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Were you taught practice strategies? #2230882
02/13/14 11:15 AM
02/13/14 11:15 AM
Joined: Apr 2013
Posts: 3,390
western MA, USA
hreichgott Offline OP
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Just wondering how many people here learned practice strategies from their teachers. By practice strategies I mean things like

How to learn new material
How to put hands together for the first time
Fixing notes in trouble spots by working a small section and then playing several correct repetitions
Zoom in/zoom out to put a former trouble spot back in context of the piece
Practicing in rhythms
Melody-alone or one-voice-at-a-time practice
Analyzing trouble spots to determine what precisely is difficult about them
Distributing practice time between exercises, working on pieces, and playing through pieces
How to boost tempo
How NOT to spend our entire practice time playing through pieces in the same way with the same problems (!!!)

I have had a number of teachers in my life. 2 were excellent at teaching practice strategies and I studied with them only at an advanced level. The others didn't at all, although they were excellent pianists and teachers. I think I figured out for myself as a young intermediate student many of the problem-solving practice strategies above.

I have noticed now after several years as a teacher that the students who advance quickly are the ones who also taught themselves how to practice. The ones who rely on play-through do great with the beginner literature but then get sort of stalled around 2-part Minuets, Happy Farmer etc. So I'm starting to include practice strategies in my teaching at the early intermediate level. I was just wondering what other people remember from their teachers.

The piano teachers' association I belong to recently hosted a presentation by researcher Alys Terrien-Queen who studies music practice among students of all levels. Her research indicated that not many teachers teach how to practice. Which both surprises me and confirms what I had kind of suspected....

Last edited by hreichgott; 02/13/14 11:18 AM.

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Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2230915
02/13/14 12:33 PM
02/13/14 12:33 PM
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I split it 50/50: one who did, and one who didn't. I do think it's critically important to discuss practice strategies with students, because ultimately, that's going to determine how well they put into effect the concepts taught. If you teach a student all kinds of technique during a lesson, but the student has no idea what to do with that, they'll basically spin their wheels for a week, or worse -- continue very bad habits, until the next lesson.


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Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: Derulux] #2230919
02/13/14 12:44 PM
02/13/14 12:44 PM
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Nothing that I remember as a child, other than: "slow down and relax" In college I got a little, but was still left to my own devices. This led to a lot of frustration on my part. I would look at my peers and ask: "Why can they, and I cant"

I spend many hours through my MM work and post grad research into the whole cog/psych field. This was long before all of this great research in music cognition has come along. Nearly everything I have read recently is pretty much confirmed from the work I did in area of language learning (where cog/psych had the most at the time to offer).

When I was a teacher, I did what I could to pass along what I was learning to my students. What surprised me was how little most were interested in learning how to learn, even though I tried to present the material in a manner which would make it applicable to their school work as well.

I received as much instruction in learning strategies in school as I did in my piano lessons. None. Strange isn't it. We are told to go forth and learn and never told how best to .... learn.

Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2231110
02/13/14 06:24 PM
02/13/14 06:24 PM
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Ganddalf Offline
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I actually got no education on the piano. Just had some lessons on the pump organ as a kid. My teachers were just amateurs and I never got any kind of advice about practice strategies.

But I read a book written by Walter Georgi (German translation: "Klavierspielerbuechlein") some years after I started on the piano. There I found some very valuable instructions.

Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: Ganddalf] #2231164
02/13/14 08:38 PM
02/13/14 08:38 PM
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I got no insight into practice strategies as a child (8 years of piano lessons)...which may be why my so-called technique was all over the place when I restarted as an adult. My current teacher tries to ingrain most of the strategies you list, and I am definitely making progress as a result. Wish I had known this oh so many years ago...but not sure I would have paid attention!

The "slow practice" part of the message is having difficulty getting through. We've tried V E R Y S L O W, excruciatingly slow, slower than the metronome can go, more slow practice, don't even think about playing this at tempo, etc. I'm convinced it works; I just don't enjoy the process...

There's no way for students who are looking for a teacher to know if a particular teacher does focus on practice strategies, and if you've never had a teacher who did that, you may not know that it's important. Maybe it's a point of differentiation when marketing those teachers who DO focus on this critical aspect.

Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: Ganddalf] #2231165
02/13/14 08:39 PM
02/13/14 08:39 PM
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Yes.

(Just think how much worse off I'd be without good practice!)


Learner
Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2231167
02/13/14 08:47 PM
02/13/14 08:47 PM
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TwoSnowflakes Offline
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It's a really good question. I spent a lot of this first year back at the piano wondering why my piano teacher didn't try to teach a lot of these strategies when I was studying as a child through mid-teens. My teacher often specifically gives me strategies, and with my younger daughter, she doesn't just write down assignments, but specifically how to go about a given practice session, minute by minute, if necessary. She backs off as the student learns and fills the space effectively themselves.

This year I have asked myself a few times: why didn't my teacher when I was young do that?

The truth is, it's hard to know. Maybe she did, but failed, or maybe she didn't. I came to that conclusion because I was looking in several of my old books of music I'm not ready to play again yet, and in plenty of pieces, lo and behold, there's her own hand, circling a lot of detail, and WRITING a whole lot of detail that I flat out do not remember her specifically teaching. Stuff I had already said to myself, "hey, why didn't my first teacher ever say that?" Well, in certain places, she obviously did. The proof is on the page. In one piece, Mendelssohn's Rondo Capricioso, she had one thing underlined in a different writing instrument. Now she never had two pens on her. This indicated to me that she must have written it once, and, I'm shamed to admit, clearly felt the need to repeat herself, one can only assume, when I hadn't corrected it some time later.

All the same, I really do not recall being specifically taught how to practice, even if I was told how to play a piece with more detail than I thought.

It's just so very hard to know. I know my older daughter (not the piano-playing one above) sometimes barely hears when her violin teacher gives her extremely useful practice tips, but at the same time, it's also true that they're not part of some integrated, holistic approach to teaching that really drives home the point that effective practice is ITSELF a learned skill, separate and apart from the skill you then use it to learn.

Nobody has ever sat her down and addressed the very real fact that unlike lots of other endeavors, musical training involves a disproportionately ENORMOUS deal of time alone relative to the time spent with direct instructional guidance. It stands to reason that it would be a great service to the student to spend a lot of time working on that until the student is confident in his or her ability to go implement it alone. My older daughter was stuck in a rut with violin and began to complain she vastly preferred ballet, despite having obvious facility for violin and not that much for ballet. She was never bored, she felt like she was progressing, and she felt like she was learning, fast.

And she was.

But you know why? Because unlike violin, ballet is NEVER self-learned. Sure, the ballet freak kid is constantly stretching out and trying this or that, but there's no self-practice. Ballet is almost 100% instructional. A ballerina who is out of town, even a professional one, will not just go...dance. She'll find a class with a teacher in front, and that's how it's done. There's no point at which a young ballet student will be given an assignment and expected to come back having made progress. There's no expectation (outside of stretching or maybe some sit ups) that there's any "homework" or self-study.

Not like musical training, not even close.

At the time my daughter was burning out of violin, she was being expected to spend at least two hours a day practicing. Her lessons were an hour a week, perhaps an hour 15. That's an enormous amount of self-directed structure to put on a child. Even one who is responsible, wise, and otherwise motivated, like mine, will struggle if she's not more mature than most in several arenas that do not have to do strictly with musical aptitude. Skills that she will acquire, just typically, not precociously. She even has an attention span that, while not off the charts, is better than most kids her age. But she just has no particular precocious skill at organizing her time and structuring her self-learning. It's not even as if it's unattainable. A typical 20 year old can spent 7-8 hours self-directing based on 1 hour of information to be learned. But even there, who here hasn't struggled with effective practice at times? What adult beginner instantly knows how to go about practicing?

I feel bad for my daughter, because it's almost as if she got set up for failure, and she's not lacking for her age in any way. And she has talent.

Perhaps if practice skills were more holistically taught as a part of piano training--and I don't mean tips here and there because it would be the unusual teacher who has nothing to say about effective practice. No, I mean spending full lessons teaching a student how to organize time, how to identify goals, big and little, how to self-correct, how to be a good self-critic, how to listen properly, how to evaluate whether sufficient progress is being made, how to break down a sub skills and put them together, etc. Perhaps were the case, there's be a whole lot more kids who grow up to be wonderful musicians. You'd could keep the whole group of talented kids, and not just be restricted to the talented kids who are lucky enough to also have those self-direction skills come earlier than most.

Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2231171
02/13/14 08:56 PM
02/13/14 08:56 PM
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I've always had problems concentrating during long practice sessions, so I nowadays prefer to (ideally) do smaller ones throughout the week. Sometimes as small as a few minutes at a time. Also don't discount the value of a good night's sleep to practice. Your brain is still working even when you aren't actively working on your music (e.g. sitting at the piano).

Last edited by Horowitzian; 02/13/14 08:56 PM.

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Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2231173
02/13/14 09:00 PM
02/13/14 09:00 PM
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I know I had poor instruction as a child. The teacher's focus was my sister. I got the feeling that teaching my brother and me were the dues she had to pay to get to teach my sister. But I've talked to my sister, and even she does not feel she got great instruction. It's a wonder we learned anything.

My present teacher is very perceptive. I think she's probably the best teacher I've ever had. All other teachers pretty much would tell me what I needed to accomplish. But gave no hints out to get there. My present teacher shows me new ways to learn. She gives specific practice exercises within a piece to help me improve. And I've got to say, that this is totally new to me. But, it's very helpful. I've freely admitted to my present teacher that I am the Queen of repeat, repeat, repeat and simply beating things to death to learn them. But, I'm learning that there are other ways to learn. It's eyeopening!!


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Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2231274
02/14/14 02:46 AM
02/14/14 02:46 AM
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I had four different teachers. The first (and longest stretch) was with what was probably a typical small-town teacher, the second for a year or two in my teens was with a college professor, the third was with a grad student for a semester in college, and finally the last was with the concert pianist artist-in-resident at college. Not a one of them said a word about how to practice (or about how to memorize or much about technique, either).

Now, decades later, I've been finding out all sorts of useful information about how to go about practice, memorization, and technical stuff. Better late than never, I figure, but it is something of a mystery that things so basic were just never part of my earlier training. I'm sure part of it was that I was a quick study and usually could quickly produce passable playing of whatever was assigned, and because of that, the teachers may have assumed that I knew what I was doing. But I didn't, not in any very conscious or organized way.


Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2231408
02/14/14 10:42 AM
02/14/14 10:42 AM
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anrpiano Offline
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I did do some writing on this subject and I do return to it from time to time. If you check out my blog, linked below, and look at "10 Commandments"., "15 Rules of Practice", and "Science of Practice" you can see some of what I have written in the past. The Rules and Commandments were really designed for my students (when I taught) as a simple and fun way to remember some critical principles. A few have been quoted back to me many years later after my students became teachers.. that was fun.

Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2231430
02/14/14 11:34 AM
02/14/14 11:34 AM
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Andrew, I just went to your blog and posted my comments. I agree with all your practice tips. I will print it and keep it nearby when I practice. Thanks.


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Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: anrpiano] #2231521
02/14/14 02:22 PM
02/14/14 02:22 PM
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Originally Posted by anrpiano
I did do some writing on this subject and I do return to it from time to time. If you check out my blog, linked below, and look at "10 Commandments"., "15 Rules of Practice", and "Science of Practice" you can see some of what I have written in the past.

This is a gold mine! Excellent, excellent posts!


"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson
Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2231613
02/14/14 05:32 PM
02/14/14 05:32 PM
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well, I've gotten tons of advice from my teachers on how to practice. Unfortunately, i've always had problems following the advices.... part because i can't concentrate much when practicing at home (parents yelling at each other in the same room where i'm practicing, cats running on top of the piano, grandpa interrupting me every 5 minutes, telling me that i am "overpracticing" etc.) and part because i'm lazy. Now, I've began to practice more, usually 4-6 hours a day, 2 hours at a time and focusing on smart practicing techniques. I have to say, i've begun to see alot faster progress smile


I need SOME sort of help; I have yet to figure out what kind.
Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: anrpiano] #2231665
02/14/14 07:39 PM
02/14/14 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by anrpiano
I did do some writing on this subject and I do return to it from time to time. If you check out my blog, linked below, and look at "10 Commandments"., "15 Rules of Practice", and "Science of Practice" you can see some of what I have written in the past. The Rules and Commandments were really designed for my students (when I taught) as a simple and fun way to remember some critical principles. A few have been quoted back to me many years later after my students became teachers.. that was fun.


You have a typo in rule #6 (the title)

Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2231675
02/14/14 08:06 PM
02/14/14 08:06 PM
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Damon, Thank-you. Sometimes the fingers are faster than they eyes, and speaking of the eyes... they ain't so good no more.

Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: TwoSnowflakes] #2232887
02/17/14 01:22 AM
02/17/14 01:22 AM
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Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes
<an awesome post>


Thanks for sharing your story. It IS puzzling how little attention is given to practice strategies when that is what the student is doing for all but one hour a week. I often wondered to myself: "Shouldn't a teacher spend ALL of their time assisting the student while they practice a piece, at least until it's finished?"

In other words, maybe lessons should be 100% practice strategies. What's the point of constantly judging an unfinished product? After all, isn't the performance is just the finished product of the practice? Practice is everything. And nothing is more frustrating as a student then hammering away with some concept of how something is supposed to be done, only to discover that it doesn't work, and that now they are completely in the dark.

As an adult learner, I quickly learned that I needed to do my own investigation into learning techniques and seek as many perspectives as possible, because I didn't have time to risk putting all of my faith in one approach. So I have worked hard to learn all I can about learning piano itself.

The main thing I discovered is that piano pedagogy is still largely in the stone ages. There is no systematic course material that is universally agreed upon, and a certain degree of elitism exists in that the most effective knowledge lies with the students of students of great pianists in history, who reside at top conservatories and charge high sums for private lessons. Your local teacher may or may not have effective methods for breaking past the intermediate level, which you can hit with almost any methods including bad ones. Not to mention, most of us have to suffer on pianos that produce inadequate sound and therefore learning advanced tonal control is not possible.

This doesn't mean there aren't highly effective methods and highly ineffective ones that everyone can learn. There are! Although there may be some wiggle room here and there about whether approach A or approach B is best, they are still the best and approaches C through Z are flat out wrong. The wiggle room becomes less and less as you ascend the slopes of ultra-difficult repertoire. At these extremes, there can be little more than one effective method that will work because that is the nature of it. There happen to be those who are so extraordinarily gifted that they can parse these mysteries by intuition and trial and error, while miraculously avoiding the pitfalls of error in judgement. But their discoveries can and should be used by everyone.

Thankfully, bit by bit, thanks to the internet, the elitist barrier is being eroded and this information is reaching more and more hands and minds.

Often, very gifted pianists are not very good at teaching you how to learn, because all of what they did either came naturally to them or they learned it at such a young age that they have no perspective on it that they can impart to their students. On the other hand, a teacher who struggles with repertoire that's more advanced isn't necessarily a trustworthy guide into the same material. The combination of both - a clearly skilled pianist and a teacher who can explain how something works and why it works, is less common than the one or the other.

I have loved my teachers, because even though they haven't always had all of the answers for technique, they have engaged with me about it and focused on the problems behind the music which help guide the technique. My current teacher is a prodigy and a virtuoso and I can tell she struggles to understand how to teach technique, but she is very kind and tries her best. She is also the perfect guide to the world of music. Her ear has always guided her technique, so her insight has helped my ear guide mine. This is all an adult student can ask for.

And so, I formulate for you all my number one practice rule.

Trust your ear, and let it guide everything that you do.

My number two rule is to not be afraid to trust your intuition or your judgment. Never accept anything from any teacher as the gospel. Only accept it if it makes sense to you. If there is something that is questionable, you should be able to ask a question, and get a suitable answer!

Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus

No, I wasn't, even with my superb teachers. I learned those things on my own from reading blogs and books - and glad I did.


+1

Correct! Do your own research!

Last edited by Roland The Beagle; 02/17/14 02:01 AM.

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Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2232888
02/17/14 01:30 AM
02/17/14 01:30 AM
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Originally Posted by hreichgott
Just wondering how many people here learned practice strategies from their teachers. By practice strategies I mean things like

How to learn new material
How to put hands together for the first time
Fixing notes in trouble spots by working a small section and then playing several correct repetitions
Zoom in/zoom out to put a former trouble spot back in context of the piece
Practicing in rhythms
Melody-alone or one-voice-at-a-time practice
Analyzing trouble spots to determine what precisely is difficult about them
Distributing practice time between exercises, working on pieces, and playing through pieces
How to boost tempo
How NOT to spend our entire practice time playing through pieces in the same way with the same problems (!!!)

I have had a number of teachers in my life. 2 were excellent at teaching practice strategies and I studied with them only at an advanced level. The others didn't at all, although they were excellent pianists and teachers. I think I figured out for myself as a young intermediate student many of the problem-solving practice strategies above.

I have noticed now after several years as a teacher that the students who advance quickly are the ones who also taught themselves how to practice. The ones who rely on play-through do great with the beginner literature but then get sort of stalled around 2-part Minuets, Happy Farmer etc. So I'm starting to include practice strategies in my teaching at the early intermediate level. I was just wondering what other people remember from their teachers.

The piano teachers' association I belong to recently hosted a presentation by researcher Alys Terrien-Queen who studies music practice among students of all levels. Her research indicated that not many teachers teach how to practice. Which both surprises me and confirms what I had kind of suspected....


No, I wasn't, even with my superb teachers. I learned those things on my own from reading blogs and books - and glad I did.

Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: Roland The Beagle] #2233152
02/17/14 02:04 PM
02/17/14 02:04 PM
Joined: Apr 2013
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western MA, USA
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That's a great perspective Roland. I think that really skilled teachers are good at spelling things out for students in the beginning, and then gradually getting the students to take on more of the spell-it-out work for themselves.

I went back and looked at the practice strategies I got from one of those teachers. It's actually not a nuts-and-bolts set of strategies that breaks a problem down into steps or specifies a number of repetitions or anything. Instead it's a systematic list of all the things one should pay attention to when learning an (advanced) piece for the first time. Labeling key areas and cadences, marking phrases, working on voices independently, developing a big-picture sense of narrative, comparing to other pieces of a similar style, etc. The closest thing to a step-by-step strategy is "fragmentation and reassembly", called by another one of my teachers "BID-BIU (break it down, build it up)".

That list was very helpful at that stage, and this teacher only teaches advanced students who are probably all prone to getting buried in note and technical issues and not doing enough of the large-scale planning/interpreting. But even this presumes a lot of knowledge -- namely, practice habits similar to those early-intermediate strategies I mentioned in the original post. If we just draw phrasing slurs and don't actually do the melody-alone practice to establish phrasing, for example, marking the phrases won't have any effect.


Heather W. Reichgott, piano

Working on:
Beethoven - Diabelli Variations Op. 120
Beethoven/Liszt - Symphony no. 7
Tommy (whole show)

I love Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and new music
Re: Were you taught practice strategies? [Re: hreichgott] #2233158
02/17/14 02:22 PM
02/17/14 02:22 PM
Joined: Feb 2012
Posts: 268
California
Roland The Beagle Offline
Full Member
Roland The Beagle  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Feb 2012
Posts: 268
California


That sounds like a great approach to teaching, but it requires really close communication and understanding between the teacher and the student. Succeeding at teaching these strategies is not easy, and it's easy for the student to get left behind even though they appear to be getting it or doing well.

For example, it's hard not to get mired in technical difficulties, especially if the teacher gives you very challenging pieces. It's almost inevitable actually, because the student will see little point in all of the rest of the details if there are a few areas that are problematic and therefore the piece cannot be performed until they are solved.

In an ideal scenario, the piece you give a student should pose a moderate challenge. We all want to play the stuff that excites us as soon as possible, but it will do more harm than good in the long run. I'm kind of in that boat a little bit, because seeing my quick progress as an adult my energetic teachers gave me some quite difficult material for a student of only a year or so. However I have the self-awareness now to solve those issues. Also, I've learned that even if your technique isn't there for some parts of the piece, relax and don't worry about it. You'll get there eventually, and there's only so much you can get out of drilling difficult passages at one time. A moderate amount of drilling a day is sufficient - your technique needs time to develop and massive repetition will do more harm than good.

The break it down and build it up approach your describing is the one that feels most natural to me and brings me great joy! I love to do this, and will do it on my own. I love marking up my score and being meticulous about every detail. I probably go overboard though, practicing 4 bars for months straight just to perfect the phrasing and legato in every voice at the right tempo. This delays the completion of pieces (especially advanced and long ones) but I try to aim for the long term! For a nice short term performance I can get a 1-page Scriabin prelude and follow the same process smile


Danzas Argentinas, Alberto Ginastera
Piano Sonata Hob. XVI: 34 in E Minor, Franz Joseph Haydn
Nocturne, Op. 15 No. 1 in F Major, Frédéric Chopin
Prelude, Op. 11 No. 4 in E Minor, Alexander Scriabin
Prelude and Fugue in G Major, Well-Tempered Clavier Vol. 2, Johann Sebastian Bach
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