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I've decided to try learning unfamiliar music away from the piano. As there is a mental hurdle to be jumped even to have a go at this, I thought it would be good to start a thread for mutual support and encouragement. I wanted to see if it was possible to memorise just a few bars of a very easy piece, then walk over to the piano and play it (leaving the music on armchair!). And I want to find out whether one improves..

My first attempt was a very interesting experience. I began learning 4 bars of a very easy Mozart excerpt (3rd movement from sonatina no.4). I used singing, playing on the table, and observing the structure. After 4 bars I thought this is not too bad and the next 4 bars are almost the same, so I made it 8 bars.

Then over to the piano and I get stuck halfway through bar 1 grin One of the things that really threw me is that I had learnt the piece at a different pitch. So I took I definite starting pitch and sang and airpiano'd through a couple more times. The next go I played the 8 bars with all notes in place.

But the strangest thing! I played like a clunky machine, like a really bad beginner who doesn't listen to himself, it was outrageously BAD. I felt like a different person. Somehow the memory/code had gone into an unmusical part of the brain?! Just so you know, it was much worse than I usually sound when sight-reading.

Please post successes, challenges and any thoughts or experiences. One bar is a legitimate effort I reckon. Anyone up for a challenge?
Next time I'll give myself the starting pitch.


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I'm not sure what 'playing on the table' is about. If you are not memorizing the harmony and seeing your hands in your mind's eye it won't work. Good effort though!

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Originally Posted by Canonie
I've decided to try learning unfamiliar music away from the piano.


What about on the cello, how do you do in this regard ?

Originally Posted by Canonie
One of the things that really threw me is that I had learnt the piece at a different pitch.


Very interesting. Reminds me of my daughter, when I ask her to transcribe onto paper in a certain key a childrens song that she knows by heart. A very basic, absolutely fundamental question, the animus of solfège: that of tonality ( of key ) and tonic.

By the way, I strongly disagree with Keyboardklutz' idea about "seeing your hands in you mind's eye".

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I'm not sure I understand what you're doing (or why... but first let me understand what! smile ). Do you have a copy of the score at the armchair, or a just a recording? (You said "leaving the music on armchair".) If a score, I don't see how you learned the piece at the wrong pitch; wouldn't you at least partly memorize the actual note values?

As for why... could you say why a little more? This sounds like such a not fun thing to do; is there some insight maybe to be gained by doing it?

I know I'm not exactly providing "mutual support and encouragement"; sorry! smile

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Canonie, your topic interests me a great deal because I've read about professional musicians who can read the score, (for example, on a train) and then play it from memory when they get to a piano. Since a piano is not always available, I would love to find out how this is done.


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i surely love to listen listen listen before i start reading.. it's much easier then to play. you know instantly if you hit the wrong note.


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Originally Posted by beet31425
I don't see how you learned the piece at the wrong pitch; wouldn't you at least partly memorize the actual note values?


I expect when he (I assume!) read the score he imagined the music but in a different key as he had no reference point.

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I learnt a whole piece that I had to play from memory for the conductor in the car on my way to orchestra camp. It was about 3 pages long and I had read it through a few times before. Violin is only one voice, so you don't need to worry as much about coordination. The play through for the conductor almost gave me a heart attack but I made it through.

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Originally Posted by Canonie
But the strangest thing! I played like a clunky machine, like a really bad beginner who doesn't listen to himself, it was outrageously BAD. I felt like a different person. Somehow the memory/code had gone into an unmusical part of the brain?! Just so you know, it was much worse than I usually sound when sight-reading.
Getting the memory into an unmusical part of the brain is excellent!

Memorizing using only the musical parts of the brain is incomplete. I don't know the names (if there are names) of the different kinds or types or areas of memory, but the point is to use as many of them as possible, so that you have multiple back-ups and multiple crutches.

When I moved to where I live now, one of my friends phoned to come and see me. He said he would bring beer, so I needed to get him over here as quickly as possible. smile But I realized while talking to him that I couldn't give him directions - of course I knew myself how to get here, since I was here, but I couldn't explain it properly. I had to learn the directions to my house, separately from learning how to get here myself. So I told him I'd have to call him back in a minute...

When I got out my map so I could figure out the directions, I realized that I had been coming at my new place by a long route with a lot of stop signs, and that a shorter simpler route was available. I called him back, and it all worked out.

Lessons I learned:

1. Beer can be an excellent motivator under the right circumstances. smile

2. Learning the directions of how to do something is not the same as learning to do the thing itself, and learning both contributes to greater success (e.g. beer sooner). smile



The professional musician learning the score while travelling is not mainly learning to do the thing itself, she is mainly learning the directions for how to do it.
As you found out, it's necessary (for us mortals anyway) to then go to the piano, try out following the directions we have just learned, and spend quite a bit more time figuring out how to convert those directions into a good performance.

This also compares very closely with using a long and complicated cake recipe - getting the recipe correct word for word is essential, yet it's not the same as the actual experience of making the cake. People who start right in to make the cake on their first attempt, without reading through, may never remember the recipe and have to look it up every time, or at least it may take many many times through making the same cake for them to remember it. But if they sit down on purpose to memorize the words and numbers of the recipe before they begin, they are much more likely to remember it next time.



There. Beer and cake. What more could you ask for? smile


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Originally Posted by keyboardklutz
I'm not sure what 'playing on the table' is about. If you are not memorizing the harmony and seeing your hands in your mind's eye it won't work. Good effort though!
I'm sure "playing on the table" means using any convenient flat surface as an imitation piano.


A conductor does not need to see all the players' hands in his mind's eye in order to learn the score. Therefore, a pianist does not need to see his own hands in his mind's eye in order to learn the score either.

If a pianist does need to see his hands in his mind's eye in order to learn to play the piece successfully, it's a separate skill from learning the score.


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Originally Posted by david_a
If a pianist does need to see his hands in his mind's eye in order to learn to play the piece successfully, it's a separate skill from learning the score.
Maybe it's a different kind or type or area of memory?

Conductors don't need to see others' hands - it's not them doing the playing!

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The point is there is never a need to involve any mental images of anybody's hands in learning a score. Perhaps there is, in learning to play that score on the piano, but that is beside the point.


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There is an interesting segment in Frederic Chiu's video series called "Deeper Piano Studies" that deals with the idea of learning a score before playing it on the piano. Even though all the pianists involved

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiYxY2TXCH8

were among the greatest young pianists in the world, many already with big careers, most found this very challenging to do for only the first two pages of a Scarlatti Sonata.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnUW...954292F94BA09&index=0&playnext=1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEPejHXRIOk&feature=related

I really don't know if this idea has any value for other than supremely talented pianists. My thinking is that there are many much more important things for the non genius level pianist to work on, but...?

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Originally Posted by david_a
The point is there is never a need to involve any mental images of anybody's hands in learning a score. Perhaps there is, in learning to play that score on the piano, but that is beside the point.
Is it? At Piano World? I should think it would even be the case at Oboe World! Just maybe not at Conductor World.

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Originally Posted by gooddog
Canonie, your topic interests me a great deal because I've read about professional musicians who can read the score, (for example, on a train) and then play it from memory when they get to a piano. Since a piano is not always available, I would love to find out how this is done.
I think this is done mostly by being a musical genius although a tremedous amount of ear training, sensational technique, and a great memory would also help. I do think that "normal" pianists can benefit quite a bit from studying scores they already have in their fingers away from the piano, although I don't do this much.

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Originally Posted by keyboardklutz
Originally Posted by david_a
The point is there is never a need to involve any mental images of anybody's hands in learning a score. Perhaps there is, in learning to play that score on the piano, but that is beside the point.
Is it? At Piano World? I should think it would even be the case at Oboe World! Just maybe not at Conductor World.
I'm not saying nobody needs it. I'm saying they are two separate skills that don't depend on each other at all.


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...and I'm saying if it's an instrumental skill, unless you play perfectly by ear, visualization of hands is not only essential, it's unavoidable.

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Originally Posted by david_a
The point is there is never a need to involve any mental images of anybody's hands in learning a score. Perhaps there is, in learning to play that score on the piano, but that is beside the point.

Is choosing fingering part of learning the score, or is it part of learning to play the score? If the former, I'd think one would have to visualize the hands to the extent necessary to memorize the fingering.
When one memorizes music, regardless of whether one first learned the score away from the piano, in order to memorize the fingering one has to visualize the hands, I believe.

I like your essay on procedural versus conceptual knowing. I've often thought about this when doing phone support for computer users. If someone asks if I know how to do X, I have to remember that I may be able to do X, but I may not know how to do X, so I can't easily talk the person through the procedure.


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Originally Posted by Ferdinand
Originally Posted by david_a
The point is there is never a need to involve any mental images of anybody's hands in learning a score. Perhaps there is, in learning to play that score on the piano, but that is beside the point.

Is choosing fingering part of learning the score, or is it part of learning to play the score? If the former, I'd think one would have to visualize the hands to the extent necessary to memorize the fingering.
When one memorizes music, regardless of whether one first learned the score away from the piano, in order to memorize the fingering one has to visualize the hands, I believe.
I can't think of a situation where there could be any value in learning a list of finger numbers without a corresponding visualization, but it's easy to imagine learning a score while postponing learning the fingering. I don't do it that way, and it probably wouldn't be the best use of one's practice time, but it's certainly not crazy or illogical. It is not necessary to read an ordinary score as a description of a sequence of hand and arm motions; it's primarily a description of a pattern of sounds. The means of producing those sounds, while of course essential for the performer to learn, is a separate process. The fact that we as pianists tend to consider both at the same time (probably for several good reasons) does not change the fact that a sound and its production are different things that can be learned independently of each other.

One practical and useful application is singing the voices of a fugue, without any finger visualization, and no reference to the hands or the keyboard.


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Originally Posted by keyboardklutz
...and I'm saying if it's an instrumental skill, unless you play perfectly by ear, visualization of hands is not only essential, it's unavoidable.
Clearly it's essential and unavoidable. It's just a separate process that can take place at a different time if the performer chooses.


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