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 Post subject: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:37 pm 
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Joined: Wed Feb 27, 2008 9:29 am
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Location: UK
Hello,

I've been doing one exam after another since I started learning the piano about 9 years ago and am finally about to start enjoying some freedom. The only problem is I haven't built up much repertoire because I've almost always concentrated on acquiring the technique for a small number of pieces, and my sight reading is truly awful so it's not like I can enjoy picking up a piece of music and play it magically :-).

At the moment I have a huge pile of scores I want to learn but it's an impossible mission and very frustrating; I don't have a teacher to guide me or other people "close to hand" to compare myself with so I really don't what's realistic; I know, it's one of those "how long is a piece of string" type of questions, but I would welcome your thoughts based on your own personal experience. On the whole (and I know this will depend on the difficulty and size of the piece) how many new pieces do you pick up per week/month, and how many do you try to learn simultaneously? I would be very interested to know what others do.

Kind regards and Happy New Year


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:28 am 
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Joined: Mon Nov 29, 2010 7:28 am
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Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Hello Chopinesque, and Happy New Year to you too!
IMHO (this definitely reflects my bias) I think you should pursue a 4-core of study that is supplemented with a bit of freedom.

1. I think everyone should pursue the study of Bach in progressive manner (Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach and Short Preludes -> Inventions -> Sinfonias -> One French Suite -> WTK for evermore with some other works occasionally instead).

2. Another line is that of the Classical Style (Clementi Sonatinas and/or Haydn easier Sonatas -> more challanging Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven sonatas -> Challenging Haydn/Mozart/Beethoven Sonatas).

3. Then Romantic: much variability here. You might use the graded course work of disperate academies and associations to help arrange some stuff but this should lead to great works of the principals. Some of the Mendelsshon Songs without Words are excellent for graded romantic literature. Brahms, Schubert and Schumann have very accessable works, as well as great masterpieces. I don't think that Chopin is worth much in his elementary works, but he of course occupies Mt. Parnassus otherwise.

4. Finally something post-common-practice-period. I'm a firm believer in using Bartok's Mikrokosmos in graded fashion from the very beginning, but here you have to add Debussy & Ravel (each of which have both very accessable to advanced works) and much other for variety and interest. Here is where you would meet the Katchaturian Toccata and like, and Gershwin, some easier Stravinsky, maybe a dash of mild atonal works (Schoenberg's Zechs Kliene Klavierstueke), Scriabin, Ginastera's 12 American Preludes, etc.

Do something from each group simlutaneously with the others, that way practicing is always more interesting.

Hope this helps. Best,

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2012 11:38 am 
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Joined: Mon Dec 27, 2010 1:11 am
Posts: 243
Location: Adelaide, Australia
Chopinesque wrote:
...my sight reading is truly awful...

This is the key! Improving your sight reading is a slow process (it's the same for anyone; it's just that the good sight readers are the ones who started this process at an earlier stage), but it's well worth doing and will open many doors to you. Find yourself a stack of easy music--I'd suggest about three grade levels below your most recent exam--and commit to spending at least fifteen minutes a day playing music that you've never seen before. Don't worry about how good or bad it sounds, just look at the music and play as many notes as you can, and be patient while your brain forms new connections. It will take a few months, but once you're more confident with reading you'll really be able to enjoy your new freedom!

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Alexander Hanysz, http://hanysz.net


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:41 pm 
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Joined: Wed Feb 27, 2008 9:29 am
Posts: 56
Location: UK
Thanks for your wise advice, Eddy and Alexander. I've been thinking about it a lot because I wasn't very keen on your suggestion to start with (because it would involve being disciplined!), but you're absolutely right: I need to take a step back and start building up a good range of repertoire in a variety of styles starting from the easier levels, otherwise I'm always going to be struggling with a very small number of advanced pieces that take me ages to learn and are never fully mastered anyway - this is why I feel I'm getting nowhere despite my huge efforts. So, no more noisy Liszt for a few months at least! I'm actually quite keen to start playing some Bach for a change.

Kind regards


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:56 pm 
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Joined: Wed Feb 27, 2008 9:29 am
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Location: UK
Quote:
Find yourself a stack of easy music--I'd suggest about three grade levels below your most recent exam

I forgot to mention - 3 grade levels below my most recent exam would be UK grade 7; if I could sight read that stuff I would consider myself a sight reading deity, but I can't even sight read grade 1 pieces - it's embarrassing, honestly; I've always been given terrible marks for sight reading and aural tests but have passed exams on other merits; a bizarre knack :-). My last exam was a performance diploma so I managed to escape the shame of sight reading and other boring components. I'll have to start from 0... it's painful; in fact, it's torture! I'm going to have to set a timer every day so that I actually do it before I play anything else.


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:02 pm 
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Okay, usually when someone says "my sight reading is terrible", it turns out that they're being at least a little bit modest. But maybe you're actually telling the truth!

The good news for pianists is that there's a ton of music out there that's fairly simple yet not boring. If you want to go right back to the beginning, I'd suggest Kabalevsky's 24 pieces opus 39, followed by 30 pieces opus 27--see how he creates magic with the simplest of material. Bartok's Mikrokosmos is good too if the style is to your taste. Schumann's Album for the Young is worth looking at, although the difficulty level varies a bit erratically. But you don't have to play the whole collection on the first go--you can just pick out the bits that you think are suitable.

If you've been neglecting this area as badly as you claim, then it might take a year or two to get to where you should be. But you'll be broadening your knowledge of the piano repertoire in the process--hopefully this is a factor that can keep you motivated. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 3:01 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 29, 2010 7:28 am
Posts: 1250
Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Quote:
I'm actually quite keen to start playing some Bach for a change.
Medicine for the soul!

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2012 7:07 am 
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Posts: 10
Hi Chopinesque:

Regarding your sight reading.....check out "Four Star Sight Reading and Ear Tests". It's a series by Boris Berlin published by Frederick Harris. Some time ago I took about a year's worth of lessons at Florida Atlantic Univ. with Dr. Edward Turgeon. He introduced me this series. With your dedication, I bet it would make you a decent sight reader in no time........well, you know about learning piano, "no time" is a relative thing. lol :)

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"Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art." F. Chopin


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2012 4:22 pm 
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Joined: Wed Feb 27, 2008 9:29 am
Posts: 56
Location: UK
Thanks for the recommendation mike2aces, but I do have a huge collection of dusty sight reading books and sheet music. A couple of years ago I went through 3 complete series of good sight reading books from grades 1 to 8 and that was extremely painful as well as futile. Anything intermediate/advanced was sheer nonsense, unless I practised it to the point where it would no longer be sight reading.

Despite practising for hours every week, I have this strong aversion to sight reading so haven't even found 5 minutes a day, which was my latest resolution. There is no solution to this: I'm just wayward, so I've given up on the idea.

However, I've started to work on a selection easier pieces now, starting with the little Bach Preludes (little but not that easy!) and other short pieces, so hopefully I'll be able to gradually build up a larger repertoire, which is my ultimate aim - rather than spend hundreds of hours working exclusively on impossible music I'll never be able to play (and I confess this sounds so tempting!). Oh, and the first few minutes of learning a new piece do count as sight reading so I must be doing about 5 minutes of that per week.

Glad it's Friday at last ... happy playing to all who work in an office Mon-Fri and dream of speding an entire weekend playing the piano. Oh no, but it's never going to happen: there are already plans with friends and family, and apparently I'm such a piano bore - only "apparently"? :-)


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2012 6:42 am 
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Joined: Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:53 am
Posts: 45
Chopinesque wrote:
Hello,

I've been doing one exam after another since I started learning the piano about 9 years ago and am finally about to start enjoying some freedom. The only problem is I haven't built up much repertoire because I've almost always concentrated on acquiring the technique for a small number of pieces, and my sight reading is truly awful so it's not like I can enjoy picking up a piece of music and play it magically :-).

At the moment I have a huge pile of scores I want to learn but it's an impossible mission and very frustrating; I don't have a piano teacher to guide me or other people "close to hand" to compare myself with so I really don't what's realistic; I know, it's one of those "how long is a piece of string" type of questions, but I would welcome your thoughts based on your own personal experience. On the whole (and I know this will depend on the difficulty and size of the piece) how many new pieces do you pick up per week/month, and how many do you try to learn simultaneously? I would be very interested to know what others do.

Kind regards and Happy New Year

Well the greatest challenge in building a repertoire is getting bored playing the song repeatedly in order to memorize it. So the best way to do it is gather the music you like the most and would want to include in your repertoire. Then try to have a binder with copies of pieces learned that you enjoy playing.

During your series of regular review of your own selected repertoire pieces, do not forget to purposefully taking time off from a certain piece is significant, especially after the first period of hard work learning to play the piece. The experience of coming back to a piece "cold" is valuable in itself to your learning process.


Last edited by StephenC on Sun Mar 04, 2012 5:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2012 5:54 pm 
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Posts: 1250
Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Chopinesque wrote:
I need to take a step back and start building up a good range of repertoire in a variety of styles starting from the easier levels, otherwise I'm always going to be struggling with a very small number of advanced pieces that take me ages to learn and are never fully mastered anyway
I forgot to mention one idea -- that you won't like I think. There are essentially two approaches to acquiring piano ability. In one, students progressively pursue graded repertoire (including etudes) to the almost exclusion of dedicated and systematic mechanical training. In the other, repertoire is added to a systematic and exhaustive course of mechanical training. This second approach is famously the "Russian School" approach, and is discussed very succinctly by Joseph Lhevinne in his little book Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing, wherein he states that at the Moscow conservatory, the student would not even be allowed to present their repertoire for evaluation until and unless they had first passed their technical evaluations! Admittedly, this refers to the serious business of learning the piano, but the principle is clear. In the first, the preparation is very narrow and has little transferability. In the second, the preparation is foundational and is easily transfered to any repertoire. How much of the second approach you would be able or willing to pursue, and what hope of achievment as limited by your age, is somethng that only you can answer for yourself. Just something else to think about.

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2012 12:17 am 
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Posts: 243
Location: Adelaide, Australia
musical-md wrote:
...repertoire is added to a systematic and exhaustive course of mechanical training. ...the student would not even be allowed to present their repertoire for evaluation until and unless they had first passed their technical evaluations!

There's been some interesting scientific research on sports performance and coaching during the last couple of decades. It seems that technical drills have been greatly overrated--there's less benefit than you'd think from practising a skill in isolation, as the skills learned don't always transfer well to the performance context. Mechanical training serves as a rite of passage--it gets rid of students who aren't serious or dedicated enough--but past a certain point it doesn't make people that much better at playing tennis (unless the coach is designing practice drills that simulate a real game situation), and I'm not convinced that it makes people better pianists.

Unfortunately there hasn't been much rigorous research on musical training; almost everything I've seen on motor learning has been about either sports or rehabilitation from injury. Personally I think there's some value in things like Czerny studies--you're practising actual pieces of music (if not by a great composer), each piece features more than just one technical problem, and it's possible to play them expressively. But I'm increasingly sceptical about the value of too much "pure" technical drill of the sort demanded at the Moscow or Paris conservatoriums (scales in isolation, Hanon-type exercises and so on). People who have survived such a course of training can certainly play the piano, but cause and effect may be the wrong way round here.

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Alexander Hanysz, http://hanysz.net


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2012 7:40 pm 
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If I may respond to what Alexander has replied, I would add that it depends on what you mean by "practicing a skill in isolation." For piano playing, if one had practiced octaves (for example) in ALL keys (major and minor) as follows:

Parallel scales in various rhythms and speeds
The above at the 3rd and 6th interval
Contrary scales in various rhythms and speeds
The above at the 3rd and 6th interval
As above but with interspersed chords
Parallel Major, minor and V7 chords in all inversions
The above at different intervals
Major and minor chords in broken fashion, both ascending and descending
Linked octaves in all tonal scales
Linked octaves in chromatic scales
Any/all of the above with broken octaves in both versions
Any/all of the above with "false octaves" (my term for the hand holding the shape of an octave, but either the thumb or other finger doesn't actually play, it just approaches to the note; especially useful when the thumb is the silent one)
Any/all the above with different articulations
Any of the above with different assignments for each hand

This type of systematic and comprehensive training transfers to anything and everything you may wish to play. If you go to Liszt's Mazeppa, or Chopin's octave etude, or Tchaikovsky's concerto, or anything else, it doesn't matter because you've "been there and done that."

The same could be discussed for scales, chords, double-notes, etc. You will note that there is no mention of anybody's etudes for training purpose, which become a much more "isolated" proposition, with less transferability.

But oh what a pursuit this is. Some pianists handle it like one big gulp of water, others put in years of labor, and some don't pursue it at all and do just fine with great natural ability.

This has of course gone OT. In my experience, I met only two types of piano students: those whose training was repertoire-based, and those whose training was training-based.

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2012 9:53 am 
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There's one aspect of such technical training that I see never mentioned. Sure you can spend years on perfecting your scales, thirds, sixths and octaves, and it will help immensely when playing Chopin, Alkan, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens, Mendelssohn, and any other 19th century virtuoso stuff. But music has moved on since, and composers don't usually write like that anymore and have not done for some time. How much does such a training prepare one
for playing Debussy, Medtner, Ives, Godowsky, Kapustin, Ligeti, Sorabji, etc.... ? I feel it hardly doesn't. These difficulties are so different and more multi-faceted, and the complexity of a whole different order. Of course there are always moments you wish your octave technique was better, but as a whole I have the impression it would not help so much. Actually it would not really prepare one for playing Bach either. In that sense I find such a training of limited use, and maybe it explains why so many established pianists never stray outside the well-trodden paths.

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 Post subject: Re: Your thoughts on how to build up repertoire
PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2012 10:29 am 
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musical-md wrote:
This type of systematic and comprehensive training transfers to anything and everything you may wish to play. If you go to Liszt's Mazeppa, or Chopin's octave etude, or Tchaikovsky's concerto, or anything else, it doesn't matter because you've "been there and done that."

The same could be discussed for scales, chords, double-notes, etc. You will note that there is no mention of anybody's etudes for training purpose, which become a much more "isolated" proposition, with less transferability.

Interesting that you mention Liszt and etudes so close together. Liszt of course grew up on Czerny studies. And he spent a lot of time collecting and playing others' etudes: Cramer, Clementi, and many others.

Actually, I think learning a scale in the context of an etude, where it has some expressive meaning, is more transferable than learning it just as a scale. The point is that the "I am practising my scales now" mindset is quite different from the "I am emotionally involved in performing a piece of music" mindset; the goal is to cross that boundary between practice and performance.

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