a passage or mindless/absent  playing of the whole piece full of mistakes and inaccuracies, is influencing the end result. So, especially when building the foundation, be very concentrated and careful that no bad habits (rhythm, notes, phrasing etc) are formed within the piece.




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