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Chopin’s 200th Anniversary

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Author Topic: Practice Techniques for certain Repertoire? Should I 'relearn' music?  (Read 277 times)
cheeriosok
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« on: October 21, 2017, 03:26:08 PM »

Hello,

I am a new poster and it took me weeks to figure out how to be a part of this forum as a silver member haha.

About myself, I've started playing piano about three years ago have been self-taught half the time. I am currently an Undergraduate pursuing a career unrelated to music (Biochemistry -> Medicine) but have recently begun taking Theory courses (standard things: Fundamentals, Solfege, Conducting, Dictation etc). My goal with music isn't to play repertoire XYZ, but instead to enjoy the music that I play and have complete control over what I can express, both in the practice room and the recital hall.

It's highly difficult to gauge what my skill level is based on repertoire practiced (I personally find it trivial) but I'll mention it anyway: A couple of Bach Inventions, Chopin Nocturne Op. 55 No. 1, Op. 48 No. 1, Beethoven Op. 49 No. 1 Movement 1, Debussy's Reverie,  Rachmaninoff G Minor Prelude, C# Minor Prelude and I have recently been assigned Beethoven's notorious "Moonlight" OR Mozart Sonata No. 8 in A minor, Bach C Minor Prelude and Chopin Nocturne Op. 62 No. 1 by a teacher I've recently hired for this semester. I practice about 4hrs a day and keep a journal for things to work on in 10-minute intervals.

Okay, introduction's over! Here's what my fundamental problem is:

I can't say for any of the pieces that I've played, that I've been satisfied with the end-product. A bit depressing I'll admit, but it seems that for every minute that I sit in that practice room I feel that I could have always done something more productive.  The 'final product' is never really the 'final product' but something seemingly unfinished and dropped after the notes have been learned. I've been fortunate enough to befriend 2 pianist friends with over a dozen years of experience who've complimented both my passion and expression during the moments which the music sounds coherent.


1. Practice Habits: Everyone that I've befriended or worked with in the past recognizes my struggle to focus on a task at will, especially the psychiatrist that diagnosed me with ADHD. When I sit down in the practice rooms, I breathe in and out for 2 or so minutes. I set my music on the piano and begin the first measure until I feel that I've played too far, where I go back and do it again until it sounds good enough (At most, a page). Occasionally I might practice difficult sections before I get to them. In any case, it takes me far too long to feel comfortable playing a measure. What does everyone else do when placing new music on the piano?
How does practice technique change for certain repertoire?

2. Fundamental Technique: Both friends of mine, one practicing a concerto and the other a Chopin Ballade can play scales and arpeggios at a brilliant speed having never-before practiced them. I am not sure exactly what is the correct way of practicing scales and arpeggios, maybe I'm lacking in fundamental technique? My hands certainly are not flying all over the place or are tense (at least I think they're not)

3. Rhythm: When I hear others practice (at least the really good players) they are always practicing at an even tempo, regardless of speed. Yet, when I play Rach Prelude in G minor, given its jumps it's very easy to tense (which I already took care of) and lose the tempo, but I feel that using a metronome makes me sound robotic. So then, when should I use a metronome? How do I build an internal 'pulse' within my music?
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cheeriosok
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« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2017, 03:40:37 PM »

I think these series of questions would be great if they were supplemented with some application, preferably something that I must tackle within a few weeks. In the first page of the Nocturne Op. 62 No. 1, (my favorite work by Chopin) and the first page of the Mozart Sonata in A minor, where would you start? What sections would you isolate, and how would you tackle them? Does expression come with notes first or is expression after?

Also, I forgot to include this:
If I were to reshape the way I approach music after my technical skills have improved, would relearning music that you've practiced before be a wise decision? To think about it: The music you've worked on actively contributed to your past technique. If you want to reshape it, would going against your past habits be a wise choice to solidify a concept?



Any material/source of information (Books, interviews) would be highly appreciated.

Also: Apologies for the length of these messages. I just don't know where to go from here and I have more questions than I do answers.
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adodd81802
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« Reply #2 on: October 23, 2017, 04:07:06 PM »

It's interesting you should suggest Rubinstein's performance as just a small excerpt from his wiki page

In 1934, the pianist, who stated he neglected his technique in his early years, relying instead on natural talent, withdrew from concert life for several months of intensive study and practice.

I have heard him say it in interviews also. I presume as an already successful pianist by this stage, there were many pieces he had already learned that he revisited after actually improving his 'technique'

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keypeg
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« Reply #3 on: October 23, 2017, 05:25:08 PM »

Cheeriosok, some years ago I realized that there were approaches and ways, both for learning to play an instrument, and approaching music itself.  My background is this.  I played instruments self-taught most of my life.  I finally took lessons on another instrument as an adult and when things went awry over time, that is when I realized this thing about approaches and ways.  I went back to piano, (originally self-taught in childhood, abandoned for years), and came upon a teacher who gave me these missing things.

Here are some of the principles I learned.  I agree with them, because they have worked for me, and when I first learned of them, they went in the direction that I had started to sense.

First, the way you are practising: starting at the beginning, going on until it gets dicey and then going back - is not a good way to practice.  I used to do that myself, and it's amateurish and ineffective.  Your playing probably sounds progressively weaker as you go on, since you are practising the new parts the least that way.

1. Subdivide your piece into sections, and those sections into smaller chunks.  It is a good idea to work on difficult sections first, and/or start at the end of your section, so that you are moving forward into the last thing mastered, so that as you play, it becomes progressively stronger instead of weaker.

2. Within your sections and chunks, you may want to work on a few elements, and add elements.  Playing the correct notes with good fingering and ease of motion contains several elements.  The principle is "You can only concentrate on one new thing at a time."  This way your focus is not scattered.  When this first element-set is solid, so that you can rely on it, add another element like dynamics or whatever.  With advanced music you need to do some planning ahead.

Playing music is also an oxymoron.  If you work mainly based on "feeling" or "sensing", "intuitively", it may come across as sloppy and uncontrolled - or running away on you time-wise.  Otoh, there are students who sound like mechanical wind-up dolls.  However, if you work deliberately, and in a sense mechanically to get the foundations into the sections of your pieces, letting go of "feeling", and then allow feeling to come in again - but intelligently and measured - your playing will gain new dimensions and an added quality.

These are the things I learned, which have helped me immeasurably.
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mjames
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« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2017, 06:50:46 PM »

Relearning music you already know is such a joy. You don't have to worry about technique (well i guess in your case you do), and you just end up completely focusing on the music. Last week I played a recital and played Chopin's Op. 64, pieces I learned during my first year and my god I managed to bring out a depth I never thought I had! So it was a good experience. Anyways, whatever reasons you have it is always good to go back and revisit pieces in your repertoire. Good way for a breather in the midst of constantly learning new music.
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chopinlover01
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« Reply #5 on: October 23, 2017, 06:52:40 PM »

^ seconded. Revisiting old pieces is one of the best experiences of classical piano.

Chopin mazurkas are particularly great for this kind of thing.
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bernadette60614
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« Reply #6 on: October 23, 2017, 10:12:30 PM »

Good questions, and before I begin, I'll add I'm not a professional pianist. 

What works for me:

1)  Sit down with the score away from the piano and circle the passages which I know will be most challenging.  Practice those first...not only when I begin the piece, but when I begin each practice session. At the start of a new piece, my enthusiasm is the highest.  At the start of each practice session, my mind is freshest.  That's when I'm ready to really tackle difficult work.

2) I think the more you know about music, the more critical you become of your performances, and the performances of others.  (In some ways, I miss my complete, uncritical enthusiasm for some student performance I heard in college.)  I just think it is part of the learning curve, and I repeat that learning curve for every piece.

3) So, yes, I will go back to "learned" pieces, find myself unhappy with my performance and work on the piece again.  I will not go back to 1), but I'll spend time drawing more music out of the piece.  I think that even for professional pianists this is a continuing process.  If you listen to any of the greats, e.g., Glenn Gould, e.g., they will revisit their signature pieces and bring a fresh perspective on those pieces.

4)  Finally, there is practice, and then there is play.  I think that just playing at the end of each practice session is mandatory.  I will play totally for myself, uncritically, just for the pleasure of it...and this is what frequently keeps me going through a particularly challenging series of pieces. 

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