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How do you start learning a piece?

Discussion in 'Technique' started by echoyjeff222, Sep 23, 2013.

  1. echoyjeff222

    echoyjeff222 Member Piano Society Artist

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    Just curious about everyone's way of starting a piece ... do you listen to recordings beforehand, how much do you learn at one sitting, etc.?

    For me, I tend to learn two to three lines (depending on the difficulty of the piece) each day. That keeps me motivated (setting goals) and keeps things manageable.

    What about all of you?
     
  2. hreichgott

    hreichgott New Member

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    Usually I listen to the piece a few times in recordings by different people until I can hear portions of it without the recording on, and have a general idea of the structure. Exceptions are music with no recordings or only one recording available (new music!) and pieces I learn with my current teacher who is very much against listening before learning the piece.

    After that, if the piece is easier than a Beethoven sonata I start by sight-reading the whole thing then breaking it down: picking a page at a time and working on melody lines alone, inner voices alone, getting into detail with fingerings and articulations, planning phrasing.

    If the piece is harder than a Beethoven sonata I go much more slowly, sticking only to the first section until all notes are learned and fingering is functional, still with a lot of individual voices alone, then moving on to the next section. Learning speed depends how much time I have. The most difficult piece I learned this year was probably about a page every week.

    For fast pieces I wait until very late in the learning process to start increasing the tempo. Except once in a while trying performance tempo for fun :)
     
  3. StuKautsch

    StuKautsch Member Piano Society Artist

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    Interesting question, I guess. I've always been a reader, so I read through a few times.

    Now that recording is my hobby, I then try to learn a few of the more difficult parts to see if the piece fits in my recording and tuning schedule. I may be learning other pieces that I want to have ready in, say, 3 months, and I want them to "peak" all at the same time. (This is not that different from being a recitalist, since one wants a chunk of repertoire ready at the same time and at a certain date. Now, though, I'm trying to save a little money on tuning.)

    I don't work on much music that does not have a time frame for learning, so if it's too difficult, I just pass on it. (Unless I'm working toward a "complete set", in which case it becomes a long-term project.)

    No matter what, though, I do not fail to read it all the way through every practice session, because I don't want to lose "sight" of it as a complete work. Also because I play for enjoyment, and I want to enjoy it!

    I frequently don't listen to any recordings of a piece while I'm working on it. I'm either familiar with it from previous exposure, or I'm learning it because there are not many recordings. I recently had an experience which has warned me away from learning a piece without ever having heard it before, so this may change a little.
     
  4. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Most of the time, I have to have heard the piece and liked it enough to want to learn it. Then I print it out or buy it, and play through it several times. If I still like it, then I set the goal to go all the way. If after about the third or fourth time it's not grabbing me any more, then I put it away and find something else. If the piece does still appeal to me, then I simply play through all of it several more times. After that it starts to stick and I can tell what parts need extra attention. I don't really listen to other recordings of the piece until I'm getting to the end of the learning process and I want to see if my tempo is okay.
     
  5. paulwhite743

    paulwhite743 New Member

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    I begin by writing the fingering on every note. This is a great way to get to know the small details of the piece. A lot of people would say this is too fussy, but the alternative is to leave a great deal to chance. If one practises a passage with a different fingering every time, the end result is one of confusion rather than having a clear plan of action. Writing fingering is not boring, because it requires continual decision making and experimenting with alternatives. The only problem is that many commercially available scores are very squashed with tiny print, so the end product looks quite messy.
     
  6. actarus

    actarus New Member

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    That may be related in fact:


    Hello Everyone,



    I am a fresh beginner in playing the keyboard and I may need some help.



    Age may not really count but I am 33. I had some kind of an education in mostly baroque music as member of a pro choir as a kid. But my knowledge of theory and score reading was always very weak. I was perfectly able to sing by ear and have an intuition of what was going on by reading what I could understand of the scores.



    I have been composing ‘modern classic’, ‘ambient’ and also melodic post-punk using vintage electronic gears in my home-studio. Of course I quickly see the limits of this way of composing, especially when working on several layers. Also the general process of composing is, as you might imagine, tedious. That definitely gets in the way of the creative process.



    Therefore, a month or so ago, I took the decision to start learning keyboard in a rigorous manner with a long-run aim to expand my creative universe and compose in a more serious fashion what’s in my mind. This is something I should have done a long time ago, though. But I guess it is never too late to make a smart decision.



    I decided to go for what seemed the most straightforward way of learning for the purpose of composing: LEARN MY SCALES & MODES, CORRECT FINGERINGS AND CHORD-SCALE RELATIONS INSIDE OUT.



    For that purpose, I got myself two books:



    FIRST, a very old (and therefore charming) Dinsart Mnemonic method to learning scales according to correct fingering patterns. And I finished the first part on major and minor scales. I am now able to evenly play all major and minor scales with both hands in parallel motion over two octaves. Therefore I am now learning contrary motions and will start playing to the 3rd, 6th and 10th right after. My hope is to get a better mapping of the keyboard imprinted into my mind while composing. When I feel comfortable with that, I intend to move on to correct arpeggios fingerings, which are also included in the album.



    SECOND, I also do enjoy jazz music so I got the Berklee publishing book Chord-scale Improvisation for Keyboard. It’s mostly a beginner (but intimidatingly comprehensive) book that starts with major scales together with relations to 7th chords construction, then naturally moving on to the modes of the major scales. Nothing revolutionary, I guess. So I’m insisting even more on knowing major scales inside out with correct fingering (and notations) – in both Circle-of-5th and chromatic order – in an effort to make the process of learning the modes both easier and more meaningful. This is what I am doing right now. I also do the improvisation exercises that are provided in the book.



    I am aware that this is by no means considered as the most entertaining way of learning, and that this approach is probably not best suited for every learner. But given my specific goals, patience and dedication, I so far managed to do that in a consistent way. I can also report that, surprisingly enough, this is quite a relaxing after-work occupation and even turns out to be a fun way to keep myself busy on the keyboard. But I also confess I may have a bit of an ‘autistic’ inclination J



    Questions now:



    What are the aspects of my approach that you may believe are especially wrong… or right?



    Do you think that this process should be complemented by any other things that could turn helpful in learning the keyboard for the purpose of ‘verbalizing’ ideas right off my brain. For example, I heard that, if done properly, learning scales in every position and in parallel and contrary motion would naturally help coordination, mind mapping of the keyboard (including instinctive understanding of harmonization) and even hands and fingers independence. I do play exceedingly SLOW in various rhythmic signatures, alternating piano and forte and so on, with and without the metronome and other looped rhythmic motifs that I have to play along with. (I feel it may indeed be true that you don’t need to play fast to know how to play fast! I usually train exaggeratedly slow and realized that, after a while, I can speed up and sill play very evenly and accurately afterwards!) In a nutshell, I try to not go through all of this in an unconsciously mechanical way, which I feel would be both idiotic and useless. So far, I feel that it helps. But are there any other exercises I may use to help in the process?



    Also, I’ve heard that when working on a specific scale and corresponding chords, it is helpful to finish up by playing some simple tunes in that scale. I haven’t done it yet. But do you think it would help to work on some tracks that I like and play it along while transposing them to the particular scale I’m studying at a time? Although feel that impro exercises that are provided kind of fill this gap already.



    Finally, I also got the Hanon book and, although I do not intend to set myself as a goal to learn and perform all 60 exercises in every key (after all, this is not a fitness training program), I may consider learning the 20 first exercises in all key as a way to further help imprint scales in my mind by playing them in different patterns and fingering. Would that be a smart investment of my time?



    So that’s it. Anything to recommend? anything to warn about? Anything I should adjust?



    Needless to say that after this long process I will probably consider getting myself a teacher to further my ‘instruction’ in different ways I may not be able to conceive right now.



    Hope you guys take the time to read and comment. I hope that other beginners will also take the time to read this and potential comments so that it can help them too in finding the right approach to teach themselves without repeating my mistakes while replicating some of the stuff I may be doing right.



    Cheers everyone and looking forward to reading your inputs!
     
  7. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi echojeff,

    Before I go into my method of learning a piece, go to Technique. Scroll down just below my "Books on Piano Playing". Right below that are my thoughts on playing Bach.

    David
     

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