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Playing from sheet music in solo recitals?

Discussion in 'Technique' started by Daniel Hoehr, Aug 31, 2008.

  1. Daniel Hoehr

    Daniel Hoehr New Member

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    I think it was Clara Schumann who started playing from memory...

    I have been doing that too, although I don't have a certain system or method to memorise the pieces, after a while my fingers know where they are supposed to go and what they are supposed to do there (you know what I mean... I don't actually "learn" the pieces by heart, I sort of play them automatically - I've just read the word "muscle memory" in one of pianolady's posts, that's what I mean).

    I have noticed that this is quite dangerous because it only works when you are in a certain frame of mind. When you are suffering from stage fright, for example, it quite easily happens that your fingers start doing something else or you start wondering what the hell you are supposed to be doing in the next bar (no pun intended). I do suffer from terrible stage fright and have been in situations and I think that playing from music would help. On the other hand, it doesn't look as professional.

    But then again, I think it was Sviatoslav Richter, who in later years also had the music on the piano and someone to turn the pages for him.

    Now, what's your experience with playing from memory? What do you do when in the middle of a piece you have no clue what comes next? Is it acceptable to actually have the music on your piano when you're playing a solo recital?

    I'm looking forward to reading your comments.

    All the best

    Daniel
     
  2. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Guilty as charged with the muscle-memory thing. My teacher strongly advises me not to do that and has showed me many ways of practicing the ‘recital’ piece so that my brain actually knows what to do instead of just the muscles in my fingers. (That doesn’t sound quite right – hope you understood this.) The only problem is that it takes a long, long time and I am too impatient.

    First off – We are not professionals so why do we need to put so much pressure on ourselves? I often wonder that. I played Chopin’s 3rd Ballade in a recital around 3 years ago by memory, but had a memory blank right in the middle. My hands came off the keyboard and it seemed like time had stopped. Fortunately, the part of my brain that was still working remembered to go back to the beginning of the section I was on and start again from that point. I really don’t know how I did manage then to play to the end, because I felt very weird after that. And of course, I cursed myself all the way home, because I knew that piece well and shouldn’t have had that problem.

    But I do agree that it looks more professional to play without the music. It just sort of looks better, but really ‘looks’ don’t matter, right? And darn my stupid memory - I can’t remember who it was, but I saw one of the big shots perform about a year or two ago, either Pollini, Perahia, or Brendel – and they used music for a piece that lasted over 20 minutes. But the rest of the concert he played without music.

    I’ve been seeing more and more players using music, so maybe it is getting more acceptable. I hope so, because I used music at my last two recitals but still made a bunch of mistakes.

    Are you sure about that? How many drinks did you have after your recital? :wink:
     
  3. Daniel Hoehr

    Daniel Hoehr New Member

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    That's basically what has happened to me a few times now. When at home, I can play the piece from memory without any probelms whatsoever. About fourteen years ago I was playing a recital with a real killer programme. In addition to that I was suffering from a really bad cold and in a certain passage of Weber's "Aufforderung zum Tanz" I suddenly couldn't remember the right hand anymore. I could still remember the chords in the left hand, so I started playing a few scales in the right hand until I reached the end of the passage. And yesterday something similar happened in the second movement of Beethoven's Pathétique. I didn't stop playing, I just kept going and it was only a matter of one or two bars, but it always seems like ages....

    Well, I know that Richter used music. A former teacher of mine once went to a Richter recital in Cologne, Gernmany. It was like the lights went out, someone switched on the lamp at the piano, Richter came and played Liszt all evening - using music.

    Ten minutes before the recital yesterday, I spontaneously decided to use music for the Kinderszenen and Brahms Intermezzi, although I'd been playing them from memory for months. And minor mistakes were made as well...

    But then again this is live music and, as a teacher of mine once said, if people want no mistakes, they'd better get a CD.

    Believe it or not, I did have two or three glasses of cold fruit tea last night because I found other ways of relieving the post-recital tension :wink:
     
  4. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    I do not have much performing experience (maybe a dozen times in all) but only once performed without music. It was only 4 minutes, the Chopin Tarantella wich is a very straightforward and mechanical piece, which had seeped into my tiny brain by sheer repetition. No problem there, it was over before I realized.

    It is beyond me how anyone can memorize a long and complicated work in all its myriad details. Not just the notes, but also the fingerings and dynamics. I guess this will cost more time than we amateurs have, and as you say, age is probably a big factor here. At 40 or beyond I think it is not so easy to memorize as at age 20.

    Of course playing from memory looks better, and possibly gives you more interpretative freedom. Not so sure that looks don't matter - although they should not. A pianist gazing at the score and frantically flipping the pages is not as good to watch as one that is free to frolic around (of course, some pianists can do both). But I would not want to spend days on memorizing a couple of pages of music, and still run the risk of a memory blackout. So yes, I'd say it is perfectly ok to use the music in a performance. I do find it useful though to (muscle-)memorize certain difficult or jumpy passages where you really MUST look at the hands.
     
  5. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    Liszt, actually. Clara was one of the first, but she probably started doing it mainly because she wanted to show everyone that Liszt wasn't as special as he pretended to be. :lol:

    Playing from memory is not a problem for me. Practicing without having a piece memorized, on the other hand, IS a problem for me. I like to be able to look at my hands all the time, and it's difficult for me to start playing a piece well until I'm no longer dependent on the score.

    I know what you mean about memory slips when you're nervous, but I can just as easily forget how to read music when I'm nervous. :lol: Seriously...
     
  6. sejra

    sejra New Member Piano Society Artist

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    I think I've short answer: No!
    :-D
     
  7. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    They don't allow umlauts in user names, eh? :lol:
     
  8. Anonymous

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  9. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    This was a posting of mine under a test account, in case that was maybe confusintg :wink:
     
  10. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Uh, oh - I recently learned that this is not such a good idea. If you are going to use music for your performance, you should plan for that ahead of time so you are used to looking up, looking down, know where you are in the music, etc...

    I did the same thing when I played Brahms Op 118, no. 2. - put up the music in a last second decision. It surely makes you feel like you have some security, but it was true that I had a hard time, because I looked down more than I looked at the music, but when I did look up and couldn't find my place. Still, imagine you have a total memory block and you're sitting there like an idiot, staring at the keys. At least if you have your music up there you could probably figure out where you were or just start all over again with your eyes glued to the music.

    That's a good point - I'm going to remember that one.



    Intriguing, but I don't think I should ask about this. :wink: :lol:
     
  11. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    What is post-rectal tension anyway ?
     
  12. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    Dunno, but it sounds like something that maybe you ought to keep to yourself. :lol:
     
  13. alf

    alf New Member Piano Society Artist

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    How gross...

    ... But engrossing, keep on Chris! :p
     
  14. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Oh my God, I didn't even see that!

    Daniel, you're in trouble now. :lol: :lol:
     
  15. Daniel Hoehr

    Daniel Hoehr New Member

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    Oh, bloody hell!

    Right, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another edition of Daniel makes an idiot of himself.

    Of course, I meant "post-recital tension", but there's no way I'll ever get out of this, is there? :oops:
     
  16. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    I know what you meant and you did actually write that. It's just that my eyes go funny sometimes and I miss these tiny little i's when reading :lol: Bloody Microsoft fonts....
     
  17. Daniel Hoehr

    Daniel Hoehr New Member

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    Ah. OK! :D I'm actually quite good at making a fool of myself by sloppy typing.

    Hmmmm, you know what would happen to me? I would stare at the music, panic and wouldn't not be able to figure out where I am. Actually, that scenario is not too unlikely.

    I still don't know what to do. I've taken this week off so I have plenty of time to practise. I played four hours today and didn't look at the music once. I'm now trying to memorise the pieces (as opposed to relying on my muscle memory), but I don't really know how. I've never actually leant it.

    Does anybody have any advice?
     
  18. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    I am going to have to ask my teacher, because I've forgotten some of the things he told me. But one thing I do remember - one technique is to memorize each hand separately. Supposedly, if you can play each hand by memory, then you have a better chance at playing hands together memorized. Oh - I just remembered another technique, which is to play the piece at a super, super slow tempo - like 'snail's pace' slow without looking at the music. Sounds easy but it's not. You have to totally rely on your 'brain memory' instead of 'muscle memory'. Both of these techniques are like torture for me, though, since I am so impatient.
     
  19. Daniel Hoehr

    Daniel Hoehr New Member

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    Thanks, Monica! I've been trying to memorize both hands separately in Brahms Opus 117, which works fine in no 2. I'll try both techniques - I've got two and a half weeks, that'll do.

    I'm actually very much looking forward to playing the next recital, which will be in a late 19th century neo-gothic church, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the sort of north of Germany (that's where I work). The church was built at around the same time Brahms composed his opus 117...

    I see what you mean, I'm also very impatient. That's why I barely practise both hands separately when I start playing a new piece, I go for both hands together immediately. I only practise both hands separately when I start running into difficulties. I know that's stupid and maybe that explains why it takes me ages to learn a new piece. Maybe I should practise more systematically.
     
  20. nathanscoleman

    nathanscoleman New Member Piano Society Artist

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    *sigh* hurricane evacuations always make me miss the kewl, er gross ... i mean gross ... posts! :lol: :shock:
     

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