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Hello. My piano instructor is encouraging me to learn piano pieces from the end. That is, learn the last measure, then next to last, etc.
Has anyone heard about this method? Thanks.


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Originally Posted by Damien PG
Has anyone heard about this method?
I have, as a matter of fact


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There has been a lot of discussion on PW about this. I think the reasoning behind this method has an obvious flaw. However, if one has the bad habit of always starting the piece from the beginning when practicing it(even after one has learned the beginning), the method may be beneficial. I don't think (m)any experienced pianists practice this way.

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You should also ask your teacher why he is encouraging this method. It's always good to understand the reason behind anything your teacher suggests.

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I learn many advanced pieces from the end. IMO there is a sense that a difficult piece can be mastered working back from the last bar. You may be stuck playing just the first few lines of a piece and don't feel you're getting anywhere.

If you practice a piece enough times, you can play it easily from top to bottom. The last piece I worked on has 3 pages and rather technical. It's divided evenly into sections. I normally practice 1 page a day, sometimes 2. I don't start from the top of a page but the beginning of a section. After a while I know my trouble spots I'd start a practice session at a specific bar. If the piece have repeats, can skip the repeat unless you're preparing it for a performance you run it through the way the audience would hear. Playing it through a few times have the same effect of playing the repeats.

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Originally Posted by Damien PG
Hello. My piano instructor is encouraging me to learn piano pieces from the end. That is, learn the last measure, then next to last, etc.

For me it feels very strange to start with the last measure. To start with the last phrase would make sense to me, but the last measure, and maybe start in the middle of the final notes, no.


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My teacher has stressed to concentrate on the ending— not the last measure. That might be the last phrase or last couple of phrases,

There are two reasons: the ending is often neglected. Secondly, if your world falls apart while playing, jumping to the end can be your safe zone if you need a quick, reliable out.


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There are some benefits to this fairly well known method, both practical and psychological.

One of the less obvious ones is that by starting one measure (or phrase) earlier each time you are _more likely_ to spend enough time on that passage before carrying on whereas, when learning from the beginning, we tend to move over difficulties with the intention of coming back to them later - effectively learning to skip over the difficulty and ingraining sloppiness.

It should not be the only way of learning any particular piece, just a supplemental tool. It's as useful, if not more so, with difficult passages of several measures, ensuring every measure is addressed properly.

It's a tool in the box and one worth knowing and using while you're progressing but not one to make so much use of once you progress to a point of learning thoroughly and properly from the outset.


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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
I learn many advanced pieces from the end. IMO there is a sense that a difficult piece can be mastered working back from the last bar. You may be stuck playing just the first few lines of a piece and don't feel you're getting anywhere.
One could just as easily argue one could get stuck just playing the last few lines and not getting anywhere.

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Originally Posted by zrtf90
There are some benefits to this fairly well known method, both practical and psychological.

One of the less obvious ones is that by starting one measure (or phrase) earlier each time you are _more likely_ to spend enough time on that passage before carrying on whereas, when learning from the beginning, we tend to move over difficulties with the intention of coming back to them later - effectively learning to skip over the difficulty and ingraining sloppiness.
I see no reason why what you said in your second sentence would be true. A student with reasonable experience spends enough time on every part to learn it well so the order of practicing would make little difference. Also, there is nothing wrong with not perfecting part of a piece and coming back to it later. In fact, I think many experienced pianists practice that way.

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For me, it doesn’t matter if you start at the beginning or the end. The final result should be that you can jump from any place in the music to the end (last phrase/last few phrases) and play it well.


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Originally Posted by dogperson
For me, it doesn’t matter if you start at the beginning or the end. The final result should be that you can jump from any place in the music to the end (last phrase/last few phrases) and play it well.
If one can have a memory slip at some point not near the end, one can also have a memory slip at the end.

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Originally Posted by zrtf90
It's a tool in the box
It's a means to a start

*ba-dum tsss*


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
There has been a lot of discussion on PW about this. I think the reasoning behind this method has an obvious flaw. However, if one has the bad habit of always starting the piece from the beginning when practicing it(even after one has learned the beginning), the method may be beneficial. I don't think (m)any experienced pianists practice this way.
To know whether the reasoning has a flaw, you first have to know the reasoning, as well as the finer details of application. I was taught this method (but not that rigidly or mindlessly - intelligent application is assumed) and have used it ever since. One additional factor is that we're freshest at the start, so as we tire, it's good if the last part is also the strongest. It is also psychologically encouraging if the "home run" part is "running toward what is super familiar, and especially super-solid".

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
A student with reasonable experience spends enough time on every part to learn it well so the order of practicing would make little difference.

This is a site for adult learners. We have varying backgrounds. Some of us come here having never learned to play any instrument late in life. Others were taught, but poorly. Others were self-taught. In fact, the self-taught can have an advantage if they thought things through and did research, whereas the poorly taught student might have trusted poor advice and put it on 'lack of talent' if things didn't work out. How to practise, toward what kind of goals, how to organize that practice, is a major issue, and in the past was much neglected. In fact, after leaving my first experience of lessons as an adult, this was one major thing I started to look into. It makes every difference. And it cannot be taken for granted. Moreover if you listen to the experience of teachers, the way their students practise at home is often a major stumbling block to their progress. What you say a student with reasonable experience does .... may not happen.

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According to my teacher, in a recital the most important part is the beginning and the end of the piece. This is what the audience will remember the most. If you screw the end, this is what people will remember. If you screw the middle and play a nice ending, people will forget the mistakes.

This is why she tell me, practice the end. She goes further by asking to start anywhere and play till the end.



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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
A student with reasonable experience spends enough time on every part to learn it well so the order of practicing would make little difference.
Learning backwards, in measures or phrases, isn't generally aimed at a student with reasonable experience. It's aimed at those who keep reading from the beginning to where they get stuck.

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Also, there is nothing wrong with not perfecting part of a piece and coming back to it later. In fact, I think many experienced pianists practice that way.
That's right - once they learn to come back to it later. Many don't always return because they can struggle through it and think they'll gt it in time. Learning from the end is one tool to combat these learning issues in beginners.

Why you 'see no reason why what you said in your second sentence would be true' is, perhaps, because you don't have students with learning issues. The tool was popularised because students don't always proceeded as logically as you might. If you taught more you might see more reasons why these tools are developed.


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I see it more as a psychological trick to maintain discipline when practicing a piece rather than a method for learning it. There are disadvantages to learning a piece out of order related to one's conception and interpretation of the piece.

Consider for example a fugue. The entry of the first voice has a large influence on how you interpret the entire piece. You can't just choose any random articulation and phrasing. But I can't imagine having a clear idea of how to articulate each voice when you are deep into the thick polyphonic texture rather than at the very beginning when each voice enters.

Even if you're not learning a fugue every piece is in effect telling a story. It begins with a theme and then develops it. Pieces often develop in layers as they progress. To interpret the piece convincingly you really need to understand that what the piece is saying and develop that. But jumping in at the end or in the middle of the climax prevents and confuses this process. You end up learning only notes without interpretation and without a clear conception of the piece until you reach the begining and then tie it all together. Yes, you will have practiced the end more but what use is that if you practiced it all blandly with no interpretation or worse with the wrong interpretation?

For this reason I always learn my pieces sequentially. I do practice my pieces back to front sometimes (or starting in the middle or anywhere) but that is just a practice technique to solidify sections after I have the whole piece in my fingers and I have a rough idea of how I want to interpret it.

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Originally Posted by keystring
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
There has been a lot of discussion on PW about this. I think the reasoning behind this method has an obvious flaw. However, if one has the bad habit of always starting the piece from the beginning when practicing it(even after one has learned the beginning), the method may be beneficial. I don't think (m)any experienced pianists practice this way.
To know whether the reasoning has a flaw, you first have to know the reasoning, as well as the finer details of application. I was taught this method (but not that rigidly or mindlessly - intelligent application is assumed) and have used it ever since. One additional factor is that we're freshest at the start, so as we tire, it's good if the last part is also the strongest. It is also psychologically encouraging if the "home run" part is "running toward what is super familiar, and especially super-solid".
I know what's generally considered the reasoning because there have been so many PW threads on this subject. Most people who see this as a good approach claim that's because they tend to do what I mentioned in my post, i.e. always start at the beginning and, as a result, over practice the beginning to the detriment of later parts and especially the ending. I think most experienced pianists try to learn all parts to a degree that they're satisfied with how they can play them. They would not be at all satisfied with a weaker beginning(or middle) even if the ending was strong.

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As Qazsedcft comments attests, not all pieces are a good fit for the "back to front" approach.

But I think it is very instructive to for those who have not been playing very long to sometimes use this method (starting at the end) because it brings something new to practice.

I also think the instruction to start from the last measure might be a way to avoid the problem of the learner not being sure where the nature section breaks are. If you know where the breaks are, where the phrases are, then you can practice from the "end of the piece" in terms of phrases, going back to front that way.

The other approach, again an alternative to starting at the beginning, is to read through the piece and find the most difficult sections, and start there. And then move out, section by section, playing the more difficult parts and saving the easier sections for once you've got the hardest parts down.

There was a time in my practice when I exclusively used this approach. I no longer do, but learning how to zero in on an individual section, and being able to use this as a strategic "practice hack," is a skill I am grateful to have developed.

Ultimately, you want to be able to approach the learning and practice of a new piece in a way that fits both your own learning style and the needs of the piece. A student who has never started back to front, or broken a piece up into different sections, taken it apart and put it back together again, is not going to be very good at figuring out the best approach for each piece.


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