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#1086980 - 02/06/05 10:25 AM HOW  
Joined: Jan 2003
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apple* Offline
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Joined: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,862
Kansas
do you learn a difficult piece? Care to share your systematic ways?


accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, ├Ľun (apple in Estonian)
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#1086981 - 02/06/05 11:20 AM Re: HOW  
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Nina Offline
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Phoenix, AZ
I have no magic bullet, unfortunately. This is basically how I do it:

1. Start playing really slowly. Use a metronome. I'm not great at counting so if it's a weird pattern I'll write out the 1 + 2 + or whatever.
2. Work out fingering and write it down if it's not obvious. Don't change it again unless you really, really have to.
3. Find the melody line if it's not obvious, then the bigger phrasing.
4. Look for the obvious dynamic flows: the high points and the low points.
5. Don't try to play up to speed until the notes are really there. (This part is really hard, IMO.)

If I'm really stuck I'll try to find a recording to listen to, but only once or twice to get the "feel" of something or hear a specific few measures. Any more becomes depressing smile .

I am a slow learner in piano. If anyone has any hints to speed up the process, I'm all ears!

Nina smile

EDIT: I also play troublesome sections over and over again, rarely the whole piece. I try to avoid playing the easy parts until the hard parts are ready to go; otherwise the contrast between hard and easy really sticks out.

#1086982 - 02/06/05 11:56 AM Re: HOW  
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Posts: 263
DuCamp Offline
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Mexico City
For memorizing a piece:

A) Find the complete phrase and play through it, hands together, analizing the fingering (if the fingering is not marked on the score.) If you can't hands together, do it separate.
B) Once fingering is worked out, repeat the phrase over and over at a workable speed. If you laid down the fingering correctly, it shouldn't take you long to get the piece up to performance tempo.
C) Once you get the phrase memorized in a comfortable way (clean playing, but not that fast tempo) go to the next phrase and repeat A and B.
D) When you get down that second phrase, play the first then the second phrase, and so on...

The deal here is to keep the advance of memorizing as fast as possible, cause this will help you lay down hard passages faster than if you get stuck in them until you have it figured it out completely.

As for performing a piece by reading it, just do all the passes it needs (always taking care of fingering, of course) until you are familiar with it. First, do one or two passes to the complete piece and then work on a whole page at a time. And work on memorizing the next page's first bars, or really hard passages... the faster a piece's tempo is, more memorizing will be involved. This also applies to really thick chords passages.


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#1086983 - 02/06/05 12:07 PM Re: HOW  
Joined: Aug 2004
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W8LX Offline
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W8LX  Offline
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Columbus Ohio
Whenever I decide to learn something I set specific goals based on the difficulty, pushing myself but remaining realistic. It might be a page a day or a page a month, but without having any sort of a timeline the motivational element just vanishes. Part of this process is analyzing the piece, seeing just how much there really is to work through with repeats, etc. Then I make sure I understand the key signature so I don't find myself having to stumble or think twice of where the fingers are supposed to go.

Then the work begins - I pick a section, grab the music, and walk away from the piano. This is a great time to study the rhythm and make certain there aren't any notes I don't immediately recognize due to excessive leger lines. It's also a form of practice that can be done when you don't have access to a piano for whatever reason.

When the time comes to set fingers to the keys I find it a little less imposing having worked out some of the surprises ahead of time. I can then concentrate on working out the fingering that fits my hands and how the work feels with respect to the sense of touch. Ready, set, play...lather, rinse, repeat.

I studied piano from kindergarten until graduating from high school, and for a period also took organ lessons. For various reasons I gave it all up for nearly ten years, but since October of 2002 I've managed to practice every day unless out of town on business. What a great way to sooth the soul.

Rob

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#1086984 - 02/06/05 12:12 PM Re: HOW  
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tk Offline
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Posts: 695
Los Angeles County
Ultimately, I use similar strategies as Nina and DuCamp. My biggest problem is having this "need" to play it fast from the get go! It's torture taking it slow, and I often try to play up to tempo from the beginning. Of course, this never actually works!

There are many strategies I know I could use (e.g., scanning the entire piece first, focus on the more difficult parts, play hands separate, etc.), but to be honest, I often first try to play the thing HT from beginning to end just to see how it goes. After that, I have a really good idea of how to approach it next, b/c I know exactly where the trouble spots will be. Then, I will begin again, slowing down significantly, and will often pull out different sections to work on hands separate.

I guess this really isn't systematic--more of a habit.

#1086985 - 02/06/05 01:44 PM Re: HOW  
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 36
middlec Offline
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Ottawa
I just try to learn small segments of the piece at a time, starting off slowly, and even just starting off with the right hand if it is a particularly difficult piece.

I play the segment I'm learning at least seven times in each practice session. I've heard that seven is a magic number for remembering note sequences, and it seems to work for me. Once I have the segment down pat, I continue with the next segment.

I go on through the entire piece this way. Once I'm very familiar with a segment I start trying to memorize it. With really tricky passages, I find it is almost better to try to memorize it right away.

#1086986 - 02/06/05 04:04 PM Re: HOW  
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Posts: 74
LifeWithoutLuigi Offline
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LifeWithoutLuigi  Offline
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Kah-Lee-For-Neeah
I find that without an instructor, I'm really hesitant to work on a piece unless I've heard a recording of it. I don't know about anyone else, but I HATE memorizing mistakes I don't even know I'm making.

I may be out in left field here, but listening to a professional recording actually motivates me to keep going. Other than that, for me it's just concentrating hard and adding a little bit of skill at a time. Then comes that "ah ha" when I play through the difficult passage for the first time at a reasonable speed without fouling it up and without having to think about what key to hit next.


Today I will gladly share my experience and advice, for there are no sweeter words than, "I told you so."
#1086987 - 02/06/05 05:25 PM Re: HOW  
Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 708
palley Offline
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palley  Offline
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Binghamton, New York
I've been wondering how others define "memorization"?
Ie just motor (muscle) memorization or
memorizing keys, harmonic progression and melody or
actually memorizing note for note (so you could write out the score)??

Thanks smile help

Phil
AA2EA


Phil
#1086988 - 02/06/05 06:33 PM Re: HOW  
Joined: Jun 2004
Posts: 8,483
signa Offline
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Joined: Jun 2004
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Ohio, USA
i don't think most people could actually memorize the exact score unless you have photographic memory. i know i can't.

#1086989 - 02/06/05 09:17 PM Re: HOW  
Joined: Dec 2004
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ShiroKuro Offline
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ShiroKuro  Offline
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not in Japan anymore
I have recently been using Chang's method to change my practice style and how I approach new pieces. I recommend reading what he has to say, I've found it reinforced some of the things I already did and gave me lots of ideas for other things I should be doing.

I have always made it a point to do lots of HS practice, and to write the fingerings on the page (when not indicated) so that from the beginning I am playing the same way each time. In addition, I have recently started doing the following:

1) Analyze the piece to find patterns, and make sections based on them. If there's a repeating theme, I label that section 1a (this is in addition to A, B etc that are already in the piece) and when that theme recurs with a slight variation, I label it 1b, 1c etc. Something that is different will be 2 etc. Then I make a list of the sections in order of difficulty (not the order that they appear in the piece). I start practicing the difficult sections first, since those sections will need the most work. (this idea I got from Chang, and it has really helped me speed up my "piece-assimilation" time)

2) Alternate section practice with practice of the entire piece, also alternate HT and HS practice, with HS practice using no pedal. Also alternate between slow and fast practice so that I have control over my fingers rather than just tumbling along trying to keep up with the melody.

2a) (forgot to include this!) When practicing the entire piece, or more than one section, from the very beginning I try to stay ahead of the music, so that I know what's coming next (as opposed to playing catch up through the whole thing)

3) Practice backwards (start with sections from the end of the piece) and add sections in reverse order so that each time I play through the piece, I'm playing more of it, until I play from beginning to end.

4) When I get stuck where it seems like I'm not making any progress, I return to HS practice, singing the other hand if need be, or playing excessively slowly.

These are just some of the things I do when starting on a new piece, but they are the major ones that seem to help the most I think. I do lots of repeating of sections, but that can get tiresome so I often make playing the piece from beginning to end a sort of reward for the practice session. If I am not at the stage where I can play the whole thing musically, I might just do one hand or whatever, but I like to do something that reminds me why I am learning the piece in the first play, I find this very motivating.


Started piano June 1999. My recordings at Box.Net:
https://app.box.com/s/j4rgyhn72uvluemg1m6u

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#1086990 - 02/06/05 10:07 PM Re: HOW  
Joined: Sep 2004
Posts: 969
Jerry Luke Offline
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Jerry Luke  Offline
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Joined: Sep 2004
Posts: 969
Tillamook, Oregon
Quote
Originally posted by LifeWithoutLuigi:
I find that without an instructor, I'm really hesitant to work on a piece unless I've heard a recording of it. I don't know about anyone else, but I HATE memorizing mistakes I don't even know I'm making.
Ditto for me.


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#1086991 - 02/07/05 05:39 AM Re: HOW  
Joined: Dec 2004
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ShiroKuro Offline
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ShiroKuro  Offline
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not in Japan anymore
BTW I like to listen to CDs (and I have a teacher). For one thing, I usually choose my own pieces rather than asking for a recommendation, so I choose pieces that I've heard and want to play myself. Then I'll listen to get a feel for the piece while reading along with the sheet music. People recommend that you listen to the piece performed by more than one pianist, but that means you need a lot of CDs. Even if you can't do comparative listening, I think it's a very good way to start.

I personally tend not to listen to CDs after I get the piece in my head (if not in my fingers) and I end up playing a piece many many more times that I listen to it on CD, so I don't worry that my playing will end up being an imitation (though at this point, I'd be happy if it did!)

Anyway I think it's very valuable to listen, esp if you don't have a teacher, but even if you do.


Started piano June 1999. My recordings at Box.Net:
https://app.box.com/s/j4rgyhn72uvluemg1m6u

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#1086992 - 02/07/05 08:18 AM Re: HOW  
Joined: Sep 2004
Posts: 199
frida1 Offline
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Joined: Sep 2004
Posts: 199
Pacific Northwest
I have to agree with ShiroKuro that some of Chang's ideas helped me alot. One thing to add about HS (hands separate), is that I try to get the hands separate really secure at a tempo about 35-50% faster than I want to achieve HT (hands together) for that practice session. It can take alot of patience and time. Working on Debussy's Prelude #10 (Cathedrale Engloutie), for example, I worked on 1 section of about 8 bars for most of a week, maybe .5 to .75 hours/day, doing alot of hands separate. I can really play it now, though.

Another thing I do is to leave a piece for a week or 2 after getting it to a certain stage. Then I go back, start again with hs at a slow tempo, and find it much easier to get it really clean and playable.

#1086993 - 02/07/05 10:07 AM Re: HOW  
Joined: Oct 2004
Posts: 331
Vintagefingers Offline
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Vintagefingers  Offline
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Posts: 331
SE
I'm probably one of the last to ask since I don't have that much experience but the following works for me. I play through the whole piece right hand only to listen to the melody line and get a feel for the pace of the piece. I then go back to the beginning and work right hand only, one measure or phrase at a time, depending on difficulty, over and over until the phrase flows or sings. I gradually work in notations and dynamics. I continue with this process repeatedly until I know it completely with the voicing as I think it should be. I don't proceed until it is right to my satisfaction if it takes 100 times. I then play left hand separate working it into the melody in my head. I continue practicing left until I can hear it blending with the melody. I either hum the melody aloud or in my head. I then begin playing the phrase hands together very slowly initially concentrating on timing with no mistakes, gradually bringing in dynamics and notation. I repeat the above process for each phrase until I really know each well. I then work on bringing phrases together focusing on transitions. If fingerings aren't obvious I make pencil notations under the notes.

I didn't always practice like this but I have found that I benefit twofold by using this approach, I memorize the piece much easier and generally make fewer mistakes. Speed is the last thing I concern myself with, it generally comes when the rest falls into place. I seldom use a metronome except when the tempo is noted on the music but only to get the tempo and flow right. I hate practicing with that constant annoying ticking. I often record when I think I have the piece right.

#1086994 - 02/07/05 12:36 PM Re: HOW  
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Rodney Offline
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Rodney  Offline
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Caledon ON, Canada
I have changed my approach over the last couple of months.

Originally, I would pick a phrase and do the HS thing until it was down at speed and completely memorized (muscle memory that is) and then I would start doing hands together until I had it down almost to speed. Then I would move on to the next phrase and would go back to the previous phrase(s) during periods of complete frustration (which would be a lot).

Recently I have taken to playing almost completely by sight reading (brutally slow at first). I then use the brute force approach of doing it over and over again, always from the sheet music, NEVER (well almost never) looking at my hands. ;-) I'll only work on a piece for 10-15 minutes at a time, performeing exercises, scales, arps, etc. between sets. This may not be the fastest approach to learning a new piece, but my goal is to practice sight reading as well as learning the piece.

I should point out that my goals at the moment don't include getting any piece to performance level. Rather it's to develop my sight reading/playing skills so that I can perform almost any easy piece good enough that my family doesn't wince every time I sit down at the keyboard. I find that learning a new piece is the mmost painful part of playing any instrument.

Rodney

#1086995 - 02/07/05 01:36 PM Re: HOW  
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mound Offline
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mound  Offline
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Rochester, NY
Rodney - I've been doing just that for the last few weeks.. Throwing all my good memorization habits to the wind purely in the name of bettering my sight reading.. It's almost painful how I have to struggle not to memorize, but the struggle is in favor of getting better at sight reading, brutally forcing myself never to look at my hands..

I'm sure I'll get back to my standard techniques for quick learning and memorization at some point probably sooner than later, but for now I'm focusing on building reading.

-Paul


"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer
#1086996 - 02/07/05 01:57 PM Re: HOW  
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Posts: 199
frida1 Offline
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Pacific Northwest
I like to practice sightreading with simpler pieces that don't require alot of hs to play. If you have a teacher, doing simpler duets is a good way to practice sightreading. It's horribly embarrassing, because I miss half the notes, but it's good for me!

#1086997 - 02/07/05 04:11 PM Re: HOW  
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Frank R Offline
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Frank R  Offline
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Posts: 569
Anaheim Hills, CA
Hands separate, slow, counting mad .
Hands separate with metronome mad .
Hands together no counting mad .
Hands together counting,slow mad .
Hands together with metronome, slow :b: .
All these steps in small sections or just 1 or 2 measures depending on degree of difficulty.
Then I put it all together working up to proper tempo. At this point it's usually memorized.
This is not my idea my teacher makes me do like this. I can't realy complain thougt because it works smile .


Keep a song in your heart!

Frank
--------------------------
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#1086998 - 02/08/05 12:59 AM Re: HOW  
Joined: Dec 2004
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ShiroKuro Offline
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not in Japan anymore
Any Chang-idea is to do a lot of switching between LH and RH with HS practice so that you don't fatigue (or worse, injure) your hands. He talks about how carefully paced switching should allow you to keep both hands warmed up without fatiguing them. I have also started doing this, and since I'm working on improving my speed, I find it really helps to keep me from just burning my hands out totally.


Started piano June 1999. My recordings at Box.Net:
https://app.box.com/s/j4rgyhn72uvluemg1m6u

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