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#565054 - 12/08/01 09:50 AM How do you attack a new piece ?
SR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/12/01
Posts: 718
Loc: Los Angeles
The other night as I was sitting down at the piano working on Mozart's k265, the Twinkle Twinkle variations, a question popped into my head. I have a variety of methods with wich I approach a new piece that is too challenging to play at sight. My methods seem quite natural and obvious but perhaps others use completely different techniques. My normal approach is to play as slow as needed to find and cover all notes. If that becomes too difficult I'll revert to right hand only, then left hand only, then back to both. One phrase at a time or one page at a time gradually working up tempo while covering the notes correctly. I can't stand to miss notes. Once I've got the notes at or near tempo I start to work on making it into music.

My wife tends to dive right in and doesn't seem to mind missing notes at all. As she practices she gets more and more of the notes but never seems to get it all fixed.

What methods do you use ?


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#565055 - 12/08/01 12:15 PM Re: How do you attack a new piece ?
Dan Offline

Registered: 05/25/01
Posts: 1031
Loc: Colorado
Hi Steve,

Good topic, I hope I'll learn something from everyone's response.

As for me, I'm an adult beginner and have been taking lessons for a little less than 2 years. There are so MANY things I need to work on, that I found myself almost at a dead stop when it came to learning anything new.

I want to learn to sight read, so I was forcing myself to read the music as I played.

I want to improve the evenness of my chords, so when a chord ended up as some sort of wounded arpeggio I would play it again until I got it to sound properly.

I want to improve my phrasing so I would stop and re-play sections to bring out the melody properly.

The end result of all of this was that I wasn't able to play ANYTHING. Sections of a piece that I had played already would not be playable at my next practice and so on.

So, I switched gears and over the past few weeks I've made good progress. What I'm doing now is memorizing the music and concentrating on playing the piece at or just below the final tempo.

For the simpler piece I'm working on (Satie's First Gymnopedie), I learn the piece based on it's form (AA'BCD AA'BCD'). I started with the A section, then A' and so on. When I have trouble with a section, I sit down and transcribe the score onto my own manuscript pages which allows me to see the note progression better.

For a more complex piece (Beethoven's Moonlight Mvt 1, form is Intro-A-B-A'-Coda), I do the same thing only instead of trying to do an entire section I work on just the areas I stumble over. Again, I'll transcribe so I can "see" the notes better. On Moonlight for example, measures 12 & 13 were the first two I felt I needed to transcribe.

Probably this transcription stuff is simply a method that helps me memorize the piece. Transcribing has also been nice because it has allowed me to work on learning a piece when I'm not at home sitting at my piano.

As for sight reading, chord evenness and phrasing, that work is now done it a separate portion of my practice. It's been really nice to make progress again on my ability to play and entire piece.

Anyway, kind of a long winded answer. I'll be real interested in reading other replies.


P.S. I found a neat little program on the internet that allows me to print out manuscript pages. If anyone's interested let me know and I'll post the name. (It's on my PC at work, I'm at home, and I can't remember the name...)

#565056 - 12/08/01 02:32 PM Re: How do you attack a new piece ?
PianoMuse Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/04/01
Posts: 902
Loc: Philly, PA
I often start at the ending of the peice, and jump aroudn to the most difficult sections. i practice it section by section, mastering each one. then once i have it under decent control (but at a slow speed), i then put it all together, and do LOTS of metronome work to bring the whole thing up to speed. then, and only then, do i start the interpretation (if i want to slow down, speed up, crescendo, use different hand positions, etc.) this method seems to work well.

[ December 08, 2001: Message edited by: PianoMuse ]
"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music." ~Rachmaninoff

#565057 - 12/08/01 05:39 PM Re: How do you attack a new piece ?
Rodion Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/06/01
Posts: 296
Loc: Salt Lake City
i'll sight read through a piece for fun, but to actually learn it i always start with hands separate, usually in pages or blocks. i'll put them together as soon as i'm comfortable playing both at the same time.
i'll also start in different places, usually the hardest places first.
i lost my metronome \:\(

[ December 08, 2001: Message edited by: Rodion ]

[ December 08, 2001: Message edited by: Rodion ]
Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils. - Hector Berlioz

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#565058 - 12/08/01 10:11 PM Re: How do you attack a new piece ?
magnezium Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 722
Loc: Singapore
I'd usually read through the whole piece at a very slow tempo just to get a feel of the piece. Then I'd tackle the easy sections first.

#565059 - 12/08/01 11:32 PM Re: How do you attack a new piece ?
Nina Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/01
Posts: 6467
Loc: Phoenix, AZ

I love the phrase "attack" a new piece :p

If I'm really disciplined and want to understand the piece, I will usually sit with the music away from the piano at first... playing "air piano" a bit to understand the tempo, look for anything that's strange, understand the keys and key chnages, etc. Also very important for me, I will try to isolate the melody line right away, and get a very primitive sense of how it should "sound."

When I actually get to the piano, I will usually play each hand alone, then put them both together. If it's a particularly challenging section, I will play hands separate quite a bit, until I no longer have to really concentrate on every single note.

I find it majorly frustrating to start at a really slow speed (some things just don't sound very good until they're close to the right tempo), so this may be one reason why I do hands apart so often.


#565060 - 12/09/01 12:44 AM Re: How do you attack a new piece ?
ChemicalGrl Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/03/01
Posts: 643
Loc: Durham, North Carolina
I'll have to admit - sight reading always came naturally to me. However, if I'm looking at a new piece, I'll have a look at it first from start to finish, sometimes I can "hear" in my head how it's going to sound like. Then I go to the piano and work it out at a slow tempo. This is where my metronome comes in handy. I also break up the piece into sections and master it a section at a time. Then I put it all together. I find that doing it this way cuts down the learning time for me.

But I realise people have different ways of learning new pieces. Find a way which works for you and I'm sure you'll be rewarded with the mastery of a beautiful piece to dazzle your family and friends. \:\)
Lyn F.

#565061 - 12/09/01 11:51 AM Re: How do you attack a new piece ?
newpianoplayer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/01
Posts: 362
I've been trying all of the suggestions mentioned . My pieces aren't too complicated yet, just simple Bouree's and inventions. Brent Hughes site has a lot of suggestions. http://griffon.mwsc.edu/~bhugh/piano-practice.html
Please excuse me. I have to go practice


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