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#1043312 - 09/23/04 10:33 AM Way of learning question
enescu Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/13/03
Posts: 109
I am an adult beginner in my second year of learning.
I have noticed that I am never attracted to practicing Hanon or scales.
My tendency is to jump from one piece to another, not being able to polish them to a good level.
I started my learning piano by spending a lot of time memorizing pieces and eventually playing them without reading notes. Lately, my sightreading has improved and I am not memorizing anymore, which I think it's OK.
My plan is to improve my sightreading to the point where I can open a book and start playing, reading not only notes but also the dynamics and other signs I am suppoed to read.
My teacher would like to put more accent on scales and exercises that I find so boring and never practice them.
Do you think I'm missing something or this approach will leave big gaps...etc?
I play piano for the pleasure of it, only.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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#1043313 - 09/23/04 10:53 AM Re: Way of learning question
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
Hanon are debated extensively among teachers or piano learners. some are all for it, and some don't care for it at all.

frankly, i only tried the 1st 2 exercises of it when i started. but occasionally, i would just go to the certain exercises to get some reference for fingering, or just try some part little bit for the feel of it. for scales, Hanon has some standard fingering noted, which is some good reference if you ever need to know. but some scale passages in some pieces are not necessary to be best played with some standard fingering, rather different from it actually. one example is the scale passages in Mozart's K545 1st movement.

there is nothing wrong with your appoarch of learning. but memorizing does conflict with sight reading. so, you need to know which one is your priority. for me, memorizing is more important than sight reading (not that i couldn't do it), because i don't ever need to sight read in public.

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#1043314 - 09/23/04 11:16 AM Re: Way of learning question
mound Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/10/04
Posts: 782
Loc: Rochester, NY
Hi enescu! - take a look at This Book for discussion of practice techniques, memorization, scales and Hanon.

I'm certainly no professional, not even close! But my experience, and I have put a lot of thought and time into my practice and study, tells me the following:

1. Scales and arpeggios are important for development of technique and dexterity, as well as simply getting in your head what notes belong to what key. Especially if you intend to do any improvisation. For that matter, chords and cadences as well. Hanon is debated highly, some teachers think it's absolutely worthless, some folks swear by it. I've never used it. The text in the link I showed above is very much against Hanon exercises. I'm in no position to debate it's merit either way. But "non musical" exercises that exist solely to develop dexterity in the fingers to me seems worthless. That can be developed through proper learning techniques with actual rep (as you'll find in the book I pointed you to above.)

2. Sight Reading vs. Memorization - I memorize naturally, I guess I'm lucky that way, but if I didn't, I would work more at that than sight reading. Does it impeed my sight reading ability? Yes, both are things to practice. BUT, memorization should be the end goal, because when you have really internalized a piece is when you can really begin to be expressive with it. Sight reading pieces you've never seen before would be a good tool for accompaniment type situations I'm sure and is valuable in its own right. But for performance purposes, memorization is absolutely the way to go.

Remember, the printed notes on a score are only a "model of the music", the score isn't "the music" and so there is only so far you can take it by purely sight reading it. The rest will come from within you, based on your interpretations, experiences, skill level, historical context and the help of a good teacher.

good luck!
-Paul
_________________________
"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer

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#1043315 - 09/23/04 11:17 AM Re: Way of learning question
enescu Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/13/03
Posts: 109
I definitely prefer to sightread. I think memorizing happens as a way to compensate for poor sightreading. At least most of the times...
At this point I feel that my sightreading is well behind what I can do with my fingers...
Thanks for your insight.

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#1043316 - 09/23/04 11:45 AM Re: Way of learning question
mound Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/10/04
Posts: 782
Loc: Rochester, NY
 Quote:
I think memorizing happens as a way to compensate for poor sightreading
I would have to disagree strongly with that statement. Strictly memorizing everything will surely not help with sightreading, and there is certainly nothing wrong with practicing sight reading. BUT, memorization is absolutely not simply some kind of compensatory byproduct of poor sightreading skills, serving no other purpose than to give you a shortcut from having to sightread. In fact I'd argue it's exactly the opposite.

Again, as I said in my post a minute ago, if you intend to take a piece to performance level, lose the sheet music. As long as you're sight reading, there's a mental translation process happening, irregardless how fast that happens, if you don't have it memorized, your mind is going to be occupied to a certain extent with that translation process, and that can only impeed an expressive performance, especially when you get into faster and more technically demanding repertoire. unless you are really *really* skilled as a sight reader and some kind of genius!

That being said - this all really depends on your goals and the context in which you will be playing. If your goal is to be able to gather around the family, pull out books over the holidays and play music (which by the way is an entirely noble reason to play!) than I would actually argue against myself and say that good sight reading skills are more important than memorizing..


-Paul
_________________________
"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer

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#1043317 - 09/23/04 01:01 PM Re: Way of learning question
mikhailoh Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/20/04
Posts: 4288
Loc: Cincinnati
Besides that, from a perspective of sheer joy of playing, memorization allows you to just sit down and play through the pieces you love without having the music with you, or fumbling around with books.

Once you have a piece down cold you can play with it, vary the tone and tempo, making that version truly your own and demonstrating your feeling for the piece.

It is also very handy when trying out pianos.

Myself, I work on both as I think they are both important, but I do not believe I will ever get to the point where I can play a piece of music really well first time. What good sightreading does for me is allows me to learn the piece much more quickly.. no struggling through.
_________________________
Michael

====

He is so solemn, detached and uninvolved he makes Mr. Spock look like Hunter S. Thompson at closing time.'

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#1043318 - 09/23/04 01:29 PM Re: Way of learning question
enescu Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/13/03
Posts: 109
Agree, but I don't think that memorization of any piece should be required to interpret it musically although it might be easier to do so...
Once I memorize a piece, when I try to read it it almost looks like a new piece to me...The music becomes more of a finger representation than an abstract message. Not that there is anything wrong with it.
Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against memorization, but I think that good sightreading gives you the flexibility of interpreting music from the score right away, whereas memory takes some time to make it work.
I appreciate your opinions.

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#1043319 - 09/23/04 01:59 PM Re: Way of learning question
mound Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/10/04
Posts: 782
Loc: Rochester, NY
 Quote:
Once I memorize a piece, when I try to read it it almost looks like a new piece to me
Then I'd argue you haven't fully memorized it. If you've really memorized a piece, you should be able to write the score from memory. But even if you can't do that (I'm sure it would take me considerable time to actually do that with the pieces I have memorized, but I'm sure I could do it if I focused on it), once you've memorized a piece why do you feel you need to go back and read it?

Again, as I said earlier, the score isn't "the music" it's just a model of it that is in reality only a close approximation of the music. The music isn't tangible, and must come from within you, and if you are forcing yourself to filter your expression through a model that is at best a very close approximation, each time you want to perform it, you are inherently limiting yourself a great deal.

 Quote:
but I think that good sightreading gives you the flexibility of interpreting music from the score right away
I think good sightreading gives you the opportunity to learn music from the score right away, nothing more.

Good discussions enescu!

-Paul
_________________________
"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer

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#1043320 - 09/23/04 04:09 PM Re: Way of learning question
enescu Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/13/03
Posts: 109
Thanks, Paul,

The way I see the problem is as if an actor reads his/her role from the script rather than memorizing it. One has to be fluent in reading and understanding the script to render a good interpretation of the message. The better the actor the more beautiful the interpretation. I do understand that it takes talent and work to get to that level...I'm just thinking that improving reading abilities would allow me a more fluent music making. I did mention that I am a begginer and reading music holds me back. I do play a memorized piece more fluently and better overall than one I sightread, even the 10th time.
Is that approach erroneous?

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#1043321 - 09/23/04 09:43 PM Re: Way of learning question
Jerry Luke Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/15/04
Posts: 969
Loc: Tillamook, Oregon
I sure am enjoying, and learning much from, this discussion. I sure am glad I found this forum. (I'll be quiet now, and go back to lurking...) :rolleyes:
_________________________
Support our troops!

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#1043322 - 09/24/04 07:08 AM Re: Way of learning question
mound Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/10/04
Posts: 782
Loc: Rochester, NY
enescu - I really don't have any issue with anything your saying, by all means, improve your sight reading! That's a worthwhile goal for all of us.

 Quote:
do understand that it takes talent and work to get to that level...I'm just thinking that improving reading abilities would allow me a more fluent music making
I agree with that statement 100%. But is being "fluent" your end goal? Lets step outside the "music box" for a moment. I think it's safe to say that you and I both have perfect sight reading skills for the English Language right? I can interpret what you've written immediately upon laying my eyes on it, with no conscious translation necessary. I could equally read it aloud. I derive the meaning you intend to convey immediately, even though the actual letters and words that my eyes are seeing are merely a model of your intended meaning, albeit, a model that very clearly illustrate a concrete intent with little room for interpretation. This based on our shared understanding of the rules of English grammar. Now if you handed me a piece of Shakespeare, being entirely unfamilar with any Shakespeare as I am, I will most certainly be able to open it up and read it aloud to you (assuming it was written in English), without having to sound out each syllable, word and phrase in a slow and tedious manner. But will it be expressive? Will anybody enjoy my recitation? Will I inject any "intent" into it? Perhaps I can try to be expressive with it, based on my limited understanding of what it is "supposed to sound like when you recite Shakespeare", but to anybody who is schooled in Shakespeare, it will likely sound like absolute garbage. Emotionless drivel. A characature of what it should be. Can I sight read the text fluently? Yes. Can I interpret it with my vocal cords in real time? Yes. Can I be expressive enough with it that I capture the attention of the listener? No way! And that's because I don't "own it", I'm merely fluently translating it from markings on a paper to sounds from my voice in real time. As a software engineer, I'll tell you right now that I could program a machine to do that, but that machine would certainly not sell tickets to an eager audience unless that audience was there to see how the code worked ;-) Go to a Shakespeare competition (they have those right?) and I guarantee you won't see anybody reciting the works from a book. They memorize it and make it their own, because only then can they be expressive with it. Music is exactly the same paradigm, only it is even more abstract.

So I hope what you see here is that the most important quality of any piece of music is intent, not the notes themselves, and that is what a printed score simply cannot show you, regardless the extent to which it is notated. Intent will determine its worth. Without intent, music loses the magic that draws us to it (just look at the state of the Pop music world today, the intent isn't art, it's marketing, and it shows.) If you as a performer are only going surface deep by not memorizing the notes, how will you possibly be able to convey the intent of the piece?

 Quote:
The way I see the problem is as if an actor reads his/her role from the script rather than memorizing it.
Exactly, which is why day time soap operas are such trash (and I'm not even talking about their content!) Those "actors" are reading from teleprompters, and you see how "good" it is?

I dare say the best actors out there have memorized their lines and put a lot of thought into how they will transform themselves into character based on their interpretations of those lines, WELL BEFORE they get in front of the camera.. Do you think Marlon Brando was watching a teleprompter while the cameras were rolling or "WAS HE THE GODFATHER?" No way! He "owned" that character!

 Quote:
I do play a memorized piece more fluently and better overall than one I sightread, even the 10th time.
Naturally, because you've internalized it and made it your own to the extent that your skills allow, so there is no longer any need for sheet music. But if you've memorized it, even if your eyes are on the music while you play (why are they?) you're not sight reading anymore. Now, if in fact you play a memorized piece worse when you are looking at the sheet music than you do while playing it from memory (i.e. reading it when you don't need to) that points exactly to the statement I made yesterday:
 Quote:
if you are forcing yourself to filter your expression through a model that is at best a very close approximation, each time you want to perform it, you are inherently limiting yourself a great deal.
Your "worse playing while reading" is the direct result of that inherent limitation of sight reading.

Jerry Luke: I'm glad you are reading this thread, I was thinking that you and I were involved in a similar discussion.


-Paul
_________________________
"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer

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#1043323 - 09/24/04 08:35 AM Re: Way of learning question
enescu Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/13/03
Posts: 109
Mound,

I agree.
I promise to go back to more and more practise.
Thanks.

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#1043324 - 09/24/04 10:58 AM Re: Way of learning question
mound Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/10/04
Posts: 782
Loc: Rochester, NY
 Quote:
I promise to go back to more and more practise.
Me too! There's always so much more I can be doing it seems.

take care
-Paul
_________________________
"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer

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#1043325 - 09/28/04 12:16 AM Re: Way of learning question
dorfmouse Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/22/04
Posts: 56
Please, please don't stop memorising! Looking back at your original post you said
"I started my learning piano by spending a lot of time memorizing pieces and eventually playing them without reading notes. Lately, my sightreading has improved and I am not memorizing anymore, which I think it's OK."
I really wish I had been encouraged to memorise from the start. I have been playing for years always reading from the score, have passed lots of exams in the past and been told I play expressively. However, it is ultimately limiting as Mound has been saying. When a piece is not properly internalised by memorising you think you know it, and like me you may play it pretty well when you can play it through fluently and have spent a lot of time and effort thinking about it and polishing it to the best of your ability. Then you go on to do the same with other pieces ... and a year or two later you take out that same oh-so-well-learnt piece and you stumble through it and practically have to start again to bring it up to scratch. I recently found the pieces I played for my grade 7 exams years ago for which I got a high mark. Couldn't play them at all! Yet the couple of pieces that I have memorised for some reason or other are still there and I can play them and, more importantly, play around with them at will.
And you won't need a suitcase to carry your mounds of music books with you if you're not at home!
By not memorising you also limit your ability to be able to play at speed which you may find very limiting once you get past the elementary stages.If you look at the Chang book which has been referred to in other posts http://members.aol.com/cc88m/PianoBook.html
you will find an eloquent list of reasons for memorising.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't carry on developing your sight reading skills! I'm just pleading with you to keep on memorising also now that you know you can do it. I'd recommend that you at least always have one piece on the go that you're memorising so that you don't lose that skill and moreover that confidence that you can memorise.
Just one more thing: You say "My teacher would like to put more accent on scales and exercises that I find so boring and never practice them." Never mind finger exercises, but it's really worthwhile getting scales and arpeggios under your fingertips, certainly hands separately. Not just for nimbleness and getting the geography of the keyboard. But ultimately they are timesavers, they help you to break down complex music into more manageable, playable components. Those wonderful pieces that we all want to play look on the page like an impossible tangle of semiquavers and horrifying intervals. But out of the mass of black you learn to pick out the patterns ... Oh, that awful run is really just a section of a B Minor scale ... and these next jumps are mostly made up of a D major arpeggio with the 3rd note missed out ... and those extra accidentals in the next two bars are just a quick excursion into F# major and I know that scale don't I?!!
And you can really impress your friends when you airily mention the C# minor scale you've just learnt in preparation for the Moonlight sonata....
Have fun!

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#1043326 - 10/01/04 09:31 PM Re: Way of learning question
enescu Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/13/03
Posts: 109
Mouse,

Thanks for your message.
I do understand the scale and arpeggio exercises make your playing easier and I do find them often in the music I read. It's just that at this time my sightreading lags behind my fingers.
I am mostly interested in opening the book and being able to recreate the music from the script rather than from the memory. I still believe that one can read the script and play in the sense of the original idea. I think that memorizing is rather an obstacle and a delay...in obtaining the direct interpretation from the paper.
After all one can always go back to the score, sit down and play, whereas with memory failing...
My question, is it possible to achieve that sightreading ability in a matter of 2-3 years? Or is it more of a lifetime struggle...Of course, that depends on a lot of factors.
I did read the book by Chang and the impression that he left me with is that he had some precious information at a small level, but the whole picture was confusing.
Regards.

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#1043327 - 10/01/04 10:16 PM Re: Way of learning question
Lightnin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/17/04
Posts: 210
 Quote:
Originally posted by mound:
Do you think Marlon Brando was watching a teleprompter while the cameras were rolling or "WAS HE THE GODFATHER?" No way! He "owned" that character! [/QB]
Sorry to detract from the good discussion, but it does seem interesting that Brando is not the best example of memorization. There was even more to it later than this article mentions, but all I find public right now this:

http://www85.homepage.villanova.edu/joanna.rotte/2001%20Comments/rotte_acting_july2001.htm

Can skip first two paragraphs, but dont overlook third paragraph on, about "spontaneity".

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#1043328 - 10/02/04 08:11 AM Re: Way of learning question
mound Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/10/04
Posts: 782
Loc: Rochester, NY
Hah, nice Lightnin! I just pulled Brando and The Godfather completely randomly.. Nice link, almost blows my argument to shreds, but I think this is the key quote from that article:

 Quote:
What Brando works on instead of lines, it seems to me, is character: divining the character according to the given circumstances of the script; developing the inside of the character; finding the outside of the character. He then goes after what the character wants in the manner of the character, which ultimately requires speaking lines.
Exactly - it's the character, the intent that he derives.. The score is just printed notes or "lines" as it were.. he pulls the intent from his lines.

or something like that ;-)

-Paul
_________________________
"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer

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#1043329 - 10/02/04 08:28 AM Re: Way of learning question
Lightnin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/17/04
Posts: 210
Yeah, no doubt that Brando fully owned the character, but the irony was just too great to pass up.

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#1043330 - 10/02/04 10:04 AM Re: Way of learning question
mound Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/10/04
Posts: 782
Loc: Rochester, NY
Yes, you have indeed put me firmly in my place with that link. Did you search that out after reading my post or were you already aware of that?
 Quote:
but the irony was just too great to pass up.
yeah, you certainly kicked my a** with that one! ;\)

-Paul
_________________________
"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer

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#1043331 - 10/02/04 11:34 AM Re: Way of learning question
Lightnin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/17/04
Posts: 210
 Quote:
Originally posted by mound:
Yes, you have indeed put me firmly in my place with that link. Did you search that out after reading my post or were you already aware of that? [/b]
Sorry Paul, that wasnt the idea at all. It was just that the irony was irresistable. Your idea seemed good, but Brando was the wrong choice to illustrate it. I simply thought you would find additional facts interesting. This is truly a case of "any method that works well", but I think it may not work so well for everyone.

I quickly searched for the link today, because I already knew of the situation. TV talk show guests tell stories of Brando walking around the set seemingly carrying on conversations with no one, when he was instead discussing mundane details with his script reading assistant in his earphone.

My previous search wasnt very effective, for better, see instead this:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&q=brando+memorize

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#1043332 - 10/02/04 12:04 PM Re: Way of learning question
mound Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/10/04
Posts: 782
Loc: Rochester, NY
that's great! yeah, bad example I guess. I'm pretty sure listening to a pro playing a piece through a headset wouldn't help you (or me for that matter) play a piece of music though
_________________________
"You look hopefully for an idea and then you're humble when you find it and you wish your skills were better. To have even a half-baked touch of creativity is an honor."
-- Ernie Stires, composer

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#1043333 - 10/02/04 04:02 PM Re: Way of learning question
dorfmouse Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/22/04
Posts: 56
”My question, is it possible to achieve that sightreading ability in a matter of 2-3 years? Or is it more of a lifetime struggle...Of course, that depends on a lot of factors.
I did read the book by Chang and the impression that he left me with is that he had some precious information at a small level, but the whole picture was confusing.”

Perhaps there is a bit of confusion in this thread as to what we all mean by sight-reading? I think of it as being able to straightaway play previously unseen music from the score without previous practise, but others are treating it more as learning and then continuing to play a particular piece always with the score in front of you… I’ll call that playing from the score.
I’m sure it depends on the genre and level of complexity of the music you want to be able to sight-read. For example, the sight-reading required to play rock, pop songs or to accompany singing, church music etc which tend to follow learnable chord progressions, harmonies and predictable styles is probably achievable in the timescale you describe, depending on your diligence and motivation. When, as the only teacher in my school who could play the piano (at that stage I had many moons previously achieved Grade 5) I was press ganged into accompanying stuff for the children, it was initially a nightmare but with the necessity to keep going whatever, rapidly improved over a period of months.
However, I find that the ability to sight-read anything more complex, i.e. most of the things I really love and want to play, unfortunately comes into the lifetime struggle category, though that could easily be due to my personal limitations! Playing most of the music in the piano repertoire involves an enormous amount of decision making and interpretation in every note and phrase and it is not often at all obvious as to what the “sense of the original idea” actually is. Just observing the raw dynamic markings won’t produce an instantly musical performance. I think what I’m trying to say is that since even with playing from the score most people have to practise every tiny bit innumerable times and experiment with many possible ways of playing, you might as well learn it by heart as you go!
I agree with you that the Chang book is a bit confusing, maybe due to his writing style and I’d always put my first trust in my own teacher. But I am finding some very useful nuggets indeed, especially techniques to help fast playing and to overcome “speed walls”. His reasons for memorising really do hit home with me as I’ve become so frustrated with avoiding anything labelled more than a mild allegro (give me adagio assai any time!). So I decided I will learn and memorise a fast piece from scratch trying to follow some of his ways. I’m now 8 days into Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen which should be a good test … first 2 pages memorised (huge achievement for me!) HT slowly, first 2 lines up to speed … Maybe there’s hope!

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#1043334 - 10/06/04 09:29 AM Re: Way of learning question
enescu Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/13/03
Posts: 109
Thanks, Mouse,

Your message sheds light on the whole picture.

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