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Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: metaresolve] #2598411
12/27/16 12:16 PM
12/27/16 12:16 PM
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I often have my students learn a section of a piece backwards, note for note, because it really makes them slow down and read the music, check for missed or erroneous notes, and get out of memorizing too soon (i.e.before they really know the piece).

When they play it forwards again they are much more aware of, and focused on, what is actually written, rather than what they think is written.


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Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: pianopi] #2598412
12/27/16 12:19 PM
12/27/16 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by pianopi
....and get out of memorizing too soon (i.e.before they really know the piece).

Not sure what you mean. I've never heard of such an issue.
Besides, for many of us (incl. me, usually), memorizing happens sort of automatically, and fairly soon during the process of working on a piece. I'm not sure it could be prevented, and I don't see why anyone would want to prevent knowing the piece by memory.

I wonder if you're talking more about ingraining habits of how one plays the piece and thinks of it, rather than memory itself. That I would get!!

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: metaresolve] #2598420
12/27/16 12:59 PM
12/27/16 12:59 PM
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I like to practice backwards. That way when a friend might ask me to play something, I'll be able to end it without falling apart. Non-classical fans seldom want to hear more than a minute or two anyway, they just think it's freaky that I can play complex things.

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: Damon] #2598432
12/27/16 01:37 PM
12/27/16 01:37 PM
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I like to play pieces backwards. It's like walking backwards.

It makes you appreciate how easy it is to play forwards. Like walking forwards.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: metaresolve] #2598450
12/27/16 03:37 PM
12/27/16 03:37 PM
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Hmm. Hilarious arguments.

I have students learn a piece from both ends at the same time, not to be better at a certain section, but so that they can see the light at the end of the tunnel when they are working on a piece and suddenly, "Hey! I know the rest of this already!" and it doesn't seem to be so monumental. Just like I have them learn any coinciding return of a section at the same time so that they can notice the slight differences, or lack there of, making the piece seem like less of an undertaking.

I also have them be able to start in random places, because actually knowing what the heck you are playing is better than relying on muscle memory entirely.


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Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: Mark_C] #2598464
12/27/16 04:26 PM
12/27/16 04:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Mark_C
Originally Posted by hreichgott
....However, I do still memorize backward, exactly for the same reasons as that teacher. I love the feeling of always moving toward more familiar territory as I'm performing. The scary parts are always at the beginning that way, and quickly over with!

I didn't think to emphasize it before, but that is exactly a big part of why I so easily gravitated toward the emphasis on endings. For people who have any anxiety at all about performing (I think that covers a few of us) grin it's such a big advantage if we have as little worry as possible about the ending. Otherwise, it's easy to get more and more worried as we go along during a performance -- and, as per what I've said above, I think the natural tendency in our practicing if we don't have any awareness of the "backwards" argument is to underpractice the ending, and thus to have real reason to become more fearful as we go along during a performance.



I agree with you fully. I recently wrote a blog post about "learning backwards", here it is:
https://pianovning.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/practicing-backward-chaining/

If you think I express myself clumsy here and there it is because English is not my first language so no word nit-picking here, please.

The result from my backwards practice was that I FINALLY, after all these years, discovered that I could memorize pieces. I have never been able to do that before. I just could not understand why it was so hard, but it just did not work. I learned a few notes, maybe a few bars, but when I tried to play them, it suddenly got totally blank. Then this trend became a sort of mental blocking, I suppose.

By memorizing from the end, this does not happen. The further I go, the easier it becomes. So, voilá, suddenly I could memorize. Suddenly I found the missing key to the mystery, so to speak.
But I also write in this blog post that we are all different. We must choose the method that works for us, not for some idiot on Internet, not for our teacher, not for our piano idol.


But of course this method of learning/practicing is not supposed to be used totally mindlessly! If the piece is longer than a few bars, I always divide it in sections which I work with separately. I usually choose the sections first that look most difficult. Then I learn them backwards.

Easy parts that can be played reasonably well from pure sight-reading don't have to be learnt backwards, in my opinion. That is just waste of time. Now I don't talk about memorizing.

But we are also now talking about the introduction phase. After a while you will have worked your way back to the beginning and can hack your way through the whole piece with not too much technical trouble - ok, here is where backwards learning stops and "normal practice" starts, where you polish and make MUSIC of it. That is another chapter. Backwards learning is just for the technical learning when your fingers are very unsure where to go next.

Oh, and backwards learning is also a great way to resolve difficulties, the "I ALWAYS go wrong there!" syndrome. Identify the difficult spot in detail, it is usually just a few notes that "always" go wrong, and then you play the note coming right after the difficult spot. Then the note before that note, plus that last note. And then keep on chaining. The error will vanish with that method.

Maybe I should also mention that I am a writer, a technical writer and a translator as a profession. My daily job is to proof-read texts, that is. And every proof-reader knows that you have to read texts backwards sometimes, or else you go "blind" for certain kinds of errors. I think the same goes for note reading sometimes. The musical flow ( = melody) can distract you when you are to really READ the notes. Reading backwards is a way to work around that problem.

Last edited by ghosthand; 12/27/16 04:31 PM.
Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: pianoloverus] #2598465
12/27/16 04:34 PM
12/27/16 04:34 PM
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Just make sure you know the last chords flawlessly. I once reached the end of a performance ... I think it was one of the Schubert Impromptus ... and at the last second forgot which key it was supposed to be in. I opted for the wrong choice.

While perhaps not strictly true ( there were other factors) I cite that horrendous moment as the one which propelled me off the concert stage .... blush

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: TheHappyPianoMuse] #2598470
12/27/16 04:44 PM
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Oh, that happened to me too, once! I don't remember how I got away from the stage ... what a nightmare.

Well, I was just a school kid back then. Nobody hanged me for this crime, but it was terribly embarrassing. Stage fright can do the strangest thing with your mind.

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: metaresolve] #2598512
12/27/16 07:54 PM
12/27/16 07:54 PM
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I started the backwards approach to practicing two years ago, and with a recent piece ran into a pitfall of the approach. It is a six-page piece, and on page four is a somewhat tricky section of about 12 bars that offers no help in the fingerings, as does much of the rest of the piece. I put quite a bit of effort into figuring out fingerings for that section. Then much later when I got near the beginning of the piece I discovered that that 12 bars was an exact repeat of page one material and, by golly, there was indeed suggested fingerings for it on page one. Doh! Of course I was familiar enough with the piece from listening to recordings to know that that material was in essence reprised, but it was a surprise to find that it was EXACTLY the same...particularly for this composer (Medtner) who rarely makes things easy!

Last edited by scriabinfanatic; 12/27/16 08:52 PM.
Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: scriabinfanatic] #2598538
12/27/16 09:44 PM
12/27/16 09:44 PM
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Originally Posted by scriabinfanatic
I started the backwards approach to practicing two years ago, and with a recent piece ran into a pitfall of the approach. It is a six-page piece, and on page four is a somewhat tricky section of about 12 bars that offers no help in the fingerings, as does much of the rest of the piece. I put quite a bit of effort into figuring out fingerings for that section. Then much later when I got near the beginning of the piece I discovered that that 12 bars was an exact repeat of page one material and, by golly, there was indeed suggested fingerings for it on page one. Doh! Of course I was familiar enough with the piece from listening to recordings to know that that material was in essence reprised, but it was a surprise to find that it was EXACTLY the same...particularly for this composer (Medtner) who rarely makes things easy!

Of course with some other piece and passage, you might have been fortunate to be freed of the suffering that can come from a printed fingering! grin

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: metaresolve] #2598542
12/27/16 10:25 PM
12/27/16 10:25 PM
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There's nothing wrong with learning the last section of a piece first, then the next to last section, then the section before that, etc... I've done that with several pieces, such as Bach-Busoni Chaconne and Chopin's 2nd Ballade. It makes no difference what order you learn various sections of a piece. What matters is that you get the piece into your fingers one way or another.

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: metaresolve] #2598555
12/28/16 12:08 AM
12/28/16 12:08 AM
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I learn my pieces in a totally random way, working on whatever seems to need more work atm smile

But beginnings are always the most difficult for me to play...

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: scriabinfanatic] #2598563
12/28/16 01:19 AM
12/28/16 01:19 AM
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Victoria, BC
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Originally Posted by scriabinfanatic
I started the backwards approach to practicing two years ago, and with a recent piece ran into a pitfall of the approach. It is a six-page piece, and on page four is a somewhat tricky section of about 12 bars that offers no help in the fingerings, as does much of the rest of the piece. I put quite a bit of effort into figuring out fingerings for that section. Then much later when I got near the beginning of the piece I discovered that that 12 bars was an exact repeat of page one material and, by golly, there was indeed suggested fingerings for it on page one. Doh! Of course I was familiar enough with the piece from listening to recordings to know that that material was in essence reprised, but it was a surprise to find that it was EXACTLY the same...particularly for this composer (Medtner) who rarely makes things easy!


It seems to me that a quick, initial read-through of the score from beginning to end, before deciding on what practice method to use, would have saved you much time and frustration.

Might I also add that this experience should prove that "learning pieces backwards" should not be a literal and an exclusive approach to learning a work.

Regards,


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Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: BruceD] #2598565
12/28/16 01:39 AM
12/28/16 01:39 AM
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Originally Posted by BruceD
It seems to me that a quick, initial read-through of the score from beginning to end, before deciding on what practice method to use, would have saved you much time and frustration.

Might I also add that this experience should prove that "learning pieces backwards" should not be a literal and an exclusive approach to learning a work.

Well yes. Not even I thought it means not letting yourself look through the whole piece. grin

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: metaresolve] #2598816
12/28/16 08:22 PM
12/28/16 08:22 PM
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I love the technique of starting at the end. Learn the last measure or three, depending on difficulty. Then move back a few measures and learn those, then play through all you know.

One thing about this is you don't get the initial themes locked into memory. However you learn the more difficult variations of the themes right away. Usually that's what trips me up. I think I learn faster this way, because it enforces more discipline. Well, as long as you don't learn a new section, and rattle it off all the way to the very end of the piece. Then it takes longer to learn!

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: RubberFingers] #2598819
12/28/16 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by RubberFingers
I love the technique of starting at the end. Learn the last measure or three, depending on difficulty. Then move back a few measures and learn those, then play through all you know.

One thing about this is you don't get the initial themes locked into memory. However you learn the more difficult variations of the themes right away. Usually that's what trips me up. I think I learn faster this way, because it enforces more discipline. Well, as long as you don't learn a new section, and rattle it off all the way to the very end of the piece. Then it takes longer to learn!
But as you just described your method, you will over practice the last sections compared to the first sections. Also, there is no guarantee that the last sections are more difficult than the first ones. Finally, I don't think this method enforces any more discipline than learning the piece from the beginning(or any other approach).

OSK said it best:"It makes no difference what order you learn various sections of a piece. What matters is that you get the piece into your fingers one way or another." My guess is that the huge majority of pianists at all levels learn pieces from the beginning, although some like to learn or begin to learn the hardest parts first.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 12/28/16 08:50 PM.
Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: Mark_C] #2598823
12/28/16 09:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Mark_C
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
The poster I quoted(you left out the quote)said exactly that. She said "you are always moving from less secure into more secure material."

I doubt she meant "less secure than usual."

...it was sort of a figure-of-speech way of expressing it, a way of saying that it's good to feel that we're more secure as we go along and that we have confidence about it.
Of course, even IF that's what the poster meant, one could just as easily say one likes the feeling of being incredibly secure at the beginning of a piece so make sure to start practicing at the beginning...or likes the feeling of being incredibly secure at the "hardest" part of a piece so practice that first, etc.

In addition, since the poster said she felt more secure as the piece progressed, this means she overpracticed the last parts compared to the first parts. One should try to be as equally secure as possible in all parts of a piece.


Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: pianoloverus] #2598879
12/29/16 02:32 AM
12/29/16 02:32 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
A reasonably serious and intelligent student will understand that the harder parts need the most work and proceed accordingly. This idea is not rocket science.

+1

When I was reviewing my PhD dissertation for errors, I literally read it backwards, word-by-word. That way you find errors/typos that you'd never find reading forwards, because you're isolating the printed words from their context and, to a degree, their meaning.

So, while I think it's not a very good idea to learn piano pieces backwards by starting at the last page and working forwards, I do think it is valuable to practice difficult passagework back-to-front as it were, to cement facility and connectivity. So let's say there's a really tricky double octave passage (I just can't be bothered to think of an example right now). You start with the last bar, play it repetitively in different rhythmic formats, then connect it with the preceding bar, mix up the rhythmic stuff, go back another bar, same thing, etc. You can even do it note by note: start with the last two notes (or beats, if it's not unison or octaves), then add the preceding note, etc. I would emphasize that this is NOT a substitute for practicing these passages forwards. It is a supplement. Using this technique, I managed to fix some problems I was having with the contrary motion octave passages in Chopin's Op. 49; I actually isolated the note in the right hand that I was consistently getting wrong in both iterations of the figure.

So I agree with pianoloverus. You spend time on the difficult parts, but those parts can be broken down into their components and those components can be worked both forwards and backwards, though "backwards" is obviously not to be taken literally, as in "retrograde".


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Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: SiFi] #2598885
12/29/16 02:54 AM
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The trouble is, he seems to be saying he doesn't think it's a good idea at all, for anybody. I don't think you are.

If you are, you're wrong too. grin

It's fine not to see any point to it oneself, and not to see how it could be a good idea for anybody, and to find the arguments for it unconvincing. But I don't think it makes much sense to feel convinced that it isn't a good idea for anybody. After all, we have a whole bunch of people right here, explaining how this inconvenient thing is good for us. Why in the world would so many people have gravitated to this inconvenient out-of-the-way thing, if it weren't useful? In general, for just about anything, there's a very strong draw for whatever is the most convenient and logical thing. When such a number of people find it worthwhile to go out of their way to do something else -- and especially when they give such articulate explanations of it, as we have here (and elsewhere) -- I think you can be pretty sure there's something to it, at least for them, and I find it surprising that anyone would see fit to question it so persistently.

Re: Learning pieces backwards [Re: Mark_C] #2598916
12/29/16 05:39 AM
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There is always a very delicate difference between "adding my $0.02 to the common knowledge by giving my opinion" and "lecturing everyone about WhatToDoBecauseISaySo". And this is a gathering of pianists, not rhetoric experts.

Of course, if you have found a method that works for you, it would be totally insane to abandon it just because some stranger in an Internet discussion board says this will not work. DON'T CHANGE A WINNING CONCEPT!

On the other hand, if you are not satisfied with your progress and suspect there is a better method, then please try out whatever suggestion you find! Like I have already written, I have been incapable of memorizing pieces all my life (and I am 50 now) and I have not understood why. I always win those memory games, I can memorize texts and phone numbers and quotes and everything easy as that, but when it came to music notes - boom, it was like hitting a wall.
Then I was reminded about that good old backward chaining and I tried that for memorizing - it was easy! Now I can do it. So I found the method that worked for ME, and now I would like to see what arguments some self-appointed expert out there has, that prove how wrong I was.

The method also worked great for learning complicated patterns. There were a few bars in a piece by Teresa Carreño that felt hopeless to conquer. Then I started from the end. One note. Two notes. Three notes. And ... I had the whole sequence sorted out after a few minutes and I could even play it from memory by then.

A very, very typical scenario - at least I think so? - when you learn something new is this: let's say you are to play a fast sequence like Eflat-G-Aflat-B-C ... (I just made this up, I have no idea what it sounds like.) You do it a bit too fast and you happen to play Eflat-F-G-Aflat ... instead. Gah! But not next time, right? You are eager to proceed and work on other issues and also quickly feel like a real virtuoso and enjoy the music, right? After all, that is why we play, because we like the music.
So next time you play quickly again and oops, there we go again. Maybe you make a correction-on-the-go, so that you play Eflat-F-Aflat-sorry-G-Aflat ... and so on. It is a real bad habit I have myself. It is called stuttering.
Then you do this a couple of times more and soon you have it memorized in your muscles. Eflat-F-Aflat-G-Aflat ... Now you are in the very common but undesired situation to UNLEARN this mistake and then RELEARN the right setting. So either you rely on "will power", which means you grit your teeth and try to FOCUS hard on playing right next time you approach this hurdle. Or you try to do it systematically and play this sequence slooowly a few times. You will notice that your fingers are making some kind of resistance, they really "want" the old pattern. Then you think you have it, and you quickly speed up tempo to the right tempo again and ... you do the same old mistake once again, engraving it harder and harded every time! What you now have done, is to learn two different versions - one slow and correct, and one fast and incorrect.

Of course you will solve this, finally. I mean, I have done this a million times and usually I get it right after a lot of work, but I feel I have wasted my time and that there should be a more effective way.

Yes, there backwards chaining. Try playing from where you do it right: Aflat-B-C, with a very secure and firm landing on that Aflat. Then you add the RIGHT note, G, and play this sequence a couple of times: G-Aflat-B-C, until you feel totally secure. And then you add the Eflat too. Eflat-G-Aflat-B-C.

To me, this IS the quickest and safest way to learn the right pattern. It simply does not offer the possibility to play wrong.

But ONCE AGAIN: try it if you like. Use it if you like. And skip it if you don't like it, or don't think you need it. I just described how I memorize nowadays. I am fully aware that many of you memorize in a different way. This does not mean anything is wrong with you, or wrong with me. We are just different.


By the way, I don't like coffee either. It tastes like burnt ashes in my mouth. People who love coffee don't understand me. On the other hand, I am crazy about cilantro. Some people claim it tastes like soap. We are ... different, I suppose.

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