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A Jazz Piano Christmas 2022
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Topic: New pieces  (Read 274 times)

Offline orbulation

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New pieces
on: November 29, 2022, 03:48:45 AM
I have been playing piano for 4 years, and I am in RCM 9. I have just started thinking about ways to learn new pieces faster. I was wondering whether itís better to learn pieces with the sheet music first, not memorizing, or to memorize as you go along. I go with the latter since I have great musical memory, and I barely use the sheet music. I have been thinking whether that is a good option, since I canít make sure if Iím playing the right notes without the sheet music(which Iím very lazy to look at), so I had quite a few foul notes in a section of one of my pieces. Any other tips for learning new pieces are appreciated.  :)

Offline brogers70

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Re: New pieces
Reply #1 on: November 29, 2022, 12:31:58 PM
I think that learning new pieces quickly is a separate skill from polishing them. I'd say that if you are memorizing them with wrong notes, then you are probably dispensing with the score too soon. Apart from that I think learning new pieces quickly is a skill adjacent to the skill of sight reading. The way I've been working on it is to practice sight reading pieces at different levels. Some are so easy that I can read them at tempo without looking at my hands (and I mean really easy pieces or exercises). Then I read some that are a bit harder such that I can still read them without stopping and without looking at my hands, but only at a very slow tempo. Then I read some that are pretty easy, say early Haydn sonatas, or easier movements from Bach suites or "Music for Millions" at the beginner level, which I can mostly read at tempo without looking at my hands or stopping, but I cut myself a little slack if I need to look once in a while. Then I read more difficult stuff, Mozart sonatas, Bach suites and partitas, Chopin Mazurkas, allowing myself to look at my hands whenever I need to and taking as slow a tempo as feels comfortable, even if that's real slow. I might spend 30 minutes a day for a week on one category of sight reading and then switch to another sort the next week and just cycle around. Doing that for a couple of years has helped my sight reading a lot.

Then I also will pick a relatively easy piece, interesting but a good bit below the most difficult things I'm working on, and short, too. I'll try to see how fast I can learn it to a reasonable level of polish - like OK to play for friends and family but not at a recital. For such pieces I just work a few measures at a time and try to perfect each little section until I can strong them together. I've had friends whose teachers would tell them "here, go home and learn this Haydn Sonata" and come back and play it for me next week. I've never tried anything quite so intense, but it may work pretty well.

And, like I say, this just makes up a fraction of my practice time, mostly I'm working on repertoire. I do think adding this bit to my practice has been helping me learn pieces faster over time. Not magic, but it does seem to help.

Offline ranjit

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Re: New pieces
Reply #2 on: November 29, 2022, 06:24:32 PM
You need to wean yourself from the score a bit slower. Or you need to memorize with better conceptual/theoretical memory sooner.

If you really feel able, try playing the entire piece in your head, visualizing either your hands or the score (I can not do the latter, few people can, but if you're one of them that's tremendously useful). If you feel you've memorized very quickly and accurately, try to write out the entire score. If your conceptual/theoretical memory is sound, this should be totally possible.

The key is to not just rely on muscle memory. You want to be able to "know" the notes more, and at a certain point you will make almost zero mistakes while recalling them, like you probably don't make mistakes with spelling your friend's name or something -- you can just 'see' that it's correct and there's almost no scope for error. This has been my experience.

I have kind of had the same thing. I basically memorized the notes of the Chopin C# minor Nocturne in three days a year ago and played it for my teacher. But the playing had a few note errors and had a lot of hesitations where I was "buffering" the next chord or pattern. This is memorizing too soon. There is usually more information to be gleaned from the score, dynamic markings or some voice leading ideas etc. You also want to be able to play the piece without any real hesitations at a slow tempo before ditching the score and completely playing from memory.

Also, here's another concept to think about: short-term vs long-term memory. You want the piece at least halfway into long-term memory before you leave the score. Otherwise, you WILL forget chunks that were only stored short-term. It's a bit hard to articulate the difference and I'm not sure I'm completely technically accurate on this one -- but if you're sight reading, that is short term memory, you see the notes and chords and patterns, and quickly develop a mental map and memorize it -- but this mental map is "hanging by a thread" prone to disintegration, like a phone number you are reciting over and over in your head in order to keep it in memory. You need something more solid for more reliable, longer term memory, but it's easy to think you've got it already.

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