On consolidating, a new approach to learning repertoire, and pieces that are harder than they look.
Yet another long overdue update. Life suddenly got a lot busier just last month as Iâ€™ve landed my desired job as a programmer (Junior Front-End Web Developer, in case anyone wonders), so thereâ€™s not quite as much time left for practice, and even less so for writing about it. I did find myself with a bit of time left on this beautiful Sunday evening, so here it is.More on consolidating
Last time, I talked quite a bit about consolidating pieces. Turning off the metronome and practising it as slowly as needed for me to be able to bring out the musicality that I want while, at the same time, ironing out mistakes that slipped into my playing.
While I felt it was useful, I became less sure about the need for no metronome. Surely, playing it nice and slow with the metronome will be equally effective if not more so? After two weeks, I felt like that was indeed the case, and I was ready to write a new post on how wrong I was on the no-metronome technique. But as I kept on practising, I came to realise thereâ€™s something to be said for both methods, and a bit of a compromise was needed. It ended up being quite a significant compromise, too, in the sense that the way I practise material has changed quite a bit.
I used to set the metronome very slow at the start of every practice session, work my way up to the tempo I reached in my last practice session, and then (hopefully) end up adding a bit to that. It was effective, but it required a lot of repetition.
My new way of practising starts with the consolidating technique I talked about at length: start playing as slowly as needed to have proper control and musicality and repeat the section a couple of times until itâ€™s entirely in your fingers. This replaces the entirety of â€˜start slow and work up to the tempo you reached yesterdayâ€™. Most times, four or five repetitions are all thatâ€™s needed to play at last timeâ€™s tempo with a metronome consistently.
Itâ€™s at that point that the metronome is turned back on, and immediately at last timeâ€™s tempo. If, after a minute or two, I cannot consistently play it with the metronome, I turn it back off and get a couple of correct repetitions without the metronome (again, consolidating) and move on onto the next section. If I do get it right, Iâ€™ll work to increase the tempo by 5/10BPM; whatever feels comfortable and doesnâ€™t lead to mistakes.
It feels a bit more time efficient, as thereâ€™s less pure repetition. The repetition without a metronome is also more fun because I get to play with a bit more freedom. This also carries over very well into the later stages of learning that piece, as Iâ€™ll already somewhat know where I want to take the piece. The risk here always was going back to last timeâ€™s tempo without being ready for it, but by being honest about my own playing really goes a long way.A new approach to learning repertoire
I had a revelation while trying to play through my repertoire pieces while reading: I canâ€™t keep track of things and read along as well as Iâ€™d like (which was very logical, as I never put in the effort beyond my initial study of the piece). This got me thinking: would it be valuable to be able to both play while reading and play from memory?
I concluded that it would indeed be valuable. I even went as far to decide, for myself, that I didnâ€™t know a piece unless I could play it while reading. Hereâ€™s why:
First, when you rely entirely on memorisation, little mistakes are bound to slip into your playing without you noticing. Playing with the improper dynamics, ignoring rests, poor phrasing, the list goes on. While reading, youâ€™ll see all these things as you play, so youâ€™ll notice anything going wrong and act accordingly.
Second, being able to play along while reading goes a long way to memorising the piece, at least for me. If I can play it while reading, itâ€™ll hardly take any effort to get it memorised. At that point, being very familiar with the score is invaluable. Iâ€™ll not exactly be able to see the score in my mind, but Iâ€™ll be vaguely aware of how it looks and remember crucial aspects (which were giving me trouble. Thus I spent more time on them. Therefore I know those parts best). It does help tremendously with how secure a piece of music is for me when playing from memory.
Third, as you learn a piece more often, getting back to a state where you can read it comes very quickly. You eliminate potential mistakes you may accidentally introduce by relying on memorisation from the start.
Iâ€™m sure there are many more reasons always to be able to read along with any piece youâ€™re learning at any stage of the learning process, but these are the ones that are evident to me.
Something else that has changed in my approach to repertoire is an acceptance of metronome practice. I never used to do this beyond the initial learning stage, but Iâ€™ve become more accepting of those times where itâ€™s really needed. Mainly, pieces that need to get to a certain tempo, which I can not yet comfortably reach. Iâ€™ll do my musicality practise, followed by a few sessions of metronome practice. If I got +20/+30 compared to the last time I learned it, Iâ€™ll lay it aside again. Iâ€™ve found that this carries over well into subsequent relearning activities. I donâ€™t really bother trying to get that new tempo musical straight away; not only will it not be as good as Iâ€™d like anyway, next time itâ€™ll feel ten times easier, anyway.Some more Grieg
This weekend, Iâ€™ve made my third recording of Griegâ€™s Watchmanâ€™s Song. Just now, I also realise I didnâ€™t even post my second one. You can find a playlist of all three recordings on SoundCloud.
I think thereâ€™s some definite improvement to be heard. Iâ€™m relatively confident about the main part of the piece, I like the tempo, use of rubato, dynamics, silences, phrasing, and voicing. In the Intermezzo, the arpeggios continue to be a source of trouble, but thereâ€™s some good improvement there as well (especially in my latest recording). My teacher showed me a great way to try and learn to play these just this last Thursday, so Iâ€™ll spend a week here and there working on just that. The chords in the Intermezzo are much better now that Iâ€™ve spent some time working on just that. They feel controlled and much closer to how I want them compared to my first two recordings. My third time relearning is scheduled for the end of September, so I hope to update you with a new recording around that time.
Speaking of SoundCloud, Iâ€™m going to publish a bit of material there, as well. On YouTube, Iâ€™ll post everything that I want a definitive recording of (repertoire), while on SoundCloud, Iâ€™ll post those pieces which I like, but not enough to relearn a couple of times. The first piece is Twilight by Jean Clergue
, a lovely piece from the Jardin dâ€™enfants collection Iâ€™ve mentioned before.Pieces that are harder than they look
There are some pieces of which you see the score and think: â€œWell, thatâ€™s going to be an easy one, let me learn this right quick,â€ but after just a few minutes youâ€™ll realise how wrong you were. But you canâ€™t stop here, can you? It shouldnâ€™t be that hard, but it is.
Maybe this is purely psychological, but I personally find these pieces super valuable. If it looks easy, it probably consists of concepts which youâ€™ve tackled earlier, yet they are presented in such a way thatâ€™s much more difficult than you expected. Iâ€™ll work on such a piece for a month or even more, and once itâ€™s done, I feel like Iâ€™ve learned much more than I do from the average piece. As I said, maybe thatâ€™s psychological, maybe thereâ€™s something there.
The piece in question is Gedike Op. 60 No. 36 (page 6)
. What ended up making it so difficult is how every phrase is a mix of staccato and legato, the left hand is a mix of legato, portato, and staccato, the part with 3 voices (with staccato and legato in the same hand), the dynamics and accents, and the small amount of hand movement combined with the high intended tempo. Iâ€™m almost a month into learning it, and itâ€™s starting to get consistent at quarter note = 60. I expect the intended tempo is almost twice as high.
Itâ€™s a great book, by the way. Itâ€™s a book of studies, but they are of high musical quality. Even the pieces specifically marked as etudes are great musically. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for some good Early Intermediate material.What Iâ€™m working on
Actually, first of all, what was I working on but has since been laid aside?
Iâ€™ve put some work into Jardin dâ€™enfants
but have laid it aside just two weeks ago in favour of some other material. Itâ€™s a fantastic book that Iâ€™m pretty much always in the mood for and which can provide me with two or three quick pieces to learn.
The Anna Magdalena Notebook
, I think Iâ€™m done with. At least for now, I canâ€™t really be bothered to work on yet another Menuet, especially since it most likely wasnâ€™t ever written by Bach. This choice is made much easier by some of the other things Iâ€™ve been working on which may serve as a Baroque replacement (as it covers many of the same concepts).Takacs Op. 111
Iâ€™m done with for the time being. There are some terrific pieces left, but theyâ€™re a bit too hard for me at the moment. Iâ€™ve learned about half the book at this point, and many pieces ended up on my list of the desired repertoire. One such piece
Iâ€™ve actually recorded and uploaded today.
All the pieces in Schumann Op. 68
that are at my level donâ€™t really interest me, so itâ€™s been laid aside for now. Iâ€™m keen to learn some of the more complex material (like Knecht Rupert), but thatâ€™s beyond me, still. Rebikov Op. 31
ended up being too hard for me now. I learned one piece, and itâ€™s being converted into repertoire, but the rest of the book is a bit too hard for now. Grechaninov Op. 98
, Iâ€™m not sure if Iâ€™ll end up learning the final three pieces from this book. Iâ€™ve got some other books of his, anyway. Worst case scenario, itâ€™ll turn out to be sight-reading material a bit down the line.Stein 25 Songs
is a collection I picked up thanks to the Nordic Recital. There was one piece that really stood out to me, Andante Funebre, which Iâ€™ve learned and am currently relearning for the first time. Iâ€™ll definitely work my way through the other pieces as well; theyâ€™re short, beautiful, and super valuable exercises in choral playing.Bartok Ten Easy Pieces
I learned just one piece from, one which may very well be my favourite piece for piano ever written (at this moment): Evening in Transylvania
. The quicker part is quite challenging but not nearly as bad as I expected. It also has some fast chords in the accompaniment with plenty of hand shifting, but thatâ€™s going surprisingly well, too.Arvo PÃ¤rt - FÃ¼r Alina
. I got a copy of this score for my birthday and decided to learn it straight away. The notes are easy enough, making it sound good is quite a bit harder. Itâ€™s a lovely piece to play; thereâ€™s so much beautiful silence and soft sound, absolutely adore it.
What am I learning now?Koechlin Op. 208
. The Baroque replacement I mentioned. Beautiful music with a lot of counterpoint. It remains my favourite book, and Iâ€™ll probably end up completing the entire thing without laying it aside. So far, every piece Iâ€™ve learned from this book I have turned or am turning into repertoire.
As mentioned before, Iâ€™m working on Gedike/Goedicke Op. 36
. Iâ€™m enjoying learning from this book, so Iâ€™ll probably end up learning two or three more pieces before laying it aside.
At the start of this month, Iâ€™ve finally picked Mikrokosmos Book 3
back up. I think I laid it aside somewhere in January, maybe February; I was just kind of done with it for a bit. The spark has reignited, though; I once more really enjoy my time working through it. I must admit I did skip two pieces, two Chromatic Inventions, because I did not enjoy them. There is not a lot of music that I actively dislike, but entirely Chromatic music I just do not enjoy.
Lastly, Iâ€™ve started working on my second book by Tansman â€“ Pour les Enfants Book 1
. The music is just as lovely as Iâ€™ve come to expect of Tansman, if not a bit more difficult. For now, Iâ€™ll cherry-pick the slower pieces and leave the faster ones for future-me.
Thatâ€™s it for me today. Happy practising, everyone!