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#1200476 - 05/16/09 03:22 PM Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces?
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
What do you folks find are the best strategies for working on lengthy single-movement pieces that require much sustained effort over a long period of time?

The specific difficulty I'm having (after many months on the same project) seems to stem from the fact that I can't devote equal time and effort to all parts of the piece simultaneously. It's almost 300 measures and should ultimately be 12 to 15 minutes in duration—not terribly long, I know, but much of it is technically difficult (and, of course, what's not technically difficult is musically difficult). Unfortunately, any period of diligent work on any specific sections means time away from other sections, with the consequence that it's tough to keep the entire piece at a uniformly competent level of proficiency.

I began working on this piece by tackling the most technically challenging passages first. They remain relatively secure, but skillfulness erodes unless I practice them regularly. And flubs crop up in the relatively easy parts because they are dormant when I'm working on the harder parts and because they get less attention overall.

The questions I'm raising apply broadly to anything long and difficult, and I hope that people can offer some general suggestions based on their experience. But FWIW here is my half-baked, homespun and uneducated analysis of the source of my angst, Chopin's Allegro de Concert Op. 46. I haven't tried to describe it according to strict sonata-allegro form, but have color-coded the sections green (low), orange (moderate) and red (high) according to average technical difficulty:
  1. A - non-recurring introduction (bars 1-39)
  2. B - first statement of lyrical theme and march theme in tonic (bars 40-90)
  3. C - non-recurring lyrical episode (bars 91-104)
  4. D - connecting passage (bars 105-123)
  5. E - restatement of lyrical theme in dominant (bars 124-149)
  6. F - connecting passage culminating in cadential double trill and tremolo (bars 150-181)
  7. G - restatement of march theme in dominant and motivic elements from introduction (bars 182-198)
  8. H - restatement of lyrical theme in relative minor (bars 199-224)
  9. I - bravura climax in ascending chromatic fourths and cadence returning to tonic (bar 225-227)
  10. J - non-recurring post-climatic interlude (bars 228-239)
  11. K - coda commences with flowing passagework and culminates in another climactic buildup (bars 240-259)
  12. L - post-coda of extended cadential double trills and tremolos that resolve to recapitulation of march theme in tonic, concluding with double octaves (bars 260-279)
So in a hypothetical situation where you could divide a piece into, say, a dozen disparate sections, what kind of a rotation or cycling in your practice sessions should offer the best tactic for mastery? I'm not expecting to discover any shortcuts to get to that point magically or immediately—just to get there! smile

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1200479 - 05/16/09 03:35 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
gooddog Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4669
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Originally Posted By: sotto voce

I began working on this piece by tackling the most technically challenging passages first. They remain relatively secure, but skillfulness erodes unless I practice them regularly. And flubs crop up in the relatively easy parts because they are dormant when I'm working on the harder parts and because they get less attention overall.

Steven


Steven, I don't know this specific piece but I think you've made a very good start tackling the touch places.

The fact that places fall apart without constant attention makes me wonder if the piece might be too challenging for you?

I think it is important to avoid spending too much time playing the places you already know. What I've done is tackle a section at a time, learn it then move on to the next section. I'll play the piece through from the beginning only once or twice a practice session but I'll always start where I am working and spend most of my practice time there. I had a tendency to learn the beginning of a piece really well leaving the end not as confident so I tried working from the beginning and from the end simultaneously. That worked out pretty well.

Also, try playing the parts you know very slowly at least once a practice session. Tiny mistakes can creep in without your noticing. They can compound and become big mistakes pretty quickly. (Actually, this idea isn't mine, it came from Josef Hofmann.)

I'm sorry I can't be more helpful. Let's see what others say.
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#1200485 - 05/16/09 03:47 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: gooddog]
Arghhh Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/31/08
Posts: 1025
I'd like to see what others say too. All I can offer is some questionable advice, but I'd like to know if you've tried this and how it worked for you.

I haven't had much experience with this, but in Chang's book, he said that you should finish your practice session on challenging material by playing the section slowly once. His theory was the more times you play it at your max tempo, the more mistakes will creep in (another reason for not just running through your pieces just before a performance). Note: I haven't had the opportunity to try this to see how it really works.

Another question would be do you expect yourself to make mistakes because you haven't practiced something? What happens if you ignore that negative thought and play?

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#1200520 - 05/16/09 05:35 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: gooddog]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
Originally Posted By: gooddog
The fact that places fall apart without constant attention makes me wonder if the piece might be too challenging for you?

I am certain that many people would say this project is too challenging, and I assumed it would be, too, until I had the temerity to begin working on it (as sort of a dare to myself).

But there are different yardsticks for what's too difficult. When the question has been raised here about how one makes that judgment, I think my answer has been, in so many words, "If, after your best efforts after a sufficient enough time period, (1) you aren't making measurable progress at a pace that's acceptable to you, and (2) you don't foresee that changing." I think the second part there is important because we have all probably experienced plateaus that prove to be only temporary, though they seem like "brick walls" until the next quantum leap is suddenly achieved.

I know that many others would say that a piece is too difficult if you can't "master" it (e.g., by playing it at 100% speed of a professional performance). I just don't agree with that criterion for mastery (for me, anyway), and feel pretty good about setting the bar lower for myself; otherwise, I would never have dared tackle the more difficult Chopin etudes.

When I can play a fast piece musically and accurately at about 75% of the "official" tempo—as I presently can with most of the Allegro de Concert—that's very satisfying to me. If I can ramp it up beyond that, great—but not needing to is one of the blessings of being a amateur playing for one's own enjoyment.

One of the factors limiting me from more consistent progress may be that my practice time is neither lengthy, consistent nor consistently diligent. When I questioned whether different sections of the Allegro should be rotated or cycled on successive practice days (and how best to do so), I was assuming the constraints of my typical practice schedule of between one and two hours on most days.

Maybe the answer is as simple as increasing my practice time so that I actually do have time to work equally hard every day on every part of the piece?

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1200524 - 05/16/09 05:43 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 20741
Loc: Oakland
My piano teacher used to recommend practicing from the back to the front, so that you would practice the sections that you would get to when you were more tired when you are the freshest.
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#1200744 - 05/17/09 01:51 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
Barb860 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/09
Posts: 1644
Loc: northern California
It is all about Effortless Mastery, to quote the great Kenny Werner:
"The question is not what to practice, but how to practice. Stay with one example (phrase, section) until it is effortlessly mastered. You might work on one section for a long time, but you will have mastered it. Don't think of the whole piece when working one section to mastery. Time doesn't matter. This practicing may lack instant gratification but your overall progress will be undeniable, taking one section at a time."
You mentioned that when you stop practicing one section and move on to another, that when you go back to the first section, it is not good. You didn't master it in the first place, and your weakness was exposed.
"The mind, ah the blessed mind! It will talk to you during this process. it will say, come on, move on. But looking at it rationally: if you practiced one section for 2 weeks and saw SOME improvement so you moved on, didn't you just waste your time?"
Whether or not you agree with Kenny, his information is at least thought-provoking. "Slow down and do it right" could be "Slow down and do it right till you master it" and then move on.
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#1200766 - 05/17/09 03:41 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
James Cook Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/27/09
Posts: 7
Congradulations first of all on your high level of playing. This is certainly one of the most difficult pieces by Chopin I have ever seen. Considering you are playing one of the most difficult pieces of the 19th century, it is no wonder you have had at least some problems.

The largest project I have worked on was the Waldstein, and I moved section by section, like most pianists do. I found that when I was losing heart, I needed to grit my teeth and find "what was easy" about the passage to convince myself to play it. Maybe that will help you; if you look at a passage from the standpoint of what is easy about it, instead of what is hard, you might find yourself realizing the "little trick" that makes the unplayable playable.

The second idea I have is to practice paraphrases. Create your own comositions out of the ideas in the piece you are studying. These will lighten you up, and make the original easier, especially if your version adds something.

It sounds like one thing that is affecting you is the difficulty of playing the piece through from memory, once you have learned only parts of it well. This can be frustrating, but it is natural, in a piece with a free sturcture like this one. Just be sure you "sail through" some version of your accomplishments to date that you "compose yourself", every day, maybe once before your serious practice, and use it to help set your priorites for the day. This is your "Readers Digest Condensed" version of the piece, and it's a lot better psychologically than no piece at all. Also, don't be emarrassed to preview "under construction" parts of the piece for your friends, the advice and admiration they give you will be quite valuable.
_________________________
Couperin Les Bergeries
Clementi Sonata #1 in C Major

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#1200838 - 05/17/09 09:20 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: James Cook]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
Thanks for the replies so far!

I'm sorry I cluttered the OP with long paragraphs, unneeded details and color-coding. (I should start a new thread called "Best reading strategies for long, complex posts." smile )

Here's the nutshell version for anyone who looked at it and immediately decided "tl;dr":

OK, so I'm learning this long piece in sections. When I work on each new section, how do I keep the finished parts from becoming rusty? What do YOU do?

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1200843 - 05/17/09 09:35 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19095
Loc: New York City
If,assuming I understand your goal correctly, you think that you will only be able to play this at 75% the normal speed then usually that would not be suitable for performance (unless the work tends to be played by professionals at greatly varying speeds and your performance isn't 75% of the slowest). As far as your own enjoyment and learning, any speed, even much slower than 75%, seems OK to me.

What is the hardest Chopin work you've played at closer to normal speed? Since there are certainly numerous Chopin masterpieces easier than this one, I personally would choose one that I could play closer to normal speed unless the purpose was just for technical development.

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#1200851 - 05/17/09 09:59 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: pianoloverus]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3158
Once a piece is learned enough so it can be played all the way through, yet is not finished, I will play, using a metronome, the entire piece at the highest speed that the slowest/hardest part will allow.

So, if the goal speed is 100 bpm, but I can only achieve 75, I will play it at 75. Next, bump the speed up to 76. The brain and the fingers are now working at a virtually imperceptable, but real, tiny bit faster.

I will play it at 76 for a few days, until that becomes the norm. Any weak spots are isolated, practiced slowly 10X, and then I walk away from the piano and come back the next day. This lets the brain process and disgest the repair info.

Next day, I will play it at 76, and if no problems, 77, played once. I play it at 77 for a few days until it becomes the norm, and continue the process.

Good Luck!
_________________________
Music teacher and piano player.

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#1200856 - 05/17/09 10:19 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
Barb860 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/09
Posts: 1644
Loc: northern California
Originally Posted By: sotto voce
Thanks for the replies so far!

I'm sorry I cluttered the OP with long paragraphs, unneeded details and color-coding. (I should start a new thread called "Best reading strategies for long, complex posts." smile )

Here's the nutshell version for anyone who looked at it and immediately decided "tl;dr":

OK, so I'm learning this long piece in sections. When I work on each new section, how do I keep the finished parts from becoming rusty? What do YOU do?

Steven


Once you have mastered (can play effortlessly) one section, you won't lose it if you then play through it every day. What is your goal? to play this piece up to the indicated tempo in your edition? Maybe that's not your ultimate tempo in the first place. You can master a piece and not play it at the suggested tempo. The piece may take you a long time to learn, like years perhaps, if you have only an hour or so a day to practice. Are you spending all your practice time (you said 1-2 hours per day) on just this Chopin work? It's a big piece and it could take years to learn. Why hurry and worry about it? Learn each section COMPLETELY at your own pace before going on. This advice has helped me greatly in learning anything.
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#1200858 - 05/17/09 10:23 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
pianoperformer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/13/08
Posts: 164
Loc: Johnstown, PA
Originally Posted By: sotto voce

One of the factors limiting me from more consistent progress may be that my practice time is neither lengthy, consistent nor consistently diligent. When I questioned whether different sections of the Allegro should be rotated or cycled on successive practice days (and how best to do so), I was assuming the constraints of my typical practice schedule of between one and two hours on most days.

Maybe the answer is as simple as increasing my practice time so that I actually do have time to work equally hard every day on every part of the piece?

Steven


I don't think so, or else that'd limit anyone from practicing very long pieces, even if they practice 5 hours per day. For instance, the concerto I'm working on, I could easily split into dozens of sections to work on. It's unreasonable to try to work on all of them in one day.

What I do is to try to work on a select few sections consistently every day, but then review the whole piece every few days to make sure the rest of it is holding up.

You could do the same thing with rotating, but still review every few days, but I fear you wouldn't reach the same level of mastery as you would practicing some sections consistently say for a week or so.

For instance, if you can guarantee say an hour and a half, then select perhaps 5 sections, each of which you can work on for up to 15 minutes, and the remaining time can be for review.
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Creator Spiritus

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#1200875 - 05/17/09 11:24 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: pianoperformer]
RobKeymar Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/24/09
Posts: 47
Loc: Frederick Maryland
What works for me is to consider the various thematic developments or bridges as separate pieces complete in themselves and not played together until they are technically mastered. That also helps with the memorization.

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#1200922 - 05/17/09 01:34 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: Barb860]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
What is the hardest Chopin work you've played at closer to normal speed?

The Fantaisie Op. 49 and Polonaise Op. 53, and I'd include the Etude 10/7, too—the only "fast" etude I've gotten to a tempo I'm proud of.

Originally Posted By: Barb860
What is your goal? to play this piece up to the indicated tempo in your edition? Maybe that's not your ultimate tempo in the first place. You can master a piece and not play it at the suggested tempo....

The Allegro de Concert has some peculiar tempo-related issues.

First, there are no M.M. numbers in the original published editions, and no tempo changes are explicitly indicated subsequent to the initial direction of Allegro maestoso. Nevertheless, it doesn't seem possible that a truly uniform speed is intended (or possible)—or even that "Allegro" best describes the range of desirable tempi! (There are 279 measures in the piece, i.e., 1,116 quarter notes, so a performance lasting between 11 and 12 minutes would have an average speed of just 90-100 bpm—not your typical Allegro.)

The diverse musical character of the various sections does seem to mandate some flexibility in speed, too. The bravura connecting passages are brilliant in that 90-100 range, but the melodic cantilena of the lyrical episodes would sound thoroughly rushed and banal rather than beautiful at such a pace. To my ears, they're best played at around 72 bpm.

A further complication is that there are so few recordings of this piece to consider and compare. The ones I've heard by Ashkenazy and Arrau have been, IIRC, in the neighborhood of 11-12 minutes; Biret is 13:30, Ponti is 12:15, and I haven't heard Demidenko, Magaloff or Ohlsson. I'm not aware of any others, but according to Wikipedia, FWIW, the Allegro "takes between 13 and 15 minutes to play"; that's an average tempo of between 75 and 85 bpm based on 1,116 beats—not your typical Allegro.

So it's all over the place, and that explains why my estimation of playing it at 75% speed is rather meaningless. But my main concern, too, isn't getting this piece "up to speed" in the literal sense. I've worked long and hard on that passage work, and think that 85 bpm will be achievable. The unfrenzied parts of the work—the majority of it, thankfully!—will be at least 10 bpm slower, but this plan should result in a recording time of under 15 minutes. It's not your typical Allegro, but that's my goal. smile

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1200957 - 05/17/09 03:09 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
Barb860 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/09
Posts: 1644
Loc: northern California
From all you have described thus far, it seems that tempo is of concern to you at this point. Perhaps it should not be. Continue learning the piece completely and then your tempo should settle in. You are telling us that you are still in learning mode with this piece. The tempo will naturally come when you are ready. Pushing oneself with the metronome when one does not have a complete mastery of the piece creates stress and tension, IMO. What I do find relaxing, though, is to use the metronome at a VERY SLOW TEMPO while learning sections of a piece. This helps me keep it very slow and I can meticulously work through it---in small sections, that is. Even phrases, one at a time. Someone earlier in this thread suggested breaking the piece down to phrases.
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#1200962 - 05/17/09 03:24 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: Barb860]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
Barb,

Sorry for the misunderstanding, but tempo is about the least of my concerns. I never mentioned it in my opening post, and it's come up only tangentially as relates to "mastery." My last post was meant to clarify the reasons for which the Allegro has no clearly defined target tempo.

In any case, my central question has broad applicability beyond my experience with this particular piece and doesn't relate to the matter of tempo at all.

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1200973 - 05/17/09 03:35 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
Barb860 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/09
Posts: 1644
Loc: northern California
Originally Posted By: sotto voce
Barb,

Sorry for the misunderstanding, but tempo is about the least of my concerns. I never mentioned it in my opening post, and it's come up only tangentially as relates to "mastery." My last post was meant to clarify the reasons for which the Allegro has no clearly defined target tempo.

In any case, my central question has broad applicability beyond my experience with this particular piece and doesn't relate to the matter of tempo at all.

Steven

My misunderstanding then! This is a fairly involved thread, for sure, and a good one, lots of information coming in. I think I do understand your central question of "how do I work on this piece in sections and keep from getting rusty with what I have learned". Going back to my first suggestion is what I feel strongly about: make sure you have effortlessly mastered one section before going on. 'Nuff said now from me! I would love to hear you play it one day when you are comfortable with your work. It's an incredible piece and it would take me 50 years to learn it, putting me at darn near 100! Cheers to you!
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#1201007 - 05/17/09 04:42 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: Barb860]
EJR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 861
Loc: Bristol, UK
Hi Steven,

I hope you don't mind if someone from the ABF jumps in here?

You seem to be well on the way and following the right track, particularly with regard to your original analysis breaking the piece down be degrees of difficulty. I believe "phase 1" is to learn the hardest sections first. I wouldn't worry about forgetting the easier parts just yet (and some say that to forget and relearn pieces several times will ultimately ensure they are even better learnt).

I believe that you should stick with the four hardest sections first. Looking at the breakdown you supplied, the 4 hard sections are around 70 of the 300 bars, roughly 25% of the 12 minute piece - so about 3 minutes in total. I'd be inclined to focus exclusively on these. Indeed perhaps consider preparing a version of the score that's just these bars, so your not tempted to stray onto the easier bits that you can play.

With 3 minutes of hard material you may wish to break it down even further and deal with just the 1.5 minutes of most difficult stuff in the first instance (35 bars). I'd break this down into 10 or more tasks of 3-5 bars and aim to have them solid at a v.slow tempo. I'd try to cover all tasks in a day. But you need to decide howm much time in total and how much per task. Personally I find 10 minutes or so per tasks OK, then reducing as one improves to a couple of minutes. Once these ten or so tasks are learnt, you can repeat with ten tasks from the other half of the hardest bits (so 20 tasks for the hardest bits in all). Then progress by consolidating the individual tasks into the 4 hard sections. From this point should be "plain sailing" for the moderate and easiest sections of the piece using a similar methodology.

Perhaps you should consider carefully project planning this? Regullary reviewing progress and deciding/managing what will be achieved each practice session (e.g if progress slows in a particular bar/phrase then perhaps its too big, divide and conquer!).

Something I've been doing recently is to take a favourite version of a piece and load it into Audacity creating versions at 50%, 75%, as well as 100% tempo. (I listen to these on the daily commute to work). I find these help me understand the score and the more awkward/hardest bits in particular.

I wish you all the success your hard work on this piece must surely bring.

Regards,

Elwyn
_________________________


Daily ramblings....

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#1201028 - 05/17/09 05:33 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: EJR]
EJR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 861
Loc: Bristol, UK
Steven,

A few more comments regarding specific methodology. I always keep a daily log (good old fasioned hard backed exercise book). I also tried using MS Excel and Outlook tasks. However, I had struggled at the piano in converting or following the practice "plan" and carrying out each task for 'x' minutes. I tried using a freebie countdown timer/software utility (resetting for each task). This was cumbersome. So in the end I thought s*d it I'll write a program to do this....

Here's a screen shot. You enter tasks, move, change and edit them, decide their order and individual times ie. manage your practice plan. At the piano, you click "Start", then it runs the all the tasks sequentially, at the start of each task a large banner message in a big font of the task is displayed (so I can read it from the piano). Each task initiates a count down timer. At the end it fires off a warning and gives a short break between the next task (seconds). The utility logs all tasks completed and total practice time per session. I mangage and change the tasks/duration regulary and move the hardest bits to the top (first).... its still under construction cool

Currently I find I alternate between a practice plan for learning a new piece, and one for technique and maintenance, but its flexible.

I find an hours work on a new piece with this very hard but rewarding. I guess it constitutes "directed practice".

http://www.pianoworld.com/Uploads/files/PracticePrompt.JPG

I might be after some Beta testers at some point if anyone's interested.

Best wishes,

Elwyn
_________________________


Daily ramblings....

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#1201356 - 05/18/09 08:48 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: EJR]
sotto voce Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/15/06
Posts: 6163
Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
Many thanks for these earnest replies. There's food for thought here, especially as relates to future undertakings. (I've already decided that I need to work harder and longer than I've been; my practice has often been in the casual manner of a dabbler or dilettante, but serious music and a serious approach to artistry demand much more even from amateurs.)

I honestly expected many pianists to have concrete experience with this subject (and that more opinions would be offered even by those who might not). It's hardly unusual to learn a lengthy work of music, and the majority here must fall either into the category of those who have or those who will. Therefore, more suggestions of practical approaches found (or guessed) to be efficient and effective will have broad usefulness to this community.

Steven
_________________________

"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
—Albert Schweitzer

Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1201422 - 05/18/09 10:57 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
Horowitzian Offline
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I agree with all who say that one should master big pieces by section; only moving on once that section is really mastered. I am using the same approach with Op. 44, and indeed all the pieces in my sig line. I have to fight a strong urge to want to play through entire pieces too soon, so disciplining myself to master each measure is excellent. smile
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#1201514 - 05/18/09 01:49 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
ProdigalPianist Offline
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Originally Posted By: sotto voce


OK, so I'm learning this long piece in sections. When I work on each new section, how do I keep the finished parts from becoming rusty? What do YOU do?

Steven


Honestly? I hope that having to clean the rust off means that I have learned it better and more solidly. cool

In my case (mid-40's returner, 20 years away from piano, playing again about a year) I have found that I don't retain memorized, performed pieces (that I could play solidly and fluidly) nearly as well as I used to. Just a few weeks of not playing and it starts to crumble..pretty badly in fact.

Due to limited practice time I have decided to focus very narrowly - learning one piece at a time (or a couple of very short pieces, as in the Bach Partita sections I'm working on now), memorized, to be played at the monthly get-togethers of our local piano club.

Before I made the decision to do this, I was working on multiple pieces at once, and was frustrated at making improvement on each piece too small to feel noticeable between lessons. Concentrating on a single piece I feel like I make more noticeable improvement.

At any rate, the 8 page Beethoven that I had solidly in memory and fairly well under the fingers before putting it on the back burner to work on the Bach, is in sad shape now. It will come back quicker than it took to learn, though.

Yes, ideally I would keep pieces in rotation better so they did not slip as much but I have very, very limited practice time and currently feel what I'm doing now is my best option.

In case it didn't look like I was addressing the original question: I do have problems with learned sections of longer pieces 'slipping'...but they do come back quickly and better when I start putting them together. When I'm learning a piece I always go through a phase my teacher describes as the piece being "a whole bunch of sections rather than a coherent whole." But once I have each section learned and memorized, I work on the piece as a whole and it comes around eventually.

One thing I have learned is not to allow myself to get too 'perfectionist' about a section of a larger piece in the initial learning stage. I can spend endless amounts of time making a few measures or a line more and more perfect, but when I'm learning sections is NOT the time to do that, no matter how badly I want to improve (I guess working for improvement is easier than working for initial learning...it seduces me to spend practice time on it). Having a section 'memorized and playable but not perfect'....in what you might call rough draft stage...is good enough to learn the next section.

It moves quicker that way and I have to perfect and polish the piece as a whole later anyway. This way there is less time for rust to form on older sections before they get put together.


Edited by ProdigalPianist (05/18/09 01:59 PM)
Edit Reason: clarification
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#1201657 - 05/18/09 06:11 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: ProdigalPianist]
pianoloverus Online   content
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I don't think working on the technical problems of a lengthy piece is any different from working on the technical problems of 2 or 3 shorter pieces difficult pieces simultaneously(which is something many people do).

I think that it is only in terms of the musical problems(which hasn't been discussed in the thread)that learning a lenghty piece any different from working on several shorter pieces differently.

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#1201731 - 05/18/09 08:05 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: ProdigalPianist]
gooddog Online   content
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Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
In my case (mid-40's returner, 20 years away from piano, playing again about a year) I have found that I don't retain memorized, performed pieces (that I could play solidly and fluidly) nearly as well as I used to. Just a few weeks of not playing and it starts to crumble..pretty badly in fact...

At any rate, the 8 page Beethoven that I had solidly in memory and fairly well under the fingers before putting it on the back burner to work on the Bach, is in sad shape now. It will come back quicker than it took to learn, though.



Doesn't that just burn you up? I get so furious with myself. The bad news is, it gets worse. I'm in my late 50's. I can easily play a piece I learned when I was 17 but something I learned 6 months ago has fallen apart. My son, a neurobiologist, explained the physiology of neural connections and how things just don't work like they used to. It didn't make me feel any better. Grrr.
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#1201753 - 05/18/09 08:49 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: sotto voce]
Damon Offline
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Registered: 09/22/06
Posts: 5913
Loc: St. Louis area
Originally Posted By: sotto voce

OK, so I'm learning this long piece in sections. When I work on each new section, how do I keep the finished parts from becoming rusty? What do YOU do?
Steven


I just play them once a day, slowly.
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#1201963 - 05/19/09 07:15 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: gooddog]
RobKeymar Offline
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Registered: 03/24/09
Posts: 47
Loc: Frederick Maryland
I'm with you there, Deborah. I am 58 and have to spend 2+ hours a day to learn new stuff and keep up with the old. I feel like I am running against the clock. So many pieces I want to learn and so little time left. I have decided to record each piece when I get it about 90% so I have something for the great grandkids when I kick off. Ha.

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#1202375 - 05/19/09 07:52 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: gooddog]
ProdigalPianist Offline
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Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 1049
Loc: Phoenix Metro, AZ
Originally Posted By: gooddog
Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
In my case (mid-40's returner, 20 years away from piano, playing again about a year) I have found that I don't retain memorized, performed pieces (that I could play solidly and fluidly) nearly as well as I used to. Just a few weeks of not playing and it starts to crumble..pretty badly in fact...

At any rate, the 8 page Beethoven that I had solidly in memory and fairly well under the fingers before putting it on the back burner to work on the Bach, is in sad shape now. It will come back quicker than it took to learn, though.



Doesn't that just burn you up? I get so furious with myself. The bad news is, it gets worse. I'm in my late 50's. I can easily play a piece I learned when I was 17 but something I learned 6 months ago has fallen apart. My son, a neurobiologist, explained the physiology of neural connections and how things just don't work like they used to. It didn't make me feel any better. Grrr.


Oh, Great. Thanks Deb. I feel so much better now!
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#1204445 - 05/23/09 03:38 AM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: ProdigalPianist]
gerg Offline
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Registered: 02/02/07
Posts: 1651
Loc: Houston, TX
Rarely does a thread contain as much practical application as does this one.

I'm in a similar boat to Steven and really appreciate the advice out there so far. Especially of note is section-by-section, don't be a perfectionist, polish later, in a later round of the learning process. Putting the pieces together for the first time, with the binding, glue, ropes, etc., and finally erecting this marvelous construction for the first time ("I PLAYED THAT!") must count as one of the highest highs proffered by our art.

As far as aging/memory - you can still do what you did at 17. It will take a bit more effort because as we age we garner more neural relationships, but the ability to memorize stays with you for life. Those "more neural relationships" can work in your favor, too: if they are technique-related, for example. Don't lose heart.
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#1204647 - 05/23/09 02:17 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: gerg]
sotto voce Offline
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Registered: 08/15/06
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Loc: Briarcliff Manor, NY, USA
I still can't help but wonder about the opinions of the erudite, esteemed and helpful folks who are usually eager to contribute their ideas, but after a week has now passed I can see that's apparently not going to happen.

FWIW, I am not in the camp of those who would master a single individual section at a time before moving on. I prefer working on several areas simultaneously, then several other areas, etc., until they've all been brought to a very basic state of low-speed proficiency, then joining them up and slowly raising the entire piece to a polished state.

Nevertheless, it's invaluable to know the preferences of others in examining our own methods, evaluating them and assessing their efficacy.

Steven
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Chopin: Allegro de Concert Op. 46
Schumann: Toccata Op. 7
Fauré: Ballade Op. 19

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#1204876 - 05/23/09 09:58 PM Re: Best practice strategies for long, complex pieces? [Re: rocket88]
musiclady Offline
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Registered: 02/19/05
Posts: 431
Loc: Toronto, Canada
Looking for sections that are the same, or very similar, and practicing from the end first.

Meri
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