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How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
#2600402 01/02/17 07:23 PM
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Hi,

I'm interested to hear about how long it takes people to learn, memorize and perfect a piece for performance. I'm curious about both beginning students up to performers/competitors. (btw, if this has already been discussed to death, please link me to a thread, ty)

My timetables were always dictated by my teachers growing up. They'd let me know when I was ready to start adding pieces and when to start memorizing. A lot of times we figured once it was in my fingers I might as well start memorizing it; I had guild in the spring and we needed to build the repertoire.

I've got two pieces there now--and I've only been playing for 5 weeks. I'm a little shocked at how fast everything is coming back, so I don't know if I'm rushing and need to take more time.

Some googling and forum searches led to an estimate of 3-4 months per piece. I'm honestly at one month playing these pieces and they are just about ready to go down the memorization and perfection path.

I'm debating how to approach my next practice sessions: should I be slowing down and intending to stay with the music for another few weeks? One of the pieces is below my most advanced level (Bach Invention #8) but I'm working it up for performance caliber.

I know, don't approach it like I'm timeblocking, but I'd like some fresh input.

Last edited by metaresolve; 01/02/17 07:29 PM.

meta
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Yamaha Clavinova CLP-930
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Currently working on:
- J.S. Bach: Invention #8 in F major
- Chopin: Waltz, Op 70 No 1 in G-flat major
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Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
metaresolve #2600409 01/02/17 07:37 PM
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What pieces are you playing? I am new myself and my teacher taught me Romantic Love from gunter and I learnt that in 2 weeks the 1st week the whole song then the 2nd week with the pedals smile

Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
Cutestpuppie #2600410 01/02/17 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Cutestpuppie
What pieces are you playing? I am new myself and my teacher taught me Romantic Love from gunter and I learnt that in 2 weeks the 1st week the whole song then the 2nd week with the pedals smile


That sounds great! Are you planning to memorize the pieces?

Last edited by metaresolve; 01/02/17 07:55 PM.

meta
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Yamaha Clavinova CLP-930
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Currently working on:
- J.S. Bach: Invention #8 in F major
- Chopin: Waltz, Op 70 No 1 in G-flat major
Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
metaresolve #2600415 01/02/17 07:48 PM
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Depends on how long, how complicated and how difficult the piece is. BTW, complicated pieces aren't necessarily difficult technically - just difficult to memorize because they are highly chromatic or there aren't straightforward 'patterns' to latch on to.

From my own experience over the past few years (i.e. since I started performing pieces from memory), it took me anything from less than 15 minutes for an easy, straightforward piece (like the first piece from Schumann's Kinderszenen) to two weeks for Albéniz's Asturias and Chopin's 'Minute' Waltz, to one month for Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances, to two years for Gaspard de la nuit.


"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: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
bennevis #2600418 01/02/17 07:55 PM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Depends on how long, how complicated and how difficult the piece is. BTW, complicated pieces aren't necessarily difficult technically - just difficult to memorize because they are highly chromatic or there aren't straightforward 'patterns' to latch on to.


Good point. As technically difficult as Chopin can be, the patterns in the left hand for the waltz are very quick to learn.

Quote
From my own experience over the past few years (i.e. since I started performing pieces from memory), it took me anything from less than 15 minutes for an easy, straightforward piece (like the first piece from Schumann's Kinderszenen) to two weeks for Albéniz's Asturias and Chopin's 'Minute' Waltz, to one month for Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances, to two years for Gaspard de la nuit.


lmao, 15 minutes? to... sightread and memorize? I can't do that.

Oh nice, 2 weeks for Chopin's Minute Waltz--that gives me a nice context to grasp onto. I played it briefly in high school, just as an experiment, not because I was serious about it. I fully expect that to take me a minimum of 8 months to get up to performance capability. I'm not even sure I could get it fast enough.


meta
~~~
Yamaha Clavinova CLP-930
~~~
Currently working on:
- J.S. Bach: Invention #8 in F major
- Chopin: Waltz, Op 70 No 1 in G-flat major
Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
metaresolve #2600425 01/02/17 08:42 PM
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One advantage of using something like the Music Journal app is I know exactly how long I have spent practicing something. I used to write things down in a notebook and it was just too much trouble to go back and add things up. Now I can just tap and all secrets are revealed.

I'm working on a Scarlatti Sonata, and so far I have spent 44 hours practicing it. I usually spend 30 minutes a day on a single piece, so that's roughly 88 days (I almost never miss a day). I will probably perform it sometime this semester (I'm going back to school in my old age) after another 10 or 20 hours practice.

A much shorter 20th century piece, a Muczynski Prelude, I practiced last semester for 30 hours before performing it. It's only a little over one minute long.

On the other hand I started Mendelssohn 30/6 last Spring, practiced it all summer, and performed it in October. I didn't keep track of the hours for that one, but it took about 7 months.

And I shudder to think how many hours I have spent on pieces that I ultimately gave up on - they just weren't going to come together for me - too difficult. But I still learned things from them.

How long does it take? As long as it needs to.

Sam

Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
metaresolve #2600427 01/02/17 08:52 PM
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@Sam,
I have not kept an app of the time, but... I can learn the notes fairly quickly, but then the interpretation! The more I work to refine it, the more I learn, and this stage can take forever. I have been 'polishing' three Chopin nocturnes for months, and have loved every minute of it. Not only do these nocturnes get better the more time (and thought) I spend, but I learn much that can be applied to other music.

Your philosophy of 'How long does it take? As long as it needs to' thumb

I will add another maxim: don't compare your progress to others. Take as long as it takes... give it a rest and come back to it and spend more time. You will learn more each time you approach the score

This is not a race, but a stroll.

Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
metaresolve #2600452 01/02/17 10:07 PM
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Originally Posted by metaresolve
Originally Posted by Cutestpuppie
What pieces are you playing? I am new myself and my teacher taught me Romantic Love from gunter and I learnt that in 2 weeks the 1st week the whole song then the 2nd week with the pedals smile


That sounds great! Are you planning to memorize the pieces?

Nope. Not really. I can play some part without looking at the sheets but I prefer reading whats in front of me smile
What are you playing? I want to YouTube smile

Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
Sam S #2600478 01/03/17 12:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Sam S


I'm working on a Scarlatti Sonata, and so far I have spent 44 hours practicing it. I usually spend 30 minutes a day on a single piece, so that's roughly 88 days (I almost never miss a day). I will probably perform it sometime this semester (I'm going back to school in my old age) after another 10 or 20 hours practice.



You just made me feel a lot better! I too am working on a Scarlatti sonata and I started to think I am hopeless because it takes so long. But I don't think I am anywhere close to that amount of actual hours yet, even though it's been a few months. I might need such an app myself to bring my expectations closer to reality...

Last edited by outo; 01/03/17 12:25 AM.
Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
metaresolve #2600518 01/03/17 05:32 AM
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Originally Posted by metaresolve
I'm interested to hear about how long it takes people to learn, memorize and perfect a piece for performance. I'm curious about both beginning students up to performers/competitors. ...

Since you're interested in all sides of the puzzle:

I was originally self-taught as a child, and then did not have a piano for 35 years. It means that one of my main tasks is to acquire the technique I never got as well as undoing what did form as "technique" back then. The nature of this practising might be different in some respects than for someone who in general has the technique and is getting back. That said, I've known more than one taught pianist who has found himself relearning this and that (technically).

I don't perfect that many pieces for performance (which at present mostly means recording). Often pieces are used as a means for learning this or that, and not pushed to perfection since that's not the goal. When a piece is developed to the end, it's up to my technical abilities at that time, and that includes knowing when to stop. There are a couple of pieces I'd like to pick up again now that I can do more.

One of my goals when starting piano lessons was to learn efficient practice. I was involved in a project in another forum a few years ago involving a simple piece, to be played as musically as possible. The actual practice sessions were exactly four. In between there was analyzing, listening to my recordings, thinking of this and that, and ofc my teacher's input. That experience convinced me about the approach. A more complex piece would have taken longer, of course. There was no memorizing, however. There is some controversy here and there about the policy of memorized music in piano, but it was also because reading was one of the skills I was honing. It is possible to play fluidly without memorizing the music, though to some degree, when you know it that well, it will be partly memorized.

All in all, I'd think it's different for every individual, especially here where we have such different backgrounds.
Quote
. I'm a little shocked at how fast everything is coming back, so I don't know if I'm rushing and need to take more time.

If it's going well with those pieces, then it takes as long as it takes. If a piece seems solid in a few weeks and googled statistics says 4 months, then your own reality is what is real. I'd go with that.

Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
metaresolve #2600544 01/03/17 08:40 AM
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It depends on what the piece is, how difficult, how long, what I'm learning it for, and how good I want it to sound.
If it is one page, not hard, and it just needs to sound "fine", I might just look it over one day for a few minutes.
If it is half an hour long and I want it to sound as good as it possibly can, I might be at it for a year or two.

Only you (or your teacher, if you have one) can truly say when you think a piece is fully learned. For me and my students, that point has to be at least where in performance it sounds "fine": accuracy near-perfect, at a tempo that suits the piece, rhythm and musicality good enough that it's pleasant to listen to, no stops and starts, no spots that are always a problem. You can always pick up a piece later and improve your artistic approach or play around with a different tempo or something, but imho it's much better to get the piece to the point where it's really satisfying to play and to hear before moving on. (If that seems like an impossible goal the repertoire is too hard. In my opinion. I suspect I am a more picky teacher than many.)

I will say, as a teacher, that students usually over-estimate how securely they know a piece. If you think it sounds great most times you play it, but you haven't been working on it that long, that's wonderful, but do go through the step of recording and listening to it first.
Or try playing it for someone else to hear. The other person doesn't have to give a critique or even know anything about music. Just having other ears in the room often helps students become aware of things that need more work.

Both short-term (easier, shorter) and long-term (harder, longer) working pieces are useful for students.

Last edited by hreichgott; 01/03/17 08:46 AM.

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Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
bennevis #2600583 01/03/17 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Depends on how long, how complicated and how difficult the piece is. BTW, complicated pieces aren't necessarily difficult technically - just difficult to memorize because they are highly chromatic or there aren't straightforward 'patterns' to latch on to.

From my own experience over the past few years (i.e. since I started performing pieces from memory), it took me anything from less than 15 minutes for an easy, straightforward piece (like the first piece from Schumann's Kinderszenen) to two weeks for Albéniz's Asturias and Chopin's 'Minute' Waltz, to one month for Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances, to two years for Gaspard de la nuit.


Bennevis, do you have a photographic memory? I think my son did, or he was just born with the ability to play through a piece, say Malagueña, with the sheet music once then he could realll the entire piece the next day. Takes me months and months and months. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it.

Occasionally I will analyze a piece of music, in parts rather than look at the whole. Look for scale runs and any other repeating motives. I find when I do this learning is easier. Too often, though, I just want to play it and that doesn't happen very well.

Last edited by Isabelle1949; 01/03/17 10:41 AM.

Always working to improve "Chopsticks". I'll never give up on it.
Re: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
Isabelle1949 #2600603 01/03/17 11:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Isabelle1949
Originally Posted by bennevis
Depends on how long, how complicated and how difficult the piece is. BTW, complicated pieces aren't necessarily difficult technically - just difficult to memorize because they are highly chromatic or there aren't straightforward 'patterns' to latch on to.

From my own experience over the past few years (i.e. since I started performing pieces from memory), it took me anything from less than 15 minutes for an easy, straightforward piece (like the first piece from Schumann's Kinderszenen) to two weeks for Albéniz's Asturias and Chopin's 'Minute' Waltz, to one month for Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances, to two years for Gaspard de la nuit.


Bennevis, do you have a photographic memory?

Unfortunately not. cry

The reason why I can memorize some pieces so quickly (and not others) is just what I mentioned earlier - logical & straightforward harmonies and recurrent simple patterns. The Schumann Von fremden Ländern und Menschen (a favorite encore of Martha Argerich, by the way) is so easy to learn because one can almost play it by ear just from one hearing, just like the outer sections of Asturias, which also has a non-stop repetitive pattern. All my memory problems with the latter are in the middle section, which is easily sight-readable but not easy to memorize securely.......

As I've mentioned more than once before in other threads, unless you really need to play specific pieces from memory, there's no need to memorize anything at all. Personally, I believe that developing good sight-reading and aural skills (so that you can play by ear, even sight-sing etc) is far more important than memorizing lots of pieces. My first teacher used to play me the theme from Love Story (the only 'piano song' I knew and loved then) by ear in my first few lessons as a reward for practicing diligently, and she never played it the same way twice. She never played any classical pieces from memory; instead, in later lessons, she would just fish out a volume of, say, Mendelssohn's Songs without Words from her bag, pick one at random (or ask me to choose one), and just play it for me - probably at sight. I never asked her, but I don't think she ever memorized any piece in her life - all the way up to, and including, her teaching diploma. Neither did my next two teachers - and I did ask them. (My last teacher was a concert pianist, who did perform from memory when playing solo).


"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: How long do you spend learning and perfecting a piece?
metaresolve #2600788 01/03/17 08:09 PM
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I don't keep a score on the rack for very long. I'll tackle a section for a week and get it accurate, memorised and at performance standard even if the tempo is only high enough in fragments, then move on to another piece or another section. The tempo is never important for me except that I need to be able to play it up to tempo at some point. The opening figure in Beethoven's Op. 22, for example, would need to be playable at tempo before going on though I could practise it slowly most of the time.

It takes a while to get to the end of a piece this way but if I can complete it in four weeks or less, e.g. Schubert's Musical Moment 3, I'll do it in consecutive weeks. If it takes longer, like a Beethoven Sonata movement, I'll have weeks when I don't touch any of it so it may take months to complete the first cycle. Schumann's Traumerei is a nominal five weeks at one phrase per week but in practise would be less than three weeks as the each pair of phrases fit each other so well.

I may let a piece rest and assimilate before making a second round, usually the same time and format but much easier work and only a few minutes each day. I work on seven to twelve pieces each day so I don't spend long on any of them. Subsequent cycles are usually longer sections as I start joining the parts together and can remember more. Only when the piece is playable in three or four sections, memorised and up to tempo, do I start joining them together. All the sequential runs up to then are audiated from the score, slowly and in detail as well as up to tempo, and seldom on the piano.

Most of my recital submissions have been learnt for one or more years and left to lie for at least six months before working back up afresh, these days doing only small sections from the score as if I'd never played it before. In the past I just tried playing it every day until it came back.

In summary I spend a week perfecting each small section at a time and keep doing that until the piece in few enough sections that I can put it together quickly and easily.

I've only been playing fifty years so I don't have any pieces perfected yet. I keep working on all of them with a year or more between cycles. So far I haven't come across a piece I haven't been able to improve this way.

Originally Posted by bennevis
...there's no need to memorize anything at all...
True, but if you're going to spend time learning a piece, you're going to memorise it anyway and it will be mostly procedural memory. It takes a lot longer to memorise a piece you already play than to memorise it first because you have to unlearn all the cues from looking at the score and start learning it deliberately. It's also a lot quicker to learn a piece if it's memorised first because it's put into cognisant memory - much more reliable under pressure - and can be practised, flawlessly, away from the piano. It also comes back quicker if the piece is dropped, the techniques used in it are practised without having to practise at the piano and they become a fundamental part of our technique without spending hours on scales and arpeggios.

Also, for those of us who didn't learn to sight-read in our childhood it takes a lot longer for reading to be an efficient form of learning. I can't learn easy pieces easily because I play them from the score and might use extemporised fingerings, for example, one of the worst ways of learning a piece and seldom solid in performance.

I never sight-read a prospective piece because I learn fingering very quickly and without working on the best fingering deliberately I have to spend untold hours unlearning the fingerings that are intuitive but wrong.

Sight-reading, as it is commonly taught, is done with maintaining tempo at the expense of accuracy. Learning a repertory piece efficiently must be read with accuracy regardless of tempo. Ten years of tuition and sight-reading as a child is a world away from learning piano and sight-reading as an adult.



Richard

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