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concerned about method of learning (Read 3677 times)

Offline sprinterpd

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concerned about method of learning
« on: April 20, 2003, 09:39:50 PM »
I posted earlier that I was a returning student (now 35 after about 14 years since seriously playing) and thank you for the responses.  
Instead of learning a new Beethovan Sonata, I flipped over to #8, which was a piece that I had learned near the end of my lessons.  I was simply amazed at how FAST it came back.  I am terribly sloppy, imprecise, poor fingering, no sense of timing etc. after all the time off, but my fingers were remembering the old patterns after even the first time through.  Though it's exciting to be able to play something nice so quickly (especially the 2nd movement) I'm concerned about my finger memory.
Not sure how to explain this, but I'm afraid that the way I learned pieces in the past was by repetition and engraining (sp?) muscle memmory.  That's all fine and good if you don't get distracted mid-performance, or you have the patience to just play through the piece 1000 times before you perform, but my concern is that there may be a "better" way to learn a piece.
I know we all have different styles and demands of ourself, but since I'm playing for ME now instead of my parents/teachers/etc. I want to become a well-rounded, skilled recreational player.  SO, with that in mind, I'd like to kick around the topic of what TRUELY KNOWING a piece means, and how would a skilled pianist get to that point.  
I intend to use this piece (#8) to work my fingers back into shape, along with a few others and Hanon, and will work a little sight reading along the way, but the next piece I approach I want to stretch myself not so much TECHNICALLY, but MUSICALLY and in the way I LEARN it, not just PLAY it.  If I'm not being clear, please let me know.
I think about the method that I take to memorize a piece and usually it's been playing it enough times that my fingers can detach from my mind and go it alone.  That's NOT what I want to do.
Thanks in advance,
Michael

natasha

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #1 on: April 21, 2003, 06:13:41 AM »
instead of playing it over so many times, why don't you listen to a recording of it as much as you can. listening helps you learn a piece more quickly, and u can hear what you are doing wrong, how you need to play it ect.
natasha :D :D :D

Offline amee

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #2 on: April 21, 2003, 06:23:23 AM »
Continuing on that vein that Natasha started about listening to recordings...

I remember I read a quote from a pianist (who's name eludes me), saying if you THINK enough about how you want a piece to sound, then your fingers will do it automatically.  He believed you don't have to be actually physically playing the piece to improve in it.  

But by listening to other people's recordings, you are listening to their interpretations of the piece.  Every pianist has a different interpretation, and you should work out your own interpretation and your own style.


"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties." - Frederic Chopin

Offline rachfan

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #3 on: April 21, 2003, 06:26:46 AM »
Hi Michael,

Learning, knowing, and memorizing a piece are different  yet the same, as they all fall on the one continuum.  Learning pertains to the reading and practicing of a piece until it becomes fully playable.  Knowing the piece is gaining deeper insights into the composer's intentions as to phrasing, nuances, dynamics, pedaling, inner lines, voicing of chords, etc. in order to polish the performance so as to convey his meaning to the listener.  Memorizing is knowing the piece so well and having such a level of understanding of your interpretation and the prevailing performance practices that you can perform it successfully without the music in front of you.

Although your post is not crystal clear to me, I sense that the aspect you're focusing on mostly is memorizing.  So to answer your question in that respect, there are four techniques that can be employed.  First, there is digital memory, which you have already described in that Beethoven sonata.  It's the sense of having the music "in your fingers".  Unfortunately, that is the least reliable form of memory, being strictly mechanical in nature, and yes, a distraction can bring sudden disaster.  

The second form is aural memory, or having the sound of the piece ingrained in your brain.  In other words, you can sing the entire melody all the way through.  

The third is visual memory, which most of us do not have.  This is "photographic memory" where one can conjure up the score in the mind's eye and actually see the printed notes as if the score were open on the music desk.  It's a very uncommon ability.  

Finally, there is analytical memory.  This is when you analyze a score in detail to break down the form into introduction, exposition, recapitualtion, coda, etc. in a sonata, for instance.  Within that form, you note memorable chord progressions, enharmonic changes, dynamics, tempo changes, scalar passages, voice leading, cadences, and the rest.  In so doing you also determine the structural "landmarks" of the piece.  Thus, if you become lost in performance, you can move to the nearest landmark in order to maintain continuity.  

The whole trick to all this is to employ at least TWO methods of memorization, not one, for reliable results.  For instance, if you can combine digital and aural memory, you'll be ahead of the game.

I agree with amee that you want to form your own interpretation before listening to someone else's through a recording.  But once you're formed your interpretation, natasha is right too.  You can hear how somebody else brings a sense of sweep to the music.  (Also, you can sometimes pick up a wrong note or two, which will send you back to reconsult the music and make corrections if need be.)  By the way, if you have a tape recorder, record yourself as you learn the piece.  The out takes will be your best teacher of all, believe me!

If memorization was not mostly what you had in mind, let me know, and I can try again.
Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities.

Offline lea

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #4 on: April 21, 2003, 07:45:58 AM »
also, what helps is that if one bit in the music sounds like a fairy ice skating (i know its lame) then when you get to that certain piece imagine the fairy ice skating, thats what i used to to when i was little and i played the violin, and i am still amazed now because when i used to play this piece , i think it was gavotte by lully i used to thynk of all thes different things, such as clowns and ice etc etc and when i played it i used to think about all those things and it n ot only helped the technique, it helped the character of the piece and the memorisation.

lea

ps well said, rachfan, nataasha and amee!!!
memo from lea: red bull gives u wings

natasha

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #5 on: April 21, 2003, 08:13:06 AM »
thanx lea
from nataasha...lol natasha

Offline amee

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #6 on: April 23, 2003, 02:08:29 AM »
I like what Lea has to say about imagining.

Lea I'll use your example here...if you believe a fairy is ice skating, then your audience will also catch your mood from the way you play it.  
"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties." - Frederic Chopin

natasha

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #7 on: April 25, 2003, 07:21:20 AM »
funi way lea

Offline ThEmUsIcMaNBJ

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #8 on: April 30, 2003, 08:47:06 AM »
I  have a question or comment on something Rachfan said.  You said that seeing the score in your minds eye is a photographic memory and is very rare?  Well I definately don't have a photographic memory and I memorize things mostly by muscle memorization (digital I think you call it) but if I ever am worried about getting lost in a part coming up I always think of the written score and I can always stay safe.  Usually it's just to remember what part to go to next but sometimes I figure out the notes that way too.  As if I was sight-reading in my head.  But thats only after I looked at it a few times.  And something else real quick...  Doesn't really pertain to piano but I play marching snare drum too and we have to memorize a lot of stuff and my ear really sucks in every way shape and form.  So when memorizing something after read the music enough I just read it in my head.   And then eventually it gets into digital memory and I just don't even worry about the music anymore (unless I'm goofing off in which case I have to find my spot)...  I know it isn't a photographic memory or anything but I figured it was normal till reading your post?  Or did I just misinterperate your post and it is normal?  

Offline benedict

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #9 on: June 02, 2003, 09:58:21 PM »
There is another kind of memory : keyboard memory. It is the memory of the keys that we play on the keyboard.

I find it is the most easy way to learn the piece for me.

Don't you use it ?

Offline rachfan

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #10 on: June 03, 2003, 03:24:54 AM »
Hi ThemUs,

From your description (and I realize just how hard these things are to describe exactly), I agree with you that you probably do not have true photographic memory.  From what I have always understood, a person with that gift can shut his/her eyes and vividly see every detail of the score accurately as if it were wide open on the music stand.  And that ability occurs having laid eyes on the score just once!  

It sounds like your memory is more like the kind of memory the rest of us mortals share.  Most of us can keep in our heads the general form of the piece (parts A-B-A in a sonata movement, for example), some significant landmarks (maybe a tempo change, an important enharmonic modulation, a departure from lyric to stacatto playing, a "purple patch" tone, etc.), or a particular fingering in a difficult passage that we can visualize and execute--things like that.  

But it doesn't sound as though in your case you could take out blank score paper and recreate the entire piece in every detail as originally written.  People with photographic memories can do that, maybe with a just few errors.  

By the way, sometimes digital memory ("in the fingers") is also called tactile memory.
Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities.

Offline rachfan

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Re: concerned about method of learning
«Reply #11 on: June 03, 2003, 03:46:42 AM »
Hi benedict,

Thanks for adding that note (no pun intended).  How right you are.  Memorizing key sequences and patterns was not always recognized, but comes up more frequently these days.  And it seems to work well for some people too.  

I would venture a guess, however.  Beginner and intermediate students look at the keyboard a lot for a sense of security in order to play accurately.  Advanced students tend not to do that nearly as much.  Because of their far greater familiarity and comfort with the keyboard, they are more apt to watch the manuscript if it is open rather than looking down.  Or if they are playing from memory, they often look straight ahead, close their eyes in some places, glance upward during diminuendos, and look down at the keyboard sporadically if something especially difficult is about to be executed there, such as a fff attack, a very wide leap, a crossing of the arms, a short cadenza, etc.  An analogy might be typing or keyboarding on a PC.  A novice watches the keys like a hawk.  An experienced typist does "touch typing" and almost never looks at the keys (except maybe to cheat on the numbers in the uppermost row.)  

I would speculate, therefore, that key sequence or key pattern memory plays a diminsihed role as the more seasoned pianist tackles more complex and demanding repertoire.  A notable exception would be the late George Bolet whose eyes stayed glued to the keyboard during virtually every second of his performances.  Maybe he was always a key pattern memorizer, but certainly a wonderful pianist too.
Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities.